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Coping with four children under six

Following on from my really rather popular previous tips on how to cope with three children under five and daily life with four children under six, I hereby present ‘Coping with four small children redux’.  And if you don’t already have lots of small children, you’re certainly not going to want them after reading this.

There’s really only one way to cope with four children under six, or three children under five, or even two children under eighteen if you feel like it: routine, routine, routine.

If you have a small baby, he or she may not have any routine, but everything else can be taken care of with military precision. So how do you do this?

Perfect your morning routine by doing most of it the night before: lay out everything to wear, make as much of the packed lunches as you can, put everything by the door that you need to go out with (keys, library books, shopping list, whatever), plan the following day’s meal and defrost any meat required, lay the breakfast table and load the washing machine ready to put on in the morning.

In the morning, have a smug cup of coffee until you realise you forgot to wake and feed the baby because, well, you temporarily forgot you had a baby, so you’re going to be late leaving anyway. Run around like a blue-arsed fly until your stress levels are so high that you feel the need to inject caffeine intravenously.

Go to work for a rest. (Or longingly circle job ads at home as your toddler decides to go into progressive meltdown as you stagger through juggling baby, toddler, snacks, nappies, educational activities and lunch towards the highlight of the day: nap time. During nap time you can make all those telephone calls that you can never make when the children are home because world war three likes to break out at the exact moment the person picks up the other end.)

In the afternoons, you get the fun of dealing with picking up over-tired children from school and making them walk home when they have already told you their legs don’t work anymore. When you get home, make the children hang up their coats and put hats and gloves in a basket, hang their school bags and any sports kit on a kitchen chair and empty their lunchboxes into a washing up bowl so the snack boxes start cleaning themselves. Put any paperwork from school straight into an in-tray and sit down with a cup of tea. You’ve earned it: it’s been months and months of hard work training (read nagging) those children to do this stuff. Plus, the evening onslaught is only minutes away and you need to muster all the strength you can.

Realise you forgot to turn the washing machine on this morning so now you don’t have time to do the second and third loads that needed doing today. Think about what doesn’t really need washing (can they wear those muddy, yoghurt-encrusted school trousers just one more day?) and cut out at least one load from the week’s laundry. Feel better.

Cook supper, clearing up as you go because it’s easy to do that when you’ve got the baby slung on one hip. The children take it in turns to have a tantrum. You consider pouring a glass of wine but abstain on the grounds that one of the children is sure to slip in the bath and crack their head open requiring an unexpected trip to the emergency room. Feel smugly perfect-parent. Supervise homework and do more laundry with the crotchety baby refusing to sleep in the sling. Clear up more in the kitchen while the children eat because they clearly don’t need you to sit with them and supply scintillating conversation when they’ve mastered the art of fart-jokes-that-pass-as-conversation. They also won’t mind you hovering to take that plate as they finish the last few mouthfuls. Got a fussy eater? They won’t be if you start clearing up before they finish – they’ll be like spaniels at the feeding bowl, bolting down whole mouthfuls without it even touching the sides. Realise you haven’t thought about anything for you and your husband to eat later. Wonder if your husband will divorce you if you offer the children’s reheated macaroni cheese for his supper. Wonder if you can ‘dress it up’ somehow to make it seem more grown-up. And edible. Realise your cooking skills only stretch to nursery food at best and macaroni cheese cannot, under any circumstances, be anything but macaroni cheese.

Neatly bypass further witching-hour tantrums by telling the children that if they tidy everything away they can play Education City on the computer or read on starfall until bathtime. Award yourself brownie points for a tidy house and now educationally-superior children. Get the oldest child to run the bath while you finish spooning cartons of yoghurt into the baby in an effort to get him to sleep all night (ha! you wish) and then pile each child in the bath in turn with the baby. Realise your plan to keep the baby amused and not crying by giving him a long bath is foiled when he poos in the bath not once but twice and everyone has to vacate the bath like an emergency fire drill (no stopping to get handbags! Or lego boats!). Realise the second time was your eldest son playing a trick on you with the fake-poo he got in his Christmas stocking. Wonder if you should have had that glass of wine after all.

