The reusable topic of my reusable cup

 

Today’s blog post is about my reusable cup

 IMG_3151ta-da!

If it looks familiar, that may be because I’ve written about it before. What??? I hear you ask. Are you actually going to try and squeeze out another post about a boring old cup?

Well, yes I am!

When I wrote my first post back in January 2014, I was a newbie to the reusable cup gang (membership= 1 in the circles I move in!!), I had limited experience of using one and, given that my children were very small, I tended to avoid buying hot drinks because, well, they were never bloom’ hot by the time I got to drink them…

These days have passed – I now have a minor caffeine addiction and I am more likely to be found with my reusable cup in my bag than spare pants*. Oh how times have changed 🙂

So, first things first, I’ll start with the introductions…

The white model above is the reusable cup which came into my possession around the end of 2013. I purchased it from the Onya website and while I was very happy with the look of it (similar to its disposable cousins), the feel of it (can be held without risk of burning), I really hated the smell of strong silicone which also affected the taste of the drink. The kids dubbed it Mummy’s Stinky Cup. Enough said.

As a result, I wasn’t sure I’d last the pace with this particular cup. However, while I wouldn’t recommend the model to anyone, I found that over time the smell and taste of the cup improved dramatically with time and plentiful washing, and as a result, the kids have moved on to bullying other inanimate objects.

In my first post, I estimated that I’d use my cup around 20 times in a year. While this was accurate based on my lifestyle at the time, I now probably use it now, on average, once a week. I seem to spend a lot of my time either in soft play cafes or waiting for my children to come out of their various sporting activities.

I think it is therefore realistic to estimate that I’ve saved over 100 disposable cups from landfill. Given that the onya website estimates the environmental impact of producing the reusable cup is equivalent to 10 uses of my cup, I can truly claim to have reduced my damage to the planet.**

What about everyone else? (Oh yes! I am adding a truly evangelical angle to this post!)

I certainly am alone every single time I use my cup. None of my friends carry one to cafes, and I’ve never seen anyone else with one unless they are bringing a coffee out with them from home. Every few months I ask staff in the two soft play cafés I regularly visit (that only serve disposable cups) if anyone else is using reusable cups yet and the answer, tragically, is no. Only me.

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This isn’t to say that people are against using their own cup. Friends often show an interest when I put my cup on the table and they commend me for using it, it’s just that no one has joined me in bringing out their own cup. Yet…?

It’s also worth saying that the staff in cafes always serve me quite happily – I had initially wondered if anyone would refuse to use it, on the basis of some Health & Safety rule that I was unaware of. One member of staff told me that where he comes from in Spain, everyone brings their own cup and the cafes are left with shelves of unwanted disposable cups.

I had a little rummage around the internet to see if I could present you with some stats about disposable coffee cups. I thought I’d give you a few bullets of facts.

I searched for ages in the end, and while I came across lots of shocking facts about cups and the damage they cause to the environment as I expected, I found it confusing to get a clear picture of the issue today. There was little that was bang up to date (my guess is that the numbers of disposable cups being used varies widely each year as some people find reasons not to use them, and others possibly increase their usage). Also there was copious information about disposable cups that are used not just for hot drinks, but for water in workplaces, hospitals, schools etc., which I’ve chosen not to focus on in today’s post. I will however refer you to this article, written in the Guardian by Rebecca Smithers in July 2014 which gives us the following facts:

  • Over 2.5 billion disposable cups are being chucked each year in the UK
  • That is enough to go round the world five and a half times
  • Nearly all of these end up in landfill, creating 25,000 tonnes of waste.

The more I think in my mind of these cups going round the world (or those that end up in landfill filling London’s Albert Hall, which is the other visual image she offers), the more I wonder why on earth more action is not being taken by governments, by businesses, by the person on the street…by me failing to turn back to get my own cup if I shut the door without popping it in my bag.

I’m certainly going to resolve to refuse disposable cups every (single teeny tiny) time I’m out, and if you feel the same way, then here are some issues to think about to find a cup that suits you before you make that all important purchase:

  • Does it need to be safe or light enough to carry in your bag?
  • Will it fit under a coffee machine?
  • Is it the right size to fit in your drink of choice?
  • Does it matter if the lid leaks?
  • Do you care about the smell and taste of the material it’s made of?

Typing “buy reusable cups” or something similar into your search engine will lead you to a fine selection, but here’s an article by Erica Buist in the Guardian where she’s reviewed some cups for you.

Now you can see the benefits of refusing your disposable cup – and I’ve shown you how to go about getting your own – so…come on! Join my club!

How have you got on with your reusable cup? Would you recommend it?

 

*for the kids. FOR THE KIDS.

