Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Faster, pussycat! Kill! Kill!

In Fasting on March 19, 2013 at 8:47 pm


A quick up date on fasting – and the title above is just a shameless excuse to reference the glorious title of my favourite all time Russ Meyer ‘exploitation’ camp fest movie, which I alway say to encourage myself at the start of each fasting day…

Today was my first fast for two flipping weeks. Not because I lost my commitment, but because I had a run of ill health which meant I had to take enormous numbers of antibiotics and pain killers.

Do not ever try to take four antibiotic tabs and two paracetamol after eating just a banana. Major upchuck situation. So I had no choice but to start each day while I was on the meds with a hearty cushion of porridge, with similar ballast at dinner time.


It was very frustrating as up to that point it was going rather well. I got off to a bit of a rocky start, until I understood quite how little food 500 calories really amounts to.

I found it much easier to follow my fasting buddy’s routine and eat nothing at all on the day of the fast until dinner. It’s oddly easier. With plenty of tea, the odd cup of black coffee, copious sugar-free gum and the odd apple (50 cals), I’d get to 6pm without being bothered.

It’s really quite weird and makes me wonder why I eat so much on a normal day.


The other thing that made a big difference to me was then really limiting what I do eat. With my low height, middle age and long yo yo dieting career, I’ve found I had to restrict my calories to more like 300 to get a result.

Once I figured that out (and two boiled eggs, two oatcakes and some broccoli became my new best friends) I was losing one, or two pounds a week – with the greater loss if I exercised.

By the time I hit the nasty infection I’d lost about 10 pounds and had just reached the magic weight below which I start to feel really good – and a whole new section of my wardrobe fits again.


With the forced hiatus – which also included several days lying in bed motionless like Jabba the Hut – I’ve put half of it back on again, which is maddening. But I’m not giving up.

5:2 fasting works. You lose weight steadily but slowly – and it’s so oddly easy to do, knowing you can eat what you want (without going bonkers) in the morning.

I also feel really good and super energised on the days I do it and one last – amazing – benefit for me, it seems to help my crappy rosacea skin (and Not That Pippa reports the same in comments, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence).


I’m having another two week break from it when I go to New York next week (I’m human…), but then I’m back on for the long term.

And now here is the trailer from that very special film…

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris

In De-cluttering, Home on March 17, 2013 at 12:57 pm

blue loo

Last night I did something truly extraordinary. I picked up an A4 envelope folder overflowing with delicious-looking recipes torn from magazines – and I threw the damn thing into the recycling.

Then, just to make sure, I threw in several recently rinsed tins and plastic bottles, so it would get soggy and there would be no temptation to take it out for ‘just one more little look’ in case there was something I did ‘need’ to keep.

That folder has been a dust-gathering toxic ‘should’ (I was always going to file them in sections in a binder…) in my life for ten years.

I keep looking at the corner on the floor next to the cookbook shelves where it used to sit and doing a little mental jig of happiness that I’ve finally unburdened myself of it.

Inspired by that, I then picked up ‘The Taste of Italy’. This is a loose leaf folder of a series of articles which appeared in the Sunday Times in the late 1980s – which I have been shifting from home to home and continent to continent ever since without ever cooking anything from it.

That is now in the box of books ready for the school book sale. And breath…

These two bold gestures are some of the signs that I am really moving on to a new stage with my crap clearing (clutter’s too dainty a word, I’ve decided).

One of the things which is has really helped me to do this was a link given to me by one of you – the only problem is that despite scrolling through all the comments and my Twitter feed, I can’t find that person to credit and thank.

So if you were the person who told me about The Happiness Project – here’s a massive thank you and can you please get in touch so I can credit you on here?

Grethen Rubin has put together a truly brilliant website about all the small changes we can make in our daily lives to be more happy, with a whole section on decluttering. Reading this post, entitle Don’t Get Organized was one of the major life bulb moments of my life – and I urge you to take a look.

I then went on to read this one, which is also life changingly wise.

