Category Archives: Do it Yourself

How to Make a Stencil


A variety of materials can he used for stencilling, from special stencilling paints and sticks to acrylics and latex. Each has its own properties and will create different effects.

Acrylic stencil paint: acrylic stencil paint is quick-drying, reducing the possibility of the paint running and seeping behind the stencil. Acrylic stencil paints are available in a wide range of colours, and can be mixed for more subtle shades.

Acrylic varnish: this is useful for sealing finished projects.

Emulsion (latex) paint: ordinary household vinyl emulsion can also be used for stencilling. It is best to avoid the cheaper varieties, as these contain a lot of water and will seep through the stencil.

Fabric paint: this is used in the same way as acrylic stencil paint, and comes in an equally wide range of colours. Set with an iron according to the manufacturer’s instructions, it will withstand washing and everyday use. As with ordinary stencil paint, do not overload the brush with colour, as it will seep into the fabric. Always back the fabric you are stencilling with scrap paper or newspaper to prevent the paint from marking the work surface.

Gold leaf and gold size: these can be used to great effect. The actual design is stencilled with gold size. The size is then left to become tacky, and the gold leaf is rubbed over the design.

Metallic creams: these are available in many different metallic finishes, from gold to copper, bronze and silver. Apply as highlights on a painted base, or use for the entire design. Creams can be applied with cloths or your fingertip.

Oil-based stencil sticks and creams: the sticks can be used in the same way as a wax crayon, while the creams can be applied with a brush or your fingertip. With either one, there is no danger of overloading the colour, and they won’t run. The disadvantage is their long drying time (overnight in some cases); also, the colours can become muddy when mixed. Sticks and creams are also available for fabrics.


Stencilling does not require a great deal of special equipment; many of the items used are commonly found in most households. A few tools, however, will make the job easier.

Brushes: it is worth investing in a set of good stencil brushes. The ends of the brushes should be flat and the bristles firm, to let you control the application of paint. A medium-size brush (4 cm/11/2 in diameter) is a useful, all-purpose size, but you may want to buy one size smaller and one size larger as well. You will need a selection of household paintbrushes for applying large areas of background colour, and small artist’s paintbrushes for adding fine details.

Craft knife: use for cutting out stencils from cardboard.

Cutting mat: this provides a firm surface to cut into and will help prevent the craft knife from slipping.

Masking tape: as the stencil may need to be repositioned, it is advisable to hold it in place with masking tape, which can be removed fairly easily from most surfaces.

Paint-mixing container: this may be necessary for mixing paints and washes.

Pencils: keep a selection of soft and hard artist’s pencils to transfer the stencil design on to cardboard. Use an ordinary pencil to mark on your object the positions of the stencils before applying.

Stencil card (cardboard): the materialised to make the stencil is a matter of preference. Speciality stencil card is available waxed from specialist art stores, which means that it will last longer, but ordinary cardboard or heavy paper can also be used. It is worth purchasing a sheet of clear acetate if you wish to keep your stencil design, to re-use time and again.

Tape measure and rulers: some patterns may require accuracy. Measuring and planning the positions of your stencils before you begin will aid the result.

Tracing paper: use to trace and transfer your stencil design on to stencil card

Stencilling is not difficult to master, and you can create some wonderful 3-dimensional designs but it is worth practising first to get used to handling


1. To transfer a template on to a piece of stencil card (cardboard), place some tracing paper over the design, and draw over it with a hard pencil.

2. Turn over the tracing paper and, on the back of the design; rub over the lines you have drawn with a soft pencil. Turn the tracing paper back to the right side and place on top of a sheet of stencil card. Draw over the original lines with a hard pencil.


1. Block stencilling: Use for filling in large areas in a single, solid colour. As in all stencilling, remember not to apply the paint too heavily – less is more. Always blot the paint on to a piece of cardboard before you begin.

2. Block stencilling with second colours tippled: When applying two colours, always apply the lighter shade first, then the darker. Do not cover the entire surface with the first colour; leave a gap for the second shade, then blend later. Use a separate, clean brush for each colour.

