What is a Capsule Wardrobe? (and why I don’t care if I don’t have one)

A photo of my wardrobe

My not so capsule wardrobe – it appears I like pattern!

So, what is a capsule wardrobe? I am reading so much about streamlining, de cluttering and minimalism at the moment and at every turn I come across this concept of the capsule wardrobe. Now, I remember years ago reading about this in Women’s magazines. There were features every month about how a grey / black / neutral limited wardrobe would simplify your life and turn you from a Slummy Mummy to super together Mum about Town overnight. I tried them, but I’m just really bad at following rules!

The idea of a streamlined, simplified wardrobe does sound appealing. I just can’t see how it would work for me. I’ve looked at the Konmari method, Project 333  and dozens of podcasts, blogs and Instagram feeds promising me the secret to a minimal wardrobe. Wouldn’t it be great to open your wardrobe every morning and not be faced with that “Oh my, what am I going to wear” dilemma? I solved it by working from home – honestly – the Amazon delivery man doesn’t blink an eye if I  open the door three days running in the same t shirt and yoga pants I laughingly call “work out wear”. When I do venture out, pulling on a Seasalt tunic and a pair of jeans works for me every time! Have I got a capsule wardrobe already, but just don’t know it?

Because I wanted to write this post, I took a photo of my wardrobe. The truth is, I don’t really have that many clothes. Do I? Living in the UK, I definitely need to dress for the seasons.  There are winter clothes (down coat, waterproof, sturdy boots), gardening clothes (jeans, t shirts and jumpers that don’t mind getting filthy when I’m weeding), decorating and housework clothes, special occasion clothes and then the stuff I wear every day. I pulled apart the hangers and thought about what I could throw away (in the words of Marie Kondo, what doesn’t “spark joy”). Honestly? I couldn’t say every item in my wardrobe sparks joy, but it does serve a purpose. There is nothing I could throw away.

I don’t buy clothes very often, but when I do I definitely fall into the “buy once buy well” camp. I like clothes that will last and earn their keep. Some are from charity shops, some were swapped with friends and there are a few “special” purchases bought for occasions such as weddings or my daughter’s graduation. I’m a big believer in clothes meeting the  “30 wears” rule. A reaction against disposable fashion, buying clothes you’ll wear at least 30 times certainly encourages you think about longevity, not just seasonal style. I have a functional wardrobe, and it serves me well

So, what do I mean by a “functional” wardrobe? Every thing in my wardrobe serves a purpose. The high waist bootleg jeans for those “fat and frumpy” days; the straight leg petite fit jeans that look great with heeled boots and a smart shirt for “daytime smart / casual”. The John Rocha dress I bought in the sale that only comes out for weddings and christenings. The basic t shirts and sweatshirts I wear every day, paired with jeans and the summer skirts and strappy tops that only see the light of day for two weeks every July! There are leggings for running (currently unworn because bloomin’ Lupus is flaring), the paint spattered jeans for annual decorating, the dressing gown and nightie that only come out for hospital visits. The Christmas t shirt that only gets worn in December and the beautiful beyond imagination embroidered and sequinned wool skirt that cost an arm and a leg 20 years ago, but still comes into it’s own for winter “formals” (works Christmas parties, the day I met Prince Charles* and those days when I really need to dress to impress!) and there, lurking at the back is the leather jacket Mr T bought me 15 years ago –  which truth be told –  no longer zips up. It’s job is to remind me I was once a little bit sassy and could carry off a strappy cocktail dress and leather jacket combo!

Even my undies drawer works hard. 3 bras (black, white, “neutral”), 10 pairs of knickers (ironed and folded  – is that too much information?) and a couple of camisoles for low cut tops that reveal too much middle aged flesh! Of course, we’ll skim over the sock drawer, I do have a little bit of a hand knitted sock addiction!

hand knitted socks

My current favourite pair of hand knitted socks

Is a functional wardrobe as good as, or better than a capsule wardrobe? Could I make do with less? If I threw out everything I haven’t worn for six months what would  I do when summer comes? (or was summer ’17  that glorious week in May and now we’re declining into autumn)? Should I throw away the leather jacket, wool skirt and killer heels just because I don’t wear them very often? Nope, they’ll have their day and having them means I won’t be tempted into spur of the moment or panic buys when the need for such an outfit arises.

