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Reflecting on a less wasteful year

This has been an odd year. For the first half of it, we were living in a thatched cottage in a Northamptonshire village. For the second half, we have lived in a thatched cottage in an Oxfordshire village. The two villages are so vastly different that I have a vague sense of disconnection – as if the two halves of the year have been lived by different people (the fact that the second half of the year has been six months of a persistent, but low-grade depression has been a contributing factor, of course).

But one thing has definitely been a constant: my exploration of ways to live a more ecofriendly life has spanned the year. And it is something I hope to continue improving. Here are some of the small changes I’ve made:

  • Ditching the clingfilm. I have made waxed fabric wraps – some with pine resin, and some without – to replace clingfilm in our kitchen.
  • Reducing waste – thanks to the excellent kerbside collection services provided by our local council, we have been able to make a dramatic reduction to our non-recyclable waste. Recently, we didn’t put our bin out on non-recyclable collection day, because it was empty. That was a first, and it gave me such a buzz.
  • Ditching the cotton pads. I made reusable fabric replacements for the cosmetic pads that formed part of my daily skin care routine. I also learned a valuable lesson about them: tie them into a sock for washing, and don’t put them in the tumbledrier – they are small enough to get caught in filters and stuff.
  • Making my own self-care products. I haven’t bought deodorant, body lotion or salve (the sort you use for minor abrasions/scalds) in ages. I’ve made my own. I am using up the stock of lotions and potions I have in my dressing table, and then I plan to replace those with ones I’ve made myself, too. I’m not yet brave enough to try making my own shampoos or body washes, because Mr Namasi has a tricky skin, and I don’t really want to subject him to failed experiments.
  • Growing food. I am a pretty useless gardener, but there is a community garden in our village, which I joined as soon as we moved here. This has given me access to company, new skills and freshly grown vegetables.

    Making more preserves
  • Making (more) preserves. This is not a new skill. I’ve made pickles, jams and so forth before, but somehow being in a country village has reawakened that side of me. And the sense of well-being I get when I open the larder cupboard to see a fully stacked top shelf is palpable.
  • Shopping differently. There is a buying group in our village that buys from a wholesaler of ethical products (foods and non-foods) with reduced packaging and so forth. I joined the group, and then found myself in the role of admin as the previous incumbent is moving away. We order every second month, and therefore tend to buy in larger quantities. The delivery is made as part of a set route, which has a positive impact on our collective carbon footprint.
  • Less stuff. This year, Mr Namasi and I opted not to exchange Christmas gifts. We also asked our sons not to give us anything. We had to downsize considerably when we moved here, and we still have more stuff than we need. We have decided to focus more on shared experiences. So we will explore the countryside and visit various places of interest.

Looking ahead to 2019, I’ve decided to really test myself. I’m going to see if I can get through the whole year without buying anything new. Of course, this doesn’t apply to food and other essential consumables. I am already a regular user Facebook marketplace, Freecycle, Vinted and online spaces of that ilk. I am also a regular visitor to charity shops. For 2019, I’m going to see if I can limit myself to those spaces. These are my options:

  • Make it myself. I have the skills to make a wide variety of things from furniture to clothing.
  • Repair what I have. I have the skills to repair many things myself. There is also a repair cafe in Wantage, where I can take any small appliances that break down, to see if they can be repaired.
  • Buy secondhand. Charity shops, Facebook marketplace, and any number of other spaces exist for this purpose.
  • Borrow from friends. So often, when we have an event to attend, it involves buying a posh frock that might only see one wearing before being relegated to the back of a wardrobe. Perhaps my friends and I can do the occasional swap shop thing to get more life out of a fairly expensive purchase. This applies to hats and evening bags/clutches/purses (choose your word) too.
  • Do without.
No more manis

One other thing I’ve decided to give up on – and hear me out on this one – is professional pedicures and manicures. The manicure thing isn’t going to be a biggie. My hands are too busy for prettying up, so I tend only to have a manicure once every couple or years or so, for a special occasion. The pedicure thing…. that’s a different matter altogether. I can’t abide unkempt feet, so I have always taken good care of mine. Every Sunday night, while Mr Namasi plays ice hockey, my ritual has been a soak in the tub, with a facemask, followed by a DIY pedi. Since I developed polymyalgia rheumatica earlier this year, I have been unable to twist my hips and knees enough to take proper care of my feet, and so I have treated myself to (more or less) monthly pedicures to supplement the limited work I can do on them. But my conscience has been bothering me terribly. You see, manicures and pedicures involve vast quantities of cotton pads and – for some inexplicable reason – clingfilm. I also have concerns about the various products used. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to achieve it, but I am going to have to step back up to the plate on my foot care routine.

I hope that this time next year, I will be able to reflect back on a 2019 that has been even less wasteful than 2018. Are you in? Shall we hold each other to account come year-end?

