Middleagedmum.com: pencil cases and other things of neatness

Messy drawerWhen Amanda asked me to send her a picture of my pencil case for her post last week, I have to admit I was a bit thrown. What pencil case, was my initial reaction. She said it so matter of factly, like there was no question I wouldn’t have one, that I tried to remember if I had ever owned one?

At school I remember having good intentions and starting a new term with a smart new pencil case filled with a complete set of equipment from WH Smith (there was nothing like the joy of that end of holiday trip to buy stationery), but it soon seemed to de-generate into a horrible unruly mess.

There was the pink fluffy one with gonks eyes (it was the 70’s) which ended up filled with broken pencils, Biro’s, a protractor (what was that for?), a compass which was used mainly for carving boys names into wooden desks, a drawn on broken rubber and screwed up bits paper containing doodles of shoes I coveted and my signature when I changed my name to Mrs (insert name of boy I fancied). Feminism hadn’t quite kicked in yet!

Then there was the huge art equipment box I carried to foundation course every day. It had lots of compartments which started off full of charcoal, oil pastels, various shades of gouache and paint brushes, but soon deterioated into somewhere to store my roll ups, tickets to gigs, bits of yarn and an odd second hand earring.

As a fashion student there was the customised case to carry my Magic Markers, which started off as a small red children’s suitcase.  I stuck various pictures of Siouxsie Sioux and Polystyrene on it and covered it in varnish and it became quite the talking point on the streets of Leicester – as did many of my “creations” but that’s another story.

When I started working, there was an attempt to be grown up and professional and being the 80’s this involved a lots of (fake) black leather and Chanel or Moschino pouches, accompanied by giant Filofaxes. Everything was giant in the 80’s, shoulder pads, salaries, even pencil cases! Again this didn’t last long as the 80’s became the 90’s and we all started floating around head to toe in white (Ala Rifat Ozbeck) with crystals round our neck, wearing silver trainers and bum bags. The bum bag might have contained a pen and a tiny notebook for jotting down design ideas, but I don’t remember an actual pencil case.

Since then pens have rattled round in the bottom of my bag and leaked all over everything, but there’s never been another pencil case.

Don’t get me wrong I love stationery – there’s nothing better that a new set of pencils, or rolls of spotty sticky tape – and no trip abroad is complete without a trip to a hardware and stationery shop. But I’m simply not very good at looking after things in a neat and organised way. I’d like to be the kind of person that has the same set of coloured pencils for 25 years (I’m looking at you MAD) and keeps a collection of Hello Kitty rubbers in their own special box, but somehow it just doesn’t happen.

Do the people who own pencil cases also take pictures of their shoes and stick them on the front of the shoe boxes, do they have boxes clearly marked Summer and Winter clothes (containing moth repellent), are they able to find their Halloween/Christmas decorations without  an argument up a ladder with their partner, do they know where the cake board/Birthday cake candles are kept and don’t have to buy new ones every few months, and do they have first aid kits/tiny fire extinguishers located under the sink, ready for emergencies? I think they probably do, because they are proper grown ups with organised lives and neat compartments for things.

“A place for everything and everything in it’s place”, was my mum’s mantra as I was growing up, which makes perfect sense, but for me, never quite happens.

On the surface I’m a together, organised person. I’m rarely late, very reliable and my house looks reasonably neat and tidy to the untrained eye. But open a drawer or delve into the depths of any cupboard and chaos reigns. The pan cupboard is a cascading avalanche of stainless steel, ready to attack anyone who dares open the door, the sewing box a tangled mass of thread, bent needles and sewing machine parts from 1972 and my hosiery drawer frustrates me every day, with its odd combinations of socks and holey tights.

Why don’t I just sort it all out, I hear you organised (pencil case owning) sorts ask?

Honestly I try, I really do, I start off with good intentions meaning to spend to the whole day sorting stuff out, but once I delve into the photograph drawer, dressing up box, collection of old magazines/brithday cards from when I was 6, I end up getting distracted and start some sort of new project/collection/mess and all plans of a neat organised life are abandoned.

So in an attempt to bring some order to my life I am going to take inspiration from the pencil cases and start with my stationery. I too can have a stationery hamper as neat as Francescas – and own an electric pencil sharpener!

Watch this space…….


  • Becky says:

    Oh I can so relate to this. I want to be neat and tidy and organised, I really really do, but I just never seem to be able to quite make it happen. I am rubbish at putting things away and as Sister Goddard my First Year House Mistress used to say – I live in “organised chaos” – I don’t think I’m going to change now – it’s too late for me, perhaps my husband can train the children to be the organised people I would like to have been !!!!

  • Jane says:

    Organised chaos is the perfect description Becky – me too! J x

  • Belinda says:

    Well, apart from knowing exactly where the Christmas decorations are I’m afraid the rest of the house is just like yours. My pencil case is the only neatly organised bit. The drawer in the kitchen with sporadically used equipment is like Arkwright’s till in ‘Open All Hours’.

    Still, it’s homely and people seem to like coming here!

  • Jane says:

    Phew Belinda – thats a relief. That picture is my kitchen drawer. A messy house is a welcoming house, I think

  • Frances says:

    Sadly, I buy the pencil cases and get inspired occasionally, but mine inevitably end up — the best-used ones, at any rate — in various spots — on my desk in a mug-turned-penholder, besides my bed clipped to a book I’m reading, leaking ink in the pocket of a favourite jacket . . . Although I’ve managed to keep my favourite pen in the main zipped compartment of my everyday bag for a few years now — a record!

  • Monix says:

    “own pencil cases” – tick
    “take pictures of their shoes and stick them on the front of the shoe boxes” – tick, love pretty pictures…
    “boxes clearly marked Summer and Winter clothes” – doh, obvs!!
    “can find Halloween/Christmas decorations” – 3rd box on the left, in the loft
    “own first aid kits/tiny fire extinguishers” -yep (but we did have our home burn to the ground a few years back – am I allowed a “pass” on that one?)
    …but I do hope our home is a welcoming one!

  • Anna says:

    If only there were more pictures like this! This is how most of my drawers look and many of my cupboards need a knack to open them and prevent their innards avalanching out. I regularly vow to tidy them but even when I do the chaos sneaks back. I truly know where everything is, even if other items need removing from a drawer before I can actually lay my hand on them. I have loved this little dose of reality this afternoon – thank you. I am off to battle some saucepans out of their cupboard now.

  • Sarah says:

    I concur! When push comes to shove life,s too short!

  • Aneela says:

    Ha ha haa…. You speaketh the truth of where we mere mortals dare not go and rarely ever feel comfortable. That is to share with everyone what is most likely the reality of what lies beneath the surface. In my humble opinion…either organised chaos or dare we say a neurotic person with OCD tendencies driving not only themselves but anyone in their midst into sheer panic if things are not as they should be. I’m afraid I fall into the latter category. Mind you… the official line to anyone outside of my inner hub would be… “It’s a breeze being so sodding perfect” whereas reality would beg to differ!!! Ps.. Loved the protector line “what was that for?”…. I challenge anyone who defies they have not thought of that at one point during their misspent yoof.”

  • Leanne says:

    As a school girl in the early 80’s in my pencil case I always had a wooden ruler that I wrote on in pink and purple pen. I covered it in the names of the boys from Duran Duran! Even now when I see the pristine underside of a wooden ruler I still have the urge to write on it in my nicest hand writing. On the grownup side I did buy some great baskets for my pantry today i am amazed at how good it looks with everything in order. Now for my car…

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