Thrifty Finds

This week’s Thrifty Finds (16-22 Jan)

 

This Week's Thrifty Finds via secondhandtales.wordpress.comSo now that I’m getting into a new working pattern my week is starting to look rather different. One of the biggest changes is being in Bath three times a week and having a lunch break. If I’m not careful I will be trawling charity shops a lot and my Thrifty Finds may grow ….

This past week, though, I was still quite restrained :

  1. I’ve had mixed fortunes  dealing with food waste this past week. I managed to use up the last of the Christmas mincemeat by adding it to a fruit cake. I also used up the water which I had kept after cooking some beetroots. I added it to some homemade playdough for the kids – which turned into a cool red colour.

homemade playdough made with natural beetroot dye

But, if I’m honest, I’m still struggling with the veg and fruit box and not using all the ingredients. I had to throw away a few mouldy oranges and a lot of lettuce 😦

2. I picked up a couple of books on Slow Living/Living intentionally at the library. I realised I hadn’t got a book from the library for well over a month. It was nice to have time to browse the shelves and, now my kids are older, I don’t have to head straight for the children’s corner.

library books as part of Thrifty Finds series on seoncdhandtales.wordpress.com

3. I finally received that refund for the delayed train last month (We were stuck on a train outside Sevenoaks station for over an hour!)

4. I went to a free lunchtime talk at Bath Guildhall. It was about the 50th anniversary of Bath Record Office. As part of my job I will be promoting this great service.

5. I’m struggling at the moment with the free coffee from Waitrose that I pick up every morning when I’m at work. I know I shouldn’t struggle with free coffee but I do wonder how it affects trade in the other local coffee shops. I’m currently planning a post on this. In the meantime I take my trusty re-usable coffee cup (and have already had a few conversations with people about it!). I also received double stamps on my loyalty card from another coffee shop because I brought a reusable cup!

Reusable bamboo coffee cup

And finally… not a Thrifty Find at all but I wanted to say that I marked last Friday by meeting up with the lovely Deborah from The Magic Jug blog. She had been in town earlier to help with the ‘Build Bridges Not Walls’ banner that had been draped over Bath’s historic Pulteney Bridge – to mark Trump’s inauguration  (see here). It’s always so lovely when you meet up with someone whose words you read on a regular basis. And last Friday it was even nicer to meet up with a similar minded person. I also watched and read all the coverage on the Women’s Marches which stirred my feminist soul and made me feel I really had to do something.

 

princess-leia via ladieswhodesign.com

You can download this poster via womenwhodesign website here

(You can also share your Thrifty Finds on my facebook page, or use #thriftyfinds on Twitter or instagram)

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…

 

Inspiring reads (for a wet Sunday!)

On my journey to learn more about minimalism and slow living I’ve started to collect a few books that offer hints, tips and guidance. Yes I know this works against the minimalist mantra of having few possessions (especially books) but I like to think that those I keep are valuable to me. I certainly dip into them a lot and find their contents to be very inspirational:

Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson

I do have a slight crush on this French women who lives with her family in the US, has a beautiful clutter and waste free house and dresses wonderfully using a very small wardrobe. Her book is full of practical tips on how to eliminate waste in your house. For example she goes shopping with bags and glass jars and doesn’t accept any packaging (not even for her meat and fish which goes straight into the jars). For further information take a peak at her website here or watch this fascinating youtube video:

 

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

This was the first book on minimalism that I bought (well actually it was the second as I returned the first). It’s written by Francine Jay, aka  Miss Minimalist  and is both a  good introduction to minimalism and a practical guide to decluttering your home and your life.  I often use it when tackling one of my rooms in my never ending quest to reduce stuff.

Timless Simplicity by John Lane.

This beautifully illustrated book was published nearly fifteen years ago. It fits in with the minimalist ethos but talks more about stepping away from a busy, consumer lifestyle and has more of a spiritual dimension to it. It has passages devoted to the simple pleasures of food and eating, the garden, homemaking and just being present in the everyday which I find inspirational to read.

Less is More by Brian Draper.

