Monday, 24 January 2011

A case in point

Things are going well on the decluttering front. For some unknown reason ruthlessness is coming naturally at the moment, so I might as well channel it into something productive and soothing! My basic criteria for keeping things are that I use it at least once a year; and that it enriches my life with its beauty or utility. It is amazing how many things I have been holding on to that fulfill neither of these criteria.

A case in point is my sewing tin. I have always had a good life mentality, wanting to create for myself as many of the things that I need to live - which is a good thing that leads to rich and interesting experiences. Some experiments are destined never to get of the ground however.  One such pie in the sky aspiration is that I would one day learn to use a sewing machine and make beautiful garments and furnishings. One day it might happen, but certainly not in the next few years. So the cupboard of scrap fabric, sewing paraphernalia and embellishments which have sat gathering dust for several years (when other people could have been making good use of them) are now packed and ready to go to the charity shop.  Previously my large sewing tin was stuffed with tens of different colours of thread, fastenings,  buttons, beads and other pretty, sparkly trinkets. This is just some of them:


All very pretty, and all unused. So now for my new sewing box, a quarter of the size of the old one:


Much less sparkly, but also only containing items that have actually been used regularly. Any sewing I do is usually repairs or hand sewn small projects; and this kit, plus scissors and a tape measure, is perfect for those tasks.

I have found that decluttering areas on a whim is making the job a lot easier than when I try to work methodically, which is usual decluttering advice. The sewing box just happened to catch my eye, so I spent a few minutes working on that; and it was satisfying to have achieved something in such a short space of time. A similar 'grazing' attitude has yielded 2 carrier bags full of old paperwork, 4 carriers of clothing, a box of kitchen items and bric-a-brac;  and a black sackful of broken goods, packaging and (way) out of date pantry goods; and I haven't run out of steam yet.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Tiny living?

Thanks to this post by Paula at Weeding for Godot, I have been thinking once again about the 'tiny house' movement and the downshifting that goes with it. It's an idea that has cropped up in my thoughts every few months since I first stumbled upon it.

A company selling prefabricated tiny houses in the USA builds dwellings ranging from 65 square feet (tiny) to around 900 square feet (small), or 84 square metres. Interestingly, according to this article, 84 metre square is 8 square metres bigger than the average size of a new build home in the UK. I have seen a few new builds in the last few years and can say they do not compare to bespoke tiny home plans; not only has the build quality in some of them been terrible, on the whole they show no sign of integrated design, despite (or possibly thanks to) rigorous building code regulations. Unfortunately they often exhibit a tendency to ugliness and uniformity wherever you go in the country.

If I were single with no children I know that I could live a good life in around 200 square feet (something that I could not have said a few years ago as I carried around all my clutter). It wouldn't actually need to be a house - a yurt of even a houseboat also appeal, although I would want access to a garden. I would love to cut my possessions down to a handful of essentials. In reality, I have a partner and a toddler who would not be so keen, although we have discussed yurts and houseboats, going so far as to build a small yurt with some friends a few years ago to 'get a feel for it'. We gave up on the yurt idea when we realised that you need planning permission to erect what is essentially a tent on your own plot of land; and planning permission is hard to come by for even a traditional dwelling. Still the aesthetics and simplicity of small handmade homes appeal to me and I am yet again wistful for a downsized life.

We have downshifted our possessions substantially over the last few years, but still seem to be surrounded by clutter. So once again I am on a mission to free myself from excess; and to live as 'small' as possible in our current home, which certainly isn't big by UK standards. I know that we both have a wardrobe of clothes that no longer fit. The kitchen, even after my last pare down attempt, still needs a rethink. Gus has far too many toys, and increasingly they are of the small, multipart scatterable variety. We are still making do with storage that takes up a lot of floorspace, when what we have in abundance is bare wall space.

We seem to have far too high expectations of what homes and possessions are capable of; and we want to be prepared for every eventuality - many people want formal dining tables that could host a dinner party for twelve should it ever come to it, when they have never cooked for four and tend to eat TV dinners (nothing wrong with that). Newer homes in this country increasingly come with aspirational walk in closets attached to the master bedrooms - to store mountains of cheap import worn-once clothing whilst 10% of it actually gets worn on a day to day basis.

