Love thy stuff

Cactus-SimpleLivingWhy is decluttering good for the planet? What do they even have in common? Well, I guess I’m still learning, but what I do know is that since I left my day job I only do things that I enjoy and that align with my values and that has to be good for the planet for a start, because, until we start to love ourselves there’s no way we can start to love our environment and the world we live in. I started decluttering my own things 5 years ago, ebay loves to tell me I’ve been a member since January 2015, so that’s when I sold my first pair of shoes from my wardrobe. Just over a year later, I helped a friend declutter her wardrobe and about 6 months after that I had my first paying client. Now, I visit several homes in a week and work through stuff with my clients. We pick an area to sort through that week and stick with it. Sessions usually last 3-4 hours. Except, right now, I’m not doing that. I’m at home with everyone else hoping business will go back to normal when this is over but I’ve planted several seeds in people’s minds and, mostly, people I’ve worked with are now more likely to let go of something than acquire it, so that, also, is good for the planet.

 

I’ve just read an article on how Amazon is currently pocketing £8,800 profit per second. Per second, that’s bonkers. I can’t say I don’t use Amazon but I sure use it a whole lot less now than I did a few years ago and in spite, or perhaps because, of my nagging, my family seem to be using it more than ever, and they were huge fans before. The article provides alternatives and while they aren’t perfect and you’ll have to go onto two or three separate sites to get hold of your new tablet, the latest bestseller and some moisturiser, it’s a small price to pay especially now, when something a lot of us do have, is time.

 

Since I became a declutterer, I became anti-stuff. I realise I love stuff, and in my job a lot of stuff comes through my sorting office (aka the garage I use as a store), but I don’t want any more of it. I like that it comes through my hands to find it a new home, not to keep. I use a variety of ways to rehome unwanted things, and I love that old adage, your trash is someone else’s treasure. I use landfill as a last resort, usually managing to donate, sell or recyle everything before it goes in the ‘landfill’ bin at the dump. I declutter all sorts of things: a lot of clothes and shoes, some small items of furniture, electrical goods, antiques, jewellery and also food. Who doesn’t love a kitchen declutter? When lockdown first happened and we came to stay out of London with my mum, to be surrounded by fields instead of people, I decided we wouldn’t need to shop for at least a month while we emptied the contents of the fridge, freezer and cupboards. We might end up eating some strange concoctions, but we certainly wouldn’t starve. My small wins so far have been to finish not one but two half empty jars of out of date hollandaise sauce, and slow roasting a neck of venison joint that has been in the freezer for something between 4 and 8 years. Not only are we still alive, it was delicious. I’m on a mission to let go of stuff in a conscious way – it would’ve been so easy to chuck that old, tricky to cook, joint of meat in the bin which would mean, in a roundabout way, helping to clog our landfill problem, releasing methane as it rotted, which as we know is bad for the air we breathe.

 

So, my point, that I’m getting to in a roundabout way as usual, is that we don’t need stuff to be happy. We don’t need to pop onto Amazon or ebay every time we have an idea that getting that little something would be rather nice. We don’t need to go to the shops to buy those fennel seeds for that one recipe before they sit there for evermore. The chances are, the meal will be just as tasty without fennel seeds, you might not even miss them. Be inventive with cooking – have a look at what you have in the cupboards and base your meal around them. See how far you can go without shopping for anything that isn’t fresh fruit and veg. When lockdown first happened, and we decamped to my mum’s, I did my first few zoom pilates and yoga classes on a rug until I was able to go home to get my yoga mat. While I’m at my mum’s I don’t need to look good, I just need to keep warm so I’m alternating two really old cashmere jumpers that both have holes, one worse than the other, but that doesn’t matter, my family will have to talk to me even with gaping holes and elbows on clear view. Right now, it’s a chilly morning and I’m wearing both of them. When I get bored or tired I have a look through old things. Sometimes it’s a room, sometimes it’s just a drawer or cupboard. I re-discovered an old skipping rope the other day, I remember being given it by my granny probably and it’s been in the house ever since. And I rediscovered something else. Skipping is hard. It was easy when I was twelve, but it’s hard now, I’m improving and I’ve gone from about two to about sixty skips a day, and usually only about 17 before getting mixed up in the rope and starting again.

