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!!!

Clutter free Christmas gifts

Knowing that I wanted to write about this, I have been wrecking my brain and really had a good look around – and guess what, it’s not that easy. But I still think we should try hard not to burden our friends and family with stuff. You don’t want them to call in an Organiser after Christmas, because they just can’t face it any more.
for the kids- or the whole family?
spatula green
A brilliant voucher I came across is “paint a ceramic plate”. You basically buy the greenware inclusive the glaze and the firing. The ones I did with my Art Club kids were $22. And there is no age limit. I have done mugs with a three year old- in ceramic everything looks great. What about a voucher for a whole family?
In Sydney try fired up art

Kris Kringle

Another huge cause for cluttered gifts is Kris Kringle. And because they are rolled out with a price limit, (which is a good idea), the usual idea of lessmess gifts; giving vouchers doesn’t work here! Or does it?
The best secret Santa gift I ever got was a booklet of Christmas stamps. That’s a low key voucher EVERYBODY will use. And they are pretty, too. With a bit of creative wrapping you’ll have the perfect gift for everyone between 18 and 99 years of age.

18,867 times the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Some while ago, I found this in the SMH :
$1250 Estimated amount each Australian household spends a year on items they don’t use.
When I first read that, I thought, that’s a lot, but when you think about it, that’s $104 per month.  I would say that number is much higher. I would suggest that that’s the amount people spend on food they don’t eat.
I looked around a bit more (googled a bit more) and found these facts:
Food waste:

  • More than one-third of the world’s food produced for human consumption is wasted — more than one billion  tons of food per year (that is 18,867 times the weight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge)
  •  Consumers in North America and Europe throw away more than 90 kg of food per person per year. Americans throw away about one-third of the food they buy.
  • Though a lot of food waste happens on the consumer level, retailers and food producers waste a lot of food as well because of the emphasis on foods that looks good.
  •  According to a study by the United Nations, a major source of food waste is “buy one get one free” sales, which tend to lead to consumers buying more than they can use and then throwing away the excess.

With Christmas around the corner, I don’t think that most of us can stay under the $104 per month mark.
But we could try: Planning is always a key element, so you don’t panic and go into last minute purchase frenzies.
Also, have a backup plan. My husband (and his whole family) have a history of always over catering for their guests. And as nice as that was when we were younger and had no money to buy fancy food ourselves, it does leave you with a bitter aftertaste at the end of the day.
My family, on the other side, always left the really good stuff for ‘us’ and went for the cheaper versions for guests.
Both feels not quite right.
I think a solution could be to have a backup plan.” If we run out, we can always serve sandwiches, make pancakes, serve a bit more ice cream or open some cans.” There is a German proverb that translates like this: “ Mum, pour some water into the soup, we have guests coming”


In three weeks time, a colleague of mine, Sarah from Heavenly Order and I are going to do our bit for sustainability and remove items we collected over the last months. Instead of the usual charity run I do after most clients visits and much to my familie’s disapproval for invading their space with stuff, I started my own LessMess collection – to turn it into our own charity store at the Rozelle Markets on Saturday, 22.11.2014

I did of course inform my clients. I will always let you know where your donatable items will be going.

We are going to sell a whole lot of household items, clothes, toys and books. The proceeds will go directly to Havannah House, a charity in Forbes, which is, like most charities, in desperate need of funds.

What ever is left over from the market day, together with the items we don’t think would sell well here, will be driven over the dividing ranges. This is because they are not just short of funds, but people aren’t as affluent as they are in Sydney, and donations are much thinner on the ground.

I have personally not been there yet, but we have been told they need everything. From clothes to bed linen, blankets to kitchen utensils, books and above all stationery.

I am currently in negotiation with Toll Ipec to get it transported at no cost.

I met the ladies who run the refugee and was astounded by the disadvantage people beyond the mountains face.

Havannah House is one of the very few institutions that will try to house families together – everyone else separates the boys from as early as 14 and they have to live with the men. That is hitting home very close to my heart – when I see my own older boys and imagine them going off the rails and having to live with grown men rather than their siblings and mums…. so wrong in my opinion.

Havannah House doesn’t get any government funding and rely solely on the work and goodwill of the people in Forbes.

So, if you have been thinking about de cluttering or hiring someone to help. Could this be the necessary last push to get you going?

If you are in the area on Saturday, 22.11.2014 please drop in and say hi; and obviously spend some money with us, because sustainable de cluttering is a two way street: it is going from one house and entering someone else’s!

Havannah House Ministries:

Havannah House Logo I got to know the charity and, more importantly, the ladies who run it, through Sarah. We have both been in the industry for over 9 years and have been working together on various jobs, projects and enjoy the occasional shandy together.

