I know I’ve already doled out advice on how to be organised: before going to bed, lay out your clothes for the next day to alleviate early-morning anxiety; put a paper recycling bin in the hall so all of those flyers and junk mail go into it immediately, without passing “go” or getting properly over the threshold; and so on and so on. But I think this is a subject that bears revisiting because so many of us think we aren’t naturally organised and so can’t live an organised life. That is a most terrible lie, a white flag flown in the face of the calm, ordered existence you deserve and possibly crave. You don’t have to be organised to get organised. Waiting – somehow, miraculously – to be organised before you start living a tranquil life means it will never happen. Just crack on. Fake it till you make it (nice and tidy).
Here are some of my favourite habits to weave into everyday life to make everything a little bit easier, smoother and less stressful.
- Become a friend of the list. It’ll stop you feeling overwhelmed. Use a notebook, your laptop or phone, whatever feels natural to you, to scribble down all the tasks running around in your head. But don’t let the list itself become a source of procrastination. Review it regularly and schedule times to get things done.
- Don’t wait until you have a whole day. (Tip: You’ll never have a whole day.) You’ll be surprised how much you can achieve in small amounts of time. In five minutes you can water plants, load or unload the dishwasher, fold laundry, mop a floor, pay a bill…
- Make it personal. A plan that works for a friend may not work for you. What do you want to be organised for? More time to read, to exercise, to spend with your family – focus on the rewards that motivate you.
- Find homes for things. All of those bits and pieces you’re constantly tripping over, picking up and putting down? Find somewhere for them to live. If you can’t, maybe you don’t really need them.
- What irritates you every day? Fix that first.
- Stop bargain shopping. It’s not a bargain if it’s going to be cluttering up your life and/or your hallway for months to come.
- If you’re overwhelmed by your possessions – every single thing we own requires cleaning, mending or otherwise tending to at some point – throw out or donate an item for each new thing you bring into the house.
- Don’t waste a trip. If you’re walking from one room to another, or going upstairs or downstairs, and there’s something you could take with you that needs to be in another place, take it. You might never be the sort of person who tidies up as they go along, but this is the next best thing.
- Don’t procrastinate. Doing something – anything, however imperfectly – will bring its own energy and spur you on to do more.
- Delegate anything you can. Bite your tongue. Imperfectly done is better than not done at all. Also, no one loves a martyr.
- Eliminate from your life and your inbox anything that doesn’t reflect the person you are now. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that no longer match your interests, resign from groups that no longer make you feel good.
- Make a go-zone, in the hallway if possible, for all the things you need when you leave the house – umbrellas, wallets, phone chargers, travel passes, keys – so you can exit without it becoming a 10-part drama.
- A tidy desk and a clean sink are the starting points for a smooth domestic ride. One makes everything from paying bills to supervising homework easier, the other ensures you can make dinner without heart-sinking mucking-out first. Just keeping these two areas clear will improve your daily life immeasurably.
- Do a quick inventory of your fridge and cupboards before you go shopping. So often we just buy the same things all the time, without taking account of what we already have. It cuts down on waste, and saves time and money, if you work out what you have in.
- A waste bin in every room and a hook on (almost) every door helps a house run smoothly.
- You probably don’t need all those cleaning products, you know. Washing-up liquid, a multipurpose cleaner, glass cleaner, loo cleaner and bathroom cleaner with limescale remover will see you through a lot. If you have a large house, a small stash of cleaning equipment on each floor makes quick clean-ups much easier, and therefore more likely to happen.
- Don’t multitask. Focus. You will get more done in the end.
- Keep important documents, such as passports, birth and marriage certificates, and insurance and mortgage paperwork, in plastic wallets in a ring binder. Keep it in a very safe place. This will make it easier to access them, and if you ever have to leave the house in an emergency, they are all in one place. And keep online scanned versions of them all, too, as backup.
- Remind yourself, each day is a blank slate. If today wasn’t great, recalibrate, renew your list, start again tomorrow. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have, so you don’t set yourself up for failure.
Get enough sleep. Make it a priority. Everything flows from that.
Dear Debora…your questions answered
How can I clean a jacket with a fine down filling? The silky outer layer is looking a little grubby and I have no idea whether I could possibly wash it carefully. There are no care labels and I don’t want to spoil it. Would you suggest dry cleaning?
– Gill Baker, Lincolnshire
It is a little tricky with no care labels, but I’m going to tell you what I do with my own down jacket – if you have any qualms, do consult your dry cleaner, but this method serves me well. Wash it on a delicates cycle in your washing machine at no more than 30C, ideally using a detergent meant for such items, such as Nikwax’s Down Wash Direct, £6.74 for 300ml from nikwax.com. Remove the jacket from the machine and lay it flat on an airer, or on a table on a towel, until almost dry, then tumble dry on a low setting with a couple of tennis balls or dryer balls to help fluff up the filling.
Top tips from readers
Hydrogen peroxide (3% solution, available from chemists or online – be careful never to combine it with bleach or vinegar) is amazing on bloodstains old and new. Just dab it on and the blood fizzes off. It has rescued a bloodstained carpet and a girl’s much-loved best dress where the bloodstains had been ironed in. All stains vanished.
– Sue Corbin, via email