 

Some of the books I’m reading at the moment, often about climate change because of a sustainability book club I co-run as part of our sustainability network And The Future, relate back to the Second World War, not to the war side of it, but to regular every day people’s lives during times of hardship. Sometimes, it’s to talk about how the author’s grandmother (Jonathan Safran-Foer) escaped Nazi occupied Poland and went through all sorts of ordeals to survive and create a family of her own, sometimes it’s to talk about why our intensively managed arable crops full of fertilisers and pesticides are the way they are, because of the Dig For Victory campaign (Isabella Tree, and sometimes it’s to talk about Make do and Mend, when we didn’t have anything and we had to make use of what we had because there wasn’t internet or Amazon or anything that wasn’t rationed in the shops.

 

So, all I’m saying is, stop buying stuff. Or have a think before you buy stuff. Can you make do without it. The space in your home is finite, it’s good to surround yourself with things you love but if you can’t sit at the desk for papers, or see the walls for pictures, or see the back of the freezer for 10 year old meat joints, then it’s time to stop consuming and loving more of what you have. You may well find it makes you happier.

 

Phones: your mobile phone will last longer than you think. It might get a bit slower and those evil phone providers may well ask you to update your settings a little more often than during the first year you had it, but it will still work. Some top tips: regularly carry out an audit of the apps you have on your phone. I currently have 56 apps – about 10 of those are downloaded, the rest come with the phone. Are there any apps you’re not using regularly, probably worth deleting them, your (older) phone will work better with more memory.

 

Books: libraries! I’m guilty of not using the local library, I have my reasons, but if you can, they’re free. Ask on facebook if any friends have a book they’d recommend and wouldn’t mind lending you. Download the audible version, or electronic version (which, yes, will probably require using amazon). http://www.worldofbooks.com and other second hand book stores have loads of books – often, when I look on ebay for a second hand book, it’ll come from world of books. And then, I take pleasure in giving the book away. The sustainability book club I run with a friend gives brownie points to anyone who can find the book in any way that means not buying the actual book brand new.

 

DIY and moving house: for packing and moving equipment, you might find some free stuff on www.nextdoor.co.uk – cardboard boxes especially. There may also be someone letting go of a cupboard, bbq, bed (insert other desired item here) that is just perfect for your home.

 

Exercise: use the rug or rummage around in old boxes and maybe you’ll find an old skipping rope or tennis ball, or just some trainers so you can take them out for a run instead of clicking a few buttons to get Nike’s latest hyped up advertised neon orange shoe.

Decluttering in times of corona

In these days of corona, I have no client contact – no face to face work, and it’s a struggle, I miss it. My mum, who’s retired but usually busy, said yesterday, ‘we’re all a bit rudderless, aren’t we?’ And she’s right. So how am I planning my day? There are a few anchors: meditating, pilates, Writer’s Hour, tennis, lunch, skipping and dinner, and I keep reminding myself to make the most of all the thinking and reading time corona is allowing me. But I also need an income, so I’m thankful for all those delivery companies out there staying open, so I can keep the sales side of my business open. When I declutter, I visit my client’s homes and we tackle an area or a room during each session. I offer to take away anything they decide to let go of, so they can see the immediate effect of the new space and I promise not to throw anything away. I recycle it, donate it and sometimes sell it. So quite a few hours in my day is taken up sorting through decluttered things and listing some of them online. Yesterday, I took, amongst other things, a Cabbage Patch doll, a pair of Vera Wang champagne flutes and a vintage collection of beer mats. The day before I was sending a vintage pair of Fred Perry shorts, a job lot of Lancome make up and 47 antique Hogarth black and white line-cut prints.

I’m often a bit slow at sorting through things, especially if it involves listing lots of things online – it takes time and I get distracted. Right now, I’m grateful for that fact as I’m currently not decluttering new things, and my storage space isn’t quite so groaning at the seams as it sometimes is. With the charity shops shut and the car boot sale and recycling centre too, there are some nice little piles of things ready to find new homes but apart from that it’s looking good.

Watching the news, which I am actually doing during corona (usually I find it full of arguments and speculation, both of which drive me mad), there are interviews with glass half full people and glass half empty people and I love hearing what the glass half full people have to say. These guys are still struggling with keeping their kids entertained for 12 hours a day, still putting them at risk if they’re key workers, have no more space than the rest of us, but they’re seeing the funny side, dwelling on the good bits, looking to the future. I love that. It’s hard but I’m determined to be one of those people. I have little income right now, my husband isn’t getting the treatment he would otherwise be getting from the NHS for his chronic illness, I miss being around lots of people, but there are joys to the lockdown. I never would have written this blog for example.

