This article was first published in the March/April 2015 edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.


By Francesca Puccio

Spring has finally arrived (or so I hope by the time you are reading this) and for me it comes with a desire for renewal and improvement! In terms of home and kids this equals:

  1. Getting rid of the mess that has relentlessly accumulated during the long indoor winter months; and
  2. Spring cleaning.

The two activities together have the power to make you feel organised and energised, full of optimism and proud of yourself! There is a real energy shift that takes place when getting rid of dirt and things that are not loved or used anymore. This energy affects the way we feel inside, and in our environment. This is the principle of Feng Shui, ‘the art of balancing and harmonizing the flow of natural energies in our surroundings to create beneficial effects in our lives’ (Karen Kingston). Studies have demonstrated that if our body and minds are disturbed by external factors (and clutter is one of those), our energies are drained to cope with that nuisance.

But how can we tackle mess? Where do we start? Especially when it gets so out of control that the whole idea of putting things into some order seems impossible? And also, how much mess is tolerable and reasonable? Where do we draw the fine line between allowing creativity and being relaxed and enforcing some discipline?

There is not a right answer, every person is different and what disturbs one might be completely normal for another.

Here’s where you can start. Feng Shui Consultant, Karen Kingston, has divided clutter into four categories.

  1. Things you do not use or love
  2. Things that are untidy or disorganised
  3. Too many things in too small a space
  4. Anything unfinished.

Being a mum and working in the field of home improvement, here’s my personal description of these four categories:

  1. Things you do not use or love

Go through all the toys, children books and accessories and sort them using the “is it loved/used” criterion. I know it is not easy as we (both adults and kids) get attached to many things that we don’t use at all and feel bad about putting them aside. But rationally: isn’t it better to give that doll away or to put it in a nicely named box instead of having it lie messily in a box full of all sorts of different things? This, by the way, applies to all our “stuff”, such as clothes, papers and accessories.

The famous 80/20 Pareto rule applies so perfectly here: most people wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time, and probably most children play with 20% of their toys 80% of the time.

What can you do with the things that are still in good condition?

  • Sell them at a local brocante (many take place during the months of September and October) or online
  • See if your school is looking for toys, books, DVDs
  • Donate them to charities (see list).
  1. Things that are untidy or disorganised

Once we decide what toys, children books and accessories to keep, let’s assign them a place.

Storage is the secret of tidy homes. See if you have enough of it and decide where to put what and if you need to add a few strategic items.

All houses with children usually have ubiquitous Ikea plastic storage boxes and indeed they do their work for a minimum investment but there are other solutions you can use:

  • Add a pouf or footstool with storage: a nice element for your living room with hidden mess inside
  • Add a coffee table with storage inside, same as above
  • Add a storage trunk, old or new. Where? Next to a sofa, in the entrance hall, at the end of your bed, etc.
  • Buy children beds with drawers underneath
  • Buy nicer storage boxes; adding a few euro can get a much nicer look. Hema do a nice selection or try Muuto (
  1. Too many things in too small a space

Smart storage is a solution when space is not enough. However, a space which is filled with too many things can create a sense of being overwhelmed. Go back to point 1 and decide what to throw/give away.

“Less is more”, architect Mies Van der Rohe used to say, and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery adds “it seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.”

Children seem to have an innate need to accumulate stuff, so I am not sure we can teach them “minimalism”; however it can be useful to go through their stuff with them and remove things that can be best used elsewhere.

  1. Anything unfinished

This is trickier because it’s less visible. If something is unfinished, it drains energy from our minds that know that we should be completing it.

We’re pulled in every direction nowadays and parents of young children know that doing one thing at a time is usually not an option. However I keep hearing that to be truly successful you should focus on one thing, and one thing only, until completion. Only by doing this do we “implement” our projects. So I believe teaching this to our children is another good life lesson.



Spring cleaning is the moment at which I feel I take a true ownership of our home again. The process of decluttering, cleaning, putting in order makes me feel like I know every inch of my house and therefore empowers me!

For those who need a check list, here’s a link to Martha Stewart’s printable check lists, “throughout the house”, “room by room” and “for perfectly clean windows”.

Happy spring to everyone!





Secondhand shops accepting furniture, clothing, toys, books, household goods and bicycles in good condition. The shops provide social employment. Put your postcode in the search at to find your nearest shop or call for a free pick-up: 070 22 20 02.

Les Petits Riens/Spullenhulp

Helps homeless people back into regular life and work. Accepts clothes, shoes, household items, bikes, furniture, some electrical items to resell. Book a pick-up for large items from your home on 02 541 1386, or donate at shops listed on There’s a ‘Drive in’ system at the back of their main shop on Rue Americaine where they unload your boot for you – entry at rue du Prévôt 30-32, 1050 Bruxelles.


Helps refugees and asylum seekers. Accepts furniture, clothes, household items.

Call 02 503 43 46 for collection from your home

Centre de Prévention des Violences Conjugales et Familiales

Women’s refuge with offices in Etterbeek. Accepts women’s and children’s clothes and toys in good condition and occasionally furniture. 02 539 27 44

NASCI Centre for Infant Aid

Helps mothers and children who lack the means to provide for their family’s basic vital needs. ‘Solidarity house’ based in Schaarbeek provides help to families all over Brussels region. Accepts clothes, shoes, baby and child items, toys in good condition, school bags, writing materials, linen, blankets. Drop off at the house in Schaerbeek 02 216 88 85.

FACE for Children in Need

Helps abandoned babies, orphans and street children in Cairo, Egypt. Runs three orphanages, a Street Centre and Transitional Home, offering shelter, food and vocational training. Accepts clothing for babies and young children, toys, art supplies, and baby equipment. For collection, email

Women’s refuge in Ixelles.

Accepts items for children and women. 02 648 17 78.


Ave des Celtes 19, 1040 Brussels 02 737 9132 or 0479 38 30 56.

Help centre for pregnant women providing free pregnancy tests and confidential advice. Needs donations of all items for babies and toddlers, especially buggies.

Protestant Social Centre

Rue de Caen, Ixelles. 02 512 80 80

Accepts articles for refugees. Will also collect furniture.


Accepts most items, check for your nearest shop. Its shop at 254 Chaussee d’Ixelles accepts and sells books including English books. Most stock is French, sizeable Dutch and German sections too. Also recycles wine bottle corks.

Association Femmes D’Europe

BCT member Jill Hawkes collects books in European languages (in good condition) to sell for this charity. Email her to donate

Salvation Army

Will collect large items and furniture from your home. 02 217 61 36.

Action Aid

This UK-based charity holds secondhand book sales in June and September in Stonemanor British Store car park, Everberg, to raise funds for its projects in the developing world. Donate books beforehand or drop off on the day (English language books only). You can also donate English language DVDs (Region 2 compatible). Email to arrange book collection or to find out latest sale dates (put ‘please add me to the emailing list’ in the subject box)

Brussels Bookswappers

Meets every fourth Wednesday of the month at Le Chapelier Fou, 190 Chaussée de la Hulpe, 1170 Brussels. Take and exchange books and DVDs for adults and children.


Find Francesca Puccio at