You see, all these bloggers talking about their capsule wardrobes seem to be  constantly buying new. They’re all about this season’s sneakers, coat and must have  dress. My summer sneakers are both over ten years old and the Birkenstocks, just in view in that photo of my wardrobe are equally mature. At the end of the summer I’ll clean up my summer shoes, repair the heels, buy new laces and swap them out for my winter boots (similarly vintage).  You see, a capsule wardrobe isn’t the same as a minimal wardrobe and my functional wardrobe probably falls somewhere in between. My wardrobe isn’t full of mix and match separates, I can’t make 20 different looks from six Key pieces. Nor have I pared down my wardrobe to the extent that I have conquered my laundry mountain like these ladies from the Purposeful Home Podcast. But I am still wearing this shirt and denim skirt I bought in 2006!

classic white shirt and denim

My favourite white shirt and denim combo

So I don’t have a capsule wardrobe, who cares? Living with less, doesn’t mean living  with little. Minimalism, intentionalism, slow living, whatever we choose to call it is about living unencumbered by the stuff that causes stress and anxiety.  Taking the time to make considered purchases, valuing what we have and not being weighed down by the pressures of conforming to what we think is expected of us. That’s true minimalism in my book.

*a girl is allowed the occasional name drop, surely?

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You can Eat Cake for Breakfast (but only if it’s my best ever raspberry cake recipe)

20170702124957Not just any cake. Packed with fruit and nuts, this is practically health food! I’ll admit, with no shame we ate a slice for breakfast and felt no guilt. (Nope, not even a little bit). Of course, I’m not suggesting you make a habit of cake for breakfast, but the occasional indulgence is OK. Let’s face it, not much can be worse than those sugar filled cereals we all love but pretend not to because “they’re bad for us”.

I like a cake that will serve as dessert as well as accompany a morning mug of coffee and this old favourite really does fit the bill. You can serve a slice with creme fraiche (or double cream) or just eat it on its own. It is quite moist, not the kind of cake you can eat with your fingers – although Mr T would disagree – sticky fingers can be licked clean he tells me!  I’m sharing the recipe for this Raspberry and Almond cake here (or you can find it by clicking on the recipe tab in the sidebar) but first a few tips.

I tend to weigh out in cups (American, not Australian), simply because that’s easier for me than getting out the scales. Butter has a handy guide on the wrapper, so you can just cut off what you need. I use Spelt flour (Sharpham Park), but there’s no reason why you couldn’t sub a plain flour, or even try using your favourite gluten free if  you need to. I used frozen raspberries, the remainder of last year’s crop. You could use fresh if you prefer.

My oven is a bit on the cool side, so everything takes longer to cook, so use the timings as a guide. You know your oven, so start checking after 45 minutes to test if your cake is cooked. I store my cake in the fridge, but it will sit quite happily at room temperature for a day or two, so long as it’s in an air tight tin. Why do I keep cake in the fridge?  If we can see it, we’ll eat it, so it’s best hidden away behind the vegetables  where Mr T won’t go snacking!

When lining your cake tin, either use a quick release springform tin,  or make sure the lining paper sits higher than the sides of the tin so you can lift it out. This cake won’t thank you for turning it upside down to cool – you’ll end up with a sloppy mess and lose the pretty, crunchy topping.

Orange zest definitely falls in the “food for free” category. Next time you eat an orange, pop the peel in a tub and freeze it. You can grate or zest it from frozen straight into your cake mix. You can do the same with lemons, if you need the juice for a recipe, freeze the empty “shell”.

I don’t know who should take the credit for this recipe, it was sent to me by a friend when my daughter was little, we had enjoyed a slice (well, since we’re friends I’ll admit it was two) at her house and I loved it. Over the years I’ve tweaked it a bit, adding flaked almonds to the topping and experimenting with the sugar quantity (I think I’ve got that just right now). I hope you enjoy it.

This post isn’t sponsored by any of the companies listed in the ingredients. I’ve just names them because they work well for me. You can, of course substitute your personal favourites.

Now, don’t eat it all at once!

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Seek the Simplicity

Sometimes life can be so overwhelming. We need reminding that self care is vital. We need to take time out to remind our selves that we should be nurtured and cared for. If we can’t do that for ourselves how can we expect others to treat us with tenderness and compassion when there are dark days? If we always appear strong and “together”, how will our friends and family know that like the graceful swan, we are paddling like crazy just to stay afloat?

I worry. I worry  about things I cannot change, I worry about the things I can change, but don’t. I worry all the time.  I fret about doing too much, about not doing enough and sometimes I worry about doing nothing at all. I don’t share the worries, the moments of uncertainty or the days when I feel like a fraud, that  my lack of writing or crochet  skills will be “discovered” and I will need to find a “proper” job again!

On days like this,  everything crumbles. My Lupus flares up, I lose the ability to settle to work, the “to do” list becomes overwhelming and I have to stop. Today is one of those days.  There are a couple of new books in the early stages, a possibility of some consultancy work and our holiday to plan. My desk is a chaotic mess of hand written notes, half finished crochet samples, maps of France and ferry timetables. My week has become over complicated and I cannot focus.

