Why summer’s a great time to declutter

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We’ve just returned from a mid-week break on the North Norfolk coast. After weeks of wall-to-wall sunshine, we drove into grey, cloudy skies and endured the coldest, windiest few days I can ever remember on holiday. Typical!

It was so chilly, we had to buy a windcheater for me and a new jacket for Mr G. Needless to say, the above photo is not from the immediate past week (it is, in fact, a picture of my beloved Kynance Cove in Cornwall).

My mum pointed out that we endured a bitterly cold seaside holiday during a sudden blast of chilly weather in the summer of 1976…. Maybe such holidays simply run in the family, then.

This weekend, I’m thawing out in balmy Warwickshire, where the temperatures are set to reach 28 degrees once again. As I have another week of annual leave before I return to the office, I’m looking forward to some time at home. That might include a sweep of the house for excess clutter….

Get your decluttering head on

Summer’s a great time to tackle unwanted stuff.

When the sun’s shining but you need to get out of the heat for a while, this is your chance to get on top of the clutter you’ve been meaning to sort out. So, head for the garage, the shed or any place in your home where you hate being when it’s cold – you’ll be glad you did come November.

Go Swiss

Pretend you’re living in an alpine resort, throw open your windows, let your duvet (comforter) hang out of the window to air and let the the breeze gently enter the room, as you tackle that cupboard or closet that you’ve been ignoring for a while. It’s great to be able to enjoy a bit of shade indoors when the weather is really hotting up and it’s amazing what you can get done in just a short space of time.

Holiday living is simple living

In our Norfolk holiday let, we enjoyed a kind of ‘tiny house living’ courtesy of Airbnb. We rented part of a converted barn in a village location comprising a living room (kitchen space, dining table and two chairs, lounge area); shower room and bedroom. It was just perfect for two (plus dog).

I often remark that, when away, we enjoy a true slice of simple living, with just a few possessions in a minimal, pared back space. So, why not live with less back at home?

On your return from vacation, it’s not unusual to see your home with fresh eyes. This is a perfect moment, then, to reappraise your stuff and capture a sense of holiday living at home.

Put the kids to work

When the kids are around, it’s a great time to encourage them to take a look at their stuff. What could they donate or give away to make room for new things? What have they outgrown that won’t see another season come the autumn?

If you’re in a part of the world where the children are due to go back to school soon, now’s also a great time to try on school uniform or everyday clothes to check what needs replacing. However, I don’t advise this at the start of the summer vacation if you’re in the UK and about to embark upon the 6-weeks holidays; children who eat and sleep have a curious habit of growing!

Beware of decluttering seasonal stuff

When decluttering in the summer, it’s all too easy to make rash decisions about out-of-season items, so beware of letting go of something that’s not in season. What you wouldn’t dream of using when it’s 30 degrees in the shade could be a godsend when the nights start to draw in. So, hold that thought as you tug at the sleeve of that old winter coat. You might just need it.

Unclutter your diet

Summer’s a wonderful time to rejuvenate and throw of the layers in other ways. I’ve just discovered Michael Greger’s The How Not to Die Cookbook, which is filled with nutritionally-charged, delicious plant based recipes. If you’re turning over a new leaf in the house, you might also want to munch a few leaves in the kitchen.

So, turn your decluttering to the kitchen, getting rid of any out-of-date staples and stocking up on the wherewithal to make some yummy new dishes. Plus, as it always takes a little longer when you’re trying out a new recipe, the summer’s a wonderful time to stick on a podcast, roll up your sleeves and prepare a light and healthy dish for everyone to enjoy.

Have a plan

And if it all seems too much, you can always retire to your garden for some…. planning and organising of the cerebral kind. It’s always good to have a plan….


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How post-bereavement decluttering offers tips for living in the present

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When my dear father-in-law passed away recently, we began the process of decluttering and tidying the home in which he and my mother-in-law have lived for over forty years. Whenever someone dies, it’s inevitable that there’ll be some personal belongings to sort through (be they numerous or few in quantity).

Access all areas

My mother-in-law is a wheelchair user, so she has not enjoyed an ‘access all areas’ experience to the family home in recent times. As a result, whatever needed sorting out was down to the man of the house. We photographed the rooms upstairs so that my husband, Andrew, could ask his mum to decide what she wanted to do with the items we uncovered.

