Wednesday, 25 February 2015

First Aid

I slipped whilst opening a tin. Whoops. Quite a long, deep skin flap I have there.

It was a really bad time to discover that our first aid box lid is a little too snugly fitting; and that the dressings scissors have gone AWOL; and that it is really hard to grip open a plastic steripack when you have blood on your hands. I will be auditing the first aid tin this week - I don't ever want a repeat of today. Normally I do it every 6 months - I check supplies, discard old medicines and reorganize it.

This is the second first aid emergency of the month - a few weeks ago the smallest PL choked on her dinner. It was just one of those things, but it took all 5 of the recommended back slaps to dislodge the obstruction. Here is what you need to know should you find yourself in that situation.

A month ago we narrowly avoided being first on the scene of a motorbike/car collision. Would I have been able to deal with that? I'm not sure I would have. I had PTSD related to witnessing a similar incident many years ago; but whilst things like this make me a little queasy, I have gradually learnt to deal with it over the years. I bought a first aid book a few months ago which was a big step, and now I will start to work my way through it.

The St John Ambulance have a brilliant Youtube Channel here with lots of how-to videos. Its always better to be prepared.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Slow down and take a day off

In September I went back to work three days a week; and at the same time added another daily school run to my schedule. Most days I don't know if I am coming or going and life is either passing by in a blur or the days are ticking by with excrutiating slowness - just so that I can really appreciate the drudgery, y' know? Which really isn't what I was aiming for when I started my simplifying journey.

I think I have identified part of the problem. I don't get a regular 'day off', where my duties slack off to the absolutely essential and I can sit and read a book for an hour without guilt. I scheduled a rest day when I implemented my S.H.E. system, but going back to work has thrown me off kilter.

This afternoon after the preschool run, I found myself scrabbling around on the floor trying to sort legos (which, next to the school run, has got to be my least favourite activity ever) before moving on to doing the freezer inventory, before it was time to get the youngest PL up and ready to do the return school run. It took me a while to identify why I was feeling quite so spectacularly cranky - when I realized that I hadn't eaten lunch today and that I would much rather be sat on the sofa with a cuppa and something toothsome.

I whipped up a batch of scones for a treat - because I very rarely have time to bake these days and I do quite enjoy it. I baked the last specimens of Pumpkinfest 2014 at the same time to save energy and time. We will have this vegan Pumpkin Mac 'n Cheese for dinner tonight, because it looks a) delicious and b) really really easy and uninvolved.

I think Chillin' Tuesday needs to become a regular thing.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Storecupboard woe

In preparation for aforementioned Minimal March, I need to inventory the storecupboard

Streuth. What a mess - and this was the most organized of the lot.

I waited until two out of three of the small PLs were at school and pulled all of the food out of the cupboards, onto the dining table (I think the Kondo method has really rubbed off on me).

It turns out that we have way more food than I realised, and that my rotation system has fallen apart in recent months. Just pulling it all out and categorising it took an hour.

I stopped for potato salad half way - the (14!) tins of potatoes were calling to me. A little vegan mayo and some parsley, cayenne and black pepper made for a filling if not particularly healthy lunch. 

I wiped the shelves down and restocked them, taking care to ensure the earliest best-before dated ones are close to hand. I decanted a few things into jars and put the loose ends of packets into a 'use first' box so as to free up some space. I also made a huge list of everything that we have. 

This will help me to plan my menus and also form the basis of future shopping lists. It's easy to see what gets used up and what tends to get left behind. Interestingly, my going vegan will barely impact the store cupboard - aside from a few tins of fish, everything else is plant based. Nothing much will change there.

I now have nice orderly shelves.  I have a modest shopping list for a few essentials that we are running low on, but for the most part I am going to try and make do with what we have.  Tomorrow I will tackle the fridge and freezer.

I'm now sat enjoying a glass of wine and intend to while away my evening catching up on blogs and possibly developing a Call the Midwife habit.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Planning for a Minimal March

This week we are planning for a March challenge.

As previously discussed, we have a plan to relocate sometime in the next 18 months. We don't know when exactly, it's going to be an opportunistic move based on Mr PL finding a job.

We have money to save and we have more (yes, more) stuff to clear out (garage, I'm looking at you). Minimizing spending, minimizing stuff; and sacking off a few projects that we need to either wind down or find adoptive parents for.

Why March? Well it makes a lot more sense for us than Stoptober, which falls in the midst of birthdays, Halloween and all important Pumpkinfest. There are some serendipitous minimizing opportunities coming up:
  • Mr PL has two weeks of annual leave to use up - halving his commute expenses for the month. 
  • No Council Tax bill in March.
  • The utility bills usually start to fall this month as the weather improves.
  • The Christmas hangover is over and we have no big celebrations to fund for a few months. 
  • Now is the time to squirrel away as much as possible into this years ISA before the financial year ends on April 5th.
  • I want to use up the pantry before restocking it with summer staples.
We are also hoping to bring in a little extra money by selling off a few things that we never quite got around to eBaying.

All of this means that we should be able to put a significant amount extra aside this month if we play our hand well; and we should come out the other side ready to move at a moments notice, though in reality it will be the summer at the very earliest.

