Donating to Charities: Is it a sustainable Cycle?

It depends on YOU weather it is. If you donate the right things at the right time to the right charity, you can indeed do a lot of good.
This is what  NACRO (National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisation) has to say on their website:
1.Ask yourself, would you give this item to a friend in need (ie it’s clean, undamaged, good quality)
2.Donate direct to the op shop during operating hours or call to arrange pick-up for larger items
3.Put rubbish and damaged items in your rubbish bin.

Communicate ahead of your de-cluttering day with the intended destination of your donations, because their rules, regulations, safety laws or just the need (or no need) for certain items changes all the time.
I personally think there is nothing wrong with donating money on top of you donating goods – because it might sometimes cost more money to sell items than they are worth!
But there is one more point I would add to the list above
4. Would you buy it in an Op Shop?
If the answer is no, don’t give it to them.  That’s the main reason why more and more shops don’t accept books and toys any more – because NOBODY buys them!
Which lead into the second part of sustainable donating:
5.Start buying at Op Shops
I made that decision a couple of years ago.
I was never really sure about used clothing, but I got over it as my business relights hugely on charities being able to take what my clients have to offer. I figured, if no one buys they will stop taking things – and I would have to close my shop, too!
I am more and more of an Op Shopper as I find it offers more variety and quirkier pieces. I know the staff of my local Vinnies quite well – I volunteered to do some sorting for them to get an insight what is involved and what sells. Invaluable information I can pass on to my customers – but also invaluable to me, because one of the ladies there always points out frocks to me that are my size and my taste – lake having a personal Op Shop Shopper!!!
Sustainable donating is also a solution for those who are very concerned with their contribution to the rubbish we have to recycle and store as landfill. It shifts the point of producing rubbish from letting go to when you buy it. The carbon footprint is created when you buy things not when you let go of them. Rubbish removal is the smaller part of the carbon footprint we create with over purchasing and consumption.

Don’t judge

Two weeks ago, this article made the rounds on my social media feed – and my PO colleagues. All POs where mad as hell about it, because it so doesn’t portray what we and real life is about.
I did think about talking about it on my Facebook page, but I didn’t want to give it more air time than it deserved.
Apart from being badly written (some people thought it could be tongue in cheek, others didn’t) it creates a completely wrong reality. It’s like supermodels pretending to fit into normal clothes and teenager girls developing an unhealthy body image through it.
These articles, together with makeover shows and lifestyle shows, create a false impression of real family life. It makes people who find dealing with stuff hard even more insecure and isolated. It takes the responsibility for one’s stuff out of everyone’s hand because the public, your next door neighbour, your mother in law makes the decision how much stuff you need to have.
But they shouldn’t and you shouldn’t accept that. Clutter is a very personal thing.  Only the one’s living in your household would be allowed to judge on it. If you think it’s o.k than it is o.k. If you think it’s to much and you are brave enough to ask for help, be sure to ask someone that DOES NOT JUDGE.
I do have to blow my own trumpet here, because that’s the most important trait of being a good Professional Organiser; non judgmental and confidential!
Please read the above mentioned article and make up your own mind!


Organisers talk, think and some  even dream about labeling.
Most use a labeling machine, but I love masking tape for various reasons:

  1. It’s cheap
  2. You can write big, bold letters
  3. It’s quick
  4. It’s not perfect
  5. You can peal it off easily

The two last ones are somewhat linked, because getting organised is a process. Sometimes the spot you first thought is a good one turns out to be not so perfect for various reasons. With sticky tape, you don’t worry about creating a new label, just peel it off and re use it at the new location.
There are two more side effects that are more personal/business:
As English is my second language, I am prone to spelling mistakes (that’s a bit of a lie, as I am crap in German spelling, too) so just re scribbling something on tape is much easier then typing again on a device.
Another reason is the imperfection of hand scribbled labels. You are more inclined to re think and re do things. I have seen labels on boxes that don’t work at all anymore but still get used just because it was so much work labeling in the first place.
It’s like buying a suspension filing system with an alphabetical labeling – where you struggle to create a file that starts with ‘Z’.
Here are a couple of ideas on how creative you can and should be with labeling:
Labeling Ideas

