Simplify your…. laundry

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When we first got married (20 years ago this year!), I have to say that – in the laundry department – we would have scored very badly on expertise (and on attention to detail).

If our washing had entered Eurovision, our score would have been “null points”.

As a couple, we were laundry novices, in spite of me having been trained the Swiss way as an au-pair and both of us having done our own washing at university.

How we did our laundry in the old days

We first lived in a small rented flat, with no garden. So washing and drying anything involved the use of:

  • washing machine
  • tumble dryer
  • clothes horse

We owned all of the above, but here’s the reality:

Everything went in the washing machine together. Everything got tumble-dried together. Everything ended up in a heated ball of tangled washing.

Reset

Fast-forward 20 years and things are so much better.

Here’s how we keep on top of our laundry and how we keep it simple.

Divide and conquer

Our laundry arrives in front of the washing machine, mainly via the washing basket (sometimes straight out of sports bags) in its usual mixed-up jumble. This is where the sorting starts.

Sort….

We sort by type to bring bedding together, towels together, dark items, coloured items, whites, delicates etc.

Wash…

I don’t own anything that needs hand washing. Most often, we use a quick wash programme that’s just half an hour; that gets different washes done speedily. Some of the delicate programmes take a little longer. We only do a hot wash if we really need to. That’s better for the environment.

Dry…

I’d like to tell you that I’m outside every morning, pegging out my washing in the garden. However, those of you who follow my Instagram account will know that we actually live in the land of sunshine and showers, so leaving the washing on the line at 07:30 and hoping it will have been gently wind-blown dry by 17:30 is somewhat optimistic. When we have a spell of good weather, we do dry washing outside, but throughout 3/4 of the year, we turn to indoor drying methods.

I use the tumble dryer, but only for certain items such towels or bedding that can tolerate this and which don’t dry well on the clothes horse.

I do not tumble dry clothes, principally because it’s bad for the longevity of the fabric but I am also mindful of how much electricity the tumble dryer uses.

We have a condenser dryer, which means I can salvage the water in the tank for re-use. Tumble dryer water does fine for mopping the floor. We’ve even used it for watering the back garden with no problems.

For clothes (and for items such as pure cotton duvet covers), we have two drying methods.

Heated clothes horse/air dryer

This is a wonderful machine! It holds more than one load of washing, is cheap to run and does a very good job. It’s an investment – and you need space to place an item like this – but I wish I’d got one of these sooner.

Heated dryer

Retractable wall-mounted dryer

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This is great when you have a small amount to dry; ours is above a radiator so the clothes benefit when the heating is on. My Onjenu dresses go perfectly on this dryer. All I need to do is hang them up, then transfer them to the wardrobe when dry – no creasing, no ironing. Wear, wash, dry then wear again. Simple!

Baskets

Once things are dry, we have two baskets into which they go:

  1. Items to be ironed (as few as possible)
  2. Items to be smoothed, folded and put away (which don’t stay here for long)

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Basket 1 gets lots of attention on Sunday, as this is my ironing day when I can listen to all my favourite podcasts and do my ironing right next to the wardrobes where the clothes are to hang. Occasionally, I’ll whip out the ironing board if I need to something mid-week, but normally this isn’t necessary.

Basket 2 is a breeding ground for things like towels, tea-towels, e-cloths, sports kit etc. The key to the success of this is keep things moving. As soon as there are a few items in there, we fish them out, fold, then put away.

I am self-appointed Head of Sorting and Folding, after which I leave little “gifts” on the island in the kitchen (piles of washing to put away) or on the bed of the owner.

Products

I’ve recently switched to a US product called ECOS. It’s a plant-based liquid detergent that is ultra-concentrated; a little goes a very long way. Even better, its chunky container fits perfectly in my cupboard. Plus, I’ll be able to recycle the bottle when all the product is used up.

I do use Vanish stain remover gel for stubborn stains, but have also experimented with undiluted white vinegar, which works reasonably well on lightly soiled items.

Tumble dryer balls are also the order of the day for improved efficiency.

Keep on top of it

The important thing is not to let things mount up. This does happen from time to time and the sight of what I call ‘Wishy Washy’s Laundry’ makes my heart sink.

So, we keep it going with a little and often approach. This way, we avoid overwhelm and no-one ever runs out of anything to wear (even when I maintain a pared-down wardrobe, Project 333 style).

What’s the benefit?

Taking a systematic approach to a necessary chore such as the laundry helps keep things simple. By establishing a routine, things just fall into place and you don’t have to think about it any more. This way, your time is freed up to do the things you’d rather spend time doing. Like I said in a previous post, that’s the minimalist way!

What laundry tips do you have? Any washing tips or laundry hacks? Please leave a comment in the reply section below!