This week I will be inventorying the store cupboard, doing some meal planning and writing out the budget; and planning some frugal fun too. I do like a challenge though, so perhaps this will be fun in and of itself.

Oooh, exciting!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Mending ethics

I rarely buy clothes new. I hate the idea of supporting an industry that is  overwhelmingly vile to humans and to the environment. I buy most of my garments (except underwear and shoes) secondhand from eBay or from charity shops. It normally works well for me, I can usually pick up good quality pieces for a fraction of the cost new.

But after failing to anticipate a need in good time, I ended up spending far too much money on a brand new coat. Two short weeks later, three of six buttons that hold the hood trim in place fell off.

Should I have championed my consumer rights and taken it back and got a replacement? Possibly. But what would they have done with the coat? I imagine it would have gone straight to textile recycling to be chopped up into bits as a nod to their green-washing charter, with not a care for the labour that had already gone into it - all for the sake of a few buttons.

The coat didn't come with spares - have manufacturers twigged that nobody bothers mending things anymore? I keep a small jar of fixings for just this purpose, removed from worn out clothes before I turn them into cleaning rags. I decided to remove and replace the remaining buttons with much sturdier thread work. I didn't want to be mending it again in in a few weeks, and the matching diamante is blinging.

Basic hand sewing skills are an essential frugal skill. Sewing on buttons and poppers, sewing a basic seam and repairing a tear are very simple to learn; there are numerous videos on Youtube that will show you how. Don't be that crazy spendthrift that will spend hard earned cash for the sake of a few minutes spent with needle and thread (and I do I know a few).

This morning I spent some time sewing up a hole in my pillow. Not that I needed it this time, but I also keep a small bag of polyester stuffing liberated from an old cuddly toy for restuffing purposes.

It's not perfect, but it saves the price of a new pillow - a great return on 2 minutes labour.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

You'll make it

It's 4 years since I wrote this post, the one with the very vague 5 year plan. 

And here we are, right where we are supposed to be. Debts paid off, Mr PL qualified and in a better job, squirreling away money for a move across country to Norfolk and a brand new life. Right on time.

We have had a few moments where we thought that we wouldn't make it. I don't want to jinx it, because we aren't quite there yet; and who knows what could happen in a year? Doubts have crept in from time to time. We have built up community here, we have friends here - we each have over a decade of memories here, good and bad. Will upping sticks and moving across country be bad for the kids? They have friends, and routine and a lifetime of memories here too. Is it worth it?

Extensive back-of-an-envelope list making suggests the pros outweigh the cons for all of us. And so its full steam ahead for the next 18 months - saving the pennies, jettisoning the stuff we don't want to cart across country, and looking for new jobs and a house and schools. We have one final batch of good  memories to make here too.

Its scary and exciting, and did I mention really bloody terrifying? But I love it when a plan comes together.

If you are just starting out in your simple living goals, your path of frugality - and your challenges  seem insurmountable and the prize so far off - then I want to tell you to keep the faith. There will be missteps and failures and doubt. There is a balance to be struck between keeping your eyes on the prize and enjoying the journey - and you will fall off of that tightrope repeatedly. But life changes in the smallest decisions we make every single day; and funnily enough it's those small things where contentment often lies. You'll make it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The life changing magic of tidying up (and getting up early to do it)

The days I manage to rise early with no interruptions are usually insanely productive days. It's 11am and I've been up for six hours. I've washed and hung out three loads of laundry (outside, it's so warm and sunny!); washed the kitchen floor; changed out all of the bins; scrubbed out a couple of carpet stains and cleaned a mattress; cleared down the sideboard, cleaned and reorganized it; hoovered downstairs and rearranged some trinkets; and all of this against the back drop of half term holiday child wrangling and food prep.

Getting up early can be really hard work. I work part time shift work that sees me going to bed as late as 12pm some nights. The kids are up by 6am most mornings, which means that if I want a few quiet hours to achieve anything, I need to be up at 4am. Most mornings it doesn't happen, but when it does - or the kids decide on a lie in - then it is magical. 

I've even managed to fit in a bit of reading today. I'm about a third of the way through The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I consider myself a seasoned pro at the decluttering lark (the tidying not so much!) and I really wish she had written this book 6 years ago when I began my simple living journey.

You've probably heard much about it, but if not, her premise is that you hold each and every item you own and keep only those things that bring you 'joy'. You work by category of stuff, not by room; and you start with the category you have least emotional investment in and finish with your sentimental keepsakes. In this way you do not get derailed by strong emotions. 

The most unusual thing about this book? She advocates that you do all of this in one huge marathon - and that you do not put anything away or buy any organizing solutions before you have decided just what you are keeping.  And after years of seemingly endless delcuttering, I think that she is right. The huge purges so radically change your space and your relationship to your things that it is much easier to keep it tidy and to decide what future items you want to let enter your life.

Even though we have radically reduced our possessions over the years we have Kondo'd the house and sent at least another five black sacks of stuff to charity in the past month. The only thing left to tackle is paperwork and sentimental items.

The work of house keeping gets ever easier the less stuff we have. I wish I was as serene about it as those Buddhas though - but I'm getting there.