I have been guilty of over extending my expectations in the past; and have bought needless furniture, crockery, clothing and craft materials that I am never going to realistically use. I still have much to cut out, declutter and streamline as a result of that. This means not only more of my time wasted (after the time I wasted working to earn the money to buy and store the things), but also that I get to enjoy the stomach churning knowledge that I am a numb skull that always accompanies my realising just how much time and money I have wasted on stuff I have never used. Still, with all the sunshine we have had recently I am full of energy, so this will be a week of decluttering, sorting and trying to make our home a little more tiny; with no doubt a little self flagellation along the way.

Monday, 10 January 2011

1st morning at the allotment

On Saturday we finally got to our plot, which was as good a January day as any to begin. The site is huge and exposed; and most of the plots have obviously been ravaged by the frost, snow and rain of the last month. Our plot is thick with bits of degraded plastic, rusting metal, discarded contraceptives and low growing weeds, though luckily only a few perennials have taken root.



Now we have seen the plot, I realise we are lucky to have taken over the lease at a quiet time of year. The plot boundaries need to be marked and paths cut. The ground needs to be cleared and bed and pot positions decided upon (and a debate is still raging about whether we need beds or not). We need to buy and erect a small shed. The compost bin needs to be installed ASAP. Seeds need to be started indoors (the bit I am most looking forward to after all these months of dormancy). In short, a lot of hard work.

So we began to double dig; and getting nowhere particularly fast, changed tack. Now we plan to double dig only half of the plot. On this we will direct-sow root vegetables and legumes and add a few transplanted vegetables. The other half of the plot will be hoed and any perennial roots dug out, then a layer of compost spread on the top followed by overlapping layers of cardboard (liberated from the skips where I work). Through this mulch we plan to grow potatoes, oca (a South American root vegetable resembling a small waxy lemony potato) and transplanted module grown plants like squashes and beans. The mulch will be built up as required.

This will leave us in a year or so with a weed free productive allotment (here's hoping, anyway) and I am interested to see how the dig/no-dig approach pays off in future years. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods, but mulch is winning out at the moment on the grounds that I am unlikely to do myself an injury. Although, I am a klutz - so watch this space for mulch related A&E visits.

So does anyone have any thoughts on no-dig gardening? Should we build raised beds? Is there anything else we should be considering as we start out?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Just a note

Just a note to say my latest post is up over at The Simple Green Frugal Co-op.

New year, new projects

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas/Solstice/holiday season. Here's to 2011!

I am not a great one for resolutions. I realised early on that I tend to set such worthy but dull and joyless goals to achieve over the coming months; I actually do myself a great service when I neglect them half way through January. Besides, all the regular green and frugal goals just roll over from the previous year anyway - pay off debts, use less energy, eat healthier seasonal food. So this year, instead, I have a few experiments to run with.

For all the wonderful presents Santa brought this year, he was outdone before he even took to the skies by a nice lady from the city council. On Christmas Eve a hefty letter thudded through our letterbox, offering us an allotment! We have been on the list for 3 and a half years and I almost cried tears of joy when I read through the contract and rules and regulations (never before have I been so happy to wade through so much bureaucracy). As demand is so high and land so scarce here, our plot is 1/3 the size of a traditional plot, but 75m² is still a sizable space to work with in conjunction with the space on our patio. So my big project for 2011 is to experiment with growing stuff. Specifically, I want to grow as much edible, delicious produce as possible for as little work, inputs and money as possible. I have a hunch that this will take much longer than one year, but I have dusted of my permaculture and gardening manuals and begun my masterplan.

This feeds nicely into my other main project for the year, one that will probably involve lots of little experiments. 4 years of a relatively mindless data entry job, combined with parenting related lack of sleep has unfortunately whittled away what was previously an insatiable curiosity to a mindless consumer of media and current affairs information. The rot needs to stop before I am completely Zombiefied, so this will be a year of reading weighty books, asking deeper questions and thinking deeply about things, along with lots of practical experiments along the way. It will also be a year of checking the national and international news just once a week as opposed to several times a day and perhaps also the occassional Internet fast. So experiment 2 can be summed up thus - an experiment to eradicate boredom from my life.

Both of these projects, alongside all of the ongoing goals that roll over year on year are more than enough to keep me occupied for 12 months. I have no idea where the second one will be taking me yet, but it has to be somewhere interesting. There is a third experiment in the offing - but you will have to wait a few weeks for that one...

What do you have planned for 2011?

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