The force behind Havannah House is a handful of men and women with so much energy, wisdom, charity and generosity. They help the less fortunate not just by giving things, but focusing on teaching life skills, so people get a new start and a chance in life – and can pass on knowledge to their kids. They teach them housekeeping and repairing skills, money and budgeting, childcare and reading. It is so important in our modern life, for everybody. Because life is not only about academia and job success, but about living and finding a balance.

On their website it says they provide:

  1. Support to people in need, based on resources available, in order to meet the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of those who seek help. This support may include:
    • the provision of temporary accommodation
    • advocacy, life skills learning
    • counseling services and referrals to other agencies
  2. A range of projects and activities that:
    • develop skills for employment
    • build self-worth, well being and self-empowerment

Add text


Garage Sale Part II

How are you going with your Garage Sale?
(If you missed part I, read it here
Still motivated and got the basics done? Eager to get rid of that pile in your garage?
Here are the next possible steps:


Now that you have an idea of what and how much you have, a topic might start emerging. This helps with promoting your sale as something a bit different.
If you register you sale with “garage sale trial’ early enough, they’ll send you a participating pack – including some signage!
They also provide a platform for advertising your sale – any other time the classifieds in local papers or school newsletter can be a good idea.
Also promote to friends and family – social media, especially local facebook groups are ideal!
Putting up garage sale signs around your neighbourhood is another useful tool for advertising your sale. Again, keep it simple and to the point. Signs do not have to be elaborate or fancy. In big letters, print “GARAGE SALE”. Underneath that, print the address and time of the sale. If there is room, you can list some of the items that will be sold. Put the signs up the night before or the morning of the sale. Any longer than that and they tend to get torn down or ruined by the elements (rain, wind, etc).
Remember – please take your signs down after the sale!


If you happen to have a theme, it helps with pricing, because you can keep research down to a minimum. Have a roll of sticky labels handy and price as soon as you add to the sale pile.
For everything weird and wonderful check out the sold item button on e Bay and price at least 10% under (that’s the eBay fee you are saving)
Get back to your mission statement for the sale: If you want to make money, price accordingly but be prepared for a disappointment.  If you want to engage in your community, save the planet form landfill, have a reason to minimalise your household and have fun; have that reflect in your prices!
Here are a couple of hints:

  • Sit down and think of the most expensive item you might have.
  • What would be the cheapest item
  • What is your cheapest category – are all items in that category going to be the same(eg: books)
  • Are the kids going to sell stuff, too? Into their own pocket or are you sharing the proceeds around or spent on a family ‘thing’?
  • There should be something for every buyer, so have items that sell for 5 or 10 cents.
  • Bundle things up, give discounts: buy 6 books get the seventh one free.
  • Have a basket of adult and kids freebees
  • Bag things up and sell as lucky dips

Bargaining is a big part of the tradition and excitement of garage sales. You should be willing to bargain, as almost everyone that goes to a garage sale will try to bargain with you. You are under no obligation to bargain, but it is to your advantage to do so. Remember, your goal is to sell everything. You don’t want to be carrying a bunch of stuff back into your house at the end of the sale.

Setting up on the day

Expect early birds!

The best way to set up your items is to lay most things out on tables. Don’t pile things on top of each other so that people have to move stuff around to see it. Make sure everything is clearly visible. Clothing is best displayed when it is hung up. You can string a cord up between two poles and hang the clothes from that or you can buy inexpensive clothing racks from discount stores. Clothing looks its best when it’s hanging up and it is much easier for people to browse through what you are selling.

Large items should be prominently displayed in front of the tables or on the front of your lawn or driveway. This will attract possible buyers as they drive by. It will also make it easier to move them out if they happen to sell first.

You’d clean up your house if you were trying to sell it, right? Garage sale customers are more likely to buy (and to buy at higher prices) if it looks like the merchandise came from a good home with owners that care for their things. They’re also more likely to feel comfortable stopping and browsing if your sale space is attractive and clean.

Think about free coffee and tea or lemonade for the kids! Water is a definite; it can get very hot in October.
In that spirit, if you can offer a place to sit and some shade, you might want to make that very visible for people passing by or even advertise it .

Make it easy for shoppers to test electronic items.
If someone really needs to go to the bathroom, direct them to the nearest public building, or make sure someone in your family (or you) takes the person there and waits until they get out so that you don’t end up with problems inside. You are under no obligation to let anyone into your house, even to use the restroom, but you might consider making exceptions for small children or the elderly.

Get plenty of change. Unless you’ve got a lot of change at home, chances are you’ll need to visit the bank the day before the sale to a float. Keep it in one secure place or have one person with the money tied to their body on the day.
Have extra help on hand. Always have several people at the sale – it’s important for personal security and convenience. This way you can take a bathroom break when you need one, and you can keep things in order. As your sale progresses, things will unavoidably get disheveled and disorganized (possibly even broken). If you want to sell as much as possible, you should try to keep things looking nice. Keep all books with spines showing. Keep all clothes on hangers. You might need to refold clothes or linens frequently. Keep all the brightly-colored, newest-looking things in front of your yard, and on the tops of all the piles.