I now feel I’m making real progress in my house, which I’m achieving by doing one little bit at a time. Rather than overwhelming myself with the notion that my WHOLE HOUSE needs decluttering – which it does – I just do one cupboard, one shelf, or one corner, whenever I have a spare 15 minutes.

In this way I’ve now done a kitchen cupboard of great horribleness – throwing out some cornflour that was past its sell by in 2004, along with other treats. It’s now clean, half empty and I can see exactly what I’ve got.

I’ve also done my spice shelf and the top level of my fridge, which was a graveyard of half used bottles of pickles etc.

Every time I look at one of these cleared and ordered areas, it fills me energy and excitement to get on with the next one – which is why I’ve used the picture at the top there.

This is my spare loo and it was the first room I got sorted when we moved into this house. Every time I felt panic setting in that we would never get it all unpacked, I’d go and sit in there with the door shut and remind myself that one day the whole house would look like that.

Sure enough it did, it’s just in the intervening years, that it’s got overfull and is making me panicky again.

I’ve now re-done the loo (throwing away several years of World of Interiors magazines in the process, which was hard, but necessary…) and once again it’s serving that calming, encouraging purpose.

Another on line treat that’s helping me keep the faith was shown to me in comment by Rachel. Sorry if the language upsets you but it’s called Unfuck Your Habitat, which may be coarse, but it really makes me laugh.
It’s a tumblr blog with a the irreverent attitude the title suggests, full of good advice and encouraging pictures which readers have posted of their home transformations (don’t be put off by the less than fabulous décor in some of them – they still look better cleared up…)

It also made me laugh by introducing me to the concepts of the ‘floordrobe’ and the Room of Doom. I have a room which combines these attributes. It’s the long term aim of my declutter and it was so comforting to know I’m not alone in having a relatively OK house, with one disaster area in it.

Mine contains the area where we hang up our coats and the room is such a hog pen we all just throw them on the floor – the floordrobe.

Clearly this has to change – and now I believe it will.

Let it go

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2013 at 11:53 am


One of the great joys of blogging for me is the instant feedback of the comments.

It’s so satisfying when lovely people ‘get’ what you’re talking about – and even more so when they add further texture to the subject by relating their own experiences and insights.

Hoarding and hurling has garnered a particularly satisfying crop of comments and while I know you could just go and read them, I wanted to share the best bits directly.

One of them immediately tapped into a section I had cut out of my original clutter clearing post, because I thought it was getting too long – which was that one of the best bits of the Life Laundry TV show was the way they took all the stuff out of the person’s house and stacked it all up on a playing field, or in their garden (if it was big enough…).

Seeing all that stuff out of the context of the house was really edifying. You’d need Melbourne Cricket Ground for mine.

So imagine my delight when I heard from a very nice lady called Lissanne Oliver, who had presented an Aussie TV show ten years ago, that was based on Life Laundry and cut right to the chase, being called: Your Life on the Lawn.

Here’s a link to excerpts and she’s going to be posting follow ups to see how the participants are getting on ten years after being sorted by her, which will be gripping viewing.

The first of these is a piece by second hand dealer, Simon Fenner about the state of the market for selling the stuff you want to unload. It was an edifying watch for me, as I had just wasted the best part of a morning putting some vintage pillow slips to sell on eBay.

Let’s just say, I’ll be sending the rest of my cleared clutter to op shops…

Another comment which really touched me came from the delightfully named Wattleflat Jane ( real name, Jane Neville). It brought big fat tears to me eyes, so I’m just going to quote it here:

“For months I have been sorting through Mum’s things. She passed away last year and had kept every card, painting, letter etc that I (and my brother) had ever given her. Plus all our school books and Uni notes. Plus everyone else’s letters and cards.

Mum also had an extensive collection of clothes, bags and shoes. Immaculately kept and organised. Lovely things from the 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond (she was dainty and I am a heifer, so unfortunately I can’t wear much).
Carefully stored in the wardrobes were my darling Dad’s clothes. He passed away in 1999.( In one sense it was even more difficult for me to sort through his things).