**note, as I’m still drinking tea shipped from abroad, using hot water and washing the cup, I am still causing an environmental impact…

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T-shirt shopping bag for Zero Waste Week

The King of the reusable item is surely has the cloth bag. Here in Scotland we have been charged 5p for plastic bags since 20th October 2014, and that has dramatically reduced our consumption, as this article via the BBC explains.   Wales has been on board since 1st October 2011 (go Wales!), and Ireland since 8th April 2013. England is to follow suit on 5th October of this year.

I have a lot of cloth bags, which I discuss in this post. I thought I was prepared for the bag charge and, for a while, my supply of bags was more enough. However, what I failed to account for is the plastic bags I used that had nothing to do with shopping. For example, when I passed on clothes, books etc. to family members or friends, I would usually have put these in a bag (guilt free of course as I was reusing the bag). I also used them as bin liners, for separating items in my case when I went on holiday, and for kneeling on when I worked in the garden. The list purposes for these bags went on and on. The other thing I failed to account for was that, although I already refused most of the plastic bags I was offered in shops, I acquired them (whether I liked it or not) – usually from people giving me useful items they were passing on.

My plastic bag collection saw me through a few months but slowly I stopped finding myself in possession of them, meaning that my stash of cloth bags had to be put to good use, as I started using them instead of plastic bags for things other than shopping.

I now have numerous bags around the house which hold knitting and sewing projects. I always use one for the kids’ water bottles when we are out to stop them leaking into my own tote. I now lend them out when I pass things on to the family and, although I get them back eventually, it can take time.

My very favourite cloth bags are the Onya bags which are fantastic for the following reasons:

  • They are super strong (some of mine are made out of parachute material)
  • They fold up into a tiny pouch so are very easily transportable
  • They come in a variety of shapes and sizes so you can pick whichever size best meets your needs
  • They are machine washable

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I was going to invest in some more (I have about 10 already), when I started thinking about projects that I could blog about during Zero Waste Week. Perhaps I could make some cloth bags! I remembered that Jen from MakedoandMend-able site had made a shopper out of an old t-shirt, so I searched her fantastic blog and found an easy-peasy tutorial.

My other half had a clear out earlier in the week and gave me a whole bunch of weird and wonderful items that had been languishing in his wardrobe. I think that after he saw my shirt to skirt project, he perhaps overestimated my sewing skills and thought I could turn them into a whole wardrobe of loveliness for me 🙂

There was a t-shirt in there that I thought would make a great shopper. (I am still taken aback that this t-shirt exists – we have been together for years and years and I don’t think I’ve ever clapped eyes on it before! Apparently it’s too small so he’s never worn it.)

I pretty much followed Jen’s tutorial to the letter.

Here’s the t-shirt

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I chopped the arms off

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I took the liberty of also chopping off the bottom seam as thought that would make it easier for me to sew.

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I then simply turned it inside out, pinned and sewed along the bottom seam (zig zaging the edge to prevent fraying), turned it back the right way and I had myself a new – if not especially photogenic- shopper.

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Here it is in my car boot full of shopping!

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I may cut the neck to make it a bit bigger as I found myself stuffing items in the arm hole, but that was okay!

If you like this idea but don’t sew, then I found this tutorial from mommypotamous who offers the same bag, but uses a clever method to join the two sides of the bag at the bottom. She also uses a much prettier t-shirt than mine, which makes the bag look very cute. I reckon making her version would be a good craft project for kids who are able to use scissors.

Happy Zero Waste Week everyone!
Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

Draft excluder for Zero Waste Week

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

My other half gave me a pair of his old trousers a few months ago that were fraying at the ankle, and were generally looking past their best. In short, they were no longer suitable to wear. In the past I’d have put them into the Rag Bag collection, but now that I’ve got a sewing machine, I’m keen to upcycle anything that I can into something that would be useful.

It struck me that a leg of the trousers could be converted into an effective draft excluder. Our home is very drafty in places, due to poorly fitting doors and original floorboards. I’ve been meaning to attempt this project since I acquired the trousers but, even here in Scotland, the summer weather has meant it wasn’t a priority.

With the theme of Zero Waste Week this year being ‘reuse’ however (and my theme being specifically to reuse fabric), I felt that the time had come to turn those tatty old trousers into something that could help me keep our home warm, as the temperature drops like a stone. This actually turned out to be super simple, and only took me an evening.

Here are the trousers

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After ironing them, I decided that the trousers alone were a bit boring, so I found myself some leftover felt from the kids’ craft box and cut some hearts out (as you know from this post, I have a lot of options for heart templates!)

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note the zero waste cutting!

Using a craft & fabric glue I have, I glued a heart on to the trousers to check that it would stay in place. Satisfied, I cut the leg off the trousers and chopped down one of the seams to make my trouser leg less leg shaped and more rectangular.

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I then pinned and sewed the seam back in, and also closed the fraying ankle hole. All of this was done with right sides facing.

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I then glued all of my felt hearts in place. ‘What is it about you and fabric hearts??’ My other half wanted to know. (The answer is that I think they’re sooo pretty!)

