Monday 26 November 2012

Facebook: privacy statement

Here we go again. Sorry if it's a bit tedious to keep banging on about Facebook hoaxes, but this seems a good place to share information.

I've seen several of these postings among my friends (who are intelligent people, I hasten to add) in the last 24 hours. Please note, people, that this is complete rubbish: it first went viral some months ago but is back now. Do not copy and paste it. It won't help you or anybody else.

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!

(Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws. By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook's direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).

Facebook is now an open capital entity. All members are recommended to publish a notice like this, or if you prefer, you may copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once, you will be tacitly allowing the use of elements such as your photos as well as the information contained in your profile status updates. Facebook will effectively own the copyright to your photos and images and be allowed to use them in any way they choose to).

Rather than re-invent the wheel, please simply read this very clear article written by the good people at, and similarly the excellent and reliable Snopes.

You will NOT be protected in any way by posting this bit of nonsense; and apart from anything else, if you are really concerned about your photos or text being used unlawfully, (a) don't post them on the internet in the first place, or (b) ensure that your postings are available only to friends - and by that I mean real friends, which is what your facebook contacts should be anyway.

This posting, incidentally, is public, and I lay no claim at all to the information in it... feel free to share it.

PS, much later in the day: a couple of superb retorts to this matter that have appeared today. First, from the superbly-named Facebook correspondent, Scumbag:

- with the comment:

Posting a notification on your Facebook wall that the photos you posted of your boobs are private property, is as effective and legally binding as smoking two packs a day, but writing on your packs of cigarettes that the content of the pack is not allowed to damage your lungs.

And finally, a word from the caped crusader:

Saturday 15 September 2012

Facebook: private, public

I've been seeing quite a few of the 'find your profession by birth' postings recently, and they make me uneasy. Bear in mind that if you are at all concerned about the possibility of identity theft, your date of birth is one of the first things needed by the thief. Add your full name and they're partway there. I don't know how much detail this particular 'game' goes into - for obvious reasons, I shan't be trying it out myself - but if you are looking at it, ask yourself how much information you want to share with non-friends.

You may also find it helpful to read this article on the very useful Facecrooks site.

What I find particularly interesting is that in the same week, there's been another one doing the rounds - totally at the opposite end of the spectrum:

"To all my FB friends, may I request you to PLEASE do something for me: I want to stay PRIVATELY connected with you. However, with the recent changes in FB, the public can now see activities in any wall. This happens when our friend hits "like" or "comment", automatically, their friends would see our posts too. Unfortunately, we cannot change this setting by ourselves because Facebook has configured it this way. So I need your help.... Only you can do this for me..... PLEASE place your mouse over my name above (do not click), a window will appear, now move the mouse on “FRIENDS" (also without clicking), then down to "Settings", click here and a list will appear. REMOVE the TICK on "COMMENTS & LIKE" by clicking on it. By doing this, my activity amongst my friends and my family will no longer become public. Many thanks! If you would like to protect your privacy Copy and Paste this on your wall and your contacts can follow suit too."

What will happen if you follow the instructions above? You won't see the comments and likes of this particular friend. That's all. If they are real friends, it rather defeats the object of linking up with them on Facebook at all. For more details on this particular bit of nonsense, Facecrooks help us again here.

I'm just waiting for the first time I see both of the above being posted by the same person, who is panicking about their posts being seen beyond their own friend circle but at the same time will gladly give out a date of birth to a complete stranger.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Thinking there must be an easier way? There is.

When I work with my clients - whether they need help with their home space, office space, clutter clearing, computers or whatever - one issue that arises time and time again is that we so often don't know what we don't know. We struggle with a process or a technique because that's the way we've always done it - not realising that a change of approach can make life so much easier.

My challenge is "If you find yourself thinking 'There must be an easier way', then trust me - there always is."

This is especially true when using a computer. A great example of this was when I was asked to help a colleague on a completely unrelated difficulty ("it won't print", I think), and discovered that he was keeping a grid of numbers in a Microsoft Word table - and then using his calculator to add up the totals. I copied and pasted the table into Excel (which he'd never used before ["only the Accounts department use that, don't they?"]), put in an extra row for the totals above his manual totals, copied in the automatic formulae, and hey-presto: all the calculations happened as if by magic. (Not only that, but he discovered that a large number of his own manual calculations had been incorrect.)

My colleague was flabbergasted by how much time he had previously wasted by trying to do the computer's job for it (and, in this case, doing it less accurately). As the office in question was at a local council, this was effectively tax-payers' money that was being wasted every time he took three times as long as necessary to perform this particular task.

The point was that it really wasn't my colleague's fault. He had never been shown how to use Excel as a tool; the fact that he'd discovered Microsoft Word tables on his own was quite an achievement. He didn't know that he didn't know. If he'd known that he didn't know, he could have asked the IT department to help him out. I only discovered the situation by mistake, and was able to save him time in the future that was vastly in excess of the time it had taken me to train him in the solution.