3. Dry-brushing, rotating from edge: Using big circular strokes, work from the outside of the whole stencil, moving inward. This should leave you with more paint on the outside, as there will be lesson your brush as you move inward.

4. Two-colour blocking: When you apply the first colour, do not fully block out the petals; instead, outline them with the first colour and leave the centres bare. Use the second colour to fill. Take care not to apply your paint too heavily.

5 Stippling: This method uses more paint and less pressure than rotating or flicking. Taking a reasonable amount of paint on the bristles of your brush, simply place it down lightly. This gives a rougher look. Do not go over it too many times, as this spoils the effect.

6 Dry-brush stippling: This is similar to stippling, except that it is essential to dab most of the paint off the bristles before you start. This gives a softer effect.

7. Rotating and shading: Using a very dry brush with a tiny amount of paint, place your brush on one side of the stencil and rotate the brush in circles. Repeat, using a slightly darker colour on the edges for soft shading.

8. Flicking: For the flicking effect on the leaves, use slightly more paint on the brush. Working from the centre, flick the paint outward once or twice. Be careful not to overdo.

9. Flicking upwards: Using a reasonable amount of paint (not too wet or too dry) on your brush, flick upwards only. This creates a line at the top of the petals and leaves.

10. Dry-brushing and rotating: Apply a tiny amount of paint by rotating the bristles from the centre and from the outside tips, to give more paint in these areas. Work along the line, using less pressure than on the centre and the tips. This gives a soft shade in between.

11. Brushing up and down: Using slightly more paint on your brush than you would for rotating, brush up and down only, taking care to keep your lines vertical

How to Make a Wreath

Through the centuries, wreaths have been regarded as symbols of protection, love, friendship and welcome. Most are composed of a central core, although you can twist and weave stipple stems of foliage such as clematis or hops into wreaths that are decorative in their own right, or construct a simple wreath base from supple grass or other stems and then decorate it with flowers.
With the revival of interest in decorative rings, it is now possible to buy a wide variety of wreath bases from florists and department stores. Dried-stem rings, vine wreath forms and twisted willow rings can all be adorned with posies of fresh flowers and foliage, or with dried plant material for long-term display. Pre-formed rings of absorbent stem-holding foam encased in a plastic base provide fresh flowers with a moisture source and can be used throughout the year for wall hangings or table decorations. They are, however, unattractive to look at, so you must plan your decoration to include an all-concealing cover – a handful of ivy leaves or other foliage would be ideal.


  1. Gather up your materials: a pre-formed foam ring of 25 cm/10 in diameter, a selection of flowers such as sweet peas, roses, spray carnations, Peruvian lilies, and gypsophila, evergreen foliage such as ivy, and florist’s scissors. Arrange a ring of ivy leaves around the inside and outside of the ring form to frame the flowers. Cut each sweet-pea flower on a short stem and arrange at intervals around the ring.
  2. Complete the ring of sweet peas and arrange more ivy leaves between the flowers, to give the design a natural and ‘countrified’ look.
  3. Cut individual roses, Peruvian lilies and spray carnations and arrange them between the sweet peas. Insert short sprays of gypsophila around the ring.
  4. Use the floral circlet to decorate a tabletop, a low shelf or a buffet table, where it would make an unusual centrepiece.


  1. Gather up the materials you will need: a dried-stem ring of 20 cm/8 in diameter, about 115 g/402 potpourri, a hot-glue gun, dried flowers such as rosebuds and sea lavender, a roll of florist’s silver wire, half a stub wire (floral pin), satin ribbon and a pair of scissors.
  2. Spurt the glue on to the ring a little at a time, and press the potpourri on to it. Take care not to burn your fingers when using hot glue. Allow to cool for a few seconds before pressing on the petals.
  3. Work all around the ring, gluing and pressing on the petals until you have covered the form on top, both inside and outside. If there are any gaps, spurt on a little more glue and add more petals. Glue some of the most colourful petals on top to give the ring a bright appearance.
  4. Arrange the dried flowers to make a small posy. Cut short the stems and bind them with silver wire. Bend the stub wire in half to make a U-shape, loop it over the stems and press the ends of the wire into the ring to secure the posy.
  5. Tie the ribbon around the ring form, bringing the ends over the top, where they will cover the posy stems and binding wire. Tie the ribbon into a bow and then trim off the ends neatly.