As we went about our task, I had a number of realisations, which prompted me to think about how we can all live more minimally in the here and now.

Man drawer mayhem

Comedian Michael McIntyre wasn’t kidding when he described the many and varied contents of ‘the man drawer‘. In our own home, we have a kitchen drawer that serves the purpose of a multi-use drawer for every day bits and bobs.

In my parents-in-law’s house, the man drawer housed nails, a hammer, masking tape and similar DIY-type stuff. Yet, this drawer was seldom used and in a central location within the home.

Keep useful things close by

My sense was that this useful storage space could be better served keeping every-day items that needed to be accessed regularly.

So, think carefully about what you use daily (or weekly) and store those items in an accessible location. Place seldom used equipment elsewhere.

Things that no longer work or which are no longer needed

If you are unable to get to the local recycling centre, the likelihood of holding onto things that no longer work (or which you no longer need) increases.

If you’re in this situation, ask a visitor to ‘disappear’ such items, find out if your local authority can offer a collection service or see if any local charities can help. This helps avoid stuff building up, which takes up valuable space in your home (and makes cleaning more difficult).

Have a place for ‘goods out’ 

At home, I have a dedicated drawer for ‘goods out’. When it’s full, I take the items to my local recycling centre or charity shop. We’ll do that for my mother-in-law.

Out-of-date foodstuffs

When we were students, my sister and I worked for our local supermarket. A mantra we learned whilst there was:

If it’s got a date, you must rotate!”

When you buy items with a long date (such as cans or jars), the ‘rotate’ rule still applies to these types of items just as it does to perishable goods.

In the case of my father-in-law, he wasn’t able to get into the back of his cupboards so we found some items that were up to 4 years out of date. I’m sure this is not unusual in this situation, but if you are able to do so, get into the back of those shelves from time-to-time and bring forward items you need to use imminently.

Check anything with a use-by date regularly

Pantry items such as flour and other baking products often need checking.  It’s a good idea to narrow down your list of store-cupboard staples so that you regularly use what’s there. Only invest in more unusual things if you know you’ll use them. And local friends, if you need a particular herb or spice for a special recipe, I probably have it (my weakness) so please ask before you buy!

Multiple items, dispersed throughout various locations

One of the things I noticed when decluttering was that there were various little storage boxes (plastic or cardboard) containing small items of a similar nature. We discovered duplicate (and even triplicate) versions of tiny things like paracetamol, matches and so on. Keeping such bits and pieces in one place will enable you to use up what you have before buying more and save you time and money.

Everything in its place

Whether you live alone, with a partner or in a family situation, an ‘everything in its place’ rule will help you consolidate, as you:
– see what you have in a particular category
– avoid losing things of value
– avoid waste (and save money)
– save time (as you know where to find what you need)
– maintain a sense of order and make cleaning so much easier

So, our decluttering continues and I know it won’t take long to get things sorted out. I know my mother-in-law will appreciate knowing that her home is a little less cluttered, which will help her keep it clean and tidy.

To live minimally in the here and now

So, to live minimally in the here and now:

  • Keep genuinely useful things close by (all in one place)
  • Have a place for ‘goods out’ (and let them go)
  • Check anything with a use-by date regularly
  • Adopt the ‘everything in its place’ rule

What can you do today to help you on your journey towards a clutter-less life?

In memory of Kenneth Gordon 1928 – 2017

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Reducing food-related waste in the minimalist home

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Since adopting a minimalist lifestyle, I have become increasingly aware of the things that we are bringing into the home.

Extra ‘goods in’

For example, our daughter’s fundraising efforts, mentioned previously here, meant that we were recently given donations of items to sell. Happily, some have sold. Others have since been donated. It’s a little like the ‘one in, one out‘ approach, so nothing has been hanging around for too long.

Goods categories you can’t ignore

But what about the items we have to bring into the home? In a recent post, I talked about the way in which we shop online for food and groceries. We love this efficient method of doing our weekly shop, but when our order arrived yesterday, I decided to take a closer look.

Food packaging was my focus, as I reviewed the items that I had ordered the night before.

Food packaging and the scourge of cellophane

First of all, there was a lot of cellophane wrapping. Worse, the cherry tomatoes arrived in a black plastic tray (also wrapped in cellophane) that we are unable to recycle where we live. In addition, our bell peppers were not only wrapped in cellophane, they also had a polystyrene mesh ‘blanket’ to protect them from bruising. Is this really necessary?