Does this apply to you? Are you struggling to operate processes that seem to be taking forever? Is it too easy to make mistakes?

If so: please let me help you. I can promise you faithfully that if you brainstorm a few regular processes that are causing you to struggle, in a fairly short time I will be able to provide solutions for the majority of them; and if I can't, I'm likely to know somebody who can.

Computer processes are the most likely area where this situation arises, but it's not unusual for the same to apply with the arrangement of furniture, storage, filing or any other objects in the home or office.

Remember: if you think there must be an easier way of doing something, there is. Just let me help you to find out what that easier way might be. Contact me today - and let's find it for you.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

A little time can make a big difference

Sometimes we get bogged down with the idea that we need to invest loads of time and/or loads of money to make a difference. It's just not true!

While some jobs may take a full day, or several days together or spread across a period of time, it's also very satisfying when a brief session of just an hour or two can make a big difference - with minimal cost and stress. For example:

There's one of my favourite IT clients: a wonderful octogenarian (do you think you're too old to use a computer?) who calls me from time to time with a neat list of queries that she's been building up. We sit down and focus on those specific needs, for around two hours, and then I might not see her again for months. She's left comfortable with the knowledge she's gained, and happy to continue on her own.

There was the lady who used just two hours of my time to make suggestions about better storage solutions in her flat. We didn't actually do any physical work; we simply planned, threw ideas around, checked some possible storage purchases online, and I left her with a shopping list and a plan of action. She called me a couple of weeks later, completely triumphant at the changes she'd been able to implement, but "I would never have managed it without your ideas".

There was the lady whose whole house was in need of sorting; but we spent just one day, seven hours long, on the most troubling room (the sitting room). We ended up with a full car each - hers for the charity shop, mine for the tip - and she looked around and said "It's like having had the plumbers in. Now I can carry on and do the rest myself. The books in my bedroom can now come in here, so the items in the attic that belong in the bedroom can then move in there..." She'd got it. She understood the processes we'd been through, and how to continue with them for herself; but she'd previously been overwhelmed by where-to-start syndrome.

Would it help you to invest in a little time for yourself?
  • an hour of thinking and suggesting, of ideas and discussions on the use of furniture and storage in a problem space
  • an hour learning how to make best use of your mobile phone, and making sure that you never lose contact details again
  • two hours of working through a list of difficulties on your computer
  • a couple of hours spent sorting your filing systems into an order that really works for you
  • a few hours spent working on decluttering and/or organising one room that will get you kick-started to keep up the good work on the rest of the house
... go on, give it a go. You might be surprised just how many solutions we can find together in a short time!

Sunday 1 July 2012

What it's all about

I sometimes have great trouble explaining succinctly what I do, and what the benefits are. (As any of my friends will tell you, brevity of expression is not really my strong point.) So I was delighted to see that my favourite blogger, the lovely Tania Kindersley, has in her posting today expressed those benefits so much better than I could:

"...once I am actually doing it, I get a burst of energy, and realise that I have the capacity to make my room look really quite nice. The simple fact of moving things around can make a huge difference. Clearing away the clutter reveals the lovely items I have collected over the years, and I may notice them with love, instead of just seeing too much nonsense. The effect of hoovering itself always astonishes me. Just getting rid of a bit of earth and dog hair and the stray bits of grass I bring in on my boots utterly transforms the room. I feel there is a proper life lesson there, something about small, mundane things making a huge difference."

Exactly. So many people consider the processes of decluttering and organising (which are, by-the-by, two entirely different things) and fear the perfection (and unattainability) of minimalism. There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with minimalism if it's a style that happens to float your boat; but for most of us, the 'small, mundane things making a huge difference' are far more achievable and practical.

And as for Tania: well, the photographs of her beautiful residence, way up in the wilds of Scotland, show a home and not a house. A place to live and relax, to welcome guests, to share and to to enjoy. A place where you can put your feet up without feeling intimidated; a place where her small relations can jump around and have fun; a place where the adorable Pigeon (a canine who is adored by hundreds of people who have never met her) will not be told off for muddy paws.

The balance between tidiness and obsession, between comfortable and slovenly, between house and home: that is what it's all about.

(I have borrowed an illustration from the blog posting in question: I hope Tania doesn't mind. This isn't minimalism; but it is a place of beautiful comfort. And I covet that lamp.)

Thursday 31 May 2012

Colleagues in organising

I'm delighted by, and proud of, the wonderful video (created for us by the superb Media On Demand) of our member conference for apdo-uk a few weeks ago.

Friday 25 May 2012

Hoarder or clutterbug?

