Slowing down….

This week is already shaping up to be a busy one. I have work this evening, voluntary work on Tuesday and Wednesday, job application to complete, school Easter service on Thursday plus a few things I want to buy or make for the school holidays next week.

Tomorrow we have someone viewing our house (it’s still for sale) so I have spent a stupid amount of time tidying and getting it ready. As we are continually decluttering and I am trying to be more minimalist this does take less time. However I’m sure the energy used up in preparing our house for a viewing compared to the amount of time that the viewing takes is very disproportionate.

But a couple of things have forced me to pause, gather my thoughts and contemplate on what is really important. While tidying the garden in the spring sunshine yesterday I came across this Easter nest that the girls had made with friends:

Slowing down: making time and space for the little things

For one moment I had thought about tidying it away – as if a ‘nest free’ lawn would make all the difference to a house sale! What was I thinking? Instead of believing it made the garden look untidy I should have been celebrating their creation. I should have been overjoyed that they were playing outside, unplugged and with friends.

Another sign that made me slow down and take stock was this book I picked up by chance in a charity shop today:

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I hadn’t heard of the book, or author before, but was intrigued by the minimalist sounding title. I do have a pile of books by the side of my bed and I know I swore not to bring more into the house but I did end up buying it nonetheless. Later on I found I had twenty minutes to spare while I waited to pick someone up from the train station. This proved a perfect opportunity to slow down, read a few chapters and savour the contents. I haven’t read enough yet to provide a review but I plan to find pockets of time over the next few days to dedicate to the simple pleasure of reading it.

Getting rid of sentimental things?

Sentimental attachment to soft toys

In my continuing quest to reduce stuff in our house I’ve started to tackle the loft. It is full of things that are both useful (children’s clothing, camping gear, suitcases and decorations) and also many items that could be culled (books, paperwork).

However as I have recently discovered it’s also a place filled with memories and sentimental attachments and therein lies the problem: how can I get rid of sentimental things?

Last week I came across my daughters’ Baby Boxes. They’re IKEA cardboard boxes filled with scrapbooks of birthday cards, first shoes, baptism candles, newspaper cuttings, school books and christening gifts. Wearing my Minimalist hat I began to wonder if we really need to keep onto all of this stuff. A true Minimalist would say it’s only possessions and that they shouldn’t own us. It’s a waste of time and space storing them when they aren’t useful. Why not digitally download the cards, birth announcements, school reports etc and get rid of the rest? But the mother in me was more reluctant to let go of some of those items to which I had attached sentimental value.

I began to sort through the boxes and divided the contents into four piles:

1) Things that we could make use of

While rummaging through the boxes I came across a couple of mugs (Winnie the Pooh and a Diamond Jubilee souvenir cup). Surely these would be better of being used for their original purpose, ie drinking out of, rather than gathering dust in a box. I also discovered a beautiful necklace which had been given as a christening present. This has now been put in the girls’ jewellery box so that it can be worn.

Getting rid of sentimental objects

2) Things that can be reduced

My girls love to write and so I decided to keep only  those school exercise books that related to writing and literacy topics. All the other books I kept onto were recycled, or empty pages taken out to re-use.

3) Things that can be kept for sentimental reasons

I know this should be the smallest pile. I kept onto scrapbooks containing christening and birthday cards, newspaper cuttings from when they were born and baptism candles. There were also some ‘traditional’ christening gifts that I wasn’t sure of. In the end I decided to keep onto the vanity set and egg and spoon gift because the girls could decide what they wanted to do with them in the future. It did make me think about baptism/new baby gifts I have given in the past, and I wondered how many of them were now gathering dust in someone’s attic.

and finally:

4) Things to give away

I found a lot of soft toys in the boxes. Some still had their labels on and only one them I could actually remember. I had no idea whom the other toys had been given by, or if my babies had ever played with them. As cute as they looked I knew it was time for them to go. However I’m still uncertain about getting rid of a couple which is where my Minimalist aspirations v Sentimental feelings fight each other.

In the end I was able to reduce the contents of the boxes, make practical use of some of the contents and donate other items. The Baby Boxes still remain and I hope that I have kept the important things for the girls to treasure in years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

 

January book find and Zero Waste books?

The other weekend we went for a lovely walk to a small riverside hamlet near to where we live. The village has only 40 occupants and a tiny church. The beautiful Cotswold stone cottages made me think how our village must have looked at one point but, because of various factors, ours has now grown to a population size of 2,000.