  • It doesn’t always have to be the file or container that is labeled. Try labeling the spot on the shelf

label shelf spot

  • when labeling and you don’t know where the box will end up – and that applies specifically for packing moving boxes, label on three sides:

lid or top of box,
one small and
one wide side.
This way, no matter how the space you are puting your box presnts itself, you can always see a lable

  • and in some cases even underneath could make sense: This was a garage de-clutter where we installed storage shelves just under the main ceiling beam. Meant for rarely used items, like sentimental value, we labeled the narrow side and underneath to be able to know what’s up there without always needing a stepladder

label underneath

  • you can visually divide boxes into two categories

device by label

  • and sometimes more then one language make it obvious who’s stuff it is.

bilingual labels

Just Change some Words

and it might change your attitude towards your to do list

Who doesn’t have that ever re-accruing task on their to do list; I used to have ‘finish Max photo album’ on it; week after week after week; till I decided to just not put it on there anymore and wait till that Max is moved out and I have time and will enjoy a bit of simple scrapbooking.
Another idea to get things off your to do list – and actually DO them, is to break it down into smaller tasks and label them with smaller words that don’t scare you off as soon as you read them. So for the above mentioned example; rather than saying ‘finish photo album’ which I knew would take 40 hours, I should have written down more specific tasks:
So instead of ‘finish’ it could say ‘sort photos for 30 min’ or even ‘play with photos for 30 min’. I might find the time for that and will enjoy that. My brain knows that finishing the photo Albums of 4 years of pre digital prints is completely out of the question so I am boycotting myself if I even put it on my list.
This goes for business tasks, too.  Don’t call it creating a marketing plan – a very open ended and intense verb; instead use write or start or brainstorm 10 possibilities, which is much more concrete and finite task. Then next week doesn’t have the same ‘create marketing plan’ on the list, but something like continue, or detail brainstorming to one page… and so on.
If you find breaking it into small tasks  too hard, try putting a time limit to it. 30 min will get you somewhere and is much easier to get started. A good tool to do it this way is the Pomodore Method

Living the Simple Life

(this is an article I wrote years ago for my newsletter – it never made it to the blog. But as we are going camping this weekend, I thought I give it some new life)

bus in outback nsw Last weekend we went camping. We have been going this particularly weekend for 5 years, with friends through school. The kids are a bit older now and it becomes easier for us adults to have a good time. (I am sure, the kids always had a good time)
When they where little, we used to take a lot of toys and kids entertainment – never used it. I remember one time we did kids Olympics without any preparation at all: three legged race with tea towels to bind legs together, horse racing: bigger kids carrying smaller ones, javelin: throwing sticks, running races and hopping games. We even had sparklers for a grand finale.
So much you can do with nothing, and camping is good fun because of the simplicity. You take one cup, plate and knife per person and nobody complains. The kids don’t need toys and we have a “no electronic games policy” that nobody questions. We are having fun living rather than making decisions: which toy to use and later pack up or which tablecloth to put on the table. Simplicity is good and gives you a lot of time. So when de cluttering just ask yourself the question: what would I take camping?

How to bake Sourdough Bread

Baking your own bread is a fantastic way to hide wholefood and veggies for those in the family who don’t normally eat them for breakfast (or lunch or dinner!!!) and sometimes a good way to use up leftovers that would otherwise be tossed out!

last nights bread

last nights bread

To start your first bread get started with a pre- dough:

Use half the sourdough starter , three tablespoons of (any) flour and about 1 cup of water. Mix roughly and leave for as long as you have time. I mostly start mine in the morning and leave till the kids come home from school at 3 pm


bacteria cause fermentation cause tiny air bubbles

When you get back to it, you should see tiny bubbles on the surface – stir!

Add the rest of the ingredients about 500 gr in weight.

