homestead :: inspired and tired

Have you ever been inspired by a friend – one who can launch you into action? 

As you know we went to see some old friends last Thursday in the dales.  One of the reasons for the trip was to have a grand tour of their new home that they have had built for them.  It has been four years in the making but is absolutely stunning – well out of our price range and even though they are a few years older than us, they have chosen to upsize rather than downsize which means they will be able to accommodate their whole family at Christmas which will be lovely. Not that I am envious! One advantage is they are now able to enjoy their retirement to the full knowing the whole house and garden are pretty much in a finished state – no big maintenance jobs, no decorating – it is all done.

At one time this friend lived just down the road from us and I would visit a few times during the week when both our girls were at school – popping in and out for coffee and a chat.  I remember how visits to her house always made me want to rush home and have a thorough clean of mine.  She is one of life’s naturally organised people – her home is immaculate, her meals healthy and delicious, the garden flourishing and their finances in order and buoyant and she still has time for herself and her craft work.  She is very imaginative when it comes to reusing, repairing and repurposing too and this is evident even in their new house.

Their new abode is light and spacious – under floor heating from solar panels, lights that dim by remote and objects and furniture kept to a minimum.  Coming back home made my house seem small and cluttered even though I keep on having major decluttering sessions, but not only that I began noticing areas that do need some attention – a little editing and improving.

So guess what I have been doing all week and how tired I feel!

As I said to Sadie (Notes from an ordinary life) if I am ever missing from my blog you will know I am decluttering and cleaning.  It takes all my concentration and I stop for no-one, well usually, although I did spend the day with little Freddie again yesterday – but who could resist that.

I have a number of challenging areas around the house and I have spent this last week trying to organise these better.

My first challenge was to find a new place to put the Easter decoration that I made so I can use it once more next year. In the end I decided on top of the wardrobe in the spare room as it has a high ceiling and blends in quite well. Really I should dismantle it but it is so pretty I wanted to display it again next year.

Challenge number two was this box containing my elder daughter’s CD player and speakers. We have stored this now for 10 years because my daughter’s house is much smaller than ours and up until the baby was born this year was like a building site. Even now she really doesn’t have a spare inch to accommodate it – so it will remain with us until some point in the future when they move to a larger place. It has been residing in the downstairs cloakroom with everything else that didn’t have a proper place; as you know we are in the process of transforming this into a pantry so I have to find a new home for it. Because of the temperature fluctuations it is not something I would store in the loft so it presented quite a problem.

After much trying it here and there I came up with the idea that it would not look quite so bad if it was in a more decorative box that wouldn’t look out of place in the spare room. So during a trip to Ikea on Monday I spotted these boxes and although it needed two of them it has done the trick and visually looks so much neater. I will be able to use these afterwards to store toys for the grandchildren.

Whilst in Ikea I saw these little Christmas tins for 75p each and I thought they would be just right to put in a few homemade biscuits or a tiny fruit cake for a gift.

I started my cleaning and decluttering in the shower room – this is on the list for a complete renovation but not until we get a new kitchen installed and that is after the pantry. I won’t linger on how grubby it felt – it is never my favourite job. The contents of the cupboard are pretty much pared down but even so I still managed to weed out a few bits and pieces – old sun tan lotions and tanning creams past their use by date. When I declutter the toiletries and makeup items I always keep a ‘use up’ box of odds and ends that need using up, a lot of these are often freebies that have come with a purchase, things I won’t be replacing or buying again but I don’t want to waste them.

The shower always takes a long time to clean but the sealant had been renewed when we had the Aussie cousin to stay and the grout is OK so it just needed a bit of elbow grease to thoroughly clean the tiles and glass. After cleaning the toilet and basin – I always use a squirt of furniture polish over the outside of the pottery and the taps to give it that showroom gleam.

I treated myself to a new bath mat from Home Sense which has much improved the appearance of this room. The old one was looking past its best and looked liked someone had taken a bite out of one corner!

My linen cupboard was next – there was nothing to go out here as I am already down to the bare minimum of sheets and duver covers but I cleaned down the shelves and rearranged a few things so it looks remarkably fresher. I bought the boxes from the Range and they have been very useful for storing the family heirlooms – Christening dresses, vintage linens and my wedding dress.

The craft drawer that holds my stash of fabric had a once over- one day I will get around to turning my fabric stash into a patchwork quilt!

As I made my way from room to room decluttering and cleaning I also made a note of things to look out for to add a bit of styling. I found this tiny succulent in Ikea to put in our family bathroom. When I have a moment or two I will also change some of the pictures. I bought a couple of new frames in the summer with the intention of printing out and framing some of our photos – another job for my list.

It is very much a work in progress – a thorough clean and tidy and the addition of one or two new items can make all the difference. I am loving the rooms I have completed so far but soon I will have to tackle the office come craft room – it is the hardest place with the large paper mountain.