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I should at this point have let all of the glue on the hearts dry properly, which would have saved me reapplying more later when the hears started slipping about.

I then went to my bag of old clothes, towels and fabric scraps and put as much as I could inside for stuffing *

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All that was really left to do now was close the top of the leg. I used the sewing machine which wasn’t the neatest finish (or the easiest, as I had to hold back the bulge of stuffing) but it did the job.

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I was pretty delighted at how my draft excluder turned out. I fully expected it to look like the stuffed pair of trousers that it is, but I actually think this little addition to my home is quite delightful. I won’t be hiding it when guests come round.

*It may be wise at this point to check that your stuffing is safe (ie avoid flammable items)

Shirt to skirt for Zero Waste Week

Welcome to the start of Zero Waste Week. The theme for 2015 is reuse.

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2015

When I found that out I thought ‘good work Rachelle’ (Rachelle Strauss is the founder of Zero Waste Week). It’s a great theme. Reusing things you already own, or have at your disposal, is a key component of the sustainable lifestyle. Less waste is generated because items are used for longer, or repurposed into something more useful. Furthermore, of course, there is a lack of ‘stuff’ coming into your life which will inevitably end up as more rubbish at some point in the future.

Far from being anywhere near zero waste in its purest form (is anyone?!), I have been reusing things and writing about those experience since I started getting a bit green. Throughout the week, I’ll dust off some of those old posts and tweet them out.

This week, while writing my own posts on reuse, I have decided to challenge myself and put my newly acquired sewing skills to good use. I will be reusing fabric. I’ll show you some of the projects that I have carried out recently, and will work on a few more during the course of the week. There will be examples of upcycling old clothes, adapting clothes that no longer fit, using fabric that I would have otherwise sent to the RagBag*, and using up fabric scraps from other projects.

For those of you who are new to the blog, I took up sewing properly at the start of 2015 when I made it my New Year’s Resolution to learn to sew. There were two main reasons behind this goal:

  1. I wanted to make clothes more ethically. After the Rana Plaza tragedy of April 2013, I wanted to ensure that I wasn’t supporting a fashion industry that uses extremely low paid workers, who are sewing in tretcherous conditions. I also wanted to source my own more ethically made material, and work towards using organic materials.
  2. I hoped to reuse some of the clothes I already had – whether that would be making things fit better, mending old favourites that are looking a bit shabby, or adapting my kids’ clothes so that they could keep them as they get bigger.

Much to my surprise, I had pretty much cracked my goal of learning to sew by about March when I made this dress in a dressmaking class.

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I loved the experience so much that I promptly made another one, and signed up for more classes. I now do a fair amount of sewing on my own second hand sewing machine.

It was easy to get into the sewing part of this challenge, but after about six months of simply enjoying the creative side, and, being in possession of an increasing number of wacky and wonderful bespoke pieces (welcome additions to my wardrobe after my year of buying no new clothes), it was time to get started with point number 2 above.

A real opportunity arose when I found a course, run by a local sewing school, which promised to teach me to upcycle an old shirt into a skirt. The timing was perfect. I did my preparatory work (left my other half in charge of the kids’ Saturday morning schedule, and mugged him of an old shirt), and off I went.

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I turned up to the three hour class with a shirt and a metre of material that I’d been asked to bring plus another metre of fun material that I thought would be a nice touch to include in a homemade item of clothing .

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I chose grey as I felt that it would ‘dull down’ the reds and yellows of the shirt. While I love bright colours, my confidence in producing a wearable outfit was fair to middling and I reckoned a sensible grey might forgive the inevitable flaws in my skirt.

At this point I ask that you will forgive my lack of photos of the process – I felt weird about taking pictures during the class. However I have drawn some lovely pictures for you with my kids’ felt pens so that you can fully experience the process! 🙂 **

Step 1 was to button up the shirt and pull it on so that the neck was (sort of) my waist band – I had to leave a few buttons undone, obvs.

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This was to see how much material I had at my disposal from the shirt. If you have a very big shirt then refashioning is fairly simple without having to use extra material. No one in the class had a big enough shirt for this option though, so we moved on to…

Step 2 which was to cut the shirt as below (with the red dashes being the cut marks).

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To explain better, I cut out the side seams to remove them, and I cut under the collar and round the yoke on the back – basically saving the easy-to-work-with material. I cut it to the size I needed for the length of the skirt.

Step 3: I then cut out panels from my grey fabic. I got to choose the shape for these. The length should obviously correspond with the length you want the skirt but the wider it is the more the skirt will flare out. I decided on the smallest size of panel I could get away with to join the pieces of my shirt. I made them rectangular. I felt making a skirt from a shirt was a statement enough, without it flaring all over the place!

Step 4: I sewed the four panels together so that they looked like a big wide skirt. (I thought about attempting a drawing for this but hastily reconsidered…)

Step 5: I created a waist band and chose to sew on a frill, made out of the ‘fun’ piece of material above. This was mainly to ensure that I kept the pocket where I wanted it and to stop it sneaking into the waistband.