So today I sought out simplicity. I took a mug of coffee into my garden, I wrapped myself in a crochet blanket and I watched the birds, bees, and spiders. The birds only seem to worry about a lack of access to the bird feeder. They squabble and bicker as the queues build up (so many fledglings to feed), the pigeons jostle for best pickings dropped by the sparrows and blue tits.  The bees just make constant journeys between chives, comfrey and their hives. They do this on repeat, humming gently. Wasps and flies do “their thing”. The robin sits on the floor beside me, he’s more used to following me through the veg patch as I uncover grubs. He and Mrs robin have hungry mouths to feed, so he only hangs around long enough to give me a scowl of disapproval. He likes me busy and occupied.

Everything in the garden seems to have purpose, while today I have none. The emails are going unanswered, shopping lists ignored. There is a parcel waiting to go to the Post Office (another commission off to be approved by a client) and a letter to a lovely friend that needs to be written.  I have phone calls to make and a greenhouse to water. But, everything can wait. Today is about doing one thing at a time, and first there is coffee.

I like my coffee made slowly, brewed in a percolator. I can hear it bubbling and gurgling through the open window. Usually, I would use this time to wash dishes, sort laundry or make a valiant attempt to tidy. Instead I am sitting in the sun, watching small creatures and listening to birdsong. I refuse to feel guilty that I am not multi tasking. If Mr T were to read this, he would nod sagely and tell me he adopted this approach a long time ago. He spends a lot of time sitting still (reading, thinking, planning). He doesn’t worry about “stuff”. He takes what life gives him and makes the best of it. I could learn a lot from Mr T. He knows the restorative power of being idle!

Now, with coffee poured and the mid morning sun casting shadows over the garden I feel less agitated. Does it really matter that I took a couple of hours off to do nothing? The world around me has continued. No-one has noticed I didn’t reply to their email or “like” their Facebook post.  I drink coffee, watch birds and my head clears. I shall take the sourdough starter out of the fridge and make a loaf (it will be ready for breakfast tomorrow). I shall make lunch then take a walk and post my parcel. One thing at a time. Ticks against menial tasks on the “to do” list.

Tomorrow I shall add another task: Seek the simplicity.

One day at a time, one simple task, one achievement, one small win…

 

 

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Can I Really Be Plastic Free?

Plastic – we just can’t avoid it – can we?

I’m fascinated and inspired in equal measure by the bloggers, writers and instagrammers who share their zero waste or plastic free journeys.  Cutting down (or even cutting out) disposable or single use plastic is one of my goals and so Mr T and I tried to live “plastic free” for one week.  We’re pretty “Green” already, so I thought that avoiding single use and disposable plastic would be quite easy. I was proved wrong and the experience led me to a few conclusions, which I’ll share at the end. The photo above shows our household bin after one week. It’s not pretty, but I wanted to share it, just to try and illustrate how I’m part of the problem and also trying (and failing) to be part of the solution. In contrast, our recycling bins are overflowing with paper , unwanted marketing brochures, cardboard packets, glass jam jars, beer cans, deodorant canisters and miscellaneous household ephemera). Reducing our recycling is another goal we’re working on. We don’t use plastic bin bags, we realised a while back that our household bin only contains packaging (Cheshire help us recycle almost everything else), so the bag became redundant.

You can search online for some pretty gruesome images of plastic waste,  and the facts about how much plastic goes to land fill are quite scary, but I don’t feel the need to share them here.  You can “search engine” them for yourself.

Now, on to our week:

Monday: Off to the supermarket. I thought this would be easy, we already take our own shopping bags, and take our own plastic bags for bagging up loose veg. It seemed daft to me that we would take our own carrier bags, but carry on using single use bags for fruit and veg, so we switched to a combination of cotton bags and re-using plastic bags a few years back (after watching a film called Message in the Waves – I’ve added a clip at the end of this post).  I came unstuck (no pun intended) with the tiny sticky labels on the cabbage, peppers and bananas. I didn’t bag them, but when I got home I realised the little stickers with the variety and origin are plastic. Even my local fruit and veg shop has these. Apparently they are required additions. Ho hum. A friend came to visit, she refuses to drink our goat’s milk (“It tastes grassy”) and turned her nose up at the raw milk from our village farm (“Is that safe? Isn’t it full of germs?”). So a trip to the village shop was needed. The small bottle of semi skimmed cow’s milk had a tamper proof seal, which can’t be recycled. Apparently these are mandatory. “Consumer demand”, I was told. It seems we’re so mistrustful of our fellow human beings we need tamper proof seals on just about everything we buy. The remainder of the milk we froze, ready  for the next visitor, the bottle and cap went in the plastics recycling bin.

Tuesday: How Green are disposable contact lenses?  Mr T occasionally wears disposable contact lenses. According to his optician, they’re “90% water and biodegradable”, but the single use packaging is made of foil and non recyclable plastic. On the up side Mr T doesn’t wear them every day, but I can’t find a way around the packaging and everything I’ve read tells me they’re not biodegradable  at all and just end up in landfill. Mr T’s optician had also told him they can be flushed down the loo – wrong – they should be disposed of with your non recyclable household rubbish.