I set about removing as much packaging as I could from the items we had ordered to consider it carefully.

Ironically, the dishwasher tablets from Ecover came in a cardboard box that could immediately be recycled but the tablets themselves were individually wrapped… in plastic.

Hmm. There’s a bit of a theme here.

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Is there another way?

So, today, I decided to find an alternative way to buy the same sorts of food items but without any of the associated waste.

Enter the high street greengrocer

We needed to top up my fruit and vegetables. So, today we went to the greengrocer in town. As we had to go into town anyway, it was a chance to complete the shopping and see if I could find the things I needed.

Success!

I took my own large bag and placed the items directly into it. Although there were plastic food bags available, I ignored those. I managed to find everything I needed and (even better) chanced upon some raw beetroot that my online retailer did not offer. The only things I wanted, which did come in a plastic container, were some blueberries. I bought these, but as I can recycle the box and lid, I didn’t feel too bad about that.

Although this way of shopping presents a small inconvenience, I should see fewer items in the recycling bin at the end of the fortnight and a lot less cellophane in the grey bin (which goes to landfill).

So, what next?

We buy a lot of nut butter, so I’m going to buy this in bulk to avoid using multiple jars. The frozen fruits that my husband, Andrew, uses to make his ‘berry breakfast’ normally come in a plastic carton, with a cardboard surround and a cellophane lid. Instead, our local frozen food store sells frozen berries in plastic bags. I’ll buy these, then send the plastic bags back with our grocery retailer’s carrier bags for recycling that I can return via my delivery driver.

Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Rot

I’ve started reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life. So, I look forward to more inspiration.

Have you become more conscious of what you bring into your home?Have you been inspired to reduce food waste? What successes have you achieved? Where have the stumbling blocks been for you? Let me know!

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#FrugalFebruary – Frugal Entertaining

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Entertaining is something many of us enjoy, but entertaining on a budget can prove challenging. At the request of reader, Elaine, here are 12 tips on frugal entertaining.

Go veggie

Recently, we entertained a family of 4, so our party was 7 in total. The kids happily ate pizza; the grown-ups enjoyed a very delicious Happy Pear recipe. Plant-based meals are both healthy and tasty and are almost certainly to be more cost-effective than a meat or fish-based main course.

Bring and share

If you’re the host, you cook the main course and have your guests contribute a starter, pudding, cheese and biscuits or a side dish. We’ve followed this format over several years with a group of friends; it’s a lovely way to enjoy each other’s company without the host having to incur all the cost.

You can even ‘bring and share’ for an event like a wedding, which gives guests a real sense of having contributed to this special occasion. A ‘bring and share’ wedding we attended was one of the happiest I can remember.

Use your slow cooker

I made lunch for 9 the day after Boxing Day. With a cheaper cut of meat and a very good recipe from Nigella, the whole meal cost about £25.

Don’t use disposables

Use your table napkins and make do with whatever crockery you have. Mix and match is charming and frugal. If you need something like a larger dish or an extra chair or two, borrow these.

Cook from scratch

Start backwards when preparing, with pudding first (one large one is easy to prepare), then main course, then starter. This can take a few hours, but the effort, quality of food and cost-effectiveness is worth it.

Remember that your friends are here to see you

Your guests won’t judge you as though you were a competitor on Masterchef. Good food, simply cooked, is the best thing ever.

Look in the freezer cabinet

If you want pre-prepared or need bulk-buy foods, frozen foods may be cheaper than buying fresh. Iceland, for example, sells large packs of chicken breasts for a fraction of the cost of fresh. So, shop around.

Go tea-total

Catering for large numbers? Make homemade lemonade or fruit punch for a pre-dinner drink, instead of offering expensive alcoholic options.

Make savvy substitutions

If you intend to serve alcohol, make some savvy substitutions – Love a glass of fizz? The prestigious French brands are top-dollar, so opt for Prosecco. Even better, try Cava or a supermarket-own bottle of sparkling wine. Made into Buck’s Fizz with two parts of fizz to one of orange juice, this can also stretch a long way.

Plan, plan, plan

Look out for things you’ll need that might be on offer in the days or weeks leading up to your party.