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Simplify your…. paper mountain

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Last weekend, there were several ‘door droppers’ in our area, each with a fistful of leaflets or pamphlets for distribution.

To our bemusement, one of these included a Labour party flyer, which was 2 days late for local elections that had already taken place the previous Thursday. Whoops!

In one of the ‘drops’, I received a ‘Look Local’ magazine (advertorial and advertisements for local services), a leaflet from a local tree surgeon (who must be making lots of money to afford to do such a lot of direct marketing) and a flyer from Domino’s Pizza…

Junk mail

Some people avoid junk mail coming through the letterbox by placing a notice on their property. I haven’t done that, but I immediately place all incoming paper in the recycling bin.

However, how do you stop more junk mail coming through the post?

The Mailing preference service (MPS) is a good place to start. Did you know that if you’re still receiving unsolicited mail for a previous occupant of your home, you can also register his/her name with the MPS? Although the MPS website looks outdated (with a 2015 date on its site), I checked in with them and they are still operating.

Royal Mail’s opt-out scheme also stops all unaddressed mail being delivered by the postman.

So far, so good.

Genuine correspondence

What about incoming paper that you have to keep or want to retain? Well, you can recycle the envelopes as soon as they arrive (no need to remove the cellophane window).

Then, for me, I have a single place where incoming mail is collected. At the moment, this is a small drawer in my study, but I have used a wicker basket (currently full to the brim with our daughter’s revision papers!). The temptation is to leave things sitting on the island in our kitchen, but I do my best to whisk things away, leaving that surface clear.

For bank statements, bills and other correspondence that I may decide to keep for a number of months, I do have a filing system. It’s a series of A-Z box files that span the top shelf of a single wardrobe. I keep on top of its contents using my 3 S’s of paperwork.

Greetings cards

Recycle or make gift tags out of them. Create new cards by re-using a cut-out portion of an original card.

Newspapers and Magazines

I don’t know anyone who still buys a daily newspaper; so much of our news is consumed in ways other than print media.

For magazines, online services such as Texture offer a one-stop shop, with the opportunity to share the subscription across as many as 5 devices, plus a number of features (including a search function) that you simply don’t get by having a physical magazine. Newspapers, of course, offer similar subscription schemes.

Notwithstanding the amount of advertising contained in magazines, when it comes to it, if you want some lightweight reading matter, there’s nothing quite like having an actual magazine to browse through. After all, you can’t take the iPad in the bath with you (well, you could, but understand the risks!)

Years ago, I used to have a subscription to Real Simple, a magazine that wasn’t available in the UK. I had picked up a copy at an airport whilst flying from the US back to the UK and really enjoyed it. The UK equivalent is The Simple Things magazine. Now, I don’t buy any publication regularly but it is a treat to receive a magazine as a very occasional gift.

The sharing economy in action

My late grandmother regularly received magazines from her next door neighbour. The latest issue would be left on the wall adjoining their gardens, kept secure under a small brick to keep it from blowing about.

At Warwick Parkway station, I noticed recently another lovely way of sharing reading material. A book share box at the ticket office exists where you can leave a book you’ve read and pick up another – for free. At work, we have a basket in the kitchen for the same purpose.

What else comes through your door?

Pieces of paper, envelopes, flyers, letters, leaflets, booklets and other forms of paper aren’t the only things that come through our door.

Bags

Consider the bags that are posted through your door for charity collections (these typically come in plastic packets – arrgghh!). Where we live, they come from local charities such as the Air Ambulance Service. I say use them! Go to your ‘goods out’ drawer, fill the bag and remember to put it outside on collection day. Note to self!

Carrier bags from online supermarket shopping deliveries can be returned (and you might get money back for them). We do hand back these carrier bags when we have excess, but we also use them to line the small kitchen bin whose contents go to landfill.

Gift bags, luxury paper shopping bags or simple brown paper bags should always be re-used. I keep mine folded flat in a large gift-bag whose sturdy structure is great for keeping all the smaller bags in good order. That’s a trick I learned from Marie Kondo: the best way to store a bag is inside another!

Too many ‘bags for life’? Again, use them or pass them on.

If you ever order clothes online, these will inevitably come in a lightweight plastic bag. These are more difficult to re-use but I have done so whenever I’ve gone through a phase of eBay-ing unwanted items. Do you have any useful ways to re-use such bags?

And simply don’t buy food bags such as sandwich or freezer bags.

Maintain the habit

By implementing some of these ideas, you’ll certainly help keep the clutter – and the associated stress – down. Maintaining the habit of putting things away certainly helps when you need to retrieve something in the future and setting aside time to do your ‘family admin’ supports this goal.