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The value of nothing

This morning, I was expecting someone to come and collect some items of furniture we had offered for free to anyone starting out. The person in question had identified the pieces they wanted, and said they’d be here at 11am. I moved all the items into my entrance hall in readiness. At 12:30, I contacted them to say that I needed to go out, having errands to run, and could no longer wait for them. They asked me if I could drop the pieces off on my way.

Anyone who has offered items on Freecycle, Freeloved (the free section of Preloved), Freegle, Free to Collect or any of the other myriad similar sites – including community pages – will be able to relate. My own experience with these sites is a show up rate of roughly 60%. In other words, people have failed to arrive to collect items they’ve requested from me about two times in five.

On a subconscious level, I suspect people attach no value to something they’re getting for nothing. If you don’t value it enough to attach a price tag to it, why should they attach enough value to it to drag themselves away from a nice warm TV?

I’ve found the same to be true of free-to-attend events that I have hosted. It happens less often than the Freecycle no-shows, but people do tend to say they’re coming and then fail to appear, with no explanation.

I’ve had similar experiences when I have offered to do something for charities on a pro bono basis (running a craft session, providing IT training to the office staff, etc.). You turn up at the agreed time, only to find they’re not ready for you, and please will you wait there until they are? If you’re lucky, they might contact you on the morning of the agreed appointment to request an open-ended postponement.

I don’t want to stop offering these items/services. And I certainly don’t want to start dumping perfectly serviceable items at the tip.  But I’d be very curious to know whether anyone in a similar position has found a way to reduce the no-shows.

On a (sort of) related note – there are those who decide to tackle a project themselves, but look to you for free advice and guidance on how to complete the project successfully. I need to think about where the line is, since I’m trying to earn my living at this, and one of the services I offer is supervised/guided DIY. I’ve always been happy to share my skills and knowledge, but it seems unfair to those who pay me for this service to give it away free of charge to others.

I don’t really have a conclusion to this post, but I’d really love to hear what others have experienced.


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Reflections on an austerity budget

Not that long ago, Mr Namasi and I had two good salaries coming in: he had an executive  job in the city, and I had a very respectable career in the Learning & Development field (don’t worry if you don’t know what that is – most people don’t).

But, after a quarter of a century, I had become disenchanted with the L&D field. Luminaries in the field were standing on platforms saying things I had been saying for years without anyone taking the blindest bit of notice. I was having the same conversations with clients I had been having for a decade and more. People constantly used the word ‘innovation’, but seldom meant it. And my mental health wasn’t great.

So, because Mr Namasi was earning a good salary and our sons were grown up, we decided that we could afford for me to embark on this next chapter: making, upcycling, crafting and doing. I was as happy as Larry, but I was making little to no money. It didn’t matter, though.

Then Mr Namasi’s company was closed down.

By 23 December 2016, we had gone from two good salaries to none. And the job market for the over 50s is looking bleak, to say the least.

So we instituted what we call our ‘austerity budget’.

This involved some very obvious things like not eating out, not buying new clothes, cutting out luxuries, reducing our use of the car and so on.

We changed our buying patterns: shopping at cheaper supermarkets, checking out the reduced section, using cheaper brands, reducing our meat consumption, buying cheaper cuts of the meat we do eat, buying frozen instead of fresh, etc.

We changed our eating patterns, too: instead of cooking up a whole pack of bacon (for example) for a single meal, we now spread it over two or three meals. We substitute pulses for meat (lentil Bolognese, anyone?). We tweak recipes to leave out more expensive ingredients. We try to use what herbs/spices we already have.

We made a conscious effort to decrease our wastage. So we deliberately plan meals around what we’ve got in the fridge, so that the half bag of salad or two lonely carrots are eaten before they become irredeemable.

Best. Toothpaste. Ever.

We accept gifts without taking offence – seeing them for the acts of love they are. Our pantry is occasionally bolstered by items donated by friends, and we were recently blessed out of our socks to receive pretty much a year’s supply of our preferred toothpaste (an environmentally friendly, health shop brand not available in supermarkets, and carrying a comparatively hefty price tag).

We arrive empty handed at friends’ home when invited for a meal, and trust that they will forgive us the lack of a bottle of wine/bunch of flowers/box of chocolates for the host/ess.

We give home made gifts for birthdays, weddings, etc. and trust that the recipient will appreciate the thought, love and effort that went into making something instead of buying something.

Home made body lotion

We try to diy as much as possible: mending broken things we would normally just replace, and so on. I even had a go at making my own body lotion, using up dregs from various bottles in my dressing table, together with various oils and so forth I had to hand. The resultant concoction is a little weird, but it will do for now, and it didn’t cost me a penny.

And then there’s always Freecyle/Freegle and their ilk. 

Does this sound miserable to you?

Well, it isn’t. It’s something of a journey of discovery. An adventure. And we’re in it together. We make no bones about the fact that it’s tough, but we find that adopting a positive attitude, and being flexible about unexpected results makes it totally bearable. Even fun.