In the evenings you can do all the laundry, cleaning and ironing that you so love. Except you’ve got all that morning preparation to do and you’ll be late again leaving tomorrow anyway so forget it all and sit down with a glass of wine instead. You made it through the day without losing any children; you’ve earned it.

After two glasses of wine, realise your mistake when your preparations for the following day are, well, unprepared. Make plans to hire a housekeeper. Or, better still, a wife.

Photo: Nick.Fisher

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Selling a house: preparation, staging and frustration

for saleSo it turns out we are not moving after all.

I knew I shouldn’t have broadcast that we had a buyer – it’s the ultimate jinx!

This is the second buyer that has pulled out. The first pulled out because she was allergic to rapeseed which the farmer sometimes grows in the adjoining fields. The second buyers pulled out because they are divorcing. I can make our house look absolutely beautiful but I can’t do anything about those sorts of factors.

So now we have switched agents and are starting again. It is rather depressing though to look at our house with fresh eyes (for the new agent to take photographs) and realise that all the painting and deep cleaning we did last year looks like it never happened. We need to do it all again and then MOVE OUT if we are ever to have any hope of selling this place.

The agent took photographs of the house: living areas and outside only as that’s all we do, he said, so it was a little embarrassing to see another house come on the market with the same agent (admittedly in a different price bracket) which had a full complement of pictures including all the bedrooms which were beautifully presented with matching cushions and so on.

So now I know why our house hasn’t sold. It’s because we don’t have matching cushions adorning all the beds!

Of course, I’m not thinking that, not really, although I’ve watched enough of the programme Why Your Stinky Cluttered House Won’t Sell to know that all this ‘staging’ to make your house look as though nobody actually lives in it does work and, for the most part, we do do that each time we have a viewing. (Exhausting.) But the bedrooms could do with improvement so I have been and bought some crisp white bed linen, comforters (in an accent color) and some cushions in a different but matching color (see how good I am at this?).

Correspondingly, I fully expect the house to be sold by tomorrow.


Ha! Just as I was about to hit publish on this, the estate agent rang saying could someone come and look around in an hour from now. It’s a sign!

However, given I had to say no – there was no way I could get this place looking presentable in an hour – that may also be a (less than positive) sign.


Although we haven’t quite sold yet, I’m feeling confident. Here’s what we have learnt along the way:

Tips for selling your house

If you want your house to sell for a good price and relatively quickly there are a number of things you can do to make your house attractive to potential buyers:

Preparing your house for sale

1. Declutter and de-personalize – throw out anything you don’t need anymore and put any items you can into self-storage. Remove personal items such as family photographs, certificates or children’s artwork.

2. Fix all the little broken things inside and outside your house – make your house look like it has been well-cared for:

– fix any leaking gutters or broken fencing
– replace any broken floor tiles
– re-caulk around showers and baths
– replace broken window blinds
– clean or replace dirty or worn carpets
– make sure all light bulbs are working

3. Deep-clean your house including all the windows. And then clean your house regularly.

4. Buyers like to open cupboards so make sure your closets look clean and tidy and not too full (throw out or store clothes you don’t need), clean inside your refrigerator, make sure kitchen cupboards are clean and not crammed full of items.

5. Give your house kerb-appeal: mow the grass, invest in some plants to put by the door, give the door a fresh coat of paint or a good clean.

6. If the kitchen is looking worn, consider replacing it or replacing kitchen cupboard doors and old appliances.

7. Paint your walls in neutral colors so prospective purchasers can imagine themselves living there.

8. Arrange furniture to give as much space in a room as possible.

Staging your house

Once the preparation is done, it is a good idea to stage your house for viewing:

1. Use plain bedlinen in bedrooms and accessorize with cushions/pillows and comforters/throws.

2. Use plants, mirrors, lamps, cushions, flowers and other accessories in living areas to make your rooms look more attractive.