Wednesday: I really thought I’d be OK with my laundry routine. We buy liquid wash in a 5l container and refill and old plastic bottle for easy dispensing. Mostly we wash at 30 degrees, on a full load. My pegs are made of recycled plastic (great, lots of Eco Brownie Points there), but those pesky pegs have been a thorn in my side. Every time I hang out the washing, at least one breaks, the plastic has become brittle. I emailed the manufacturer, who told me the recycled plastic “can become brittle when exposed to sunlight”!!! Honestly, I feel that warrants three exclamation marks. What’s the point of a peg you can’t expose to sunlight? I could (In fact I think I will), write a whole blog post on the stuff that’s sold as eco friendly, but really isn’t. I understand the need to have markets for recycled plastic, but if they’re not up to the job, it’s just another fail. I’m going back to wooden ones. At least when they break they go in the compost or for fire lighting.

Thursday: I need a new toothbrush. Have you ever tried to find a truly environmentally friendly toothbrush? You can buy ones with bamboo handles, but the bristles are nylon (and despite what you might read on the packaging, it’s rarely the biodegradable sort). I ordered one online, after looking at recycled plastic brushes, latex and handles with replacement heads, I decided this would be a the best, if most expensive option. It arrived in a plastic lined jiffy bag. Big fail. Apparently the order was “fulfilled by a third party, who don’t share our environmental values” I was told. At least I can reuse the packaging next time I have a small parcel to post.

Friday: Fail, fail, fail. When will magazines stop sending out subscriber copies in plastic bags? I’ve emailed so many publishers about this and never get  a satisfactory answer. Yes, I know I could switch to digital subs. But I’m old fashioned, I like a proper magazine to read and I like passing them on to friends and family. Once discarded we use them as fire lighting for the woodburner, or put them in the recycling bin. Two charity bags came through the letterbox, I managed to give one back as I happened to be near the door when it was delivered, but now I’m stuck with a bag I don’t need and didn’t ask for.  I picked up my dry cleaning, yet another plastic hanger I didn’t ask for – at least the assistant agreed to take it back.

The Weekend:Another online delivery. This time in a cardboard box, the glass bottle inside protected with cellulose chips. But the tape was plastic. I know the worms in my compost love cardboard. But they never touch the plastic tape and every year I pull loads of it out of the compost heap and put it in the bin for landfill. There must be a decent non plastic packing tape by now? Then my supermarket delivery arrived (Ocado earn gold stars because they buy back plastic bags for recycling). I have a chronic illness and I work from home. Sometimes a supermarket delivery wins out over the effort of driving to the shops. Every piece of fruit and veg was wrapped in a bag labelled as “not currently recycled”, the cardboard box of granola had a plastic bag inside and even the free magazine was wrapped in polythene.

So, we sat down with our bottle of biodynamic wine (glass bottle, real cork) and looked back over the week. Our experiment certainly highlighted a few areas where we could “do better”. But, as consumers we’re pretty much at the mercy of retailers and manufacturers. I’ve reached the conclusion that plastic free is a great aspiration, but will only really be an option when single use or disposable plastic is designed out of the supply chain. As consumers, we need to start asking companies  to look at alternatives and stop selling us the myth that single use or disposable means convenience.

I feel strongly that manufacturers, retailers and governments have a role to play here. It’s not enough for committed individuals to say no to single use plastic.  It’s going to take a real shift in how we live, shop and consume. So, was our plastic free week* really a failure? No, I think it was a small triumph. After one week, our bin is definitely emptier than usual. It took a bit of time and thought and there are still a few areas where I haven’t found a workable solution. I’m still looking for a perfect replacement for my disposable razor, dental floss and toothpaste tube.

Have you tried to be plastic free? I would love to hear how it worked out for you. Do you have any tips for avoiding the pitfalls we encountered this week? Or thoughts on how  we can be part of a plastic free future? If you haven’t really considered this before, you might like to read this piece “Could you go for a month without plastic?”

Or if you’re already concerned about plastic pollution, maybe you’d  take a look at this Greenpeace petition, asking our governments to legislate against single use plastic.

*We set out to avoid single use and disposable plastic items. Sadly, a completely plastic free home isn’t achievable for us – yet.

Note:

This post was updated on 14th June 2017

The film Message in the Waves was made by the BBC Natural History Unit  in 2007.

 

 

 

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Food for Free

No, I’m talking about foraging today. I’m thinking about those “stealth” free foods that live in my freezer. You might remember I talked about my top ten freezer favourites last week.  Today I want to introduce you to a few things that make my life easier and feed us practically for free.