I picked this up last week in a charity shop. Like the above book it talks more about spirituality and of being present: appreciating the sights, sounds and things going on around you rather than being busy planning the future.

Books by Amanda Blake Soule

Amanda’s Soulemama blog is very popular. She lives a gentle, self sufficient life homeschooling her family in the US. Her blog has beautiful images and words (especially the Friday image posts) and her books are full of handy crafting projects to do with the family. She doesn’t pursue a minimalist lifestyle but she seems to endorse a slow living lifestyle, away from the fast paced consumer driven world.

The Green Parent Magazine

I can’t tell you how much I love this magazine. I started reading it in 2005 when it was very new and (despite my best intentions not to hoard) I have kept every copy since. It is is created in Sussex by a small family unit and speaks to everyone (parent or not) who wants to pursue a gentler lifestyle. I have to confess I have written a few articles for the magazine in the past but don’t let that put you off….

There are also other books which I have read (but not kept), borrowed from the library (or have on order):

 The Power of Less – Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta runs Zen Habits, an extremely popular blog about minimalist living. This book was the first one that I bought on the subject but it didn’t quite fit in with what I needed at the time. It seems to be more about creating a better work-life balance, which wasn’t so relevant to me then. His blog is definitely worth a read, though.

Tom Hodgkinson – How to be an Idle Parent; How to be Idle

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of The Idler magazine, an annual (now online) publication that extolls the virtues of doing nothing, or doing it slowly and taking pleasure in what you do. I borrowed the ‘The Idle Parent’ from the library and loved its laid-back, hands-off approach to parenting.I came across ‘How to be Idle’ in a charity shop but as I had already purchased ‘Less is more’ I decided to order it from the local library and read it at leisure.

The Minimalists – Everything that remains

I was luck enough to catch The Minimalists on their UK book tour last year. I am currently trying to order this from the local library. When you borrow a book from a UK public library the author(s) receives a small fee which is worth bearing in mind when buying/borrowing books.

I’m sure you may have other suggestions to add to this small reading list – I would love to hear them. Happy reading!

Borrowing books.

This year I am really trying to a)  reduce the number of purchased books that come into our house and b) increase the number that are given away. It’s not because I’m a book-hater. I love reading and grew up in a home that had lots of books.  However I do want to reduce the amount of things in our house (see my initial post on minimalism here). Adhering to the philosophy of William Morris: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’, I am trying to keep only those things that I assign value to. This means books too and so, among the books that I own, I am trying to keep only those that have given me real pleasure and/or I will re-read.

I am also looking at different ways in which to read books without keeping them. The idea is that they come into the house and, once read, are taken out again. I am calling this system: Avoiding the Bookshelf. I have a theory that if a book is placed on the bookshelf it will stay there, regardless of its worth or whether it will ever be read.

So I have borrowed books from friends:

Borrowing books

 

And I have also lent out books, some of which I will give away if I know I won’t read them again:

Borrowing books

I’ve also made use of the local libraries. I am lucky to be able to borrow from both the Wiltshire Library Service (we have a mobile library that comes to the village once a week. I can order books in advance and they will arrive on the van) and Libraries West, which covers Bath, Bristol, Somerset and South Gloucestershire. This is my current borrowed pile which features some eco sewing books and a really interesting read, ‘Overdressed’ about fast fashion in the US.

Borrowed books on eco sewing

'Overdressed' book about fast fashion in the US

Bit by bit I’m also trying to tackle the technological side of reading books. I have borrowed an e-reader from a friend which I’m learning to get to grips with. The girls have also ‘borrowed’ digital books from Libraries West and I have downloaded an audio book, ‘The Girls of Slender Means’ by Jean Brodie which I then forgot to listen to!

Five ways to make do (without replacing your appliances)

Five ways to make do without replacing your appliances

When I look around our house I realise there are quite a few things that are broken, or have developed some quirk that only we know how to operate.  I’m sure we are not alone in having appliances that don’t quite work how they should do, or have given up the ghost completely.

One of the mantras of minimalism/frugal living/being environmentally aware is to do without those things we think we need. They cost our hard-earned pennies, use precious resources to make, clutter our cupboards, and require time (and money) to clean and maintain.

