second-hand soft furnishings

We are currently in the middle of redecorating our lounge; repainting and adding a few new touches to it. As always when it comes to buying ‘stuff’ my first question is 1) do we really need it? and 2) can we get it second-hand?

We’ve already scaled down to one (second-hand) sofa and armchair. I decided that we did need a couple of cushions and, as the weather is turning cooler, a throw or two.

Yesterday I was delighted to pick up these two cushions and cosy throw from the local PDSA shop:

second-hand soft furnishings

In total the cushions and throw were £10 (and the sofa originally £35). My next challenge is to try to find some second-hand curtains that fit in with the new colour scheme, and I’d like to get a floor lamp as well. Other touches that we have been working on include bookshelves made from reclaimed floorboards and a new (to us) fireplace that was actually hidden behind our old 1930s one. I hope to post some pictures of that soon, when the work is completed.

Our new (to us) keyboard!

In which we swapped this:

decluttering the piano

for this:

second-hand keyboard


If you dip in and out of this blog you may have noticed that I’ve become interested in minimalism, or living with less. Having read a few books, seen The Minimalists talk in Bristol, and followed initiatives such as Project 333 I have started to question what we own, and why we own it. Of course this approach has also been affected by the fact that there are five of us living in a small space (and we are set to stay here for the future).

You may have followed our Sofa Saga from earlier in the summer where we were – accidentally – left without anything to sit on! Since then we have acquired a great second-hand sofa and have not been in a hurry to purchase a second one. The space that we had gained in the lounge also led us to make a family decision to get rid of our piano.

It was an old instrument which, to my shame, was badly out of tune. Although I play a little I didn’t really use it and it is only our youngest daughter who now has piano lessons. It was also taking up a lot of space and I was forever dusting it! If I wasn’t vigilant it also became a catch-all for lots of photographs, candles and objects that could be put somewhere else/given away.

So, last month we said goodbye to our piano as it went to a new home. As promised to the girls we spent some of the money on a keyboard that they could play with (and plug headphones into). Last week we found the brilliant Casio keyboard and stand for £35 in our beloved British Heart Foundation Furniture shop in Chippenham.

I know it may not be to everyone’s taste to replace a beautiful (if out of tune) old piano for an electric keyboard. However for us as a family it has been a great purchase: the girls enjoy playing it, we can move it about the house, and we have gained some much needed space….

Happy Second Birthday to our Repair Cafe!


Corsham Repair Cafe 19 Sept 2015This Saturday marks the second birthday of our Repair Cafe! I am so excited and proud! Over the past two years and 11 cafes we have made nearly 150 repairs which means toasters, chairs, lamps, clothing, computers and bikes that haven’t gone to landfill.

We will be marking the occasion with cake, cups of tea, more repairs and I am going to attempt to tweet live from the event (yikes!) 2-4pm on Sat 19 Sept   #Corsham #RepairCafe

Repair Cafe birthday cake

For more info on Repair Cafes and other mending events near you this month there is the fabulous Festival of Repair run by The Rubbish Diet and the Make Do and Mend-able Directory of all things repair related in the UK.  Jen from the above directory and the inspiration behind my setting up our Repair Cafe will also be operating a#makedoandmendyear tweetchat on the 24th of September which will be about Repair Cafes and Restart Parties.







Family heirlooms

I’m currently reading a book called ‘J’ by Howard Jacobson. It’s (another) dystopian novel set sometime in the near future. There are echoes of ‘Brave New World’, ‘1984’ and (I think) ‘Never Let Me Go’ in it. I mention the novel because in its society people are dissuaded from keeping family heirlooms. It’s an unwritten rule that you are only allowed to keep one item that is over a hundred years old. I haven’t finished the book but I get the impression that old things remind people of something catastrophic that happened (or as it’s referred to: What Happened, if it Happened). In ‘J’ it’s not good to remember the past.

This got me thinking about the heirlooms that we have in our house. As I slowly walk the minimalist path I have been questioning everything we own and working out what we really need. This means that some things we have inherited have now gone. For example this week we said goodbye to our old piano because it takes up too much space and we are going to replace it with a smaller, portable electric keyboard.

