Day 4: Zero Waste Week 2016

Every day this week so far I’ve been setting myself small tasks, as I take part in Zero Waste Week. The topic this year is food waste, and I’m determined to both reduce my food waste and establish some good habits that will ensure I chuck less rotten food out in future.

Yesterday’s tasks were to:

  1. Make a vegetarian goulash – serving the dual purpose of following my meal plan, as well as using up some elderly peppers, tomatoes and courgettes that I found in the fridge a few days ago; and
  2. Sort out half of the shelves in my big food cupboard.

I started with the goulash.

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It was totally satisfying to chop up the rescued veg and, before long, I had a vat of delicious loveliness bubbling on the cooker. That was yesterday’s dinner sorted – and with several extra portions ready for the freezer. Perfect.

Very much in the mood for my next task, I threw open the cupboard door and started hauling things out. Here’s the before picture.

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I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting this to be such a big job. In my head, I believed that I’d cleared the cupboard quite recently, but the best before dates on some of my jars and tins suggested otherwise. My last declutter must have been over a year ago.

I quickly abandoned the idea of tidying out half of the shelves in one sitting. The whole cupboard would need cleared out as any signs of order were gone. Chuck today, tidy tomorrow, I decided. There were tins on every shelf, cereal packets all over the place, and bags of crisps nestling in random nooks and crannies…you’ve literally got the picture.

I grabbed the bin, a food waste bag and made a pile for recycling and they all started filling up pretty fast.

Some of my big issues were that:

  • We had several duplicate ingredients – cooking chocolate, oatcakes, coffee (which no one in the house actually drinks!), crisps (flavours that no one likes), cake sprinkles, spices…
  • We are the (not very) proud owners of some items that we rarely use such as cinnamon sticks, tiny marshmallows and a jar of value syrup – purchased by the other half for a ‘science experiment’ done with the kids one Sunday morning.
  • There were large open packets of things like tea bags and salt that regularly need decanted into smaller caddies, as well as things like bin bags that should be kept under the sink.
  • Items such as sugar, a variety of flours were sitting in tupperwears often abandoned and past their best before dates.

Basically the main issue was a lack of organisation. Based on the evidence we clearly purchase duplicates by accident a lot. We fail to empty large packets into their smaller caddies for everyday use, and we keep things in the wrong places. This causes clutter and leaves things to go past their dates. By storing different items in similar looking tubs (although they are all labelled and dated), we end up rummaging chaotically, and missing what we need.

The solutions are pretty obvious – kill the clutter and make sure we can find what we need quickly. If we buy unusual ingredients, we need to have a plan for using them up immediately and not letting them squat in our cupboards until they’ve gone soft and furry.Ban science experiments that lead to food waste.

Today’s task will be to perfect the cupboard – organise the shelves and wash down the woodwork. Hopefully it’ll be good enough to post an ‘after’ photo on the blog tomorrow! I’d better get to it.

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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…