Thursday, 23 October 2014

On small house living


A few years ago tiny house and small house living became derigeur amongst the simple living. There were lots of beautiful shots of tiny trailer houses sitting on big open prairies, or people living in converted buses. All wonderful and inspiring - and a complete pipe dream for nearly everyone this side of the Atlantic. Lack of prairies is the least of our problems with it.

And yet, plenty of us are managing to live small - albeit in less romantic, artisanal settings.


We live in one of those urban terraces that's been haphazardly extended and partitioned over the years, I'm sure you are familiar with them. We put it through its paces - 2 adults and 3 children in a one-and-a-half bedroom house, in approximately 700 square feet, plus a small yard and an unattached garage.

We only intended to stay a year. But we are now heading into our 7th year and have added 3 kids to the mix. Why?

Well, we completely lucked out - our landlords are wonderful; and having bought before the boom, they only require that we pay our rent on time and that it pays their pre-boom mortgage payment. The finish is a bit tatty, the kitchen really could do with a refit - but our rent is at least £150 cheaper than a comparable home in our street, one that doesn't have a garage or off road parking.

Our tiny rent has made it possible for me to work part time and for Mr Pumpkin to take a professional qualification that is now paying dividends. We have paid off debt and begun to save money at quite a pace now, none of which would have been possible if we moved to a bigger house in the area. The kids have had at least one of us at home for the past few year and never been put into nursery. We live in spitting distance of good schools, parks, local shops and the beach. The garage allows Mr Pumpkin to indulge his car tinkering obsession, whilst halving our car maintenance bill.

Small house living isn't without its challenges. Before I embraced my Slob Sisters Card Index, I had been known to shed tears over the state of the house. Smaller spaces get dirtier quicker - especially kitchens. I clean my cabinet fronts once a week and they still always seem to be splattered with something. Personal space is a problem, though we have become OK with sitting in a room together in comfortable silence when we need space. And even now, there are times when the clutter takes over and we have to rethink things.


This year looks like it will be our last year here; and ironically this is the year I feel we have truly learned to live in our small space. Even when we do move into a bigger one, our habits probably won't change all that much. I quite like living small.

If you have the opportunity to live in less house for less money, I highly recommend it as a path to prosperity. Too much house is too much rent or debt repayment. You don't need anywhere as much space as you think you do, once you get rid of your aspirational clutter, your duplicates and all of that stuff you never ever use anyway; and invest in some functional bits of furniture. It is far better to sock the extra cash away and have a few life experiences instead.
 
As an aside - interestingly, we do not meet statutory definitions of overcrowding. I shouldn't really be writing a post about something I apparently know nothing about!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Pumpkinfest 2014

It has begun. With a bang.


A pumpkin, amongst lots of erm...pumpkins. She enjoyed her first visit to a pumpkin farm.

This year has been an excellent year for pumpkin farmers in these parts, something to do with the rain/sun balance this summer. We walked into a barn full of huge pumpkins, bigger than we have ever seen. We spent £10 on a whopper and bought a few more smaller ones, of which they had very few unfortunately. We stocked up on crown prince squash instead, which are just lovely.


As we spent a huge chunk of our budget on Pumpkinzilla (totally worth it though), we came away with far fewer than normal, enough to get us through to Christmas perhaps. I see another trip to the farm might be in order before they shut up shop for the season.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Beware false friends



This past weekend was our son's sixth birthday weekend. 6!

As a result, this Monday morning was one of those Monday mornings. The routine has fallen by the wayside the past few days and I woke to a house of dirty laundry, overflowing waste paper bins, scattered present wrappings, plastic packaging and Legos seemingly everywhere.

We once lived in what I consider a state of chaos - about a 3 using this scale. This morning I woke up to a completely manageable 1.5 and it was demotivating and draining. Back in the bad old days, it would have been demotivating and draining to the point that I sat and stared at the mess, anxiety and depression levels rocketing. By contrast, this morning I spent an hour recovering from the school run with coffee and blogs; and then cracked on with it, because doing something about it doesn't just stop anxiety in its tracks, it actually makes me feel good.

Today was supposed to be my 'desk day', where I sort out all of my administrative tasks; but once I had dealt with the overflowing laundry and waste bins, I carried on and decluttered our sideboard. Desk day can wait.

I used to think that when I was grown up, I would like to live in a library. Books are full of knowledge waiting to be learned, inspiration to be sparked, worlds to escape to. Books can feel like old friends. Now that I am grown up I have no desire to live in a library. Books are great, I love to read, but there are few fiction books worth revisiting over and over; and there are very few reference books that are so packed full of wisdom that I couldn't bear to part with them. Books, like other objects, aren't friends. Friends are what you have when you aren't too busy looking after 'stuff'.