But wait, there’s more: lots of my grandmother’s, great aunt’s and aunt’s clothes, jewellery and personal papers. My renegade aunt’s collection of letters and memorabilia (she was a character – ex Tivoli dancer; one time co-manager of Esmeralda’s Barn in the 50s/60s; married to an ex-MI6 ‘cultural attaché’…)

The worst was unpacking all my brother’s things. He went AWOL in 1989.”

You can see why I welled up. I felt overwhelmed just reading it and imagining having to do all that. It’s hard enough sorting out my own clutter, but to have to do it to someone else’s possessions, with the weight of grief as well, is just unimaginable.

I replied to Jane suggesting – as tactfully as I could muster – that perhaps she could sell her parents’ clothes and spend the cash on one lovely thing for herself (I’d make it a Chanel bag, if it were me…).

This was her response:

“I did make a decision early in the process that I hope Mum would have approved of: I took a stand at a vintage fashion fair in Melbourne and decided to ‘celebrate’ Mum’s things. Sharing her Italian bags and shoes with an appreciative audience was very cathartic. Yes, there were some tears, but that was fine.

Some highlights were:
* the president of the Button Collectors’ Club (!) who bought a gorgeous brilliant green silk cheongsam that Dad had brought back from Singapore in the 70s. Its re-purpose: displaying antique oriental buttons
* the jaunty group of lady line dancers up from Frankston for the day: they adored Mum’s 70s cinch belts and full circle skirts
* the charming male zookeeper (and he was all man…) who was on the hunt for cotton or silk scarves to protect his neck from the sun whilst out in the enclosures

I even had fun writing captions for some of the handbags, eg for a 70s Faigen favourite I wrote: ‘Sarah gently
clasped the butter soft cream leather clutch in her immaculately manicured fingers. Barry couldn’t possibly suspect the blunt instrument that was lurking inside for him…’

I have kept some special things (e.g. Mum’s ‘New Look’ wedding dress) and am delighted that my darling 15 year old has adopted the navy and white spotted dress (trim-waisted and bias-cut skirt) that Mum wore to my 21st. Yesterday she took it down to her work experience week with the Australian Ballet – again, something that Mum would have adored.”

Isn’t that heaven? I love the captions on the handbags more than I can say and how lucky I feel to have such wonderful blog pals.

And here’s another one – an excellent and very specific tip from passionate clutter clearer, Isabella Ebbitt, how I should attack that toxic basket of unattended mail in my home office:

“I recommend the Flylady ( approach – spend 15 minutes a day on it, and don’t take out more than you can put away in that time. If it is truely overwhelming (and it sounds like it is), I would do the following:

1. Set the kitchen timer for 15 mins
2. Pick up whatever item is sitting on the very top
3. Do whatever needs to be done with it
4. If the timer has yet to go off, go back to step 2. If the timer has already gone off, congratulate yourself and forget about the basket until tomorrow when you go back to step 1.”

With all this fascinating input, I’m staying committed to my de-cluttering process and will blog more on it soon. Meanwhile, keep those comments coming.

Hoarder or hurler?

In Home on March 11, 2013 at 9:51 pm


I’ve got a new favourite TV show. It’s called Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners, but the name really doesn’t do it justice because the genius thing is it’s not just about the cleaners (fascinating though they are).

What makes the show so great is that it brings the OCD cleaners into the homes of chronic hoarders to help them sort out their towering piles of cack – thereby combining several of my favourite reality genres in one. Cleaning, hoarding and house transformation.

It’s such a satisfying watch it makes me want to purr like a cat.

I’m so fascinated by the process of clutter clearing and how it can transform lives, I wrote a whole book about it. Amelia, the heroine of my novel How To Break Your Own Heart, becomes a professional clutter clearer, after helping a friend sort out her chaotic flat.


That theme was inspired entirely by another TV show, which I do wish was still on, called Life Laundry.

The presenter on that was a very nice lady called Dawna Walter, who acted as much as a therapist as a tidier up, gently guiding the owners of the terrifyingly cluttered, untidy and filthy houses through the process.


Every week, as the show unfolded, a trauma of some kind would be unearthed as the trigger for the start of the hoarding. The poor souls were all trapped in the past, terrified to move on.