I've been watching with a mixture of relief, fascination and horror the recent glut of tv programmes about chronic hoarding problems. In my work as a professional organiser, I can truthfully say that I very seldom come across anybody who is a 'hoarder' in that sense. Plenty of folks have stuff they need help sorting, or storing, or disposing of; some may need help seeing the wood for the trees; some may (as one client memorably put it) just be suffering from 'can't-be-bothered syndrome' (that wasn't her exact expression!).

However, for some people it's a far more serious problem, possibly endangering life and limb. Hoarding is coming to be accepted as a genuine psychological and medical problem, in the same way as (for example) alcoholism may become an unwanted behaviour with true roots and potential treatment. They can't (and shouldn't) be dismissed as 'laziness' or 'malingering'.

I have written at some length about my feelings on the matter, and in my capacity as President of apdo-uk - the Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers. Our members feel very strongly about the issue, for several reasons.

  • Appreciate what exactly constitutes a hoarder - and when the answers are much simpler and more easily dealt with 
  • Recognise what help is available and where that help can come from
  • From a professional organiser's perspective, to be able to offer appropriate support and assistance - and to know when other interventions are needed beyond those we can offer.

I feel strongly that - as with all unwanted behaviours - we all need to be honest with ourselves: to recognise the help we require, and to seek that help accordingly. Have a look at the article, and see what you think.

Hoarder or Clutterbug? - a reflection

This article was created in May 2012 for APDO - the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers.
We have been hearing a lot about hoarding recently. In late 2011, we watched the story of Richard Wallace, the Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder [C4], as the neighbours in his commuter-belt Surrey village moved from disdain and disapproval to a community task-force, providing the man- and woman-power to help him clear many years’ worth of accumulated junk from his garden.
Now, in the spring of 2012, we’ve met several more chronic hoarders. Three consecutive programmes: Get Your House in Order [C4], The Hoarder Next Door [C4], and Britain’s Biggest Hoarders [BBC1].  We are delighted by the valuable roles that were played by two member businesses from apdo-uk: The Declutter Divas, Allyson Pritchard and Zoe Steel, have provided the clutter-clearing support for The Hoarder Next Door, and Heather Matuozzo of Cloud’s End CIC brought her specialised experience of decluttering hoarders to Britain’s Biggest Hoarders.
These programmes have given us the voyeuristic opportunity to take sides. Which was yours?
  • I’m not so bad after all (“found a house worse than ours”)
  • let’s have a good time slagging them off (“Why do people need therapy to throw out their s**t?” “Sort your s**t out, you bone-idle b****”)
  • disbelief (“I can’t believe people live like that”)
  • sympathetic (“a serious and sensitive look at the problem”)
Well, the programmes have all taken a very different approach to the problem. Each has had faults and successes, and I’m not going to dissect these here. Suffice to say that it’s brought into sharp relief some important issues.
What hoarding is not
First: we need to be clear what true hoarding is. We’re not talking a bit messy, a bit dirty, a bit disorganised. Keeping every birthday card you ever received does not make you a hoarder. Having fifty bottles of nail polish does not make you a hoarder. Being unable to locate the car keys or your passport does not make you a hoarder. It might mean that you could use help to make your own life easier or more comfortable; but that is not a chronic condition.
What hoarding is
We’re talking about rooms that cannot be used for their intended purpose: sleeping in an armchair because the bed is buried under belongings; an inability to take a bath because it’s full of possessions; weaving your way through narrow corridors of boxes, or unable to enter a room at all. We’re talking about hazards to health and safety; a house that is not a home but a place to exist, and that without comfort; a building where, in the event of an emergency, the paramedics or fire service would be unable to reach you.
Hoarding is a genuine psychological disorder
Do you accept that alcoholism is an illness? Would you simply say to an alcoholic “It’s easy – just stop drinking”? Do you imagine that an individual would look one day at the effects of excessive alcohol (domestic trauma, huge expenditure, loss of memory, social exclusion, loss of job, family breakup) and say “I like the look of that life, I think I’ll become an alcoholic”?
Do you accept that OCD is an illness? Would you simply say to a sufferer “Stop checking everything”? Do you think that an individual would choose to imprison themselves in a never-ending timetable of checking, washing, ordering, arranging, counting?
People don’t choose to live in dangerously cluttered houses. They have found themselves in these situations for a reason. It might be due to severe trauma, in childhood or adulthood; it might be the influence of parents, whether because they behaved in the same way or were the complete opposite; it might be a reaction to bereavement. There may be links to OCD and other anxiety tendencies. A cumulative sequence of events, a combination of circumstances and physiological makeup, may have brought the sufferer to this place, and it’s not a place they’d have ever chosen to visit.
The recent programmes generated a huge amount of Twitter comment. Much of it showed a judgemental, vicious lack of sensitivity. It was sad to see the more brutal comments (“I don’t think she’s ill, I think she’s just a lazy ******”) – many of which appeared to come from teenagers who have, presumably, never yet encountered an ‘invisible illness’ in their lives. I can only hope, for their own sake, they will some day encounter a problem with unwanted behaviour that’s beyond their control. It might just give them a more compassionate approach to their fellows.
Is there help?
Yes. Provided that the right kind of help is asked for.
Many clients who come to the organising and decluttering industry are not hoarders.
  • They may well have accumulated a lot of ‘stuff’ – all too easy to do in this day and age, which provides us with far more opportunities to buy (and accumulate debt) than in any era before.
  • They may (very commonly) actually have less of a problem with the quantity of ‘stuff’ and more with the processes, storage and systems of their lives: if items don’t have a definite home, they’re more likely to get lost, or to be kept constantly (but inappropriately) in view for fear of loss.
  • They may not know where to begin; the worse a problem with untidiness gets, the less likely we are to see a clear way to solve it. (A bit like weight: two pounds is a lot easier to lose than two stone, but why do most of us [myself included] wait until we reach the latter point before seeking help?)
A chronic hoarder may need additional help.
As was shown on some (not all) of the recent tv coverage, work with a chronic hoarder should not include decluttering without the assistance of therapy. ‘Tidying up’ will not solve a problem unless the underlying causes are identified and addressed.
Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. It may take one of many forms: help from a psychiatrist or psychologist, life coach, hypnotherapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and many more. One size does not fit all. Anyone who has struggled to lose an unwanted behaviour – smoking, drinking, excess weight – may have tried several routes before finding the one that works for them.
Bullying will not help. Neighbours or family getting angry will not help. Insults will not help.
Whether you are a chronic hoarder or a clutterbug, the professional organising industry can help.
  • We don’t judge.
  • We don’t tell tales out of school.
  • We will work with you, not for you.
  • We won’t make assumptions.
  • We will make recommendations, not prescriptions.
  • We will provide ideas, motivation and inspiration.
  • We won’t chuck it all in a skip (unless you want us to).
  • We will aim for a workable life, not for perfection or minimalism.
  • We will respect you, your life and your belongings.
  • We will recommend other support (such as therapy) if we feel it is appropriate, and if it’s outside our personal skillset.
  • We will bring all our experience of creating order and systems, and select from our toolkit the solutions that are most likely to work for you. If they don’t work, we’ll try something else.
You don’t need to be a chronic hoarder to ask for help.