Have an exit strategy

What are you going to do with the items that don’t sell? Going back to your motivation for the sale should give you some answers. You could file it all back into the house, hold a free garage sale after the sale, pack your car and drive it to a charity, dump it, sell it online… or a combination of all!

Have fun!!!

Planning a Garage Sale?

with an Australia wide Garage Sale Trial event coming up , you might want to get your head around it now:

Check your motives: If you are doing it to earn money, this is not the right way. It will cost you in excess of 15 hours to organise and do a garage sale – if you work that amount of time in a payed job, you’ll make more money.
If you want to sustainably shift some stuff, connect to your community and have a fun day… teach your kids about money, haggling, how to deal with strangers, you are on the right track.
Also, if the thought of all your stuff going to landfill just keeps you from de cluttering, if you work well with a deadline, this is for you!
Have (more) fun:Clear on your motives but want to have even more fun? Ask a neighbor, the whole street friends or relatives to go in it together.
It’s more fun and your might join someone with a better location – because location is key. If you are planning to do it in the back lane where no passersby will see it, it will be hard to attract people on the day. You  will also have more variety (or less, which can work equally well – themed Garage sales apparently do very well) You will also have an accountability team and more fun launching and promoting it online.
Get started by registering it on the Garage Sale Trial page!
Next is a bit of planning so you don’t get stressed out in the last minute – remember, getting rid of clutter is going to de stress your  life! That’s the goal to have in mind when it will get a bit hectic!!
Sit down  with a piece of paper and your calendar.
Brainstorm (with your family or with yourself) where there could be hidden treasures in your house. Are they big items you just pick on the day or does the whole room need a bit of a de clutter before you can sell those unwanted items?
Figure out where you will store them till the day comes – again having a team behind you can really help!
If you need de cluttering you will need time – and that’s where your calendar comes into play. Find pockets of time – doesn’t always have to be 2 hours in one stretch and block them out for Garage Sale de cluttering.
Start somewhere, but start as soon as possible. It might seem like a long time but the 26th of October will be here sooner than you think. If you realise you can’t face it or are getting nowhere despite having lots of stuff, consider hiring/asking for help!
(there will be more details on the nitty gritties for the week leading up to the event and for the big day…)

coming home from a holiday

be prepared for the day you come home

following Helena’s tips in the last post, you might already have bits and pieces of produce that need cooking. Prepare something now that freezes well so you have a meal on the table when you come back.Winter lends itself to a casserole in the slow cooker or pressure cooker. There is an idea for Cidered Pork here:

cubed pork shoulder
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 tablsp. plain flour
300 ml dry cider
4 carrots, diced
1 apple or pear
salt, pepper, sage
throw into slow cooker and cook for a day on low. Let cool and freeze. Serve with bread
I would also freeze a small bottle of milk and some bread to avoid an early morning dash to the shops before you even had your coffee!

Going Away

Going Away

with the spring holidays almost upon us, you might want to take this organiaing challenge on this year. Your fridge will thank you and you’ll just love coming home to one less thing to think about!

by Helena Tosello
Now’s the perfect time to spring clean your fridge

Planning for a trip is hard work but half the fun as you’ll be enjoying the fruits of your labour. Think of spring cleaning your kitchen the same way – a few tasks that will take some effort and planning but that you will enjoy down the track. Especially when returning home, hungry and tired at the end of a family holiday. A clean tidy house is like a soothing balm in those trying circumstances.

Step 1
One week before your departure take stock of what you have and plan meals to use up any fresh items, leftovers or random ingredients. Freeze whatever you can (overripe fruit, leftovers from meals in the last two days). Throw away anything already beyond its usefulness and give away anything that you won’t be able to use in time.

Be realistic. Are you really going to make that exotic Thai green curry that still require you purchase kaffir lime leaves and fresh ginger root? If the answer is no, then give away most or that entire bunch of coriander, or make some pesto and freeze it.

Step 2
As sections of the fridge become bare, move items to other areas and clean just that one section. This can be done in just 5 minutes while you wait for the kettle to boil and your cup of tea to steep. Some plastic shelves, covers, inserts in fridge doors can be removed completely and washed in soapy water or the dishwasher.

Take the opportunity to remove condiment bottles and jars and wipe the holders and shelves AND the bottom of the bottle/jar before you replace it. Take a moment to decide whether to rearrange items. Wipe down the door seals to improve/maintain the energy efficiency of your fridge.

Step 3
After a couple days of this sort of spot cleaning, enough of your fridge will be clean enough to inspire you to clean the rest of it. I even did my freezer drawers last summer holidays!

Ensure that on the day of departure you allow time for any last dishes to be washed, dried and put away and for the bins to be emptied. That way when you returned refreshed from your holiday – even after a horror flight or car trip – you’ll arrive in a clean, orderly, refreshed home environment easing your way back into the hustle and bustle of daily life.
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