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The frill (suggested by the tutor) was a cute addition that I think creates a little interest. When I sewed on my frill, I added in my elastic to ensure that the top of the skirt hugged my waist.

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Voila!

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The finished article took me longer to make than the time that had been allocated in the class – I took it home and worked away on it until I was happy.

Pretty pleased with the end result, I modelled it for the children who found it hilarious that mummy was wearing daddy’s shirt as a skirt. Cute as this was, I couldn’t objectively tell whether my skirt actually looked fabulous, or if it did simply look like a shirt with the arms cut off (oh no!).  I therefore dressed it up and wore it to a family party – a safe environment.

I’m not saying that there weren’t jokes. I (stupidly!) complemented someone on their shirt and had to dodge accusations that I wanted to turn it into another skirt, and – my personal favourite – someone else requested that I make a show-stopping outfit for an upcoming school reunion, using the old school uniform! Ultimately my new skirt got the thumbs up though, so I will be happily teaming it with long boots and a polo neck this autumn and wearing it with pride!

*from my general reading around the subject of clothes waste, I believe it is likely that these would be likely to have been shipped abroad, plus it is possible that a proportion of it would have ended up in landfill

**please direct all requests for illustrative work to my agent.

It used to be love…is it over now?

Almost two years ago, when I first had a few weeks of going supermarket-free, I ordered an organic veg box from a local farm. I was pretty delighted with my fortnightly delivery and since then I have played about with the order – adding fruit and eggs, making it plastic-free and increasing it to once a week. It was even the inspiration of a number of blog posts, in which I demonstrated ways to use it up.

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Over time though, I’ve found myself falling a little out of love with my veg box.  As I upped the delivery and increased its frequency, it became so demanding!  The novelty of our wholesome and eclectic delivery had worn off somewhat, and we’d slightly dread the weekly arrival, that needed unpacked and cleaned up to fit in the fridge. As the months passed, we were finding that we weren’t using up our whole delivery because – let’s be honest – we’d not put the necessary time into meal planning and preparation.

Things finally came to a head when our compost bin got full a few months ago. We forced ourselves to look at what we were binning each week. Too much. The advantages of supporting a local supplier and buying organic were being compromised by wasting food and money.

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This is the empty compost bin – the full one isn’t pretty!

When I look at what ‘went wrong’, the answer is twofold:

Firstly, we stopped putting so much effort into using up our veg (the fruit has never been so much of a problem). When we started the veg box, I was supermarket-free and the easiest way to make meals was to use what was in the house. The children were also very small and it was important to me that they ate home cooked food, made with fresh organic ingredients. Secondly, although I had less child-free time then, ironically I had more time for cooking, as I could do things while they entertained each other.  Now I am constantly in and out dropping them at different activities. With my eldest away for most of the day now, my youngest needs me as a replacement playmate and that, of course, is my priority.

We made the decision to reduce our delivery back to fortnightly, which has been a relief and far more manageable.  However, I still don’t feel I’ve achieved the perfect balance.  For starters, the farm closed over the festive period, when our box was to be dropped off, which meant that we didn’t get a delivery for four weeks. FOUR WEEKS!!!There’s nothing like absence for making the heart grow fonder.  We were constantly running out of fruit and the kids weren’t happy about that at all…

I also found that I was buying more fruit and veg from the supermarket again which makes me really really unhappy 😦 I felt guilty for spending more money there (as opposed to buying local), the prices aren’t that cheap (it can be downright expensive to buy the organic there that I’ve got so used to), everything looks too perfect and so I worried about fertilisers. Finally, almost everything comes wrapped in plastic and/or is sitting in a polystyrene tray.

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All the fruit & veg here is swathed in plastic

So what’s the solution?

The only real answer that I can come up with is that I’ll need to get cooking again! Although the fortnightly delivery is much easier, I don’t think it’ll be enough to sustain us when we go supermarket-free again over Lent.

I have lost my enthusiasm for cooking and I think the only remedy for that is to settle down with the internet, find some exciting new recipes and give myself some time to try them out. (I used to particularly enjoy cooking with the music turned up and a glass of wine as a treat. Since the children have become a bit older though, I seem to have dispensed with the kitchen – it turns out I can still enjoy the music and wine, but in a different environment and with friends…!)

Finally, I could use the freezer a bit more.  Although I batch cook, I could routinely prepare veg for freezing if I don’t have time to make them into an actual meal.  I should also be giving away any veg I can’t use.  If I give it to the right people, I occasionally get some back that has been cooked into something for me!

If you’ve experienced falling out of love with your veg box, let me know.  Perhaps we can support each other in making this challenging relationship work 😉

Reusable crackers

This post is now out of season, but I thought it might be of interest for next Christmas, or other cracker-pulling events during the year.