However there are other objects that we have inherited and will keep because they a) serve a practical purpose and/or b) remind us of our past.

Take our kitchen table, for example:

Kitchen table: family heirloom

It was my grandparents’ table, then briefly used by my parents. It then went to my aunt’s (I have childhood memories of all the family gathered around the table), then it came to us about ten years ago. It’s not fancy and, as it belonged to my Nan and Grandad, wouldn’t have been expensive. It has a date stamp underneath the table of 5 Jan 1950. For this reason I do wonder if it is a piece of Utility Furniture: inexpensive furniture made in Britain between 1942 and 1952 to meet the increasing demand for furniture (especially by people whose houses were bombed) while suffering from a lack of available resources to produce them.

I am fascinated by both the social and personal, family history that surrounds this table. It is also really practical and can seat eight people around it.

As neither my husband and I have formally inherited items from our grandparents (only one pair of our four grandparents ever owned their own home), there are other items that have casually come to us and we use on a day to day basis, without even thinking about them.

For example, I regularly use this single serving ceramic pan that my Dad had when he lived on his own. I’m not sure what its original purpose is as it can’t be used on a hob. However I find it ideal for soaking grains, such as couscous, in, or storing leftovers in.

Practical family heirlooms

I also have this pyrex lemon squeezer which I think looks quite beautiful:

pyrex lemon squeezer

I do confess to possessing some items that I have kept because they look beautiful. From time to time I use this small china tea set that once belonged to my great gran:

tea set as family heirloom

I also have an ironing board which I rarely use, but can’t quite get rid of because it belonged to my Nan. There is a whole load of emotional attachment to this item which I need to work through. If I get rid of it it doesn’t mean I loved my Nan any less. It barely serves a practical purpose as I don’t iron. And yet….

What family heirlooms do you keep? Do you keep them for emotional, or practical, reasons – or both?


Sofa Saga Part Two

You may remember that last month we hastily got rid of our sofas, in the anticipation of having two new (to us) sofas delivered to us. However the sofas (from the British Heart Foundation furniture shop) couldn’t fit through the low doorframe. For the past three weeks we have been, literally, camping out in our lounge with camping chairs and a single armchair.

However last week our new sofa was delivered, courtesy of another second-hand furniture shop called Waste Not Want Not in Chippenham. I blogged about this charity ages ago when setting up the Repair Cafe. They delivered the sofa very easily and we are really impressed with it.

There is a stain on one of the arms which I will try to clean using one of the many methods I have seen on Pinterest. Failing that we may purchase a sofa cover to protect it.

New (to us) sofa


It’s just so nice to be able to sit in a sofa again – although I have to say it was a lot easier hoovering the floor without one!

Our Sofa Saga…

At the moment our lounge looks like this:

image no sofa lounge

Notice something missing?

Oops we haven’t got any sofas!

Now as much as I have been trying to follow the minimalist way and to declutter perhaps a lack of sofas for a family of five is going a little too far.

In my previous post I included a picture of one our sofas that I had attempted to mend:

sofa darning

But, knowing that both of our hand-me-down sofas were on their way out, we had been looking for a replacement. Over the last couple of months we have been popping into the excellent Dorothy House and British Heart Foundation shops in Chippenham which have a good selection of second-hand furniture. They also sell good quality electrical appliances where we have previously bought breadmakers and a vacuum cleaner.

Ten days ago we came across two matching three seater sofas in the British Heart Foundation shop at the bargain price of £130 for the two. While we had only planned to replace one sofa at a time these were such good quality that, after some quick measuring, we decided we could fit them both in the living room.

We live in a small, old cottage.It was originally a stable but was converted into cottages in the 19th Century so we have high ceilings downstairs. Unfortunately we have low door thresholds, as the picture below indicates:

lovely old thrifted armschair, and low door in our cottage


We have since learned that they are only 180cm high. So when the sofas came to be delivered last week they wouldn’t fit as the only way to bring them into the house is to upend them. No matter how hard you try, 205cm long sofas will not compress into 180cm long sofas.

The sofas had to go back to the store and, because we had been so organised and got rid of our other sofas at the beginning of the week, we now have a rather empty lounge!

