Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Quality over quantity

I don't think I have ever talked about it here before, but I am the (now adult) child of a hoarder. Growing up with a hoarder, quantity over quality was the motto. It was all about the stuff. So much stuff that it was impossible to maintain any of it. If you haven't come from that sort of environment, you probably don't understand just how satisfying it is to be able to recognize when you have too much of something, to get rid of it without guilt; and to take care of the things that you decide to keep.


This is only five of them. There are two additional pairs on the draining board. We also own pinking shears, dressmaking shears, nail scissors and assorted children's safety scissors.

I never intended that we own this many pairs of scissors, somehow we've just managed to acquire them over the years. By some serendipitous circumstances they came together on the kitchen counter  today, and it became stark fact that we had a scissor problem.  

Some of them are blunt, some of them are gacked up with sellotape residue and craft glue' - only a few of them are aesthetically pleasing. Who honestly needs this many pairs of sub-optimal household scissors?

Two pairs seems readily maintainable and storable. I've freshened up the blades on a whetstone, something I have never bothered to do because I've had so many pairs to choose from. The other five have been cleaned up and put into the charity bag ready for donation. The specialist snippers have all been put away tidily ready for use. 

Quality beats quantity every time. Genuine need trumps both.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Minimalism vs. the farm (vs. my brain) (part 2)

Part 1 can be found here.

The strange hybrid of writing for myself and for an audience that is this blog has proved quite useful. Most of these thoughts would never make it into my sloppily kept paper journals.  I've been rereading my old posts again.

This latest round of decluttering has been quite brutal. 'Useful' stuff that I thought I would never part with has been given away. Books have been given away. Tools have been given away. Everything is being pared back to the barest essentials that we don't mind paying to transport when we move.

I have learned many things over the years since I wrote that post. I know what I do want and what I don't want to do with my life. I have to balance my needs with those of my husband and kids, but thankfully many of them overlap.

I know that physical and mental health; and relationships; are more important than stuff. Anything that detracts from those two things needs to be jettisoned, yesterday. So much stuff you have no energy to cook good food or get up and exercise? So much stuff you feel you can't have people over for dinner? Time to get rid.

Ditching the aspirational clutter (gardening equipment in our case) and concentrating on the things we can actually pursue here and now (like spinning and tinkering with the car), is the way to a happy life. So often we collect things in anticipation of who we could be one day, instead of being the best we can be today.

Being prepared for emergencies is important to me, but preparedness is not about stuff - nor being prepared for every eventuality. I'm getting fit and healthy, because it will help me lead a better life. We live debt free because it makes financial and ethical sense. I keep a store cupboard and cook from scratch because - deliciousness (and healthy and financially savvy)! All of these things make us more resilient and are part of the fabric of our lives. Apart from a 72 hour bag, seasonal car kits, a torch and some water purification tablets - the rest of our 'preps' are invisible.

I recently read the advice to always consider whether something is useful before you toss it; but I have learned that way lies clutter and scattered energy. Almost EVERYTHING short of bits of broken plastic, can be put to use. It doesn't mean you have to keep it just in case. As a society we produce so much waste and surplus, it is fine to trust that if you need something at a later date, you will probably be able to find it. My life seems to have been a constant stream of 'useful' stuff, coming in, being stored for a while, and being passed on again. Better to pass it on to someone who may need it in the here and now.

Useful, beautiful, resilient - enough. That is my 'minimalism', not 100 possessions and a stark white apartment where everything is outsourced. Not a maximalist nightmare of preparedness for every contingency. Just a simple, sustainable life.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Slay your own zombies - corporeal edition

I have come to suspect that I suffer from a hormonal disorder. Cursory investigations were made a few years ago, before I started producing babies, but they were halted because well, I didn't seem to have a problem having babies, the red flag symptom of this disorder. I didn't bother with the follow up as I am in no need of any more babies. I have lived with the pain-in-the-arse but not life threatening symptoms since I was a teenager and so they are my 'normal'.

I recently learned that this disorder carries a few other risks for sufferers - a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, certain cancers - and early death. Pain-in-the-arse and life threatening to boot. Alrighty then, I should probably do something.