I saw reusable crackers on the Onyabags website and thought that they were a great idea. Crackers are generally wasteful – expensive, excessively packaged with contents that are discarded and forgotten about by the end of Christmas dinner. The thought of most of the cracker being salvaged from the bin pleased me, so I ordered some.

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To buy the 8 crackers that I needed, it cost me £26.28, which included a snap, but no hat, gift or joke. I had a choice of about 8 different designs.

How did they measure up?

I suspect that opinions on these crackers will differ wildly from person to person but here’s mine…

Appearance: They are attractive with plenty of space to hold your gift of choice. They don’t look ‘reusable’ though, so warnings had to be issued to all guests not to chuck them out after pulling… ‘It makes us look a bit uptight’ pointed out my Other Half correctly. To be fair though, we were uptight anyway having the responsibility for cooking Christmas dinner, so no one noticed!

Quality: I was surprised to find out that they were made from thick (good quality) card. I thought that, being reusable, they would perhaps be made of thin plastic for durability. It slightly alarmed me that when we folded them into shape, the ‘wear and tear’ started immediately as the card bent. However, by the end of Christmas dinner they still looked in good enough condition.

Ease of assembly: They came flat-packed, so we had to fold each cracker into shape, thread the snap through it, stuff with gifts, and tie the decorative ribbons into bows. There is a cute video on the internet that shows how easy this is to do. If you’d watched a video of us doing it though, it might have put you off! The air turned blue as we fumbled our way through the first couple, but we got into a rhythm and managed it, although my Other Half just couldn’t master tying the small ribbon into a bow…

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Contents: Obviously there are none included, so we bought bumper supplies of paper hats and cracker snaps on ebay which should last us for a few years. I collated gifts from things I had in the house anyway, mostly left over from stocking filler multipacks and party bags supplies.

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Oh, and I copied out jokes myself from the internet!

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Value for Money: There’s no denying the crackers are expensive for what they are. I am expecting to recoup this over the years, but have to accept that I won’t know how economical or otherwise they are until they fall apart and I can retrospectively work out cost per use!

Ethical: They are recyclable, cut down on waste per use and – in our case at least – got people talking about waste over Christmas dinner. (I appreciate not everyone would think waste discussions over Christmas dinner is a good thing!!)

So, would I buy them again?

Yes, I probably would. They were a bit fiddly, and less than perfect, but I think they’ll be easier to assemble next year. Ultimately, they are a good idea and, for those of us trying to reduce our rubbish, we don’t have many other options.

For the purposes of this post, I just asked my Other Half if he’d buy them again. His answer was ‘Buy them again? Surely the point is that we’ll never buy them again – they’re reusable.’

Thank you darling, that’s actually a good point.

I think.

Minimalist Game – job done

For the month of November I decided to play the Minimalist Game (loosely – I doctored the rules to suit myself). Basically I had to get rid of 465 items of clutter by the end of the month and, guess what?

I finished early.

Ignoring the fact that I have been procrastinating over my Christmas preparations – or lack thereof – which no doubt helped my speedy completion, I have mixed feelings about whether to be proud of myself for achieving my goal.

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Nothing beats a five bar gate for keeping count

On the plus side, I had a really good clear out and tidy up, and obviously I managed to  commit myself to the game and see it through.

On the negative side, as I wrote in my half-way post, I found it too easy to dispose of a large number of possessions.

It really wasn’t heart-wrenching to part with any of the 465 items that I got rid of – which illustrates that I didn’t tackle any of the more challenging decluttering. Although many were things (mainly belonging to the children) that we have made full use of, but have grown out of, I do feel sorry that I allowed so much stuff to linger in our home, taking up space and causing clutter.

I’m not in favour of wallowing in negativity though. What’s the point? You’ve got to learn from mistakes then move on, so I’m going to commit to playing the Minimalist Game again in January (although I won’t commit to boring you with it on the blog). I’m hoping that I can keep up my good work, as well as purging the house of the unnecessary Christmas excesses that we will no doubt fall victim to.

I have yet to fully redistribute all of my 465 items to their rightful destinations. Sadly, too much ended up in the bin without being put to good use (more guilt!), but I think there comes a time when you need to decide whether it’s realistic to sit down with a list of the weird and wonderful items that have emerged during decluttering, and google each and every one of them, until they are all rightfully in the best place for recycling or reuse. Is there ever truly an ethical solution to disposing of low quality broken toys which, let’s face it, should never have been allowed over the doorstep in the first place?*

Happily, many of the items were clothes which have now been handed down to family members who will put them into immediate use.** In a wave of enthusiasm, I even mended some things so that they can remain in circulation for longer.

I amassed a huge pile for the charity shop.