And this is when making bread gets exciting, because you can add so many different things; I have done breads with: white wheat, wholemeal, oats, cornflakes, quinoa, lentils, small beans, ground up potatoes, ground up pumpkin, carrots, roasted onions, barley whole, barley shredded, coconut, all nuts, dried fruit, all seeds, leftover rice, leftover pasta, mashed potatoes, barley, buckwheat, polenta, spelt, bulgur…and two teaspoons of salt!

You can use these finely ground, cracked as bran or whole – all to your taste.

It’s easiest to soak whole grains in water before adding to the pre-dough. This is a good spot to put your salt in, too!

If you like the sour taste of sourdough use a bit of rye flour – but never too much as it doesn’t rise very well and makes the bread a bit sticky.

I would always suggest to go with 2/3 wheat flour as it has the most gluten and raises the best. Gluten is natures glue and gives the bread the ability to stretch enough to stretch over the air bubbles that the starter (or the yeast) will produce.

Add some more water – amount greatly depending on what you have added so far – some grains soak up more than others. You also have to decide here whether you want to bake you bread ‘free’ as in form a loaf shape and sit it on a baking tray (or pizza stone), or you want to bake it in a loaf tin.

I decide this as I go and how it turns out. I find free loafs have more crusty area but loaf ones are easier to cut and more uniform to fit into lunchboxes.

Now you need to kneed! As much as you or your machine can muster. The more you do a stretching motion rather than just a mixing one, the longer the gluten gets and the bigger air bubbles it can accommodate and the fluffier the bread gets.

Leave to rise one final time – anything between ½ and 2 hours.

Heat the oven to ‘full speed’ – this is the time you would put your pizza stone in if you have one, and if you are baking a free bread – loaf tins don’t benefit from a pizza stone; and put it into very hot oven for 10 min. Then turn it down to 150 and bake for 1 hour.

For a great crust, spray with water ever so often.

Take out and leave to cool for at least 20 min (although this might be hard!!!) otherwise you burn your tongue and smash the bread when trying to cut!

Best eaten at night, when everyone in the family is quietly asleep with some salted lard and chives!!!!

Guten Appetit!!


How to care for your sourdough starter

If you don’t have a sourdough starter, you can get kits from some health food stores or just do your own; its so much easier than people think:
Stir together 1 cup of rye flour and two cups of water! Leave it open and outside for a while. Most websites will tell you to always keep your sourdough starter at room temperature, but I don’t agree as they go off too quickly with the climate and humidity we have in Australia.
(I keep mine in the fridge, and, if I think of it early enough, have it out in room temperature before starting the next bread)
Best to cover it with a piece of cheesecloth to avoid any nasties falling in.
It isn’t very strong in the beginning – and you are properly going to pop it up with yeast for the first year when baking (specially in winter), but it will get stronger and stronger over the years. Mine is over 10 years old and rocks it now!!!

Stir it occasionally till it starts to smell sour and shows little bubbles on the surface. Feed with two tablespoons of rye flour, top up with some water, stir and put it into containers with lids.
I have experimented a bit with the wrong and right containers and my verdict is:
Glass is good, but metal lids just start rusting with the acids.

round Decor plastic container; 10cm diameter, 8cm hight

round Decor plastic container; 10cm diameter, 8cm hight

Plastic is fine and plastic lids don’t rust. Best are containers that aren’t quite airtight. It’s good when the extra air from the fermentation can get out – otherwise you might get a sloppy surprise when opening the container.
It’s always a good idea to split starter into two lots at some stage: you might want to pass one on and it is good to have a spare as they do sometimes go off (in summer); even with the best of care. You need to use both alternating to keep them healthy and going!
When you want to start baking with it, its best, as mentioned before, but not necessary, to have it come to room temperature. Pour half the mixture into your bowl for the bread; top the rest up with two tablespoons of rye flour and some water. The consistency should be a sloppy, but not overly runny mix. Stir and leave outside till finished with putting the bread ingredients together!
Every so often, depending on how often you use it, you should give the container and lid a thorough wash. Be sure to rinse under clean water because sourdough is bacteria and we don’t want to kill them with detergent.