One sleepless night at the weekend I decided that I really must embrace the scanner and scan the invoices and receipts that I wish to keep rather than put them into a folder or box. I know many people do not keep their receipts but ever since the flood at the cottage I was so thankful that I have always kept receipts and records – because of this we managed to get the full amount for our damaged contents and could not be beaten down by the insurers. As the insurers were satisfied with scanned receipts I am sure this method will be accepted should we ever need to make a claim in the future. Once the older receipts for our household goods are scanned on to the computer I will have a lever arch file and a box file less on the shelves. It is a bit of a tedious job so I am scanning a handful each morning and going forwards new receipts will be done each week.

Once this is done I will make a start in the filing drawer and scan on important papers to gain more space. A lot of the paperwork I keep is ‘just in case’ so once scanned I will still have a record without the storage problem.

My wardrobe will be the next place for an overhaul. I have reduced the number of items by quite a bit this year. I seem to wear a kind of ‘uniform’ each day of leggins and a t shirt or jumper now I am at home; I can’t remember the last time I wore a skirt, which is a shame because I have quite a pile of them. Last time I decluttered I let a number of them go to charity but I think it might be time to cut my losses now and get rid of a few more. I will start by getting rid of the ones that feel a little bit on the tight side.

I found another cosy jumper in Sainsbury’s last week – good to wear around the house over a t shirt and for my Friday visits to the neighbour.

One of my intentions this month was to try out some new recipes. This week I chose these little mushroom and leek pies. The recipe used a shortcrust pastry that had added mustard powder for flavour. DH was not keen so I improvise and used grated Parmesan cheese that have given them this speckled look. They are baked in a muffin tin so are quite deep. Apologies for the lighting it has made the pies look a bit insipid – they were actually a lovely golden brown colour and quite delicious.

October is all birthdays – I have three this week alone. I already had the gifts for two of them bought in Stranraer at Baxters where they still gift wrap. They are little printed linen make up bags. The crocus tub is for a dear friend, men are always difficult to buy for but he is a gardener so will love these.

Because of all the birthdays I needed cards so I spent a day making some with the flowers I pressed recently, I also made a few thank you notelets at the same time. Some work better than others but my favourite has to be the chamomile heads.

So that has been my week so far and tomorrow, like the rain, the tidying continues whilst the momentum continues. Or you might find me napping on the sofa. x

clEAn and lEAn ~ thoughts on decluttering

In the book by Francine Jay called ‘The Joy of Less’ she quotes Mahatma Gandhi as saying ‘Live simply, so that others may simply live’.

I am on a mission to live simply, I feel weighed down by our stuff and consumerism but attaining simplicity is simply not that easy.  At the moment I am evaluating our lifestyle, the contents of our home and the way we accumulate and use stuff.  I need to reduce our possessions but at the same time I hate waste.  Throwing out ‘stuff’ (by which I mean disposing of it responsibly of course and not putting it in the bin) that was once bought with our hard-earned cash seems a bit wasteful but holding on to it seems worse and if I don’t feel we need it now why did we buy it in the first place.

I spent a whole day at the weekend in the kitchen and dining room continuing with the major clear out and rearrangement of my cupboards. The main aim of this clear out is to create space and make it easier to reach the items we use all the time and getting rid of anything that we have little use for.  As Francine Jay suggests deciding what to keep is far easier than deciding what to throw away.

So with everything out on the counter tops one by one I began choosing the easy stuff – the everyday and the most used.

For a number of years now we generally haven’t kept things for best.  My mum has some beautiful china and many sets of cutlery (coming from Sheffield) all packed away and she still uses the two old plates (bought from the Sheffield market many moons ago) and oddments of cutlery that she has used everyday since I was little.  She is 92 now and I doubt she will ever use her best stuff.  I decided long ago that I wouldn’t have anything put away for best as I wanted to use nice things everyday and I do.

Ainsley Albany china

So I have no need to store ‘best’ things having said that I do have a pretty china dinner service – Ainsley’s Albany – (pictured above) that we collected over many years and used everyday for many years.  I do still use it at Christmas and would never part with it but it is the only thing you might call ‘best’ ware.  We mainly use the white Thomas tableware now to keep things simple and easily replaceable.

I have a few special items, the ones that you keep because they are beautiful or hold memories and they have earned a place in my cabinet but even most of these are used from time to time.

The new addition – the mug with Miss V was a leaving present from one of my colleagues – every morning for almost 19 years we would greet each other with ‘morning miss T’ and she would reply’ morning miss V’.  The mug is a wonderful reminder of our friendship.

Once the everyday, the special and the beautiful had been selected I came to the heap of ‘extra’ dishes – I am sure we all have them – the ones kept for entertaining purposes – parties, Christmas and the like – and these posed much more of a problem.   They require a lot of storage for very little use.

Although only two of us at home now we have to allow for enough dishes to cook and eat when our immediate family get together (now 7 of us and soon to be 8).  We also entertain with our larger group of friends a few times over the course of a year.  This means we have a quite a few ‘entertaining’ items;  larger serving bowls, extra plates, dip dishes, cheese boards – you name it we probably have it.