3. Accessorize bathrooms with nice lotions, soaps and towels. Close toilet lids and remove trash cans.

4. Tidy everything away, remove evidence of pets if you can and tidy away as many children’s toys as you can. Put away bulky kitchen appliances to leave kitchen worktops looking spacious.

5. Give your house a last-minute clean and open the windows for fresh air.

6. For the viewing make sure your house is warm, the lights are on and everything smells clean and fresh.

If you’re selling/have sold your house, let me know how you got on!

Photo: AKZOPhoto

Dealing with clutter: decluttering, home organization, storage solutions and tips

This summer we put our house up for sale. It would have gone on the market in the spring but for one thing: the clutter in every part of the house.

We are squeezed in to a house much too small for our big family and, as a result, it is already crowded. I’m not a hoarder, in fact quite the opposite, I would love to live in a beautifully minimalist house where we don’t own much and everything we do own has a place to be stored away out of sight. But I also hate throwing anything away that I believe might be useful one day (the environmentalist in me) and so there were plenty of items that I was keeping ‘just in case’. Add those to an already crowded living environment and four busy children who never seem to put anything away and I would look around at our house and think we have no chance of selling it looking like this.

So there was that.

And then we had some removal quotes done.

Nothing focuses your mind more on decluttering than the thought of having to pay to have the things you don’t really need, or particularly want, moved from one home to another.

There was only one solution and that was a radical declutter and sorting of our possessions.

We have gone further than that too and stored a whole lot of things that we want to keep but don’t need for the duration of our house sale, some in the garage in case I need to access them and some in self-storage. These items have been in storage now for a few months and with the exception of my SAD light (I packed it in the height of summer, not remembering that we might not actually have moved by the time winter comes) and a few children’s board games we haven’t really missed anything.

So for many weeks over the summer while the children were at school I went through every part of the house deciding what would be kept in the house, what would be stored, what could be given to charity and what would be recycled. If I wasn’t sure about an item I used the criteria ‘do I want to pay to move this?’ and it was surprisingly easy to de-clutter!

So I packed boxes for storage
moving house packing boxes decluttering

and I packed store items in the garage
moving house packing boxes for storage decluttering

I sorted many many items for recycling
moving house recycling decluttering

Little boys had fun on some of the rubbish while we worked

and then we hired a skip to get rid of everything else we didn’t need. It was a six foot skip and we filled it to the brim!
skip lorry moving house decluttering

That’s a scary amount of stuff we didn’t need that we were keeping in our house.

I don’t know if all skip companies are required to do it anyway, but the company I chose recycled everything they could from the skip so I was able to feel reasonably confident that we weren’t making too much of a contribution to landfill. Still, that was a lot of rubbish to say goodbye to and I felt a little guilty. And also quite a bit relieved, because it is a surprisingly good feeling to get rid of so much stuff you realise you don’t actually need.

Now we have a policy of one-in, one-out – if we have to buy something new, we try to get rid of whatever it is replacing – I don’t just store it with a vague plan that we might use it somewhere else one day. We don’t automatically keep boxes for the boys to use for craft activities, I bin them unless I have a definite activity in mind. There are always new boxes in the not-too-distant-future, at least while their feet keep on growing and growing like they do.

I donated all the baby clothes I was keeping ‘just in case’. That was hard 🙁 .

We also decided to make the study (which in reality was a junk storage room) into a bedroom. Now there is nowhere just to dump things that I will deal with when I have a minute. Instead I have to make a minute to deal with the item right there and then. It’s harder that way but stops the clutter piling up. This is what our storage room now looks like:
nursery babys room

I can’t find a picture of what it looked like before which is probably just as well as I’d probably be too embarrassed to post it here.