How do you keep on top of your paper mountain and keep the clutter at bay? Reply to this post, below, or join our lovely Community!

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Simplify your…. inbox

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‘Technostress’ is not a new term, but I only came across it recently when used by a colleague who is doing a study on it for her master’s thesis.

It’s easy to infer the meaning of the term but not so easy to know how to respond when, we are required – especially in our work – to interact constantly with new technologies. It’s likely that all of us experience technostress at some point in our working lives; I’d suggest that email has a role to play in this.

Email as tool not torment

Email can be a mixed blessing. Since 1 November 2016, I have received over 2500 work-related emails and managed many more in my personal account.

When I wrote about Minimalism and the workplace, I offered the following tip on managing email:

If you’re using MS Outlook, on managing email, sort by ‘subject’ so that all threads relating to a particular email clump together. You can quickly see the ‘reply all’ threads and just keep the ones that matter.

This is a great way to deal with the bulk of incoming mail. You’re then left with the things that are truly ‘work’ as opposed to things that might just be ‘noise’.

By doing this, you’re filtering to what’s essential, which makes things simpler to start with. Email then becomes a useful and efficient communication tool rather than a stressor.

To sort or not to sort? That is the question

Once I’m down to the essentials, I organise incoming emails using the ‘Categories’ feature in Outlook . It’s much easier to pick out messages of a particular type if you have colour-coded them.

Categories

I am also a committed user of folders. In Outlook, I find it’s a lot easier to retrieve a message if I’m able to narrow down what I’m looking for by topic. Gmail, which I also use, seems able to retrieve anything you search for; I find Outlook less helpful in this regard.

Both categorising and using folders take time, but I find both of these really useful.

One could argue that it’s simpler just to leave emails unsorted but if your email volumes are anything like mine, you need a system that is consistent, memorable and straightforward. That’s where we go back to the meaning of the word ‘simplification’ from my last post: the process of making something simpler or easier to do or understand. I’d argue that the approaches described above do make the management of one’s inbox much easier.

Inbox zero?

I don’t aim for ‘inbox zero’ but, most days, I leave my work with (on average) around 20-30 emails remaining in my inbox. These are my ‘work in progress’.

I review incoming email first thing in the morning, then return to it as the ‘sand’ in my day, only when the ‘rocks’ (the important things) have been dealt with.

The typing pool

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If your work setting is office-based, you may sometimes wonder if you’ve gone back in time and joined a typing pool, as everyone spends significant amounts of time intensely working away at the keyboard.

Vary this routine by picking up the phone to communicate with someone else or go and have a face-to-face conversation. It’s good for you. You can have a stretch, move your body and engage with people in a way that you can’t when you are typing at your desk.

Remember, just because you can (email) doesn’t mean you have to. In her book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington describes organisations that instigate ‘no email’ days. Could you suggest this?

Annual leave as borrowed time

I have often thought of annual leave as ‘borrowed time’ because you have to work twice as fast when you return to catch up because the emails keep on coming whilst you’re away.

What about the idea of writing the following message in your automatic reply when you are on vacation? Dare you? How would that be received within your organisation or by those with whom you work?

Thank you for your message. I will be on annual leave from X to Y dates and will have no access to email during this time. If your email remains important to you after Y date, please do resend it.

A word on apps

Apps designed to support productivity can help move work out of your inbox and into a project management tool.

There are lots of apps from which to choose and more being developed all the time. According to Statista, there were 2.8 million apps available via Google Play in March 2017 and a further 2.2 million in the Apple app store. So, how do we discern what’s useful?

I have about a dozen apps that I use regularly but I am judicious in my choices (and have previously written my essentialist approach to the social media apps I use).

A small number of websites with related apps really do help me manage work tasks and maintain my sanity. This means I can file related emails away, as I can manage tasks through the tools I use.

Some are more sophisticated than others, but I’ve settled on Producteev as my tool of choice. Although aimed at teams, it’s also ideal for individuals. I can list any number of tasks (each with sub-tasks) and am able to categorise these and set date reminders. Once scheduled, the technology does the work of remembering so I don’t have to. I also love Evernote and use Dropbox for long-term document storage.

Carve out time

If you use email in your workplace, it’s a fallacy to suggest that it isn’t ‘real work’ and that, somehow, your actual work lies outside your inbox. However, if you have sufficient autonomy over how you manage your day, carve out space for ‘time out’ to provide a counter-balance to email if you can. When you do return to it, you’ll be more likely to resume your work with a little more energy.

So, how do you manage your inbox? Have you developed any top tips that you’d like to share? Please do comment below!

Next time

In the next post, we’ll move away from discussing virtual paper to talking about real paper, as we look at simplifying our approach to the management of ‘goods in‘ of the paper variety.

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