Have a theme

Go back to your student days: jacket potatoes and chilli make a great bonfire night meal. Another idea is to get your guests to bring their favourite song and enjoy a ‘Desert island discs‘ evening. The food doesn’t have to be the main event.

Change the time

Make dinner high tea ; make tea lunch; make the whole thing brunch. This can prove to be less costly overall and more enjoyable for those who aren’t night owls!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these 12 ideas on frugal entertaining, but I’d love to know what you do when you’re feeding a crowd but want to keep the cost down.

Further reading:

#FrugalFebruary – Food and groceries

#FrugalFebruary – 10 Frugal Fun ideas

#FrugalFebruary – 8 Tips to Minimize Everyday Disposables

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#Unclutter2017 – Remove Duplicates

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Today’s tip is to remove duplicates.

Find and remove spares

If you look in the kitchen cupboard, I’ll bet you’ll find duplicates of at least one piece of equipment. When I finally tackled my own kitchen, this was certainly the case.
The kitchen is the area of our home where we seem to (inexplicably) acquire more than one of the same thing. It’s likely that you have at least two can or bottle openers. I did! For some reason, we invest in new and better equipment, then fail to get rid of the original.
So, today’s tip is to go through a particular space and remove duplicates, keeping the very best item for daily use.
As I wrote here, I don’t believe in ‘Sunday best’ so lighten the load and retain your preferred item.

The simple Christmas kitchen 

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I’ll be serving ice-cream at Christmas

My parents are coming to stay this Christmas, and I’ve been planning our festive menu.  I’ve been thinking about what they’d enjoy while they are with us.

I realise how much my ‘simple living’ approach has spilled over into what I cook and serve in the festive season.

As I wrote here before, my culinary tastes have turned towards plant-based whole foods.

Eat more vegetables

I eat a much wider variety of vegetables whilst consuming flavours and textures inspired by the cuisine of myriad cultures. This food is easy to prepare, visually appealing and delicious. In addition, it’s usually cost-effective, as I have more than enough to keep me going at lunch time, too.

Today’s lunch, for example, was Nigella’s sweet potato, black bean and avocado burrito. I had made enough for dinner last night, plus leftovers, resulting in a cost-effective and healthy way to refuel during the day.

Simple kitchen, simple cleaning

The other thing I notice about my simple kitchen is that it’s easier to keep clean.

Last weekend, my husband made – for himself and our daughter – a traditional English cooked breakfast. They enjoyed it, but he vowed afterwards that they’d go out to eat this in the future; the preparation and clearing away took up half the morning.

My ‘Happy Pear‘ inspired porridge has no such downside. Quick to cook, with a variety of toppings to add texture, taste and extra nutrients, the pan goes straight in the dishwasher and away we go!

Healthy mind in a healthy body

The other benefit is that of health and wellbeing. I have noticed that I am able to avoid the common cold when it does the rounds at work. I feel better than ever, maintain a steady weight, and don’t crave the type of foods that wouldn’t constitute a healthy diet. I have even become that woman who enjoys a couple of squares of very dark chocolate in the evening!

So, back to Mater and Pater. Dad is a meat and two veg’ Yorkshireman. My vegetarian burrito is not for him!

Having said that, he is partial to real Italian pizza. He claims that it is, after all, just fancy cheese on toast. But what to feed the family when I have vegetarian leanings, my husband eats Paleo and our guests have more traditional food preferences?

Keep Christmas cooking simple

I’m going to prepare (in advance) some plant-based sweet treats for me, but will also make some simple meals to keep everyone happy without stressing the Head of Catering (me).

  1. A baked ham for Boxing Day, with fresh salads and baby new potatoes, will appeal to everyone after the previous day’s traditional Christmas lunch
  2. Fresh clementines and medjool dates
  3. Luxury home-made ice-cream (yes!), will make light work of holiday desserts and keep my father happy
  4. Chocolate Florentines and Lily O’Briens chocolates will satisfy the sweet-toothed

So, because baking mince-pies or fretting over fancy menus isn’t for me, I choose the simpler route. After all, it’s about spending time with loved ones and enjoying the holidays that matters most.

How do you decide on your holiday catering?

Do you take a simple living approach or go the whole hog? I’d love to know! What’s your must-have holiday foodie treat?