What to do with clutter after you’ve cleared it?

Paintbrushes in a jar

Dear Sam,

I’m glad to hear the gingerbread went down well. I’ll look for some more recipes for us to try before long. Perhaps something savoury next time.

How are you getting along with cutting down on using your phone? I’ve just had an unplanned Digital Detox as we’ve been to see G’s Mum who doesn’t have Wi-Fi. I must admit, I enjoyed being away from the internet and using the time to read more, though I do seem to have slipped back into old habits now we’re home again. Perhaps the trick for me is to pretend I’m in north Wales.

Finding a new home for old furniture

Like you, I’ve been thinking lately about clearing some clutter. We’ve recently redecorated our bedroom and have had to part with some wardrobes and other furniture that was surplus to requirement. Although our local council will collect large items, I didn’t want them to go to landfill. They were serviceable but I didn’t feel confident in trying to sell them ourselves, so what to do with them? Fortunately, after searching online, I realised that the British Heart Foundation have a furniture shop nearby. They were really helpful; after sending them an email, they called me back to arrange for their staff to collect the furniture. They arrived right on time and were very professional. A couple of weeks later, we received a letter to let us know how much money the furniture had raised. Certainly better than sending it to the skip!

Your unwanted item might be perfect for someone

When something hasn’t been suitable for donation to a charity shop, the other option I’ve used in the past is Freecycle. I’m not sure if you have this in the US, but it’s a website where people can list things they no longer want or post requests for items they need, so you can also match your item to someone who is looking for that very thing. It can be really rewarding to pass possessions on to new owners; when my parents moved house we used Freecycle to rehome some large garden planters full of spring bulbs. They went to a gardening-mad couple who were thrilled with them, as the stone had aged beautifully in the time my parents had enjoyed owning them.

Window panes with snow
Snow is much more enjoyable when it stays outside the house.

I’ll be using Freecycle again soon, as during the recent wintry weather, two inches of snow ended up in our attic. Fortunately, we managed to clear it out before it melted, but it reminded us that we have far too much stored up there and now’s the time to sort it out!

Much love,


P.S I should also tell you about two acts of kindness during our renovations. We used a local carpenter and decorator and, accidentally, the decorator damaged one of our new wardrobes. Not only did the carpenter sort it out for us at no cost, but the decorator bought wine and flowers to thank us for our patience, and beer to thank the carpenter. Top customer service and all-round kind behaviour – big firms take note!


Top ten ideas for gifts that do good

Dear Sam,

Happy Thanksgiving for yesterday!

I was thinking of you and how grateful I am that we can connect through our blog, too. I was delighted to hear that being kind is so good for us – that’s definitely a win-win situation.

Talking about being kind, the season of goodwill is approaching and I’ve been pondering the gifts I need to buy. This year, in the spirit of Staircase 9 17, I’ve looked for presents  which help people as well as (hopefully) making the recipient happy. I thought I’d share my Top Ten ideas with you today:

1. Buying seasonal supplies is a great way to support charities and this year I’ve ordered some cards from Book Aid and my wrapping paper from Alzheimer’s Society.

2. As well as buying online, it’s fun to keep a look out for presents at the craft fairs and fetes that are held before Christmas in support of causes close to home.

coffee Christmas

3. Gifts of food always go down well with my friends and family, so I’m planning to get some Manumit coffee, which supports victims of modern slavery. Lots of our local shops sell Fairtrade goods, too, and I might add in some biscuits, a couple of mugs and a pretty tea towel to complete the present.

4. As well as buying from charities I try to support local ventures, which help to make the area we live in more vibrant and interesting.  We have a couple of art colleges nearby and some of the students sell their work directly, so you can find a unique gift and help someone out at the start of their career.

5. I often give books as gifts and I noticed that there is a range of paperbacks for sale which support Cancer Research UK.  I also have my eye on Stressed, Unstressed, the poetry anthology produced by the ReLit Bibliotherapy Foundation.

6. Beautiful accessories are a favourite option for my friends and I like the purses, jewellery rolls and bags made by Lua, who work with craftspeople in Vietnam.


7. I love to give and receive lotions and potions and I found some lovely soaps produced by Arthouse Meath, which is a collective of artists living with disabilities.

8. We all have people on our present list who already have everything and the ‘virtual’ charity gifts like ‘give a goat to Granny’ have been popular for some time.  I like the idea of matching the gift to the person’s interests. One year I paid for stethoscopes for use in the developing world on behalf of my doctor parents and this year an option caught my eye for booklovers: to support the work of Chawton House Library (which is at the ‘Great House’ near Jane Austen’s home in Hampshire, UK) you can adopt a book  on someone’s behalf.