  1. Spicy chicken wings. Every time we buy a whole chicken, I cut off the wings before cooking. Save them up in a tub or a bag in the freezer and next time BBQ season comes around defrost them, steep in a spicy marinade of oil, soy sauce, chilli flakes and fresh ginger. Roast in a hot oven or cook on the BBQ for a tasty snack that has cost you almost nothing.
  2. Pizza toppings. Next time you open a jar of pasata, scoop out a couple of tablespoons and freeze in a small tub.  If you paid attention last week, you can use this to top a small pizza base, add a few frozen veg, some herbs and some of that frozen grated cheese and voila – an pizza snack for one. Serve with a baked potato and salad for a perfect Friday night tea
  3. Save left over chilli, curry or stews and freeze in individual servings. They make perfect ready meals and can easily be stretched by adding frozen left over rice, pasta or frozen vegetables.
  4. Pea soup –  a bag of  frozen peas makes a quick soup, add some frozen ham leftovers or mint for flavour.  There’s a great quick pea soup recipe on the BBC Food website. We grow our own garlic and onions, so I tend to think of them as free food.
  5. End of the week soup. OK, so not strictly free. Most of us find a few veg lurking in the fridge or veg basket at the end of the week. Use a decent stock cube if you don’t have fresh stock in the freezer (or  look out for 9 Meals from Anarchy stock (see link in sidebar (not sponsored).  Chopped onions, garlic and herbs can be used for flavour. BBC Good Food website has some great recipes for soup you can make from leftovers. Even a potato and a couple of carrots can make a delicious soup. Top with some of that frozen grated cheese and a few toasted nuts or seeds (again you can make a batch and store in the freezer).

Feeding yourself and your family quickly and cheaply is an art form. You can learn it and passing these skills on to your kids prepares them for when they inevitably leave home. You might also like to take a look at my store  cupboard staples page and stock up your kitchen. Next week I’ll be sharing five quick and delicious meals you can cook from the store cupboard – you might be surprised!

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Food You Can Freeze

What’s in your freezer? You might be surprised by what’s in  mine.

Instead of ready meals and ice cream, my freezer is stuffed with the things I need to make life easier. Apart from all the every day essentials (bread, butter, frozen veg and milk). I also freeze cream, grated cheese, mashed potatoes and crisps (yep, even crisps can be frozen).

Learning to love your freezer and use it efficiently will save you time and money and offers all kinds of opportunities to use up your leftovers creatively. If you’re not confident about how and what to freeze, you might want to refer to these tips on freezing  on the BBC website first.

Now for my freezer top ten:

  1. Whipped cream – I know, who has left over whipped cream? But sometimes it happens. I pipe mine into stars and open freeze it before storing in plastic tubs. Use it to decorate cakes, trifles, hot chocolate or even a cheeky Irish coffee.
  2. Cheese – next time you go shopping, buy yourself a great big block of really tasty cheddar cheese. Grate it (I use a food processor) and store in the freezer. You can use it straight from the freezer for pizza toppings, gratins or  cheese on toast.
  3. Mashed potato – I always peel and boil extra potatoes. Use the mash for fish cakes, topping left over mince to make a cottage pie or use it to make a fish pie.
  4. Eggs – yes, eggs freeze really well. Separate the yolk from the white (and label them). Frozen egg whites make great meringues, yolks can be used for custard. There are some great tips for freezing eggs on this American website.
  5. Fresh herbs – if you like to buy bunches of fresh herbs or have plenty in the garden, freeze the stalks  of coriander or parsely for soup (carrot and coriander is delicious), the leaves can be crumbled straight from the freezer into sauces.
  6. Bread – sliced bread can be toasted straight from the freezer. Cut up crusty bread into croutons and bring them out when needed, defrost slightly, toss in olive oil and herbs. Fry or roast until brown and crispy.
  7. Wine – yes another of those “but you’d never find any left over in my house” ! But, freeze small amounts of left over wine in ice cube trays and use them in sauces – brilliant in a “spag bol”or for a dash of white wine in a risotto.
  8. Pasata – or any tomato sauce. We rarely use a whole jar, so I freeze the leftovers for pizza toppings or sauces. In summer I make sauce with the glut of tomatoes, but you can just as easily freeze the shop bought ones.
  9. Cookie dough – make a batch of cookie dough, roll into a sausage and freeze. Slice and bake as usual when you need to impress unexpected guests! You can also freeze pizza dough – roll into circles and use straight from the freezer – or freeze the dough and defrost before using.
  10. Crisps – Mr T loves to buy those huge sharing bags, and more often than not we’ll eat the whole bag without thinking. Freezing them keeps them crunchy and keeps them out of temptation. It’s also a great way to take advantage of those special offers. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself or check out the Huffington Post’s 17 foods you didn’t know you could freeze“.

Back in the 1970’s when my mum bought her first freezer it came with a handbook full of recipes, tips and advice. Today we seem to have forgotten how to freeze – it’s so easy to just fill our baskets from the frozen food aisle – by making my freezer work for me I save time, money and  reduce my food waste. It’s a bonus that can always find a few treats when we need them… hot chocolate and whipped cream anyone?