I think it’s a combination of this philosophy (plus a smattering of ‘can’t be bothered/don’t have the time’) that explains why we have learned to do without certain appliances in our home.

Instead of rushing out to the store to buy a brand new replacement we have tried to make do. From personal experience these are the five things I have learned about making do with troublesome equipment – or managing without:

1) Adjust to its quirks

I wrote here about our broken-down oven. To summarise it stopped working and when I called out the engineer he suggested replacing it with a brand new one rather than paying for a replacement part. I chose to go with the latter and, nearly two years later, it is still working. However it is not very warm. So I have learned to adjust to this by automatically increasing the gas mark temperature by one (GM4 becomes GM5 etc) and also being generous with the cooking time. Also the gas hobs only work by using a separate lighter or matches to ingite. Until we move house/have money to buy a new one this is how we are cooking and it, sort of, works.

Solution: we all have temperamental appliances. If you have visitors who need to use the equipment (ie babysitters) write down instructions for them – but make sure the appliances can be used in a safe way.

2) Is there an alternative that I can use?

Do I already own something – or can I purchase something smaller and cheaper – that would do a similar job? We have struggled for many years with second-hand  vacuum cleaners that haven’t been quite up to the job. Bea from Zero Waste Home manages without a vacuum and relies on a broom. She believes it saves time (no plugging, unplugging and carrying the hoover from room to room). I’ve now got into the habit of using a brush to sweep our hardwood floors although this isn’t a solution for carpets. My parents, however, keep a simple, old fashioned carpet sweeper upstairs to clean their bedroom floors as it saves carrying a heavy vacuum up the stairs.

Recently we had a (brief) power cut which made me dig out our camping kettle to use on the gas stove (ignited with a match remember!). The electricity came back on but the kettle is staying in our kitchen as our electric one is playing up.

Solution: check around your house to see if you have an alternative. Do you own a travel iron or hairdryer that could be used to do the same job? After all what’s the point of buying something that is only used for a couple of weeks every year? Make these ‘holiday’ appliances work for their money!

3) Can I live without it?

Two years ago our (second-hand) dishwasher stopped working. We have been hand washing dishes ever since and it works for us. I believe that, from an environmental standpoint, a modern and efficient dishwasher would be better. However washing dishes by hand has many benefits. It involves the whole family (the children learn to wash and wipe up). We also had saucepans that couldn’t be put in the dishwasher anyway and now, when we need a utensil, we can wash it up straight away rather than waiting to fill the machine.

Making do with what yo have: washing up by hand

Solution: why don’t you try living without the appliance for a while? Some people use the ‘frozen credit card’ system (literally credit card frozen in ice) to help them delay making a purchase. If your car has broken down can you try using your bus service for a while, or book online deliveries? Can you enlist the help of family and friends to undertake tasks ie getting the kids to wash up.

4) Is there a free or cheaper substitute?

I have posted here and here about our second-hand bread makers, purchased for a small amount from the charity shop’s electrical appliances store. However if we’d been unable to find our second replacement we could have tried baking by hand. Like many people we’ve also been able to pick up appliances for free from Freecyle or Facebook sites (and in turn offered our unwanted goods).

Making do with what you have: second-hand appliances

Solution: Can I pick up a free substitute by putting a request on freecycle? Is there a free part I could pick up that could be used to mend my broken appliance? 

5) Can I borrow another one?

As I mentioned in my recent post about lending and borrowing we plan to borrow a tent from neighbours when we go camping this summer. We don’t have the budget to buy a new tent and as we are only camping for a couple of nights it doesn’t affect their holiday plans. It also means we don’t have to find space to store a five-person tent permanently.

Making do.. without buying a new tent

Solution:try borrowing websites such as Streetbank or  ecomodo . Don’t be afraid to ask friends or family if you can borow an item; there may be something you can lend out in return.

..but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and buy a new one. For years we struggled without a heating control device. Instead we manually switched the heating on and off from the boiler which was ineffective and led to a very cold house when we were away. We finally bought a new control pad and our house is heated so much more efficiently now. It’s just a matter of deciding what does need replacing, and what you can manage without…

 

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?