Outline a foam ring with periwinkle leaves, fill it with some short-stemmed daffodils, tulips and pansies, and then embellish it with a cluster of lighted tapers for an Easter table decoration. Cover a small ring with lady’s mantle and cornflowers, and then stud it with strawberries pierced with cocktail sticks (toothpicks) for a midsummer party piece. Or, define a large ring with ivy leaves, fill in with sweet peas, Peruvian lilies and roses, and cover it with delicate gypsophila.

Free Standing Shelving

Free standing shelf units have several advantages over wall-mounted or built in ones. They can easily be moved if the room layout is changed. They can be moved away from the wall to allow painting or papering. They can even be taken along when moving house. However, they have drawbacks too. Some manufactured shelving and display units are rather flimsy, and may twist out of square or sag if they are heavily loaded. In general, better results are found in building units that use strong materials such as natural wood and plywood. The other problem is getting them to stand upright against the wall; skirting’s (baseboards) prevent standard units from being pushed back flush with the wall surface, and carpet gripper strips make them lean forward slightly. The answer is to design the side supports on the cantilever principle with just one point of contact with the floor, as far as possible from the wall, so that the unit presses more firmly against the wall as the load on the shelves is increased.

Since a shelf unit is basically a box with internal dividers, it can be constructed in several different ways, using simple butt joints or more complicated housings. Perhaps the best compromise is to use gilled butt joints reinforced with hardwood dowels, which give the joints the extra rigidity they need in a unit of this sort.

Start by deciding on the dimensions of the unit, then select materials to suit the likely load the shelves will have to support. Mark up and cut matching groups of components to length in batches to ensure that they are all precisely the same size. Pre-drill all the dowel holes, using a drill stand and depth stop for holes in the board laces and a dowelling jig for those in the board ends. Insert the dowels and make up the joints. A thin plywood or hardboard backing panel can be pinned (racked) on to give the unit extra rigidity.


  1. Clamp groups of identical components together. Mark them to length and cut them in one operation to ensure that they are all the same length.
  2. Mark the positions of the shelf dowel holes on the unit sides, ensuring that they match. Drill them all to the required depth, using a drill stand if possible.
  3. Use the dowelling jig to drill the dowel holes in the shelf ends. This ensures that the holes are correctly positioned and centered, and are drilled straight.
  4. Glue the dowels and rap them into the holes in the shell ends. Ensure that they all project by the same amount, and cut down any that are overlong.
  5. Assemble the unit by gluing one end of each of the three shelves and joining them to a side panels. Then glue the other ends and add the second side panel.
  6. Cut a hardboard or plywood backing panel. Check that it is perfectly square, then pin (tack) it to the bark of the unit

How to Decorate a Table

Tablemats and napkins make the perfect table setting for an informal meal. They are simple to make and can be a good way of using off cuts and remnants of fabric.
Tablemats can be made from plain or patterned fabric and are most effective when machine quilted with a layer of wadding (batting) sandwiched between the top and bottom pieces of fabric. The layers help to protect the table surface beneath the plates. Bind the edges with matching or contrasting fabric or ready-made bias binding. Alternatively, choose ready-quilted fabric and follow the instructions for binding given here to finish the edges.
Napkins are simply a hemmed piece of fabric, usually square and made in a cloth which coordinates with the table mats or a tablecloth. Give some thought to the practical purpose of napkins and always make them from fabric which is washable. Polyester and cotton blends are a popular choice for informal napkins, but nothing beats the look of pure, crisp linen for a formal occasion.