 

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Intention, Not Perfection

Well, first news is  we’re “normal”.

annie-spratt-89768

I’ll qualify that. I’ve been struggling with how to describe our lifestyle to others, and eventually I’ve realised the obvious. We’re normal. Our lifestyle is normal for us. And, just as in every other aspect of our lives, everyone has a different idea of what that means. We constantly compare ourselves to others, which can be quite unhealthy and unhelpful. Whether its jobs, homes, holidays or the behaviour of our little ones, it seems we can always find a way to shame others or feel bad about ourselves. But I’m not into shaming, I don’t buy into the idea that my life is “better ” or worse than anyone else and that means I’m giving myself  (and you)  permission to stop the guilt and the anxiety.

I’ve been fretting about all that plastic in my waste bins (the recyclable and the non-recyclable). I feel really guilty that I’m deliberately buying stuff that will never go “away”. It’s become something of an obsession. I can’t stop myself reading and googling about the truth behind plastic’s short term convenience over long term harm to people and the planet. Someone recommended I read Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson; she wrote a blog and now promotes her book and her lifestyle all over the world. It’s a great read, plenty of food for thought and her commitment to not bringing potential waste into her home and a refusal to throw stuff “away” is admirable. I’ve also been recommended that we go “plastic free” or “waste free”, in fact any number of lifestyle choices have been presented to me which involved, refusing, giving up and going without.

But is it achievable for me and the Mr? I don’t think so. The whole concept, of “giving up” and going without just doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I’m not a “giving up” kind of person. As a Catholic child I rebelled against Lent, choosing positive actions over weeks of self-denial. I could never give up chocolate, but I would promise to make my bed every day instead. Bea Johnson’s approach is to rethink those 3R’s we’re so familiar with (reduce, reuse recycle) and instead she advocates a 5 R’s approach. The first of which is “Refuse”.  She says we should all learn to say “No thanks”, more often. I take her point, but I prefer to reduce. Choosing to take a cotton tote bag shopping, using a washable cup for take away coffee and carrying my own water bottle I’m already choosing to refuse disposables. I think my approach is more positive. It allows for the inevitable “blips”, those trips when you just aren’t prepared. I also think that the concept of refusing is quite negative. At one point Bea Johnson talks about asking her boys to refuse candy when out trick or treating so they don’t bring waste into the house. That’s a big ask for a small boy – I’m not sure Mr T would give up his packets of crisps and chocolate bars so easily! I’m uneasy with the idea of any philosophy that invites failure. That’s why diets don’t work for me. I beat myself up every time I “fail”.

Mr T and I live an intentionally simple life, but we certainly have acquired a lot of stuff we don’t need.  I was mulling over this concept of reducing versus refusing when I opened the drawer of my dressing table. The one where I keep my beauty essentials along with all those freebies and samples that seems to accumulate almost without thought.  I like to think I buy natural beauty products, avoiding products that have been tested on animal, but  I’m wary of  companies that boast about their eco credentials. You’d think those claims would mean the packaging was easier to dispose of or recycle. However, even the organic hair serum I paid an arm and a leg for turns out to be packaged in a non-recyclable pump dispenser (and annoyingly, I can’t see how it can easily be taken apart when I get near the bottom. So unless I attack the packaging with a bread knife I’ll lose the last inch of product). And what about all those tiny sample pots and single use sachets? It always feels great to snag a freebie at the makeup counter or to be given a free sample. But my dressing table drawer is full of unopened tubes and sachets I’ll never use. Those trial sizes that come free on magazine covers or with a full size purchase always seem so exciting, but judging by my dressing table, they soon lose their appeal.  In an effort to make my morning and evening routines less complicated I’m going to think more carefully before I accept those freebies in the future. Not just because their plastic packaging can’t be recycled and won’t break down in landfill, but because accumulating stuff for the sake of it is making me uneasy. I intend to bring less free samples into the house, but I’m not going to beat myself up when the occasional trial size finds its way into my home.

I used to make my own hand salve and lip balm, and so I’m going to find that recipe and start making my own again (I have lots of tiny pots and containers thanks to all those beauty freebies). That will stop the flow of empty hand cream tubes and lip salve tubs that fill my bedroom waste basket. It’s going to be hard to stop myself asking for “nice hand cream” at Christmas – but if I intend to make more and buy less, then I won’t need any – and less trips to the beauty counter means less opportunity to dither over a free sample!

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be asking myself some hard questions and searching for answers as I figure out how I can simplify my life and lift this feeling of unease that’s affecting me so much right now.  So, if you’ve got an eco-worry; a recycling dilemma or just want to know more about living with less; just ask. I can’t promise to know the answer, but we can find out together and help each other.

