If I lived on my own I might be tidy.


I don't want to leave anyone with false impressions of me. Just because I write about cleaning up and clearing out, it doesn't mean that my house is completely clean, stark and minimalist.

Like everyone, I am a work in progress. I write mostly to inspire myself and to kick my own bottom into gear. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

We had the local termite guy come a few weeks ago. Like everyone, he reads our town paper, in which I have a little column about decluttering. He checked outside the house and then came inside and wanted to do the roof. I sent him upstairs and then had to apologise when I saw him struggling down the stairs, maneuvering his ladder between the piles of clothes and (ugh) toys that I leave on the stairs to be taken with me whenever I make the trek upwards again.

The termite guy laughed at me. "I thought you wrote that thing about decluttering," he said in his broad English accent. "And look at all this lot!"


Every day I live with a deluge of stuff that rears up at me and laughs in my face. "Ha ha ha!" say the shoes and the hundreds of non-paired socks in an evil chortle. "You thought you put us away before. But we're out again. And this time you can't stop us!"

(Yes, okay, I've seen a lot of kids' movies with comic villains.)

In response I bat feebly at their mocking faces, half-heartedly wrestle them into the closet and then go and check Facebook because the effort has been all too much.

The really frustrating thing is that most of the stuff I pick up (and I pick up a lot of it) isn't my own. I truly believe that if I lived by myself, I might actually be tidy. It's the other people in my house (and there are a lot of them) that create the mess.

One day a few months ago, up to my ears in other people's belongings, I decided to try an experiment. I carried my camera around with me all day and photographed every item that I picked up to put away.

"That's a waste of time," said the most observant of the four children. "It'll take you longer."

"I'm proving a point," I muttered grimly between my teeth. "Besides, if the people who owned all this stuff put it away, I wouldn't need to do either."

It was a quiet day. The kids were at school (thus reducing their mess-making time), I was out for two hours and I also managed to sneak in a nap after lunch. But even so, I photographed 140 items.

Here they are. TV remotes, single shoes, tomato sauce bottles, scissors, plates, hats... whatever.

I wanted to make a collage of everything I picked up, but I couldn't  find a collage-maker that would arrange 140 pictures so that you could see them all. This is made in Shape Collage.

I wanted to make a collage of everything I picked up, but I couldn't  find a collage-maker that would arrange 140 pictures so that you could see them all. This is made in Shape Collage.

If I calculate an average of 20 seconds to touch each item, analyse it and then locate its home, that's over 45 minutes per day of simply putting stuff away. Seriously. 45 minutes. And that was an easy day.

I can hear you all out there saying, "Well, get the kids to put it away," and of course, I agree with you. But I'm not so sure it's entirely effective.

My mother spent her life repeating these phrases: "Hey [insert child's name here]. Is this [insert item name here] yours? Does it belong here? No? Well then, PUT IT AWAY!" If she'd recorded the number of times she'd said that per day I think she may well have exceeded 140.

Plus, it may or may not have worked. She ended up with three adult children, one of whom is as neat as she is (not me), one who is definitely not as neat as she is (not me either) and me, the middling one who leaves piles of stuff on the stairs for the termite guy to trip over.

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