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4 bin-bags, a toy farm, a laundry basket & 2 pictures

I have to admit that I was getting anxious about the practicalities of taking this mountain of stuff to the charity shop. I couldn’t leave the kids in the car while I ran back and forwards several times unloading the car (none of my local charity shops have guaranteed parking outside), and I definitely couldn’t get them to help as they would realise within seconds that I was giving away their old things…

As luck would have it though, this very weekend just happened to be the time that we replaced some beds in our house. We were keen that the beds went to people who need them so I phoned Barnardo’s who agreed to come and pick them up and, equally as great, they were delighted to relieve me of all of the bags I’d marked for the charity shop. They arrived with a van the day after I contacted them and it was a close call as to who said ‘thank you’ the most. Thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you! etc etc.

Finally, I tackled a clear-out job that I had put off for at least a year. I have a two drawer unit that sits in the hallway – premium space – that was bursting with artwork my kids have produced. It was always my intention to sort it out by keeping the best stuff and binning the rest, but…you know… it’s kind of hard to get started when there’s a history of your precious children’s artistic development just sitting there…

Realistically though, if we keep it all for the next 16 years, we will drown in it – and let’s not talk about the fire risk! I am already known to the fire service from when my eldest discovered the bathroom lock at 14 months. This discovery necessitated a fire engine to arrive at the house (siren on) at 9am in the morning (I was not dressed to receive visitors). There were no less than three prams sitting in my hallway which would have caused an obstruction, should there have been an emergency, which, it turns out, a toddler alone in a locked bathroom was. I digress… but the mountain of paper had to go!

It was easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. I kept the first drawings, and the super cute family portraits of us sketched strictly in age order, and the odd piece of brilliance – there was a Disney character that kind of looked recognisable, if you viewed it from the right angle. All other pictures were recycled. (I used to make them into shopping lists, but I soon learned that doesn’t work if you take the kids shopping with you).

The whole decluttering ritual is addictive – I have found myself roaming around the house for the past few weeks, eyeing up items, wondering what I can get away with binning next. I would have kept going if it wasn’t for the fact that Christmas is now less than a month away and I am being panicked by all of the school-gate conversations suggesting that everyone else has finished their shopping, iced their cakes and are just biding their time until they can pour the Bucks Fizz on Christmas morning.

The irony is not lost on me that I am abandoning the process of reducing my possessions to concentrate on acquiring more bloody things, even if they are for other people. It’s been a good reminder though that I need to focus on sourcing gifts for people that are useful – or, at the very least, are fully recyclable!

*If there is, do let me know for January.
**Top tip: encourage your family to have children 18 months + after the birth of each of your kids (preferably matching the gender/s of your own) for optimum hand-me-down bliss

Minimalist Game – half way point

I’m thoroughly enjoying playing the Minimalist Game – you can read my previous post on what it involves here.  To date I have cleared 224 items from our living space and not a single one of them has been missed by anyone.

Removing items that we no longer need is cathartic. I love to see space emerge within my home. If ‘stuff’ is no longer there, then it doesn’t need my attention – whether that means using it, dusting it, tidying it away or fixing it. While I would not describe myself as a hoarder, I will admit that there are some things that I do find hard to part with.  It is reasonably shocking therefore, that I haven’t yet had to make any difficult decisions.  I’m on 224 items and not one of them has proven a challenge to remove from my life! This showcases just how much clutter I’ve managed to accumulate.

I’m enjoying reading my fellow bloggers’ tales of the Minimalist Game. It’s interesting to see how everyone else approaches the challenge.  Personally, since my aim is to hit the heady heights of chucking 465 items, I have been targetting the clutter hotspots in my home.

The children’s bedroom has rewarded me well.  Although I do regular clear-outs of clothes that they’ve grown out of, it would seem that I’m guilty of hanging on to things they are just ever so slightly too big for, in case I need them again in an emergency.  The reality is, however, I never use them and they just clutter up the drawers.  Worse, when it’s my other half’s turn to get the kids ready, he uses the small stuff, not knowing any better.  Not anymore!  All the old things are gone –  I’ve distributed them between family, the charity shop and the Rag Bag.

Toys have also boosted my score as I’ve got rid of some of the broken stuff as well as lots of the crap attractive little trinkets that are accumulated from party bags and magazines.  I can guarantee the kids will not miss anything I’ve got rid of!  I will definitely not miss this plastic toy watch which doesn’t fasten properly and is guaranteed to cause tears (mine) as it falls off after ten seconds.

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I’ve finally got rid of this clothes dryer which has a broken hinge.  Both my other half and I have tried to fix it but to no avail.  It’s been sitting in our bedroom for two years waiting for a mending miracle. Off to the dump it goes….

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An equally large item is this washing basket.  It has been redundant for FIVE years!  I retrieved it from on top of a wardrobe, washed the fabric, dusted down the frame, and it’s now earmarked for the charity shop.

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Because we are environmentally aware, there are lots of things that we recycle instead of binning.  However, there are many items that our Council collection doesn’t cater for so we store these on top of our freezer to take to the appropriate place. Except we forget.