One of the best tips for selling a house is to put all your stuff away but it’s hard work to have to do that every time you have a viewing when you have four small children underfoot. So now we have specific places for items we use every day and my dream of living a minimalist life is getting a little nearer! It also makes cleaning so much easier (which means I’m much more likely to do it) and the sense of peace I get when I look around at my clean and clutter-free house is wonderful:

In addition to the usual cupboards and toy storage, I have three items of furniture that I couldn’t live without because they are great for storage: my beloved apothecary chest (also coveted by others) which, because it has lots of small drawers, is great for storing things you want to keep but don’t know quite where to put.
apothecary chest

I also have my work chest which is the old set of drawers in the hallway in the picture above where I store all my paperwork, school books, pens, folders and items I need to hand every day. There are trays for paperwork in, a file for filed papers, drawers for everything else.

cubby shelf storage unitI also have a Go Shelf which is a cubby storage shelf unit in the hallway where I put everything that needs to go out of the house at some point, so letters to be posted, birthday gifts to be taken to parties, mobile phones, shopping lists and all sorts of paraphernalia can go here and I’m never hunting around for stuff right before I have to go out.

I’m so much happier with the way things are now and I feel more inclined to keep the house clutter-free.

How do you deal with clutter?

Friday ClubWelcome to the Friday Club Carnival, a weekly carnival held here. Sorry for the delay in publishing but it’s here now: this week’s Carnival is all about dealing with clutter and here are the other entries in this carnival, please click through and read these great posts:

Lasso The Moon posts Take 100 things off your house’s waistline.

Kooky Girl Blog posts Ironing and Clutter and Stuff.

Jennifer’s Little World posts Dealing with clutter in the home.

Living it Little posts De-clutter or die.

Inside The Wendy House posts Clutter.

Midlife Singlemum posts Clutter: A Straight Exchange.

Green and Tidy posts Five ways to have a clutter-free Christmas.

Who Teaches Whom posts Clutter.

Live Otherwise posts Decluttering – a dream.

Multiple Mummy posts Clutter or Memories?

Freckles Family posts De-cluttering – My new hobby.

Mymumdom posts Clutter.

Kate on Thin Ice posts Reflections on Clutter.

Here Come The Girls posts How to clutter your home.

Thank you to to all these lovely bloggers for taking part and for their patience in the carnival being published this time!

Have you subscribed yet? Get free updates via email .

Kate Moss wedding photographs

kate moss weddingThe September issue of Vogue magazine has the Mario Testino photographs of Kate Moss’s wedding. I love the bohemian, country feel and this picture is just stunning. You can see the rest of the photographs here.

What do you think of the pictures?

Photo: Vogue

Finding a safe sunscreen


Because my son uses sunscreen all year round, last year after the Environmental Working Group published a report highlighting a potential carcinogenic risk with sunscreens that contain retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A, we looked again carefully at the sunscreens we were using. Regulations about sunscreen ingredients are tighter in the EU than in the US but I still wanted to check:

Many sunscreen makers still use a form of vitamin A, called retinyl palmitate, ignoring recent scientific research by the federal Food and Drug Administration indicating the chemical may be photocarcinogenic – that it may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin.

Source: EWG

When I started looking into what was in sunscreens, I was disheartened by the ingredients in many of them. Because the skin cancer rates are very high in immunosuppressed individuals we follow the general sun-safety advice and try to stay in the shade and use protective hats and clothing when we are out in the sun but now if we have to be in the sun we use sunscreens that don’t use vitamin A or its derivatives and which don’t contain the hormone-disrupting chemical oxybenzone or any other nasty ingredients.

The EWG have compiled a database which is a great starting point for finding a safe sunscreen. Last year I used the database to search for a low hazard, safer sunscreen and settled on Soleo (which you can buy in the UK from The Greenstop). I wanted a sunscreen that was mineral- not chemical-based and contained zinc oxide rather than titanium dioxide as zinc oxide is considered safer. Although it is relatively expensive we have been very pleased with the protection it gives.

Edited to add: this year we are trialling Badger unscented sunscreen and I’ll let you know what we think at the end of the summer.

Do you worry about what’s in your sunscreen?

Soleo, Badger and the Greenstop have not paid me to mention them, I just really like their products.

Photo: .D.B.

Why we live where we do

We live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, all rolling hills and patchwork-quilt countryside, picture-postcard villages and a genteel kind of life where the Horticultural Show takes priority in the yearly village calendar.