  1. Decide on the size of the tablemat and cut out two pieces of fabric. Along the short edge of one piece, mark evenly spaced points 25 mm/1 in apart using a ruler and a sharp pencil. Join the points to make lines running across the fabric.
  2. Cut a piece of wadding (batting) to the same size as the fabric and sandwich it between the two fabric pieces, with the wrong sides together and the marked piece on top. Pin together then tack (baste) between alternate pencil lines.
  3. Lengthen the stitch on the sewing machine, then work parallel rows over the pencil lines using a matching or contrasting thread. Round off the corners by drawing around a cup or small plate, then trim away the surplus fabric.
  4. Cut out and join the bias strips until it is long enough to go around the tablemat. Fold the strip so that the raw edges meet in the middle and press. Open out one folded edge of the binding and pin it around the tablemat with the right sides facing and raw edges aligning. Fold back the raw edges where the binding meets.
  5. Fold over the binding to the wrong side of the tablemat. Pin and stitch the binding in place by hand as shown. Turn the tablemat to the right side and strengthen the edge by working one row of machine stitching around the edge close to the inside fold of the binding.

Plaster Wall Repair

Plasterboard (gypsum board) is an immensely versatile material for lining walls and ceilings, as it provides a smooth surface for any finish and also has useful sound-deadening and fireproofing properties. The one thing it does not do very well is to resist impacts, and resulting holes cannot simply be patched with filler (spackle)because the board’s strength will have been lost at the point of damage. The solution is either to strengthen the board or to replace it section altogether.

Very small holes can he disguised with self-adhesive scrim rape and cellulose filler, but holes more than about 5 cm/2 in across need a more substantial repair. Use an off cut of plasterboard and cut a piece slightly narrower than the hole width and twice as long as its height to use as a patch. Pierce a hole in it, thread through a piece of string, tie one end to a nail and pull this against the face of the patch. Then hurter some plaster or filler on to the other face of the patch and push it into the hole, keeping hold of the string with the other hand. Position the patch against the inner face of the plasterboard, pulling on the string to help the filler stick it in place. When it has stuck fast, fill the hole and cut off the string.

For larger holes — a foot through the ceiling, for example — in plasterboard and (in older properties) lath-and-plaster surfaces, the only solution is to cut out the damaged piece and nail on a new section in its place. You will need to fix supports around the edges of the opening where you have cut out the damaged section. Fill the cut edges, apply joint tape to hide them and then skim over the patch with a little plaster to complete the repair.

Patching Small Holes in Plasterboard

1 Cut a plasterboard patch slightly longer and narrower than the hole, and thread a length of string with a nail tied on through it hole in its centre.

2. Butter some plaster or filler (spackle) on to the edges of the patch and feed it end -on into the hole, keeping hold of the string with the other hand.

3. Pull the string to hold the patch against the rear face of the board, then fill the recess with either plaster or filler and cut off the string.

4. Complete the repair by applying a skim coat of plaster over the patch. Flick water on to the plaster with a brush and polish it smooth with a steel float.

Patching a Larger Hole in Plasterboard

1. It the plasterboard surface is more extensively damaged, cut through it with sharp knife back to the adjacent wall studs or ceiling joists.

2. Cut across to the stud or joist centres, then make 2 vertical cuts down the centre of the stud or joist to free the damaged panel and remove it.

3. Cut 2 strips of wood to fit between the studs/joists, and screw or nail them into place so that they will support the edges of the main board and the patch.

4. Cut a plasterboard patch to match the section removed, and nail it into place. Fill and tape the joints and skim plaster over the repair, then polish with a steel float.

5. If the wood laths are split or broken, pull them away from the surface. Remove any loose sections of plaster from around the site of the damage.

Plant Decoration

Herbaceous borders bring wonderful colour in summer but die down to next to nothing in the winter, so it is good to provide an evergreen structure of plants to get you through all the seasons. These can also contribute to the ‘architecture’ of the garden, creating levels, screens, and even sculpture. You can plan to have taller shrubs at the back of the borders, slowly graduating toward the front, or you can make more structured steps. You can arrange rows of small, lightly screening plants across the garden to create a living screen, and you can use specimen trees or neatly trimmed topiary as living sculpture.