Friday 10 February 2012

What's in a (domain) name?

Most businesses, no matter how small, have a website these days. Whether it's a simple set of information about your business and your contact details, or a more intricate site to sell your products or interact with your customers, it's generally accepted that some kind of online presence is vital.

With this, of course, goes your email address. The question is, if you've been using a generic email - such as hotmail, googlemail, yahoo, BT or similar - it doesn't match your domain name; and bear in mind that it doesn't look too professional, either. You might have been using, but once your business is using the domain name, you need to ensure that your email matches. Trust me on this one: it's all about professional credibility (as pointed out recently by Heather Townsend on Twitter). I agree! I'm always a little suspicious if I find myself emailing an address that doesn't match the corresponding website.

So how to do this? If you have a website designer, they should be able to set this up for you easily. It can be done in a couple of different ways. First, you might have a redirect - which means that you are still using, but messages addressed to are redirected (much as snail-mail is when you move house) to your gmail inbox.

(Alternatively, you can use the POP3 or IMAP protocols to collect your email direct from the server of the company that hosts your website.)

The second step is to ensure that your 'official' (i.e. business) email address is used when you are sending emails out. It's no good receiving messages to if your replies to enquiries are shown as coming from gmail. There are several ways around this, depending on how you're accessing your messages in the first place (via gmail on the web, for instance; or using Windows Mail, Thunderbird or any one of a number of local email programs). Each of these has appropriate settings to enable you to show your emails as coming 'from' the address of your choice; you'll usually have to go through a security procedure to prove that you are entitled to send messages 'from' that address.

If the above paragraphs send you into a flat spin, don't worry. Either ask your website designer to advise you on the necessary procedures, and preferably implement them for you; or, if you are running the site yourself, have a look in the Help pages of your website host (or web email provider).

Or you could ask a passing friendly geek. Or contact me, if you like!

Either way, do make sure that your site address matches your email address. Not only does it look more professional, but it can also save you a lot of hassle if you need to change your 'real' email address - if, for instance, you run into difficulties with your Hotmail address and want to change to Yahoo (or vice versa), a redirect on your email will mean that all you need to do is to change the address to which the redirect is being sent. Your clients won't need to know that the changeover has taken place. The same would apply if you've been using an email that matches your Internet Service Provider (ISP) - such as a address - and you then change your ISP and lose that email address. Highly inconvenient if you then need to tell everybody about the change.

It's a small detail; but in business, no matter how small or large, it's the details that matter.