We recently attended the wedding of our younger son’s best friend. The fresh-faced young couple spoke their vows, committing to the better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness and health. And we thought about how, in the 29 years we’ve been married, we’ve experienced – and survived – all those things. And right now, worse, poorer and sickness (if you count my ongoing battles with depression) are the order of the day.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m ready for the austerity budget phase to be over, the sooner the better. But while it lasts, there’s no point in being miserable about it.

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The joys and woes of Freecycling

I love Freecycling, it has to be said. I am an active member of a few of my local groups. I have ‘won’ quite a few items, and supplied just as many in my turn. I have had less luck with my own ‘items wanted’ posts, sadly, but them’s the breaks.

This post is about my experiences: the ups and the downs.

If you have something that still has life in it, but is of no further use to, Freecycling is a great way to make sure it doesn’t wind up in a landfill, but goes on to become part of someone else’s story.

When you advertise an item free of charge to anyone who is prepared to come and collect it, most of the time, you will be deluged with responses. Some sites (like Freegle) ask responders to say why they want and item and what they plan to do with it. They ask advertisers to give a little time for responses to come in, and to choose someone based on…merit? Not sure that’s the right word, but you get my drift.

Most of the time, though, you will offer the item to the first person to ask for it. This can mean that, in the rush to be the first responder, people may forgo pleasantries. Responses can amount to the word ‘yes’ followed by a phone number. I make a conscious effort to be polite and friendly. After all, this person is offering to give me something for nothing. The least I can do is be pleasant about it. This has stood me in good stead on at least one occasion: one advertiser found my response such a refreshing change that he now contacts me first to see if I want an item before he places the ad.

Once you have notified the person who is to have your item, you will of course, supply your address and agree a date and time for pickup. Mostly, people are accommodating and reasonable. But occasionally one will, well… ‘take the piss’ is the expression that springs most readily to mind. They might ask you to hold the item for several weeks. In those cases, I usually move on to the next person. I don’t have the space to provide warehousing.

The most negative aspect of Freecycling is the incidence of no-shows. There is a tendency to undervalue things that come for free, and – often enough to drive some people away from the practice – people simply don’t pitch. The worst case was when I had scheduled three pickups back to back on a Saturday afternoon and none of them showed. To be fair, one of them did contact me to reschedule. On another occasion, the person failed to show, so I scheduled a pickup with the next responder who also failed to show. It can be like that.

It can also be a bit hit and miss from the other side, too. The items that people give away are sometimes not worth keeping, but that’s a chance you take. I recently went to collect an item that the advertiser referred to as ‘solid’. I wrote a bit about that recently. But there are some finds out there, too. Not necessarily always valuable in monetary terms, but potentially useful as a part of your story for a while.

Another place I tend to hang out is the reuse shop attached to our local recycling depot. I picked up a workbench there for £3. Possibly the best £3 I ever spent! If that thing collapsed tomorrow, it would owe me a thing. I use it every day. Every. Day!

So may I encourage you to get involved? Yes, there will be some negative experiences, but it’s got to be worth it, right? For the craic? For the community? The planet?

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Upcycling, recycling, freecycling, makeovers, restorations….

Chair with Shweshwe fabric

There are so many terms being bandied about, and there isn’t consensus as to where the boundaries lie between them. I don’t think it matters that much, as long as we’re making an effort to chuck less stuff away and to reuse things as much as possible.

But last night, I participated in a tweetchat in which someone was definitely spoiling for a fight on the subject.  So this is my take on what all the various words mean. You might have a different view. That’s okay. We can still be friends.

The tweetchat was about upcycled items and the theme was colour. A few of us posted pictures of things we had worked on recently. One person wasn’t convinced that they all qualified as upcycled. Some of them had just been restored. She was probably right. For example, this chair, with which I am insufferably pleased, is hardly upcycled. It started as a chair and ended up as a chair, albeit with a new seat pad, new coat of paint and new fabric on the back and the seat. But neither did I restore it. If I had done that, I would have made it look as it did when it left the factory (kind of like ‘restore factory settings’). So I would say I gave it a makeover.

On the other hand, this hanging rail I made out of a vintage potato crate, in my mind, qualifies as upcycled. It started out as one thing, and ended up as a another.

Hanging rail

 When I take my scrap metal to the recycling plant, and it is melted down to make school chairs or fighter planes. That’s what I would think of as recycling.

And when someone gives an item away to someone else. That’s freecycling.

I will tell you something for nothing, though – freecycling can be a bit hit and miss. People have widely differing views on what constitutes a quality item. Just yesterday, I went to collect a small unit that the man told me was ‘solid’. What he meant was, it was heavy. It was made of chipboard and metal and was in pretty rough shape. It went for recycling.

On the flip side, today, I picked up a small chest of drawers for the princely sum of £5. It was a vintage Stag piece. Possibly 1930s, I have to do a bit more research. It has been painted at some point, and the paint is chipped. But I will restore it…mostly, and maybe throw in a bit of a makeover, just for good measure. More of that anon.