The colour scheme can he planned against this basic structure. The decorative garden room is at its prettiest with plenty of colour. The structural shrubs and trees also can be chosen to make certain there is some colour all the year round — fruit trees for blossom in spring; shrub roses for summer colour and late-flowering clematis and wonderful berries, such as those of the pyracantha, in autumn, and of holly in winter. This display can he complemented by autumn-flowering bulbs such as colchicum, schizostylis, and cyclamen.

But the most variety of colours can be added with pots and containers. There is always a choice of seasonal colour at garden centres. By planting up in movable pots, you can easily put the colour where you want it and replant with new seasonal colour as the old blooms die.

Colour creates much more impact if it is kept to a theme — of blues and pinks, perhaps, or oranges and yellows. This theme can be strengthened with the use of paint and stain on nearby fences, garden buildings, furniture, or even the pots themselves.

Adding decorative colour

In a decorative garden, colour is very important. Not only can the paint you choose suggest mood and ambience, just as it does indoors, it can emphasize the colour scheme of the planting.

The surfaces you paint may be the house walls, walls of outside buildings, or the garden walls. Maybe you have a hopscotch of fencing and trellis work, all of slightly different woods and ages, that has resulted in a visual muddle. Paint them all in the same decorative finish, and you will have a much more coherent look. Or you may have newly erected trellis work that has a year or more to wait for a verdant covering of creepers. Paint it, and you will have a reasonable finish while you wait.

Colour can also be used to highlight areas. You may pinpoint an area destined for a particular colour scheme or you may wish to highlight the planting. Burnt-orange fencing would provide a stunning background for marigolds, while yellow picket would highlight the nodding heads of pansies. Painted fences and surfaces also lend colour throughout the year. They are particularly valuable in winter when many plants have died down.

Ideas with paint

Whether you want to paint your garden wall or a house wall that makes up part of the garden, there is plenty of inspiration to be had. Experiment not only with colour but with technique.

As well as straight colour, you can create depth by layering the colour. Try to add effects such as marble, stone, slate, or moss or by stenciling to a wall. The trick is to consider the scale of the garden.

These effects will have to be seen from much further away than they would be if used inside the house. Even a 10 m/30 ft garden is much larger than the average room, so everything has to be exaggerated a little.

An enchanting little pond, complete with fountain and cherub, adds colour and interest to a shady corner of the garden.

Although you may spend less time in the front garden, colourful plants growing by the door will create a welcoming impression.

Paint Practicalities

Any outdoor paint job has to be able to withstand a lot of beating from the weather, such as frosts, strong winds, torrential rain and the summer sun.

For this reason, it is best to use exterior-quality products. They are less likely to peel and flake, their colours are less likely to fade and they are specifically designed to protect the surface they are covering.

Alternatively, when decorating items such as pots and containers, which are not crucial to the garden structure, you can achieve a reasonably hard-wearing finish using a wider variety of paints over a primer, finished with a varnish.

Whatever you plan to paint or stain, it is important to use primers and varnishes that are compatible with each other, otherwise they may react adversely. Remember too that, if you have the patience and time, several thin layers of paint always produce a more enduring and better-looking finish than one thick one

How to Do Wall Tiling

The wall surface should be clean and dry. It is possible to tile over painted plaster or plasterboard (gypsum board), but old wall coverings should be removed and brick walls must be rendered. Note that modern tile adhesives allow tiling over existing tiles, so there is no need to remove these if they are securely bonded to the wall surface. There is also no need to fill minor cracks or holes; the tile adhesive will bridge these as it is applied to the wall surface.
When estimating quantities, first select the tile size, then set out the area to be riled on the wall using a device called a tiling gauge and use a batten(furring strip) to mark out the tile widths. Use the  marks to count how many tiles will he needed in each horizontal row and each vertical column. Count cut tiles as whole tiles, and then multiply the two figures together to reach the total required. Always add a further 5 per cent to the total to allow for possible breakages and miscalculations.


1. Use a pencil and one of the chosen tiles to mark up a straight piece of timber about 1.2 m/4 ft long, for use as a tiling gauge.

2. Hold the tiling gauge 110670m against the wall to see how many tiles each row will rake, and also to centre the tiling on a wall or window opening.

