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!

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


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.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014