Mockingbird

 	This is the September selection for the APDO Book Club, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t have chosen to read it otherwise - I really dislike issues-based fiction and avoid it if I can.

At least in this case the author is writing from a place of some knowledge. Kathryn Erskine lives in Virginia, and was local when the school shooting at Virginia Tech took place. Her daughter, like the narrator of Mockingbird, has Asperger’s, and Erskine says she was interested in the ways families reacted after the school shootings - and particularly how they were explained to children with special educational needs.

The book is well-written and well-paced, covering a lot of ground in its 151 pages. I think the author achieves everything she set out to, so it’s definitely worth three stars. However, the genre of necessity is quite heavy-handed in pointing out the issues - that’s what I don’t like about it - and Mockingbird sticks within its conventions. If you like issues-based fiction, you’ll probably love this book. I don’t, so while I can see the author’s skill and tell it’s a brilliant book of its kind, it, and other books like it, just aren’t for me.

This month, my fellow APDO Book Club organiser, Nicola Austin, selected three fiction books with neurodiverse lead characters and asked members to vote for their favourite. Mockingbird won hands down, and led to a lively discussion on Autism, its representation in fiction, and our experiences working with clients living with it.

APDO Book Club: Work Like A Woman

Don’t be fooled by my read dates (16 May-23 July) – I borrowed this on the Libby app, missed the return date and had to wait to reborrow 🤦🏻‍♀️. I loved this book, and would have sped through it if I’d started reading earlier during my first loan period.

In fact, I couldn’t agree more with Sali Hughes’ pull quote on the cover – “Ideas, solutions, wisdom, kindness, and zero whining.” This Last is really important, because as a working class woman who made it into some of the top board rooms in the retail industry, Portas has had her fair share of fuckwittery and bias to face down, and while she doesn’t pull any punches in sharing it, she always does so with a good lesson and often a killer punchline attached.

I also like the way she acknowledges her ex-husband, life partner and home staff who provided her with the space and time to focus on her work whilst at work. The people who looked after her kids are clearly very important to her, and it’s appropriate in a book that argues for better acknowledgement of the labour exchange in retail that she should demonstrate those principles as an employer of child care, cleaning and household management professionals.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given my own circumstances, my biggest takeaways are that it’s absolutely OK to walk away from work that others see as successful and set up independently; that the workplace really is tough for women (and especially working class women), and that it’s tougher the more old boys’ rooms you have to enter to do business. And, above all else what matters is being true to yourself and your values. Follow your gut instincts. Be kind, but take no s**t. “Work like a woman.”

APDO Book Club: Deep Work

Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Piatkus, 2016.

Is there an irony in my having finished reading this book as a shallow relief from finishing writing my own current book and finalising preparations for a training on rare books cataloguing? Possibly. Possibly not.

Essentially, this is a book about how the author and other people whose work he has read or whom he has interviewed manage their lives to prioritise the tasks that stretch them. As such, it’s a 3-star read for me because he’s achieved what he set out to do, but there’s nothing in either the information he shares or his writing style that I actively love.

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APDO Book Club: The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide

I’m really glad that APDO Book Club chose this book as this month’s read, because, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have read to the end any other way.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s worthy of its 3 stars, which in my rating means the author has achieved what they set out to do – there’s just nothing in it that I personally loved or found inspiring.

Jen Gale presents us with lots of useful links, and to that extent it’s worthwhile getting hold of a copy. There are also a few nice soundbites that I’ll use on the Tidy Beginnings Instagram at some point in the future. I’m certainly not discouraging anyone from reading this book, which has the solid aim of demystifying green issues and I guess achieves that for the sort of person Jen Gale was herself before she spent eight years reading and blogging on these topics.

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APDO Book Club: Death & Decluttering

Nancy McGovern, Death & Decluttering (Sparks & Joy Mystery, 1), McGovern Books, 2020.

The latest APDO Book Club choice, this should have hit my sweet spot – a cozy crime with an organising bent.

Unfortunately it felt to me like it was trying a little too hard to be funny and the characters were a little too exaggerated – some of them like ostrich-riding Uncle Beppe were real caricatures.