So back to the decluttering, I’m thanking this forced break, this involuntary holiday for giving me the time to work through all the stuff and finding new homes for it all.

Week 4 of our And The Future? sustainability campaign

Was it luck, or serendipity, that put Lisa and I together, both passionate about sustainability, to turn an idea into something tangible, with a great name, and get people online signing up to our 6 week sustainability bootcamp.

Being involved in this, and bouncing ideas off each other, we’ve come up with some great challenges, some that are actually doable with little effort, no cost and some that have made me think more than ever about my life and how I can change it to be even more green.

The zero waste movement requires really rather a lot of effort if you are going to go 100% zero waste, or create a jam jar of waste once every four years, but there is so much we can do to enhance this part of our lives. I’ve just finished an organised race, which involved running (or in my case shuffling) 105 miles over 4 days in Ireland. I always say to myself I won’t accept the medal or the t-shirt, not to mention the goody bag, free food etc but I get pulled in all the hype and can’t say no to any of it. The goody bag in itself was a pretty useful drawstring backpack, but filled with a plastic disposable water bottle, which I could have given back, some gels which I don’t even like, some bars, which I didn’t need, another plastic bag inside, which was completely surplus to requirements, and a banana and a satsuma, which I could have taken without any packaging whatsoever. The medals were 4 enormous, heavy metal things. Unique and beautifully designed, yes, but something I really, really don’t need. Each came with a lanyard, which I used around my neck for a maximum of 5 minutes each time, and now that the medals have all been screwed neatly together with 4 metal screws, I have no need for 3 of them. The t-shirt is not really my style and even if it was, I do not need another running tshirt.

I’m annoyed at myself for accepting all this, admittedly unique and fun, tat, most of which I will have to get rid of in the near future as I have no place for it. I know myself and know that I won’t be able to say no to the tat on the next race I do but will set myself the challenge of not accepting any of it on the ACC, all of which I already have, and it’s the taking part that counts.

One thing I avoided when I could at the Quadrathon over the past 4 days was accepting a bottle of water at each of the aid stations. I had my own water, filled up from half empty bottles when I could and was upset when I had to fill from a brand new bottle. Disposable plastic water bottles are now abhorrent to me, I hate the very look of them, and I’d have to be in a very desperate, thirsty state to ever buy one. Hurray to that.

Kitchen declutter

Ok, it’s time for a kitchen declutter. Hold on for the ride, it won’t be quick.

Right, so, baking. Everyone has an old bag of flour in their cupboard, or in the flour jar, right? Nope, not the flour that you always use, not the one at the front, reach back further, remove a few old bags of sugar so you can really find out what’s at the back of your cupboard on the top shelf. (Actually, get the sugar out too, doubtless there’s a demerara that needs finishing up.) That’s it, the nearly empty bag, that’s gone a bit manky from you touching it when your hands are covered in dough, and perhaps a bit dusty. I’ll hazard a guess that the flour is perfectly fine inside. So, now you have flour and sugar. Spices? Cinnamon’s always a winner in a crumble, and sometimes allspice too.

Did you once buy chia seeds because they were all the rage and the latest superfood and then realised that actuallly they didn’t taste of anything so they remained there? Vanilla essence? Is yours so old it’s started to smell a little alcoholic? Use a small enough amount and it’ll enhance the flavour.

Now, look for a recipe that uses flour. If you have self-raising and yours asks for plain then look for another recipe. You only have a small amount and the recipe asks for loads? Then lessen the quantities of everything.

Granted, you’re likely to need eggs, butter (insert other fresh ingredient here). Well, ok, you can go out and get those if you need them.

Does the recipe ask for a 6′ round baking dish, and you only have an 8′ square? Don’t worry, your creation may turn out flatter and larger than the perfect one but I’d put money on it tasting just as good.

Last year, we moved out of our home for 4 months, partly to visit Peru and partly to refurbish the house. I made vanilla cookies for weeks. Colleagues, friends, randoms received said vanilla cookies for ages, but none were ungrateful, none said yuk. I used a basic recipe, and added things I thought would work (like the chia seeds, and some almond flakes). When the vanilla ran out but I still had flour, the cookies became a little more boring, but still no one complained.

As I came to pack up the house, I ended up with just a handful of flour, which I donated to my mum, a few chilli flakes and some salt, which I stored for our return.

I now find myself with a shelf full of herbs and spices. There’s no end to my creations, some slightly odd, but none inedible and most have been enhanced with flavour.