Yet even in this tiny hamlet we came across a source of second-hand goodies. Inside the church was a well-stocked bookshelf. The sale of these books raised funds for the building. My husband and I both picked out books we had wanted to read for a while (depsite my best intentions to slim down our bookshelves!).

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I bought this book by Patrick Leigh Fermor. ‘A Time of Gifts’ is the first of a series of three books he wrote about his amazing travels across a pre-war Europe. We plan to travel by train to Italy and Germany later this year and his description of the German towns along the Rhine are very evocative.

Last week I also decided what to spend my Waterstone’s book voucher on. I had been having problems with this as I am trying to reduce our books (see here). However on a trip to Bath I spotted a book I had wanted for ages. I may have mentioned I have a little girl crush on Bea Johnson, the woman behind Zero Waste Home. She lives in California and, along with her family, aspires to live a rubbish free life. Anyway looking very lonely on the bookshelf in Waterstones was this single copy of Bea’s book:

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Yes, I realise there is something ironic about buying a book on Zero Waste (especially when I am trying to Reduce, which is one of Bea’s ‘Five Rs’). But I have already read it cover to cover and it has given me loads of ideas and inspiration.

As for the Patrick Leigh Fermor book I picked up, I plan to pass this on/donate when I’ve finished. I’m also slowly building a pile of books to lend out or read once and then pass on.

 

Back to school: Project 333 goes primary

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I have decided to carry on with my second attempt at Project 333. For the next three months I intend to limit my wardrobe to just 33 items (incl coats and shoes). I blogged here and here about my first experience with the project last Autumn and Winter.

What I like about Project 333 is limiting my choices and being forced to re-assess what I really need. So for this next installemnt I will be getting  rid of all the browns and beiges which were starting to bore me (one of the things I don’t like about the Project is that clothes can be rather samey).

This time I’m going for greys and blacks which I have a lot of. Because most of my clothes shopping is done in charity shops I do tend to pick up a lot of these colours.

Because it’s January and my mood needs lifiting I have decided to add lots of bright primary colours to lift the blacks and greys. I was given a couple of things for Christmas (including the red pussy bow blouse) and also some money which I spent yesterday. The results are below:

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Actually only the yellow skirt is new (from H&M). I’ve never bought yellow before but it was really calling to me. I like wearing orange and the citrus colours seem to appeal to me. The yellow tights came from the children’s department (!) of Marks and Spencer and were £2 in the sale. These will go well with blues, blacks or greys and, of course, the yellow beads I picked up second-hand in Windsor.

I did have a good browse around Bath’s charity shops as well but because I was looking for specfic items and colours I found this harder. Because Project 333 is making me focus on buying clothes that match or complement I’ve found that my sporadic shopping technique has to change. This is where charity shops can work – or not:

– Because they are not constrained by colours and styles that are currently ‘in’ these shops have a wider range.

– About half of the charity shops I visited yesterday weren’t even constrained by the seasons and, had I been more organised, I could have picked up some great summer clothes!

– You can’t be too prescriptive when shopping second-hand, which is where it can falter. For the past eighteen months I’ve been searching for a yellow belt but have failed to find one anywhere.

– Charity shops only stock one of a kind items. Yes, this is why I love second-hand clothes as it makes them unique. However it can be really frustrating if something isn’t in your size. Yesterday I hesitated on buying a cobalt blue jumper and when I returned to the shop it had gone!

I did, however, pick up this great jumper which cost £4.99 from the British Heart Foundation shop:

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Here it is being worn with my blue jeans:

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It’s originally from Oasis and I love the zip detail at the back.  I also bought a new black polo neck for £4.99 from the same shop to replace an old one.

At present I have 33 items (if you count scarves and necklace). I feel there may be a couple of gaps and am rather nervous as I’ve reduced the number of trousers and dresses in my wardrobe. I’m more confident, however, that the clothes I have will make me enjoy this project more as I can still add an individual touch with the primary colours.

 

 

The post Christmas bulge – on the bookshelves!

I blogged here last month about my continued efforts to slim down, scale back and re-read our eight shelves of books. I did fear (or rather hope?) that I would be the recipient of a few new books over Christmas. Having quickly read my way through the new CJ Sansom and Sarah Waters hardbacks I’m now struggling to find a place to put them.