3. Similarly, hold the gauge vertically to assess how many tiles will till each column.


1. When tiling a small area with rows of whole tiles, use a cling gauge to mark the extent of the tiled area on the wall. Here each row will have five tiles.

2. Next, use a spirit level to mark a true horizontal base line axle which the first row of whole tiles will be fixed. Cut tiles will fit below it.

3. Then use the spirit level again to complete a grid of horizontal and vertical guidelines on the wall surface, ready for the support to be fixed.


1. Use masonry tacks to fix support battens(furring strips) to the wall aligned with the guide line. Drive the pins in only part of the way so that they can be removed later.


If the height of a tiled splash back is determined by a feature such as a mirror or window, position a row of cut tiles along the top of the panel.

If the width of the tilling is defined, as with a bath panel, always position cut tiles of equal size at either side.

Flower Arranging

Flowers are infinitely versatile. Available in every tint and hue, with masses of blowsy petals or elegantly simple forms, curiously textured or sweetly scented, the possibilities for creating memorable displays appear endless. For centuries, people have decorated their homes with greenery and flowers, both to celebrate nature and to soften the hard edges of what was often a hostile environment.

Fresh-cut flowers and foliage will always be the cheapest and quickest face lift a room can have. Whether you place a few daisies in a jam jar or fill a crystal vase with show-stopping blooms such as lilies or parrot tulips, flowers take center stage in any decor.

Flowers look great when dried, too. Dried flowers are rich in form and texture and can be made into striking table set pieces, contemporary arrangements or just simply gathered into a bunch.

In fact, preserving summer flowers is a delightful occupation, requiring neither special equipment nor expertise. A visit to a florist supplier’s warehouse for inspiration is recommended, and many specialty suppliers are happy to sell to the public. At these places you will find sensibly sized reels of florist’s wire, florist’s scissors to cur through wire as well as stems, packs of dried fruit slices, tiny terracotta pots, and florist’s tape in every conceivable color. As soon as you have a collection of dried flowers – using one or perhaps several of the methods described here – you can go ahead and create handsome centerpieces, swag or two for a mantelpiece, and some wreaths for walls and doors. Your home will never before have looked so colorful.

Grass Alternatives

If you like a green lawn, but don’t enjoy the regular grass cutting, why not try a grass substitute? None of those suggested here will stand up to the hard wear of a children’s play area like grass, but just for occasional foot traffic and as a feature that is for admiration only. Here are some practical alternatives that don’t need regular mowing.

Some common alternatives

Thyme: Thyme is aromatic when crushed, and makes a good grass substitute, but don’t use the culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris), which is too tall. Choose a carpeter like T. pseudolanuginosus or T. serpyllum.

Chamomile: is highly aromatic. Chamomile (Chamaemetum nobile, syn. Anthemis nobilis) also looks good. Look for the variety Treneague, which is compact and does not normally flower.

Clover: If clover is a problem in your lawn, it may make a good grass substitute. Once established it will keep green for most of the year, and will tolerate dry soils. It tolerates walking on and can look quite attractive in summer, and is probably greener than grass in dry weather. You’ll only have to mow a couple of times a year, after the flowers appear, to keep it looking smart. White clover (Trifalium repens) is a good one to use for lawns, though you will need to mail order the seeds from a company that sells wild or agricultural seeds.

Cutting costs

Pot grown plants from a garden center can be expensive if you need a great number. You can cut the cost by buying just some plants and using these for cuttings. Grow them for a year before planting in the garden. Some thymes are easily raised from seed, but start them off in seed trays then grow in pots.

  1. Always lay paving on a firm base and excavate the area to a depth that allows for a hard core, mortar, and paving. Firm the ground, then add 5-10 cm/2-4 in of hard core for foot traffic, about 15 cm/6 in if vehicles will use it.
  2. Compact the ground thoroughly. Bed the slabs on five blobs of mortar, using five parts of sharp sand to one part cement.
  3. Alternatively, you can lay the slabs with a solid bed of mortar, although this will make it more difficult to adjust them.
  4. Start at a known straight edge, and then position each slab in turn. The best way is to lower the slab down from one side, then slide it if adjustments are necessary.
  5. Tap the slab level with a mallet or the handle of a club hammer, using a long spirit level that spans adjoining slabs. If a large area of paving is being laid, it may be necessary to lay it on a slight slope to drain rainwater, in which case you must allow for this.
  6. Unless the slabs are designed to be butt joined, use spacers to ensure a gap of consistent width. You can make these from scraps of wood. A few days after the slabs have been laid, point with mortar.