Of course, it shouldn't take a diagnosis of anything to make me want to 'do something'. I can self diagnose as an over-fed(on rubbish), under-exercised, under-rested westerner anytime and make the changes that doctors recommend to stave off the epidemic of preventable heart disease, cancer and diabetes that kills and disables so many of us.

And as someone aiming to be financially secure, aiming to be prepared for energy and resource descent over the next few decades, aiming to live lightly on the earth; and as someone aiming to live the good life from the fruits of my own labour - well, my physical and mental health is going to be my greatest asset in all of those scenarios. Also, what about the disappointingly slim chance of zombie apocalypse? You need to be fit to outrun those mofo's.

Nobody in the greener/simpler/frugaller living communities seems to be talking about health much; and in the prepper/thrivalist community nobody talks about their running speed half as much as they do their crossbow reload speed. They talk about medicinal herbs and first aid (nothing wrong with those by the way) - but not about ways to stave off the vagaries of the lifestyle diseases that, along with economic hardship - are the most likely disasters that will befall them.

'Doing something' in my case means eating a lower fat and lower GI diet with lots of fruit and veg, getting the recommended levels of exercise each week,  and reducing my stress levels. I will no doubt be talking about health a bit more here. There will be healthier recipes. There will be the occasional exercise post.

 Hopefully in six months I will be a lot healthier and my hormones will be balanced a little better; and the road behind me will be littered with the remains of now-dead undead maladies.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The sacrificial rites

First came the sacrificial rite - pumpkins to the slaughter:

Just for scale, that spoon that looks like a teaspoon? It's a tablespoon. The ceramic bowl is a huge bread pancheon. Pumpkinzilla was a mighty beast.

Four lanterns, a freezer full of pumpkin puree and a whole baking tray of cajun spiced pumpkin seeds (I followed the preparation instructions here and they turned out the best I have made so far) later and I was ready for bed. But the witching hour was upon us; and we took to the streets in search of sweeties and scares. We returned with quite a hoard; and then proceeded to doll out our own offerings to the (adorable) little horrors that knocked our door.

Tonight I will light a candle; drink some cider and think of all of the people and things for which I am grateful; and for the loved ones lost. And tomorrow, though the bats are still in the window and the costumes might have a third(!) wearing, the most wonderful time of the year will be over, at least  for another trip around the sun.

I hope you had a good one.

Roll on midwinter.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Useful, beautiful, resilient - enough

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” 

― William Morris 


I'm looking at my life with fresh eyes at the moment; and really considering what I want from my possessions and activities. I am simplifying.

I've thrown out our ancient pepper mill that started to come apart as you ground the pepper. Even a working pepper mill is over engineered for my purposes - such an ensemble of cogs and teeth to grind a single spice.

I could just buy ready ground, of course - and I do in may instances. But sometimes I need whole spices and it would be a waste to double up. Fresh whole spices make me happy; and I will spare some time and shelf space for them.

I found this dinky little stone pestle and mortar in the charity shop the other day. It will grind a whole range of spices. It works with barely more effort than the turn of the pepper mill - significantly less, as it doesn't come apart with every use. It is undoubtedly beautiful; and it will probably outlive me. Perfect.

This is what I want from the things in my life - useful, beautiful, resilient - enough.

Friday, 24 October 2014

K.I.S.S. - the furniture edition.

A few years ago we bought a sturdy but dated french polished dining set. I have spent a fair amount of time since tarting it up with chalk paint and oil cloth and stripping the tabletop back.

This week I went one step further with the project; and sawed the legs down - and threw out the chairs.


I initially considered low dining a few years ago but chickened out. I have many a happy memory of sitting around my Japanese friends Kotatsu. But what if we had someone to dinner who had limited mobility? 

Well, in three years, nobody has come to dinner that can't sit on the floor.

This is the view from our 'new' dining table:

I will probably paint the legs at some point and replace the dhurry rug with one that stays flat on the floor. Perhaps I will add some floor cushions that can be stashed neatly under the table, but it is so far quite comfortable.

Mr Pumpkin who was very keen on the idea, is delighted. The kids are quite taken with the whole thing. I am enjoying not having to move chairs around to retrieve dropped legos. The room feels about double the size. I really wish I had done it sooner and saved all of that time and effort I threw into chair painting.

I need to stop over-engineering my life.

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!