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I have already asked myself the question: “Will I re-read this book?” I know the answer is “yes”. I have been quite strict in only asking for/acquiring hardback books if I am absolutely desperate to read them and both Waters and Sansom are among my most favourite current authors. For the past year I’ve wanted to pick up a book on the 1985 Live Aid concert by Dylan Jones but have only just bought it as it’s now in paperback. Similarly, I’ve held off on buying a couple of other books until they come into paperback. However as I am supposed to be on a minimalism/no new books diet I am wondering if the £20 Waterstones voucher in my purse should be used at all. If I’m trying to reduce the number of books in our house to only those of real value I should be very picky at what I buy next. Alternatively, I could buy the book, read it and then donate.

In the meantime I have cleared the shelves of another half a dozen books which I know I won’t read/re-read (one I stupidly picked up at a book event because it was free even though I knew I wouldn’t read it!).

While I’m reading new fiction the girls are ploughing their way through the second-hand books I bought for Christmas:

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My middle daughter is intrigued by the mystery of the Marie Celeste and I was able to buy this book used from the States. My six year old, meanwhile, is really enjoying the Amelia Jane books.

In the meantime I will keep wondering what to do with that Waterstones voucher…..

 

Too many Advent calendars?

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Today sort of marks the beginning of Advent (well, actually it was yesterday as it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas but I digress). My children awoke eagerly this morning to open their individual Advent Calendars which, of course, are filled with chocolates.

They have been very fortunate in receiving chocolate Advent Calendars every year from two grandparents. They also have this lovely wooden calendar that can be used every year. Each door has a small decoration behind it that can be hung on the tree:

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But how many advent calendars do they need? In previous years I have spirited away the chocolate ones and used the contents for baking cakes and other treats. As the girls have grown older, though, they have wanted to keep onto the calendars and I began to think I was just being a misery in denying them a gift that had been given with love.

As time has gone by the wooden calendar has been used less and less and, instead, has taken up precious space in our house. As I am still on a de-cluttering/house selling mission I decided that the time had come to get rid of it. Over the course of last month I have, sort of, been following the Minimalism Game and have put some items up for sale on our local facebook ‘free, sell, swap site’. So I’m afraid the advent calendar has now gone on to a good home and I have also sold/donated other Christmas decorations that we don’t have room for (including three miniature Christmas trees). All the money that I have made from selling these items is going towards a family Christmas treat so that we can enjoy an ‘experience’, rather than just keep onto stuff.

And the girls also agreed to donate one chocolate advent calendar each to the local foodbank. It seems madness in a time when so many children are without that mine should have more advent calendars than they know what to do with.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for an alternative to advent calendars and chocolates have a look at this great post about advent activities from the brilliant blog: my make do and mend year.

Christmas Markets and Black Friday: the Christmas shopping frenzy has begun

Yesterday saw the start of our annual Christmas Market in Bath. The market has been running for well over ten years and now has 180 stalls comprised of local businesses and craftspeople.

The market has grown incredibly over the past few years and now German-style chalets seem to take over most of the side streets around Bath’s Abbey and central squares.

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I like the fact that it is a showcase for local businesses and charities (including the local hospital appeal, homeless charities and hospice charities). I also started working yesterday at my friend’s shop which is located in the heart of the market and which will benefit greatly from the shopping event.

However as I wondered around yesterday I couldn’t help thinking how,  before the market, is over on 14th December it will become an overcrowded, fraught place. While it is a showcase for local artisans and small businesses I did ask myself how many Christmas baubles a person really needs to buy.

But the busy-ness of Bath Christmas Market is nothing in comparison to the madness of Black Friday which is happening today. Imported from the US this takes place on the day after Thanksgiving when retailers reduce their prices to kick start Christmas shopping. In the States most people take Friday off as Thursday is a public holiday and I guess there is more of a ‘tradition’ to the event. Over the last couple of years Black Friday has become more of an event in the UK with large retailers reducing items and people marking this by having punch ups on the shop floor.

I guess because I’m still in a de-cluttering, minimalist phase I feel rather ambivalent towards Christmas shopping this year. I have a sneaky feeling that if I’m not careful all the clutter I am clearing from our house will reappear next month. So far I have stuck to my small budget and am buying a combination of new, and second-hand, presents. I would also like to try my hand at some handmade gifts as well.

However I have to confess that some of my purchases have taken place in larger stores (including Primark – my first trip into Bath’s latest shop) and online through Amazon. I know not all of these are ethical so feel slightly hypocritical. But, no matter what, I’m determined to stay away from all shops and online retailers today.

