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.

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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.

I’m giving up palm oil for Lent

and possibly beyond. It’s number three on a challenge for a year of living cleaner and greener. Palm oil or palm fat, or sometimes just labelled ‘palm’ in amongst a list of fats on the list of ingredients on some packets, and the way its grown encourages deforestation and climate change. It is in sooooo many products we eat on a daily basis. At first, it looks like hard work to avoid it. Many, many processed foods, including some of my favourites, use it. Some supermarkets and other brands are particularly guilty of using it. Of course, because it makes some foods taste really yummy. Then, I looked into it further. Anything that is processed and sweet is likely to have it in. Easy to cut out then. It may not help me lose weight as there is so much other stuff I can eat instead, or other brands that are way more ethical and I’m enjoying the challenge.

The thing I’m missing most is Cadbury Mini Eggs. Boxing day comes around every year and almost immediately the mini eggs are rolling out onto the shelves, almost as if they’ve been caged up in the dark for several months and they’re desperate to get out. But they have palm fat in them. As do a really rather large selection of Easter related goodies.

And the other thing is Soreen Malt Loaf. Yep, it has it in. So that’s no more malt loaf for me. There’s half a loaf in the breadbin, so what do I do? Obviously, I can’t throw it away because food waste is a much more immediate issue we also need to deal with. So I think what I’ll do is try to stave off the desire to finish it off, which I would have been able to do in 30 minutes. And keep it for a visiting friend. But perhaps I’ll make them think twice about buying it until Soreen decides to use a sustainable source of fat to produce this most delectable of foods.

So shop bought biscuits, cakes, bread, chocolate and non-natural buttery spreads are all now either off the menu, or at least check the packaging before you buy.

Sustainable palm is often found on the ingredients list of some packaging. Well, if you absolutely have to, at least you’re thinking about it, but it’s not 100% given that it’s really helping the situation. And well, make your own biscuits and cakes and just eat non-processed stuff. Simple.

There is one exception to my self-inflicted palm oil ban, and it will only last a couple more days or so. There’s a plastic tub of butter alternative in my mum’s fridge. It’s been there for months and is just out of its best before date. It needs to be finished. Luckily, there are two almost full pats of organic butter bought in the market from a local dairy producer awaiting me when I finally get it out of the way. Can’t wait. That’s why I run mainly, so I can eat butter. And cheese and red wine, palm oil free.

Everyone’s getting bamboo toothbrushes for Christmas

A side effect of decluttering and being aware of how much stuff people have has turned me a bit green. Not in colour, or with envy, but environmentally aware. There is so much stuff in this world. One client employed my services when she and her small family moved house. I would run with her once a week and bored her with my endless stories of how to declutter, what I was doing, how my business was going, why I was so passionate about it. Eventually, she tired and said ok, let me help her. As they were moving house, she didn’t need me to go through things with her although we had a quick session in the wardrobe, not to mention above the wardrobe and in the suitcase full of ‘I can’t part with’ clothes. It wasn’t that quick. And I left her house with a car full to the top of plastic bags full of things from the kitchen, the living room, books, her daughter’s bedroom and most importantly the master bedroom.

Then I had a message a few days later. ‘I’ve found a plastic bag full of things that I forgot to give you when you came over.’ She offered to deliver ‘it’ to mine, because although my USP in London is that I have a car and can remove stuff, she also has a car. I wasn’t around and my long-suffering but impatient husband received it. ‘Please can you just open the door and let her in? It’s only one bag and I’ll put it in the shed when I get home.’ When I got home, imagine my surprise when there were 7 bags, an African blackwood piece of art, and 3 boxes of books. Special, valuable books from a marketing course, each worth at least £20, some more like £60. I was impressed at their complete declutter and their new home is beautifully minimalist. I simply don’t know how they fit all that stuff in their home. It was one of the tiniest two bedroom homes, even by London standards.

As I slowly work my way through her things that I’m desperate to get through before Christmas, another list of things I need to do comes to mind. Christmas presents, for friends and family. It’s got nothing to do with decluttering but I know I need to get them something that has minimal impact on the environment, something they can throw away afterwards that won’t sit in landfill for 200+ years. And I go online to buy 12 bamboo toothbrushes with bamboo bristles (you can get them with nylon bristles, but then, what’s the point?). And a pack of environmentally friendly toothpaste to go with it. If I can’t change the world, I will try to do everything I can to minimise the impact, whether that’s finding a new home for second hand gear or forcing environmentally friendly products on my friends and family.