I’m not going to admonish myself when my Lupus means accepting a supermarket delivery filled with fruit and veg in non-recyclable packaging. But’ I intend to plan and prepare better so those emergency deliveries aren’t needed as often by stocking my freezer. Life is about intention, not perfection.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt for Unsplash

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Saying Yes, Not Saying No

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and get in touch after my last post – blimey what a confused lot we are! Thanks also to the kind friend who reminded me that we can never please all of the people all of the times – and that no-one can do everything. The task of living a “good life” becomes overwhelming. It’s much easier to break down our intentions into steps (big and small) and recognise successes and failures as part of the journey. I was also reminded of the short  film The Story of Stuff, which was released ten  years ago If you haven’t seen or heard of this, do go and check out the website or listen to the Story of Stuff Podcast.

And special thanks to the person who reminded me of my own advice: When you want to encourage people to change their behaviour tell them what they can do, not what they shouldn’t do. So, heeding my own advice, here’s what we’re saying “yes” to.

We’re saying yes to:

Re-usables

I’ m digging out my crochet cotton make up remover pads (that means saying no to future purchases of disposable cotton wool). You’ll be able to find the free pattern over on my knitting and crochet website later this week.  I’ll remember to take my Sigg water bottle out with me to avoid any temptations to buy bottles when I’m thirsty. I’m keeping up with the habit of carrying a cotton tote in my handbag (no accidental plastic bag purchases). We’ll continue to drink fresh coffee made using our cafetiere and compost the coffee. When a single use option is the only option, we’ll say no, or find a way to repurpose the packaging. We’re already well down this path, but we can definitely do “better”.

Meat and Dairy:

Yes, I know all about industrial meat production, factory farming and food waste. I’ll keep buying free range meat from the local farm shop, eggs from a friend and cow’s milk from the self serve machine at our local farm. This is the issue which seems to create the most conflict among groups and individuals trying to promote a greener or more ethical life. I don’t want to argue about the merits for and against (I was vegan, I worked for an anti vivisection charity, I am at peace with my choices). We’ll continue to eat plenty of fish and vegan dishes (they’re already a part of our weekly meal plans) and I’ll make sure to bulk  buy and freeze so we don’t waste anything and reduce the overall amount of packaging that comes into our home.

Buy more glass:

When I do buy something in a container I’m choosing glass first. All the research I’ve done (and my own gut instinct) leads me to believe that plastic is just scary. It leaches chemicals, it’s hard to recycle, it pollutes the ocean (I don’t want to lecture – make up your own mind, but we’re definitely heading towards a life with less plastic). Mr T drinks goat’s milk and so I’m choosing tetra pak over plastic, because so far what I’ve read makes me believe that’s slightly “better”. But I’m learning as I go. If I can source a local supplier of goat’s milk direct from the farm, that will be even better! Ultimately I’d like to see our whole packaging mountain reduce, but small steps…

Growing our own and shopping local:

I love to grow my own food, watching seedlings grow is so exciting. Every time I walk into the garden I am thrilled that it won’t be long before we’re putting home grown food on the table every day.  I like to know where my food comes from, trips to the local farm shop and markets are great places to meet the people who feed us and to ask question about the origin of what we’re buying.

Faitrade:

We’ve always bought Fairtrade tea, coffee and chocolate. Over the years it’s become easier to buy a whole range of Fairtrade foods and fashion. I like that Fairtrade principles pay attention to the environment and to the people employed. It feels good to me that people and planet matter to the organisations that run and support Fairtrade.

So there you are, five easy wins towards reducing my eco guilt. Your choices might be different, that’s fine. The small stuff adds up to big stuff.  Slowly, very slowly I’m hoping we’ll see a reduction in the stuff we throw away (that’s my biggest indicator) and that will mean less stuff bought. We’re also going to be more mindful about what we do buy, and how we dispose of it.

I’ve been reading blogs and books (on my kindle) about people who have adopted plastic free, or zero waste lives. I can’t help being inspired, but I know that this lifestyle isn’t an option for us (at least not yet). It would just be too hard, too overwhelming and I know that my Lupus affects my choices and my lifestyle whether I like it or not. I’m learning that my “Greenish” life is a journey, not a destination and I’m grateful to have you all along for the ride!

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Green (ish)

2013-11-03 10.24.21Labels are tricky. Over the years I’ve struggled with how to define my lifestyle. Is it slow? Mindful? Intentional (more of that another day). Or am I green, low carbon, eco friendly or ethical? The problem is, however I define myself, someone else will have a different set of values. I’ve been told my lifestyle isn’t “ethical” because I eat meat and “green” still carries all sorts of baggage. Whenever I find a way to describe how we live, someone else will find fault or gleefully pick up on my failings.

So, I’ve tended to stick to “Greenish” if people ask. The fact is, I just think of our lifestyle as “normal”. Well, it’s normal for us. Trying to avoid waste, thinking about our shopping habits and trying to buy clothes made of natural fibres in factories that value their workers all sounds perfectly reasonable to me.