There were always tears – usually after denial, anger etc, the usual journey – and it was inspiring to watch them start to let go. Even more uplifting was to see the transformed house at the end and the look of relief and release on the subjects’ faces.

I would quite like Dawna Walter to come round to my house.

Because that is, of course, why I love those shows. I’ve got tendencies that make me relate to those people at a visceral level. I’m not a hoarder, in the gross sense, like those very unfortunate and properly ill people whose houses are crammed with old newspapers and filthy old food cartons – and attendant rats, shudder – so they have to crawl through deadly crevasses to move from room to room, but I do have way too much stuff.

Even though I’m very organised, with a place for everything and everything in it’s place – there’s simply too much everything. There are various reasons for this.

One of the things I really recognise in the hoarders is the feeling that it’s morally wrong to chuck stuff out that could be re-used. In an increasingly polluted and throwaway world, they can’t bear the idea of waste. Neither can I.

So padded envelopes, relatively unscathed tissue paper, plastic take away cartons, rubber bands… I just can’t sling them and I do re-use them, so I feel justified, but until the moment of re-use comes, they sure do clog up the arteries of my house and, ergo, my life.

Then there’s another level of clutter. Nice things. The books, the carefully curated T shirts, the vintage scarves and other lifelong collections of accessories. The endless lovely old bits of china from junk shops and antique bed linen from markets. All of it has worth, but there’s too much all of it.

That will be hard to cull, but in the meantime I have at least stopped buying any more of it, which is tough enough. Walking past a table of mixed blue and white china outside my favourite junk shop, not just once, but many times, was my equivalent of a junkie refusing a hit.

But I’ve got enough unmatched blue and white plates to serve dinner to twenty people. And a few spares in case of breakages. I don’t need any more.


Then there’s the stuff that isn’t useful at all, but has sentimental value. All my daughter’s drawings – just about every one she’s ever done – all her school exercise books since she started school and until recently every birthday card she’d ever been sent. Yes, I know, that was going too far. I’ve flung them.

Which was a start and I’ve kept going. After consulting fellow novelists on Twitter I finally threw out all my old manuscripts and marked-up proofs.

With that and a lot of other paper I didn’t need (twelve years of bank statements FFS…) I sent 30 bags of paper to recycling.

There’s still a long way to go though and one of the problems with clutter clearing is that the clutter gets in the way of clearing it. I think that’s why those really chronic hoarders get into such a downwardly spiralling funk.

You can’t clear the stuff for the stuff and the stuff clogs your head, so you can’t think straight to do anything. So it’s much easier to have another cup of tea and absorb yourself in a nice distraction. (Twitter.)

There’s a basket of stuff in my home office which makes me freeze up like that every time I try to sort it out. About five times now, I’ve spent a morning sorting it into piles on the bed – Urgent, Less Urgent, Pending, Store – only to run out of time and scrape it all back into the basket again.

That sodding thing lurks in the room accusing me and reminding me of my failure every time I see it. It’s really toxic, but I just can’t make myself do it.

I’m hoping that once I get through the rest of the house – and I’ve already been through the broom cupboard (sacrificing the world rag collection to a charity shop…) and two book cases – it will free my head enough to beat that bastard basket into submission. Or else I’ll have to call in some help.

I did once have a professional organiser – the lovely Carol Posener, who you can find here – – to help me sort out one room of my house in Sydney, which was out of control. It was the room version of that basket.

Out of sheer terror over a late tax return, I’d started to open the door of my home office, throw in scary looking official envelopes and shut it again quick. (I have a character in How To Break Your Own Heart, with a very similar scenario. Write about what you know and all that…)

Carol sorted it all out for me and I’ve never got in a muddle with my tax since, sticking to her system – so I know proper clutter clearing and organising is life changing.

Now I’ve got to find the energy and commitment to finish my whole house – and that rotten basket – and Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners is my current inspiration.

Along with this brilliant IKEA commercial.

And if you want to read my fictional treatment of clutter clearing, here’s the link to Penguin’s website

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