9. Another idea for those who seemingly have it all is tickets for an evening out. An ideal choice is a charity concert or film screening; you can find out what’s on by searching online or contacting a charity close to your heart to ask about forthcoming events.



10. And finally, why not offer a ‘voucher’ for some help? It can be anything you know the recipient would appreciate, from time to help sort through a collection of photos to babysitting for new parents. It’s easy to print a bespoke voucher and you can pair it with a suitable small gift like a lovely album for the pictures or a  bottle of wine for a pre-dinner drink.

Have you made a start on your seasonal shopping? I’d love to hear how your preparations are going.

Much love,






Charity Miles

Dear Claire,

Thanks so much for sharing the recipe for your bake sale brownies. The challenge in my household will be making sure enough of them actually make it to the bake sale! And then of course comes the other challenge of working off the calories!

I’ve come across a solution, though, in the form of an app that I’ve just downloaded to my phone, called Charity Miles. When you walk or run or cycle, the app tracks your activity and then for every mile, a donation between 10 and 25 cents goes to a charity, depending on the activity. The money comes from corporate sponsorships, and there are several charities to choose from (the Alzheimer’s Association is one of them, as well as the Nature Conservancy, Habitat for Humanity, Autism Speaks and several others). I thought it was a fabulous idea to encourage you to exercise (which as we know has a positive effect on mood and happiness) and to make a difference to others at the same time.

For me it’s the perfect time to try this, as the good weather starts to kick in and we head out for cycle rides and walks in the park. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Happy summer!

With love,

It’s good to talk…

Dear Sam,

 I hope you enjoyed the Buffalo String Works concert and I’m sure you were very proud of J and his friends; it sounds like a wonderful initiative and I love the fact that the universal language of music brings everyone together.

Speaking of J, I expect he’ll be spoiling you on Sunday as I believe it is Mother’s Day in the US? I hope you have a lovely day and I’m sure you’ll be thinking of your own Mum, too. As you know, we had our own Mother’s Day here in the UK back in March; these red-letter days are a perfect chance to catch up with people who are important in our lives, aren’t they? That reminded me to tell you about  a great project I read about the other day which recruits volunteers to telephone older people who might not have a lot of friends and family for a regular chat. The Silver Line  is one of the charities in the UK which runs a scheme like this but, of course, you don’t need to volunteer formally to be able to reach out to someone  who might enjoy some company or a chance to talk. By picking up the phone – or writing a letter – we can all brighten someone’s day very easily.

Do you remember that when we were at college, we had to go to a phone box to ring people – how much nicer for students these days to be able call from the comfort of home using their mobile phones!

Much love,


The companionship of books.

Dear Sam,

How is your decluttering coming along?  I think splitting what can be a daunting task into daily efforts is an ideal approach.  I’m sure your house will look spick and span by Easter Sunday and the charity shop will be grateful, too.

Books are one of the things I often buy from, and donate to, charity shops.  It’s not news to you that I love reading, of course, since we met studying English. These days, as I make my way through my to-be-read pile, I try to pass my old books along and make room for something new. Over here we have great specialist Oxfam bookshops which are always good for a browse. Do you have similar shops in the U.S?

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately as I’ve just done a fascinating course. It was called Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing. It was one of the myriad subjects offered to study online at no cost through Futurelearn.com.  I’m really interested in the way that reading can help us at challenging times and I learned that the concept of bibliotherapy goes back centuries: the entrance to the sacred library of Pharaoh Rameses II bore the beautiful inscription, ‘Healing-place of the soul.’  I also recently heard about some research which found that reading for just six minutes can reduce stress by 68%, more than taking a break with a cup of tea, apparently. Reading with a cup in hand must be extra-relaxing!

So, when we give someone the gift of a book – perhaps this weekend instead of, or alongside, an Easter Egg – it seems that we’re doing more good than we realise.

Much love and Happy Easter,


Give up clutter

Dear Claire,

First, I have to say a big thank you for that clip from Morecambe and Wise. Happy for sure. It brought me right back to childhood Saturdays at my grandparents’ house. A few years back now!

Just a quick post today, but I heard this the other day and thought you might like it. The conversation was around what to give up for Lent – and the idea was to give up clutter! Specifically, pick one thing a day to give up, put it in a box, and once Lent is over, take the box to a charity shop.

I thought this a rather clever way to help yourself and benefit others at the same time. And depending on one’s tradition, it doesn’t have to be tied to Lent, of course; it could work at any time of the year. It’s good for me, anyway, as I’m enlisting my other family members too, and suddenly spring-cleaning doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming….

Lots of love,