I’ve asked my husband not to buy any more food until we’ve finished what’s in the fridge. We have potatoes and mayonnaise. Cabbage and chorizo, celery and peanut butter. Our diets may be fairly odd for a few days but our bank balances will be happier and we’ll have sent no food to landfill.

Decluttering inspiration from Alex James

A little late to the party, I’m reading Alex James’s autobiography ‘bit of a blur,’ it’s an easy read and great fun, and I’m only on page 76 so the unadulterated, uncensored showbiz celebrity madness is only just starting. I was inspired by a phrase, and it resonates with a massive part of my life right now. He says, ‘I paid the support band’s roadie to help move all our crap up from New Cross. Everything we owned fitted into his van quite easily and it all looked reovltingly dirty in the pristine new flat. There was an old tapestry screen that had seemed quite exotic in the borough of Lewisham; it looked like junk in Covent Garden. We didn’t have a fridge and there was no furniture, but it didn’t matter. I quite liked not having anything. Having nothing is quite relaxing. Being alive and in the middle of the chase was all that mattered. You can live without chairs, but you can’t live without dreams.’

It’s true, having lived in our newly refurbished house for a few months with only a bed and a couple of stools, you don’t need chairs, or stuff. A phrase I use often states that, in order to survive, we need water, food, shelter and clothes (although it’s easy to abuse this last one, and we all do, including me, albeit to an increasing lesser extent). Dreams on the other hand, ideas and energy to get them off the ground, are integral to parts of our lives. Our modern lives, where so much is handed to us on a plate. It’s what differentiates us from other people. And is the difference between surviving, and living life to the full, because, let’s face it, we’re not going to be here forever, with the exception perhaps of Stephen Hawking. Have a think about your legacy, what you will leave in this world when you’re gone. Will it be a collection of high street brands in your wardrobe, or an idea that will inspire others and enable them to dream?

Office clearance

As I come to the end of possibly the largest self-employed work so far in my new guise as a declutterer it’s time for a blog. Some things fall in your lap and you can’t say no. They turn into full-on, stressful work and sometimes make you wonder about your sanity but you do them anyway. And when they’re all over, you’ve done something new, networked and made new contacts, made mistakes and learned from them and are ready to move onto the next new thing.

This week has been interesting and challenging and I wouldn’t swap it for my old job in a million years. Having dragged, lifted and lumped, boxes, chairs and one enormous leather sofa down three flights of stairs, the place is nearly empty and I’ve never felt fitter. The lovely guys across the road, getting set to rip out the interior of this building over the next month have said they’ll take some of the stuff. David and Luca came over, along with Niall, and took the final few chairs, remaining bins, and an A-frame signboard ‘for my neighbour’s pizzeria,’ all this meaning we don’t need to pay for an any junk van.

I thought I was done, and then found about 17 hand painted wooden signs from the first Escape to the Woods festival, some of which were taken as mementos and one was picked by a small girl, it’ll look awesome in her bedroom. The wooden wine boxes have been used to create furniture in various homes across London, the almost acres of fake grass was taken to decorate someone’s basement. The sofa was sent to a shabby chic workshop in Devon, and the dining table, aka the ping pong table, along with several house plants went to a place in south London in someone’s Lexus.

The awesome hairpin table legs and gorgeous wooden tabletops, mainly used as desks in the office, went to various homes, sooo popular. I was amazed at how much people can fit in their cars. The dining table fit in a large Lexus, and 3 hairpin leg tables went in a Prius, stopping only when the suspension looked dangerously low.

I was amazed at how many people came to collect with their kids, some helpful, most just wanting to play on their parent’s mobile phones, bribery for coming along on the journey.

All that remained was the ply flooring, a toilet roll or two and unswept remains of feather boas from the dressing up box

Space police

My first blog talked about the first item I owned that I ebayed and then I wrote about my subsequent foray into decluttering myself, before working with other people and helping them to declutter a few things from their lovely, but full, homes.

I look back and must have been inspired by Space Police, my husband, who needed to tidy away things, find a space for everything, complain rightly although frustratingly for me at first, about how much stuff I had that I didn’t actually need. I don’t think I have hoarder tendencies but I do like things and can’t bear to see anything go to waste or landfill.

So the inspiration  was borne from a frustration, and has turned me into an intentionally mindful green person, environmental, sustainable. I love nothing better than to give an unloved item of clothing or beautiful piece of furniture or thing a new home. Repurposing and upcycling are dreams I aspire to. But for now, I will be space police and find new homes for cluttered objects and make sure everything I own has a space.