At first the girls thought it was fun and the good weather has meant they have been outside most of the time. In the evening husband and I sit down to read or watch telly on an assortment of chairs:

– Ikea folding chair

– Blue camping chair

– lovely old armchair (in picture above) which I had lent to friends long term when trying to declutter the house for our house sale (more on that in a future post). It’s been great to be reunited with this old chair which we picked up for free on the street and which proved to be the best chair ever when breastfeeding my younger two daughters.

I realise that to have a sofa free lounge isn’t a long term solution, no matter how much it follows the minimalist mantra of only having what is useful in your home. I do rather like the large space the lack of sofas has given us, and how easy it is to vacuum. But there is still nothing like laying full length on a sofa reading a book or watching tv.

We have started to look again for replacement sofas. My first choice is to re-use what someone no longer wants but both charity furniture shops don’t have much choice at the moment. A trip to Ikea is too expensive and I’m reluctant to buy new for many reasons. We could try ebay or the local facebook and freecyle sites.

We just need to have a measuring tape handy this time…


Something Old, Something New, Something mended…

If you have dipped in and out of this blog over the past couple of years you will no doubt have come across my (endless) posts on broken appliances (!). So far we have:

– had a broken cooker which was mended here

– a tatty sofa which I had rather badly mended here

– hoovers which had been repaired, replaced with second-hand, then finally bought new last Christmas

and not forgetting the second-hand breadmakers (two) and my post about Living with Broken Appliances

We were fortunate enough to receive some money the other month and, at the same time, three of our appliances died on us:

The Cooker

After fifteen years of service and a professional repair two years ago the cooker finally gave up the ghost two weeks ago. By the time of its demise both ovens had stopped working effectively, the gas ignition had died long ago and only two gas hobs actually worked! So we decided the time had come to buy a brand new one.



The Washing Machine

The washing machine has been with us for about ten years and with three children it has had its fair share of use (especially when the girls were in cloth nappies). I have a fantastic contact in Bath who has come out on many an occasion to fix it when it stops working. Two years ago he replaced the brushes and said he thought the time would soon come to replace the machine. However it has carried on working (despite getting ever louder and starting to move about in its old age). Last week, after our big camping trip, it stopped draining but my handy washing machine man came and replaced the pump…and it’s working again….!

something old, something new, something mended..

The Hoover

What a saga! We have mended two hoovers, lived with a rubbish (cheap) one and, last month our new hoover broke  and needed a new belt and brush. I’m sure we are cursed by vacuum cleaners (or maybe we live in a dirty house that tests the endurance of even the most powerful machine!). Anyway a call to the manufacturer has resulted in a new supplies of belts (we had to pay) and a free brush. So, fingers crossed, a quick mend will result in it working again.

something old, something new

Running a regular Repair Cafe at my work I see the amount of (electrical) appliances that come in that are so easily fixed. Vacuum cleaners are definitely one of the most popular ones.  WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) undertook a study of one thousands consumers in England and Wales in 2012/13 to assess what people understood about the lifespan of electrical appliances, and if this was important to them. From the study it showed that consumers expected:

-vacuum cleaners to last five years

– washing machines to last six years

– fridges to last eight years

There’s also an interesting BBC article here about the decline in the lifespan of white goods in the UK. Apparently washing machines used to last for ten years and now, on average, they last for seven.

So how are your household appliances doing?

Lending and borrowing – a solution?

I know the old saying goes “Neither a lender or borrower be” but I have to disagree. Over the past few years we have found one of the solutions to living in a small house is to loan out some of our possessions.

While I promised I would never talk about our house sale one of the solutions I have found to de-cluttering our space is to lend some of our furniture to friends. For example we have a lovely sofa bed that is well made (and expensive) that no longer fitted in the bedrooms when baby number three arrived. We lent it to a friend for a few years and it has only just come back to us (squeezed into a corner of the girls’ room). My friend found the sofa bed to be really useful until they bought their own and we knew it had gone to a caring family who would make good use of it.

This comfortable sofa bed is 13 years old and was on long term lend to some friends, The wooden highchair to the right has - sort of - been on loan from my older cousin since 1973!