You must prepare the ground thoroughly and eliminate as many weeds as possible otherwise weeding will become a tiresome chore if left unchecked. Time spent now will be time saved later.

  1. Prepare the ground thoroughly by digging over the area and leveling it at least a month before planting. This will allow the soil to settle and weed seedlings to germinate. Then dig our any deep-rooted perennial weeds that appear. Hoe out seedlings and a rake level again.
  2. Water all the plants in their pots first, and then set them out about 20 cm/8 in apart, in staggered rows as shown (a little closer for quicker cover, a little further apart for economy but slower cover).
  3. Knock a plant from its pot and carefully tease out a few of the roots if they are running tightly around the edge of the pot.

Housekeeping Tips

With an average of 2 out of every 3 women working outside the home, research shows that, despite the advent of the ‘new man’, most housework is still done by women. How you tackle the household chores will depend a great deal on your lifestyle. If you have children, keeping the house in order can sometimes seem an impossible task, so perhaps now is the time to become organized and make sure that everyone helps to get the chores done.
Begin by organizing a rota, so that everyone knows what they are expected to do, and make sure that they stick to it by putting up a star every time a job is completed. Try using incentives to get the jobs done rather than punishment if they are not – extra pocket money or a treat means that everyone ends up happy. Encourage young children to tidy up their toys and pull their quilts down to air the beds in the morning, or ask them to help you make your bed so that they learn how it is done properly at the same time. Laying the table and wiping down low cupboard doors are also easy tasks for them to do. Older children can help with dusting, cleaning or washing up. Do not differentiate between boys’ and girls’ jobs, as everyone needs to know how to clean, tidy and wash up.
Keep the mop and cleaning materials together so that no one will have an excuse to say that they could not find the right things. A plastic bucket with dusters, rags and polish is useful – check it regularly and replace contents as containers become empty.
Ask the family to fill in a ‘Weekly Planner’ or to tell you what they are doing, where and when. Keep the planner pinned to the wall where you can see it easily – you will find it invaluable when you need to check that children are safe or whether you will be free to take them to and collect them from an after-school activity. Keep a note of the telephone numbers of their friends to check that children are safe if they do not get home on time.
A year planner takes up wall space, but is useful for jotting down important dates for the family such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. A wipeable planner is useful where dates are regularly changed.
When you sit down together in the evening, ask the members of the family whether there are any items of shopping that need to be bought the following day, or appointments for the dentist or doctor to be made. Put letters to be posted near the door so that they will not be forgotten when you leave the house.


Keep a general file with receipts for goods that are under guarantee, and instruction manuals for all electrical appliances in case you need to refer to them.
Keep another file containing all important documents such as birth certificates, driving licences, passports, insurance documents and even your Will in a safe place so that you can find it quickly if necessary.
Keep a working list of jobs that need doing and cross them out as soon as you have dealt with them.
Prevent panics in the morning when clothes cannot be found or homework has not been finished by checking the night before. Even if there is a good programme on the television, the ironing can still be done, shoes polished and clothes mended while it is on. An extra washbasin or shower installed in a bedroom can also help to relieve the morning rush and inevitable queues for the bathroom.
Keep a small notebook and pencil with you at all times so that a job you have overlooked, or a telephone call you must remember to make, is noted down and not forgotten again. If you wake in the night and remember a string of things that you have forgotten to do during the day, a piece of paper and a pencil next to the bed will get them written down for the morning.
Put telephone messages or reminders in one place where everyone is likely to look. Papers with a tacky strip on one side are ideal for sticking on doors at eye-level where they will not be overlooked, or next to the item that needs dealing with.