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An example is these used inhalers, which have gathered over time.  After bagging them at the weekend, I took them along to Boots the Chemist (where I happened to be anyway this morning) and put them into appropriate box.  The whole task took me about 20 seconds!

We have also, over several months, been accumulating things for the Council dump, which will allow us to recycle some of them. I have finally sorted out the pile (again sitting on top of the freezer!) and moved it ready to be taken there by the end of the month.

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So far my experience of the Minimalist Game is that it only demands a bit of time from me.  I was already on board with the concept of removing unnecessary items from my home, having taken steps already to do this with several things, but I am guilty of not finishing the job.  With the goal of removing 465 items from the house this month, I am finding it much easier to focus.

To date, some of the items have been binned, recycled or given away, but I am storing the rest in our front room, ready to make a few big trips to get rid of them at the end of November. 

I had managed to keep the kids out of that room to avoid them rediscovering their old treasures, but this morning they wanted in it to wave goodbye to their Dad, who was leaving for work. Panicking, I suggested that we waved at the door. That was met with confusion (it’s November, they were in their pyjamas), so as a compromise I said they could wave at the window, but we’d keep the lights off ‘so that you can see him better outside’. Too late, I’d aroused much suspicion and my eldest, after being lead across the darkened room to the window, took one glance around the shadows, looked at me pointedly and asked ‘Mummy, are you trying to give away our toys?’ Foiled.  I’m off to hide the evidence in my car…

Minimalist Game

I love reading about the Minimalist Game – blog posts or twitter hashtags (#MinsGame) on that subject have me riveted. I therefore took an interest when Jen from My Make Do and Mend Year announced here on her blog that she was playing in November, and I was even more delighted when others I follow – Emma from Mommy Emu, Zoe from Ecothrifty, Shona at @sathlondonshona and Nicola of A Lifetime of DIY were joining in. Lots to read – yay!

I didn’t for one second consider taking part. I’m feeling a bit time-poor at the moment, as my neglected blog will testify, plus we’re hosting Christmas this year and I shudder every time I think about the work involved (although I’m looking forward to having the whole family round).  I’m determined to use November to get Christmas cards written, most of the shopping done and to get the house in order.

When Zoe tweeted this morning asking if I was going to join in though, I considered it for the first time. I do like a challenge, plus I’ve been a bit out of the blogging loop lately. Also when I thought about it, the Minimalist Game will tie in nicely with my efforts to get the house ready for the Festive Season. A good old clear out will create much-needed space and help me in my constant battle for a tidy house.  So….

I’m in!

The Minimalist Game, as I understand it (from reading everyone else’s posts!), is to start on the first of the month by finding one item that you will get rid of, on Day 2 you get rid of 2 items, Day 3 is 3 items etc. As Zoe says in her post, you are meant to get the item out of the house on that day to e.g. charity shop, dump, recycle, bin etc. I agree with her that I will not be taking a daily trip to get rid of stuff – life is too short!! – so as long as everything has reached its rightful destination by 1 December, I will consider myself successful. Also like Zoe, rather than clear a set amount of items a day, I will make sure I dispose of the correct total of 465 items for the month. I hope this is all making sense…

Happily I had a small sort out on Saturday (the first of November) and put 10 old DVD’s in a bag for the charity shop so I’m already on target.

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I will keep a tally of my items here (keeping it simple!):

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I will of course be trying to ensure that as few items as possible end up in the bin for landfill, and that as much as possible goes to people who can use it. November seems like a very good time to play the Minimalist Game as it should boost the Charity Shops stocks in time to help with their Christmas sales.

I know that the Minimalists’ – Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – focus is on ‘living a meaningful life with less stuff’, a concept I agree with. I am increasingly trying to work towards this, for example by buying no new clothes for myself for a year, but somehow I still have a house full of things that we’ve acquired but don’t use (nor even care about terribly much). I’m hoping by the time I’ve cleared out another 455 items, I’ve worked out how to stop so many things making it over our front door! Wish me luck…

Sew-stainable fashion

I’ve had an unplanned blogging break for a variety of reasons. It’s lovely to be back writing though. In fact I’d better get back into the way of it, and fast, because Zero Waste Week begins on the 1st of September – this Monday!!

Click here for National Zero Waste week 2013

If you are interested in signing up – take a look here for more information. The theme is ‘One More Thing’ and the week can be as hard or as ridiculously easy as you want! For inspiration and links to lots of great reading material, check out the hashtag #zerowasteweek

Although I’ve not been writing for the best part of a month, I have been thinking. Specifically I’ve been thinking about what I wish to achieve in terms of being more sustainable. In December 2013 I wrote this post outlining some of my goals for the year. An area that I need – and want – to focus on more is point 2 about ethical fashion.

I pledged to buy no new clothes for myself in 2014. I had a small slip-up when I had to replace a broken underwired bra (ouch!). I hadn’t really thought through the issue of underwear at the start of the challenge and, cheating or not, I made the decision that a second hand bra wasn’t really a good option for me. Otherwise, I’m doing well and no further new clothes have been purchased.