This comfortable sofa bed is 13 years old and was on long term loan to some friends. The wooden highchair to the right has – sort of – been on loan from my older cousin since 1973!

Likewise some friends moved into a larger property but didn’t have much furniture. As we were clearing space for our impending house sale we lent them an armchair, chest of drawers and bookshelf. The furniture is good quality and all second-hand/taken from a skip/inherited. We don’t want to let go of it and dream of being able to fit it into a larger house, if we move. In the meantime our friends have made good use of the pieces and it’s always lovely to sit in ‘our’ armchair when we go and visit!

Of course the lending works both ways. This summer we will be without a tent, as our old one died in Scotland last August. However with a couple of camping weekends already booked we plan to borrow a tent from neighbours and friends, rather than buy a new one.

The biggest lending venture I am embarking on at the moment, though, is a cheat’s way of de-cluttering the bookshelves. I have a small pile of books that I am lending to friends, either because they’ve requested or because I know they will enjoy them. In return I have borrowed a couple of novels which I would like to read but don’t want to keep.

As with all lending there is the slight chance that items may not come back in the state in which they were given, or will be forgotten completely. There’s a great story  here about the former Lord Lieutenant of Bristol who has recently returned a library book that was 65 years overdue!

I know that I am guitly of harbouring a couple of items in our loft that should have been returned years ago (oops).

It may be a cheat’s way of de-cluttering but I believe that lending – and borrowing – items fosters a sense of trust and community. Instead of being selfish about our possessions we are sharing them with others who will benefit from them. One of the reasons that the lending website Streetbank was set up was to foster a sense of community between the lenders and borrowers. So, like them, I disagree with the old saying and think we should lend and borrow more. What have you lent or borrowed recently?

Swept away by a second-hand hoover


Last year I was very excited by our purchase of a second-hand breadmaker here. We had picked it up from the fantastic Dorothy House Furniture and Electrical Shop in Chippenham. Over a year later it’s still going strong and we’re making about 3-4 loaves a week in it. Not bad for a £10 purchase!

Today we returned to the shop to pick up a Dyson hoover. We have a long history with broken vacuum cleaners. We originally had a Dyson which, through being overworked in a house of three small children, gave up the ghost a few years ago. We then picked up a broken one from Freecycle which my my very handy Dad was able to mend. However through more abuse from our messy house this one died too. I then resorted to buying a cheap one from Tesco two years ago and have been struggling with vacuuming ever since. For the past six months the only way I can remotely get my carpets clean is by getting down on my hands and knees and using the hose!

But we received a little extra money in our pay packet this month and husband and I rushed off to the two household and electrical shops in Chippenham to see if we could find a second-hand replacement. These shops appeared a couple of years ago in town and, since then, I have noticed more appear in the area. They are a great way of picking up cheap furniture and electrical appliances, and also a good place to donate these items when many charity shops can’t take them. If you want an iron, food mixer, radio or even record player, you should be able to pick one up. All electrical items are PAT tested as well. There’s also a good choice of furniture – a sort of 1970s version of Ikea (some of the items reminded us both of our grandparents’ houses).

The Dyson cost £80 (over £200 brand new, although newer models). I have already been hoovering furiously to make up for lost years and the amount of fluff coming off our carpets is quite frightening!


(PS the only annoying thing about buying the Dyson was the plastic bag the tools came in. As you know I’m trying to give up single use plastic this month).


Sofa darning

One day I hope to be a grown up and own/buy a brand new sofa(oh who am I kidding, I really can’t see myself queuing at a DFS Boxing Day sale). In the meantime we rely on hand-me-down sofas from relatives and friends which seem to last fairly well. The latest – a purple sofa bed – has been around for a few years and is starting to show its age. We had planned to pick up a cheap sofa cover to hide the threadbare arm but this hasn’t happened. I have a bunch of friends round tonight and the shame of the tatty looking sofa has prompted me to get out the needle and thread and attempt a (very poor) patching session.

Here is the before:


And after an evening spent watching telly and darning here is the finished result:


I’m not going to win any prizes for Upholsterer of the Year and my husband did give me a rather puzzled look when he saw it, but I believe it does look better than before ….. perhaps?!