My neighbour recently “went vegan”, she’s on a mission to convert us all to a plant based lifestyle. Yesterday, she drove a 10 mile round trip to buy  a tetra pak of soya milk (she’d run out and “can’t” drink her coffee black). I thought about our own purchasing habits. When I run out of milk, I can walk to the local farm, buy milk in a reusable glass bottle from the vending machine and be home again in under half an hour. I struggle with the idea of getting in the car and driving so far to buy one thing. The packaging has to be recycled, the ingredients in her milk were part of the mechanisation of food production that I’m trying to avoid. But, she’s happy. Her choice didn’t harm an animal, that’s her bottom line.

So, how do we stay friends? Our ethical, moral and  lifestyle choices seem to be at odds. I buy organic, Fairtrade and local. She buys vegan ready meals, wears plastic shoes and acrylic jumpers from Primark. She eats an awful lot of imported fruit and veg. Air miles, carbon footprint and the issues of recycling aren’t on the list of things she worries about. She has made her choices and she’s happy with her decisions.  I’m happy(ish)  with mine.

Does it matter that someone else has a different set of values and priorities? Just because someone has a different idea of “a good life”, does that make it OK to criticise and condemn? I find myself mulling this over a lot at the moment. I would dearly love to reduce the amount we recycle. I really struggle with the concept that an overflowing recycling bin is a badge of honour – I’d much rather we just didn’t buy so much stuff in the first place. I worry about how many clothes we own and fantasise about building a capsule wardrobe, filled with eco friendly cotton, linen and wool. Yet most of my clothes come from charity shops and surely that has merit in a greenish life?

I struggle to know what’s best. I have a penchant for sparkling water. Is it better to buy in huge plastic bottles, smaller glass ones or invest in a soda stream and make my own?  My instinct tells me glass recycling is “better” than plastic, but I don’t know enough to be sure. A soda stream is made of hard plastic, needs refills of gas cyclinders and would involve a trip into town when I need a new one. I am confused.

If I’m confused, with my background in environmental education, community organising and low carbon consultancy what hope does anyone else have? For the time being I’ve settled on buying glass bottles and trying to reduce my overall consumption (on the basis that glass can be recycled over again, while plastic is much harder to process and recycled plastic has a limited market). If I’m wrong on that, please let me know where I can find out for sure.

I’ve come to the conclusion we can spend too much time worrying about “doing the right thing”, and that even in this internet age, getting accurate and useful information is a tricky business. I’m reaching the conclusion that simply buying less “stuff” might be the answer for us. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that buying single use  or “disposable” products makes me uneasy. Over the next few months I’m hoping to share my journey to less stuff. I’ll be looking at ways to reduce the amount of packaging that comes into our house, reducing our plastic addiction and finding solutions to all those “disposable” products that make our lives “simpler”.

If you’re struggling with the same dilemmas, or have solutions to these “eco worries”, do let me know. Perhaps this is a journey we can take together?

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  • I’m Tracey Todhunter. I’m a freelance writer. specialising in green / ethical living – with a “sideline” in craft!

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  • Blimey! My crochet a pumpkin workshop at @ditzyrosemakes is sold out already - thanks to everyone who has booked - there are dates planned for workshops in October & November so if you missed out on pumpkins look out for more soon (inc granny squares on 10th November).
#crochet #amigurumi #learntocrochet #lovecrochet #cheshire #ditzyrosemakery And in contrast to previous photo of moody grey sky, the sun just hit the dew on the nasturtiums!
#girlgardener #ediblegarden #naturelover #nofilter When you're enjoying a quiet mug of tea & the sound of geese becomes deafening! Seeing far more fly over the house this year (& occassionally landing in the field, calling to each other then taking off and regrouping as if they have practised for years!! Lots of red admirals in the garden today
#naturelover #redadmiral #butterfly #embracingautumn #girlgardener #wildgarden Sunday loaf. I've always baked bread -  not very successfully - but earlier this year I treated myself to a workshop with Andy, who runs the Coffee Kitchen bakery in Cockermouth. He taught us that bread making can be slow &  gentle, that bread is a living food & that inspired me to keep learning & keep experimenting. This is a 100% spelt sourdough fresh from the oven. Mr T is desperate for it to cool down so he can have a slice, thickly spread with butter! Thanks @thecoffkitchen for all your patience & advice.
#spelt #sourdough #cockermouth #notjustlakes #slowliving #theartofslowliving #naturallyleavened #morningslikethese #slowsundays #bakingandmaking #homesteading #realbread #wildyeast #slowfood My "get up and go" got up & went. Trying to restore my mojo with a walk in the forest, where it's so wet that even the squirrels look miserable! Normally I stop here to drink coffee from my flask, but it's onwards & upwards, then home for dry clothes & hot chocolate!
#dailywalk #forestwalk #woodland #embracingautumn
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