One full bin bag of knickknacks, books and papers later and the sideboard is looking tidy. I need some attractive folders and boxes to make the space a bit more functional and tidy away the essentials, but for now it does the job. Never



I have added a decluttering card to my S.H.E. index and will make this a weekly thing until I feel we are back to basics again. Next year is the year of the move; we don't want to be carting mountains of clutter to our new home.

Monday, 6 October 2014

October

Stoptober? Hell no. If there is one month to be throwing money about, it is surely October. We have a birthday, our wedding anniversary and of course Halloween, set against the month long celebration of Pumpkinfest. It is a good month, the very best. 

Pumpkinfest is the month long harvest festival that focuses particularly on celebrating those glorious orange fruits, but actually encompasses an appreciation of everything this final harvest month has to offer. We go to the pumpkin farm and fill the boot. The pumpkin budget this year is £30, which might seem extravagant - but that is pumpkin and squash at farm gate prices and flavours, not toss-pot supermarket prices and flavours. £30 buys an awful lot of curcurbits that last us well into March.


This one is a table decoration from our wedding last year. If it continues to last I will seal it somehow as a permanent keepsake. It wouldn't surprise me if it was still edible.

In preparation for Halloween, I am trying my hand at DIY decorations. Aside from the pumpkin-carving/spooky film matinee on the day, we need a few other ghoulish touches. I'm crocheting some spiders webs:


It will look better blocked, fingers crossed. I'm browsing Pinterest for more ideas, but have a feeling that most of the pins will never be acted upon! Pinterest is the place that my crafting time goes to die.

We have storms coming today and the walk to school was a soggy one. The nights have been cool enough to wake me up to search for an extra blanket. The evenings have been crisp even at the end of some surprisingly warm days. It's October; and it's glorious - if a little expensive.





Sunday, 21 September 2014

Tastes like chicken



I made a discovery in the kitchen the other day, thanks to a sinkful of unwashed dishes. Slatternliness pays!

I cooked up an entire bag of chickpeas in a couple of litres of water. I do this to save time and energy later, using some to make houmous and freezing the rest for later use. I also reserved a couple of tablespoons of them to sprout for a stir fry later in the week. A bag of beans is a wonderful thing for a thrifty cook.

Thanks to the sinkful of crockery, I ended up draining the cooking liquid into a jug. It smelt quite nice and so I took a sup.


 It tastes like chicken stock - albeit lacking fat.

This batch added body to the first stew and dumplings of the season - vegetable stew with chickpeas, veg and some bacon bits. Next time I will add less water to the pot to make a stronger broth; and batch freeze it.

I love making frugal, waste saving discoveries. They are fewer and further between now being so far down this road, which makes them just that little bit more satisfying.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Thriftmas

Christmas is usually a dirty word around these parts. I'm sure that you appreciate how much it grates on my anti-consumption sensibilities. As much as I like the giving and receiving of presents, there is nothing like walking into a supermarket in December to bring home just how screwed our economy (and ecosystem) are.

We are actually 'giving up' on Christmas this year and for the foreseeable future. We both do jobs that call on us to work at least every other Christmas; and we aren't Christians. Instead, we will be celebrating the winter solstice, which we are much more likely to have off together. I'm in preparation mode.


Over the course of the year we collect all of our 20 pence pieces in a tin. When it is full, we take a can opener to it and count it all up; before changing it into more usable currency at the post office. This years tally is £65. This will pay for our main roast dinner, our desserts, our cheeses, pickles, cold meats and other festive foods for the whole week of celebrations. We may have an additional modest budget for alcohol. You can't make an eggnog without cracking open a bottle of rum, after all.

£65 seems like a huge budget to me, but a visit to a supermarket flogging it's festive wares makes me realize just how little we spend - and we have a hearty feast too.

I've also started a gift chest over the past few months for Christmas and birthdays. I'm collecting gifts for everyone throughout the year instead of in a mad dash and spend come mid December.  I see a few upcycled gifts for the kids amongst their carefully chosen new ones under the tree; and some homemade gifts for family and friends if I don't run out of time and wherewithal. 


My favourite part of the whole thing (aside from the feasting) is the Christmas stockings. The eager ransacking of these little sacks of thoughtful, simple pleasures is the thing I look forward to most. We have been making do with some cheap Poundland felt ones fro the past few years that are due for replacement. I've been collecting brightly coloured thrifted fabric for the past few weeks and I've drafted a pattern. I just need to get sewing.

I'm looking forward to Thriftmas.