So far I’ve even got away without having to do much mending and, although there are a few items of clothing I could do with replacing, the issue is not urgent. What I still need to give some thought to is what happens at the end of this challenge when my clothes are getting worn out.

I have had one idea…

I could learn to sew!

Surely my sustainable journey hasn’t come to this?! I have to admit that I dismissed sewing (proper machine sewing) as ridiculous the first time it presented itself. As I am forever declaring on this blog, I am not crafty, arty or creative in any way at all. Plus, I’ve never aspired to be. Let’s just say that until I started this green-living malarkey I was happy to accept my artistic limitations.

However, I started making my own greetings cards last year, as a way of both avoiding the supermarket and reducing my waste, and it opened my mind a little. I’m not terrible at this type of craft plus the cards are well received, and it saves me money. As a result, I now look at card-making as, not so much of a hobby, but a skill that allows me to work towards my sustainable goals. Why should sewing be any different?

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Bet you can’t guess who this card is for or how old he is?  🙂

So, some months ago, I started to research beginners sewing classes. It felt a bit weird. Would I actually go along to a sewing class? Sit at a machine? Talk to strangers about…I dunno…. stitches?!

I found a site that I liked though and I kept sneaking back to take a look at it. Sewing would be a great way to extend the life of the clothes that I already have and it might work especially well for the children’s clothes – perhaps by adding panels to allow the clothes to grow with my little people. If I managed to acquire any skills that were beyond the basics then I might be able to make myself some bespoke pieces too – and don’t even get me started on the idea of sourcing some of the gorgeous fabrics online and turning them into cute little things for the kids! I could find organic or fair trade material, and buy only from UK manufacturers to cut down on air miles and… Ok! I was getting carried away, but there was definitely a growing sense of enthusiasm there!

The cost was £45 for a three hour Beginners’ class in using a sewing machine, which I thought was good value. Even if sewing didn’t turn out to be for me, I was paying for an adventure where I got to learn about something different and meet a few interesting people.

So I did it. I booked myself in.

The experience was a joy. The venue was in the centre of Edinburgh, beneath Edinburgh castle in the middle of the festival so my journey there was exciting, a weaving my way through buzzing crowds and performers. When I reached my destination I got a warm welcome and a cup of tea.

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The class taught me how to thread a machine and learn the basic skills that I would need to start sewing. I haven’t sewed since primary school, and as the class was early evening, my concentration was – frankly – poor, so I needed lots of reminding about what went where, but this was absolutely fine with the (very patient and lovely) teacher.

I wasn’t necessarily expecting to enjoy the actual sewing, but in fact it was pretty thrilling to put my foot on the pedal and zip out a line of stitches on the fabric we were given. Being a driver, it felt somehow familiar and quite natural to guide my material in the right direction.

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My driving is better than my sewing in case you wondered!

There was also the opportunity to look at things that some of the more advanced classes had made – a gorgeous dress, a divine top, funky lampshades – as well as to discuss what we wanted to do with our new skill. It began to feel like a realistic goal that I might do some sewing, and being with like-minded beginners and a talented teacher, was most inspirational! I left the class desperate to get started.

I’m currently planning my next steps. I have researched sewing machines. I’ve decided to buy a new one (as opposed to second-hand) for a couple of reasons. The shop from which I hope to purchase offers a tutorial on how to use the machine, and has good support in terms of repair. Both issues are important to me as no one I know well is a competent machine-user, so I’m on my own with this one!

I will probably do another beginners class before I make my purchase. I am keen to take my time and buy the right machine for me. It’s an investment and I want to buy a machine that will suit my purpose. I am aware that the way I am choosing to take up sewing is making it a reasonably pricey venture, but happily I am able to pay for it out of the money I have saved by not buying new clothes this year. Acquiring a second-hand machine and teaching yourself the basics from the manual/internet/someone you know is a much more affordable option.

I am hoping that my investment will reap financial rewards by allowing me to keep my expenditure on new clothes low at the end of this challenge. I’m hoping too that I will start to make savings on children’s clothes by being able to more effectively mend and adapt their clothing.

I’d love it too if I can become good enough at sewing to teach my children some of the basics. It would be a useful skill to take into the world and, even if they simply know that mending clothes is an option, then they are likely to save themselves some money (and save clothes from going to landfill) in the future.

If you are reading this post and thinking that sewing isn’t for you, then you might be interested in the valuable suggestion made to me by one of my best friends. On hearing the surprising news that I had aspirations to be a seamstress, she made the point that it might just be easier for me to source the material I want to use and take it to a local seamstress. This would put money into the local economy and (she didn’t say this) I’d end up with a professional product that wouldn’t fall apart after a few months. Ignoring her bemused lack of faith in me, I have to admit that she made an excellent point and I’ll save it, should I ever need a Plan B…