Instead I will save my pennies for some local Christmas Fairs and Small Business Saturday on 6 December. I’ll also be following the Money Advice Service’s Have a Savvy Christmas programme with advice on budgeting for the festive season. And with that in mind I will also be following Buy Nothing Day tomorrow (29th) which is easy as I’ll be at work (although I will be encouraging people to buy coffee and cake at our Arts Centre cafe).

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The Minimalism Game and getting rid of things

As well as taking part in SecondhandFirst Week I’ve also – sort of – signed up to the Minimalism Game, or rather 30 Days of De-cluttering. To recap, The Minimalism Game encourages participants to get rid of items every day, starting with one thing on Day One, two things on Day Two etc. By my calculations that should be 465 items by the end of the month!

Today is Day 19 and I’ve lost track of what I have got rid of. I haven’t been very systematic but instead done the de-cluttering in fits and starts.

In many ways the clearing out has been the easiest bit as there are many things I have been itching to get rid of. The harder part has been getting the items out of my house, rather than just being stored in bags and boxes in our porch.

So far I have found the following ways to get rid of unwanted items:

– Recycling boxes, and also the dustbin for broken items

– Clothing has principally gone to the Charity Recycling Bin at school:

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– Ditto with shoes.

– I have given various bags of household items, toys and books to local charity shops.

– I am also saving a couple of bags of Christmas decorations, toys, games and unwanted picture frames for the Church Christmas Bazaar

– Good as new or unopened craft and toys are being saved for the village football team’s raffle.

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– I have avoided Freecycle completely and donated larger items for free via the local ‘Free, Sell or Swap’ facebook site. I’ve found that through this site people have collected when they said they would, or I’ve been able to drop it at their homes. Having spent ten days waiting for a bike not to be collected via Freecycle I have found the facebook site to be far more efficient.

– I have also sold a few good quality items through this facebook site and another ‘Prebaby’ site on facebook.

It has been very therapeutic removing things no longer needed from our home. I love to see the clearer space in cupboards and less stuff has made cleaning so much easier.

Alongside the Minimalism Game I am still trying to de-clutter for Christmas while also thinking about what tactics I can use to ensure I’m not going through this whole exercise again after the festive season….

 

Re-reading the book shelf

My husband and I have a lot of books. Before writing this post I did a quick count of everything stored on our bookshelves and discovered over 300 books! And that doesn’t include the kids’ books or those stored in boxes in the loft. I love books and, even more, shelves crammed with them. Having grown up in a house with lots of them I find it strange to visit homes that don’t have any. I also do some volunteer reading with local primary school children and know how important it is for kids to have access to books. At the moment our bookshelves look like this and, yes I know it’s sad that I have colour coded the books:

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BUT as I start to embrace the concept of minimalism and de-cluttering I know the book issue is one I have to tackle. I know that Joshua Fields Millburn from The Minimalists has just four (!)  books here, although he makes much use of his Kindle.

I know that I could never  be parted from all my books but I have started to seriously cull my collection. I have applied a a few basic rules such as:

Do we have another copy? If so, get rid of I was surprised at how many duplicates we had in our home (husband and I both did American Literature degrees). These have since been donated except for our individual copies of ‘Moby Dick’ which I know I’m keeping for sentimental reasons.

Can I get something back from getting rid of this book? There is a great second-hand book store in Bath that takes paperbacks in exchange for cash.  I also wrote here about using the book swapping website Read It Swap It and another blogger has suggested green metropolis. Using this methods I can apply the ‘one in, one out’ rule to my home library or better still ‘none in, one out’.

– Can I re-purpose a book? I recently struggled with getting rid of an old book from childhood. It was a Richard Scarry book and I loved it for the illustrations. After much deliberation I decided to keep only those pages that had meant something to me as a child. I have now kept these few pages and, as some of them included a month by month guide, I have started to frame those illustrations and hang them in our house. Already the children have noticed and commented on them – more than they ever did when the book was on their shelf.

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Will I ever re-read this book? This can prove to be a bit of a stumbling block. In theory I would like to just keep those books which I know I will read again. Otherwise what pleasure can I take from a book on my shelf which will only be there to look at and not picked up again? So I have started to apply this principle and,very slowly, am starting to re-read those books which I have kept.

There are some great tips about de-cluttering your bookshelves here and I will really try to apply some of them. I particularly like the idea of devoting one shelf to books you plan to read/re-read and also having a ‘Desert Island’ shelf. (This would ruin my colour coding!)

I still have a long way to go to re-read all 300 books on our shelves but by asking myself “Will I read this again?” has helped to inform my decision when editing my library. It has also opened up a whole new choice of books for me to read.