I’m on the slippery slope to living like Stig of the Dump. Can a £12 towel rail turn things around? | Emma Beddington

I’ve often mentioned the cardboard removal box where I dump my worn-but-not-dirty clothes, craving, I think, the cleansing fire of public shame. Who lives like that? How do other people not end up with a clirty – that’s clean-dirty – floordrobe (apologies for the double portmanteau)?

It felt like a “broken windows” thing – the US policing term for visible minor neglect acting as a gateway to crime or, in my case, shrugging surrender to the march of entropy. At my age, in this empty nest, it’s a slippery slope. Does moisturiser matter? Why bother with a plate for whatever fridge scrapings I’m calling lunch? What’s wrong with some wholesome soil under my nails? Fail to floss once and next thing I know, I’m Stig of the Dump, living in a dump.

A solution finally appeared at a car boot sale last weekend in the form of a wonky but serviceable wooden towel rail. Some light negotiation, £12 and minimal tidying later, I was a new woman, or at least a woman with folded clothes on a presentable piece of furniture, box banished.

Buoyed up by this pathetic step towards functional adulthood, I tried to tackle some other broken windows in my life. I kicked off by washing the lowest sedimentary layers of the laundry basket, clothes I barely remembered owning, roasted the seven near-liquid peppers festering in the fridge, picked up a piece of mystery plastic that had been on the floor since the last monarch, made a hoof-trimming appointment with the farrier – sorry, podiatrist – and bought moisturiser (my face is definitely a broken window).

But then I ran out of steam. The fridge jar graveyard, sea of to-be-recycled flexible plastics and time-critical tax email remain untackled, and so does everything else. I’ve been here before: it’s like the time I bought a decorative filing folder and, for two glorious weeks, put all my receipts in it and didn’t hide the post under a cushion. The borrowed burst of energy from a purchase promising to solve my problems only gets me so far: there are just so many windows and they all seem to be cracked.

I have often talked about the cardboard box I use to store my slightly used clothes, hoping that the public shame of it will motivate me to clean them. Who lives like this? How do other people manage to avoid having a “clirty” – clean-dirty – floordrobe? It felt like a “broken windows” situation – the concept that visible neglect can lead to more serious issues, or in my case, giving in to chaos. At my age, with an empty nest, it’s a slippery slope. Does it really matter if I use moisturizer? Why bother using a plate for my makeshift lunches? Is it really so bad to have dirt under my nails? Miss one day of flossing and suddenly I’m living in a dump.

A solution presented itself at a recent car boot sale in the form of a slightly crooked but functional wooden towel rail. After some negotiation, £12, and a bit of tidying up, I felt like a new person – or at least a person with neatly folded clothes on a respectable piece of furniture, with the box banished.

Encouraged by this small step towards being a functioning adult, I decided to tackle other neglected areas of my life. I started by washing the forgotten clothes at the bottom of the laundry basket, threw out the rotting peppers in the fridge, picked up a piece of plastic that had been on the floor for ages, made a podiatrist appointment, and bought moisturizer (my face definitely needed it). But then I ran out of energy. The cluttered fridge, pile of recyclable plastics, and urgent tax emails remained untouched, along with everything else. It’s like the time I bought a fancy filing folder and for a brief moment, actually used it for my receipts and didn’t hide my mail under a cushion. The burst of motivation from a new purchase only goes so far – there are just too many “broken windows” that need fixing.