We have outstanding schools, both primary and (if you are lucky enough to get a place) secondary, and (if you are even more lucky enough to get a place) an outstanding grammar school not too far away.

We are close to a lovely city which has a tasteful arrangement of shops and a few leisure and sporting facilities.

I have family a few miles away, it is a reasonable commute for Matthew and is close to a train line.

We have so much space here. I hadn’t realised how much until we viewed a beautiful house in a beautiful area and I couldn’t put my finger on what wasn’t quite right about it. It was only when we got home and I stepped out into the garden that I realised it was the feeling of space that was missing at the other house.


There is a local park just down the dirt track which we pretty much live at. There’s not much traffic (although village drivers drive brutally fast so no walking along the road unsupervised) and it all feels pretty safe.

We chose to move here for all those reasons.

I love it, I honestly do. This house, that I love so much, has served us well. It has seen us through some really tough times and as a family we are still standing. I would hate to leave it.

But after all these years here, I’m dying to get away.

We moved here from a small but bustling market town where we could walk to everything. We moved there when we only had one child and I didn’t even need a car, there was pretty much everything I needed on our doorstep. It was small enough that you couldn’t walk into town without meeting a whole bunch of people you knew but it wasn’t so small that everyone knew all your business.

In our village, everyone knows all your business. There is no shop, so popping out for milk becomes a military exercise. There is nothing for the children to do. The nearby city has some things for the children to do but not enough. Almost all the children go to the not-so-good secondary school, so if you choose the great school (which is relative anyway because it doesn’t really compare with the grammar) you are the odd-child-out. The local grammar is massively competitive; tutoring is pretty much essential – and that is both costly and takes up precious weekend downtime. The grammar skews the rest of the school system. And you cannot move around here for private prep schools (known mostly as 11+ grammar-crammers). And the schools are in opposite directions so moving into the city/town to be nearer one would be a bit of a gamble.

But mostly, now our children are tweens I am seeing years of being a constant taxi-service looming ahead of me. I don’t mind being a taxi service but I would prefer that the children had a great peer group of friends who live nearby and that they all have good, productive things to do that are close by. It sounds terribly middle-class, writing that down, but those are my hopes.

We can’t go back from whence we came mostly because of schools. So we are on the search for the next place, one which ticks most of (or enough of) the essential boxes: a community with enough going on locally, great state schools, a reasonable commute for Matthew, a train line, affordable housing, a hospital with a children’s ward and a paediatric nephrology hospital not too far away.

Those are a lot of variables but we are enjoying the search. And soon I hope we will be able to say we have found the town we hope to be based in until the children have left home. It feels like a bit of a commitment, this uprooting and moving lark, and sometimes I think it would just be easier to stay here. But in my heart I have already moved. Now we just need to find the right place to move to.

Why do you live where you do? Would you live somewhere else if you could choose to move?

Friday ClubWelcome to the Friday Club Carnival, a weekly carnival held here. This week’s Carnival is all about the reasons why you live where you do and here you’ll find lots of posts on this subject:

Isil at Smiling Like Sunshine tells us Home is where the heart is.

Jules at I Need Curtains for the Window In My Head posts Why Do I Live Where I Do?

South of the River Mum writes about Bringing up children in London.

Scribbling Mum explains why she lives where she does.

Jacq from Mymumdom posts about why she lives in London.

Rachel at Midlife Singlemum tells us Why she lives in Israel.

Kelly at Domestic Goddesque tells us about Wonderful, wonderful Bromley, and why I live there.

Bibsey Mama gives us 7 reasons to live in Spain in Cool España.

Helen at Cheeky Wipes tells us There’s Always a Compromise.

Jenny at The Gingerbread House tells us about her home in Our house.

Cass at The Diary of a Frugal Family tells us Home is Where The Heart Is.

Jax at Live Otherwise/Making it Up explains Why I live here. Right here. In this house.

Emma at MummyMummyMum tells us about where she lives.

Cara at Freckles Family posts Where I Call Home.

Merry at Patch of Puddles writes Why I Live Where I Live.

Pure Lanzarote tell us the reasons for their choice in Why live in Lanzarote?