Organise BEFORE back to school

by Helena Tosello

The “back to school” sales are on and every catalogue in the letter box seems to think that all kids need at this time is a new pencil case, school bag and USB drive. Wrong!

What they need is a bit of pre-planning and organisation done at home to help start the year right. Younger children will need an adult to do this for them but should be included in all discussions. Older children should do it themselves with supervision.

What sort of things am I talking about?

Last year’s stuff

  • Toss all last year’s notes and newsletters unless there’s specific reason to keep it.

Eg. Information regarding Term 1 2015 events like the swimming carnival.

  • Toss or file store all last year’s artwork, projects, notes, folders, awards, etc.
  • Clean out pencil cases and all bags: school, sport, dance, laptop and musical instrument cases – everything.
  • Check and keep what still has use. Bin the rest.
  • Combine useable items with the rest of the household’s stock.

Stationery is a big one here. You’d be surprised what you already have and will be relieved you didn’t buy another ruler, stapler, eraser or folder.

Do what Susanne says and store where they are to be used.

This year’s stuff

  • Check uniforms and shoes to see if they need to be bought now or later in the year. If later, diarise when. I recommend keeping the latest sizes your children are wearing in your phone so that if you see something on sale you can grab it without have to go home and check.

Check with friends who have left school or have kids older than yours for hand-me-downs or cheap bargains. Most schools’ uniform shops will be open at least the day before students start

  • Check what you have at home against stationery and textbook lists and make a shopping list so you can get items in one trip.

Use last year as a guide if you don’t have a specific list, and take your child with you. It may be annoying to shop with them, but they may have particular tastes and it’s more annoying if they won’t use what you buy.

  • Label everything.

Use student number or initial and last name if the whole name won’t fit.

  • Sort out with your child where they are going to put everything during school term. Small, expensive items are increasingly required for school, especially high school. Phones, laptops, tablets, headphones, USBs, chargers, cables all need to be labelled and stored together. Educators now recommend a charging station away from children’s rooms to prevent late night social media/gaming sessions.


  • Shine shoes and make sure everything, including bags and lunchboxes, is clean.
  • Sharpen pencils.
  • Refill mechanical pencils.
  • Check anything that needs batteries.
  • Plan when haircuts are needed.

This year’s routine

  • Be prepared for events early in Term 1. These are often swimming carnivals and increasingly photo days.

Note which pieces of uniform do not have stains and organise with your child so these are clean and pressed for the actual photo day.

  • Work out the weekly routine for term time with your older child.

Once school has started, be prepared to make to review the new routine a few weeks after term starts and to make changes where needed. Things change and after school activities like music lessons, band practice and sports may not yet be scheduled.

All the best for more organised start to the new school year.

Helena is a mum in the middle of everything trying to regain the centre stage of her own life. She lives in inner west Sydney with two boys and a fly in-fly out husband. She enjoys coffee with friends, being organised, researching, sharing, and working on her fledging blog. You can follow her at

New year – New Family Planner

It’s that time of the year… to perhaps decide on a new family planning system
This is our solution:

This is our old one

This is our old one

The old one I had for years and years till it absolutely fell apart. Loved that it had pouches to just stick notes into. Unfortunately always looked fairly messy and I can’t get it anywhere any more.
family calendar sketch

idea for new family planner

idea for new family planner

Being an Interior Architect (before I became a Professional Organiser) I looked around and eventually designed my own using standard items.

new family planner

new family planner

The panels are magnetic glass whiteboards from Aldi; IKEA has something very similar and it always depends on the space you have. 4 of these fit almost too tight between two doorjambs.
I outlined the grid with permanent marker, the rest goes on with whiteboard marker. I also have a magnetic star that always sits on the square for today!!!
I write all appointments on it – colour coordinated: kids are black, hubby blue, I am green. The teenagers in the house started using it and put their own dates in. Works a treat!!!