As such, although the book achieved what it set out to do, it fell flat for me. I simply didn’t care about murder victims Lauren and Chip because they weren’t realistic enough people.

Probably one for the Agatha Raisin fans. My sense of humour just isn’t a match for the author’s, sorry.

APDO Spring Clearing Week: Making Clutter Count

At the Bonhams Plath Hughes Private View for the London Bibliophiles in 2018.

Last week was Spring Clearing Week, an annual campaign run by the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO) to raise awareness of the need to Spring clear before we Spring clean.

This year, the theme was Making Clutter Count, and, since books are – of course – never clutter, I chose to focus on clothes and textile recycling. I was really inspired by the RSA’s new report Turning the Tide: Public Attitudes on Plastics and Fast Fashion, which found a gap between our desire to reduce the use of plastics and petrochemicals in our clothes and our awareness of how much we are actually consuming. It calls for “new measures to turn the tide, including a tax on virgin plastics used in clothing; a ban on marketing petrochemical-derived clothing; and a commission to prepare for the future of fashion.”

I also drew heavily on Orsola de Castro’s recent book Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act (Penguin Life, 2021). De Castro has been at the forefront of the slow fashion movement since the 1990s. Her book is full of hints and tips on how to “mend, repair and rewear” your clothes, as well as facts and figures on textile recycling, and advice on how to declutter your wardrobe more mindfully.

Preparing for the Week

As well as reading these two publications, on the build-up to Spring Clearing Week I tried out various apps to see whether I wanted to recommend them to people on Instagram. In the end, on Friday I chose to highlight @thredup, a survey you complete to find out how sustainable your wardrobe choices are; @goodonyou_app which provides information on how fair clothing brands are; and @30_wears, which allows you to photograph and diarise your use of each of your clothes. Apparently most women wear most garments only seven times before disposal, so, as its name suggests, the app aims to encourage them to up that to thirty wears.

I also did a lot of surfing the web (including APDO’s own recycling and donations hub for members) to try to find out which charities were still able to collect items for donation despite the Covid restrictions. It’s really important to do due diligence on charity bag schemes, as some collections made door to door actually give very little to the named charity. Some collectors are more conscientious than others about trying to have clothes reworn before looking to have them scrapped for recycling. And, clearly, the best route for anything containing plastics and petrochemicals is for it to be used to the point of destruction before being scrapped and repurposed.

During the Week

The APDO colleagues who run our Twitter and Instagram accounts both primed members in advance to be ready to take part in their #APDOClutterChallenge (links to Twitter – the Insta challenge was completed through Stories which is, of course, more ephemeral). Colleagues shared a range of resources, some of which were new to me. My favourites (in no particular order) are:

The APDO blog shared several articles throughout the week, including one highlighting Caroline Rogers’s recently published research into clutter and wellbeing; Linda Cavellini’s interview of upcycling and sustainability expert Lynne Lambourne; and two posts bringing together advice from a range of APDO members – ‘Decluttering During the Pandemic‘ and ‘10 Ways to Donate Your Decluttered Items That You May Not Have Thought Of!‘ I was lucky enough to have a couple of tips included in the second one – using Recycle Now to find local centres for recycling clothes and The Great Diary Project for family diaries.

Overall

This was the first APDO campaign week to take place since I became a verified member, and it was a great learning experience. I’m sure that some of my clients picked up tips directly from following the #springclearingweek hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, and all my clients will benefit from my own increased knowledge on how to make their clutter count. It was also a fantastic way to gain an insight into the things that my colleagues are most passionate about clearing out and organising – there are so many different people looking for help with so many areas of their houses that it’s really useful to know who has expertise in particular fields. Of course, the APDO Directory lets anyone search by particular specialisms, but there’s niche and then there’s niche … you can search for photo organisers, but not for librarians or archivists, for example.

Now I’m looking forward to National Organising Week in November … and, from a CPD point of view, to the APDO Conference next month.

Image: Photo taken by Daichi Ishikawa at Bonhams Plath Hughes Private View for the London Bibliophiles in 2018.