I pondered long and hard as to what I should do – a minimalist surely doesn’t have this amount of dishes stored in their cupboards.  And then I came across the wise words of Joshua Becker, author of The More of Less who it would seem had the same problem.  He realised that the minimalist life held by some people who only have two plates, two cups etc did not fit with his.  This group of people have different values and purpose.  Identifying our own values is the key; to own just the amount of things you need. Becker enjoys having people round – they belong to many different groups and they like getting together with family, friends and neighbours.

Lightbulb moment.

I enjoy entertaining and gatherings – I like cosy suppers with my friends and hosting New Year and Burn’s night – I hate paper plates and plastic cutlery unless forced to if we have a big party – so I reckon as this adds value to my life at the moment it is OK for my extra tableware to stay – but only as long as it remains useful and I do not add to it… Ever.

After some rearrangements and removal of certain items no longer required I am quite pleased with the final result.  My intention was to make everything that is most used accessible so I have tried not to stack the different sized plates on top of one another.

China cupboard

This did mean spreading out a bit more and to do this I removed the cookery books from these two shelves to create space for the less used white dishes, the table mats and my beautiful Finish red enamel bowl bought in the sixties.

I am loving the feeling of space already and the fact that everything is so much more accessible.  I have no doubt we could live with a lot less but at the moment this is our ‘right amount’ as far as dishes are concerned, a good balance of useful and beautiful.  I have chosen carefully and everything has had to have a reason to stay so I think there will be very little to declutter in future unless our circumstances change.

One minor problem now though – where do I put all the cookery books?

 

clEAn and lEAn ~ dashing away with the smoothing iron

Not the most thrilling of days today – the clearing and cleaning in the kitchen had to take a back seat again whilst I caught up with the pile of ironing.  It really has been breeding in the corner and so I was forced to take action as I have to prepare the guest room bed for my mum who visits on Monday and iron the bedding.  I decided not to have any spares for the guest bed to save storage space but with the recent comings and goings another duvet set would have been useful.

I also ironed all the tops and skirts that I used to wear to work – as I have not needed them they have lingered at the bottom of the basket.  I put a couple of the tops on the charity pile and one of my least favourite black skirts and the rest of them in my wardrobe.  It will be interesting to see how often I wear skirts again now I am at home.  I have quite a collection of skirts because I never wore trousers at work.  I might even throw out all my thick black tights as they are years old and have been washed and worn so many times they owe me nothing.

After sorting my own items I then started on ironing my daughter’s clothes – not the woolly hats and gloves of course.  I intend to get these all done and back round to her house before they come home from holiday.  I will be relieved to get them out of my way – four big bags of laundry is a lot to move around my tiny laundry room – wherever I put them they seemed to be in the way.

DH spent a few hours at our daughter’s house putting the final top coat onto the skirtings, architraves and banister rails.  So only the doors remain and that will be another project complete although we may be called upon to help with the living room when they decide if they are removing the fireplace or not (very messy job).

We have scaffolding surrounding our house now ready for the rendering on Tuesday – weather being fine.  Once this is done we can replace our shed and get some of the stuff that is presently residing in the garage and what will be my pantry put back into the shed – can’t wait.  We will also be able to use the compost bins again – it has been so hard for me to put all the vegetable peelings in the bin and miss out on all that lovely compost.

DH had a go at taming our large Cherry Tree yesterday whilst the weather was fine – it needs more than a prune.  It is in our back garden but when we stand in the front garden facing our house we can now see the top of it above the roof – eek!  I couldn’t bear to chop it down as it gives me lots of shade but it is a bit too large for the plot.  I think he may have to climb it to get to the very highest branches…gulp!

I am looking forward to having at least one of our projects completed soon as we always seem to have a few on the go at once and I am trying hard to keep our main focus on the kitchen and the outside of our house.

Even when I cannot do anything major towards the kitchen decluttering I am making sure I at least do something small each day towards getting the project done.  Tonight I used some of my red sticker items and opened the first jar of Bon Maman compote, the cherry flavour, and made some individual crumbles.  We ate 2 of them with evaporated milk on top and the rest I will freeze.  I think I am becoming less and less of a pudding person I would have enjoyed the compote on some yoghurt so much more.  DH hates yoghurt.  What, I am wondering, am I going to do with my excessive yield of cooking apples if I don’t make crumbles?

Tomorrow it will be more ironing and some paper work to catch up on.  Then on Sunday I am declaring a day of rest and hoping the weather will be good enough to go to the Bakewell Open Gardens in Derbyshire.

What is the likely hood of rain!

have a good weekend. x

clEAn and lEAn ~ day 2

A bit of a mixed day today.  At 5am DH took elder daughter and SIL to the airport as the train to Manchester is currently not running from here – not even sure why.  He then came home and went up to their house to put another coat of paint on their hallway and landing doors whilst they are away – they are on to a good thing here I think!

In the meantime I did some more of the washing that has come from the same daughters – 4 big bags of stuff that she has never had time to do on the weekend after their normal washing and I volunteered to help – I must need my head seeing to sometimes.  They are predominantly jumpers, thick socks, hats, scarfs and gloves and when they are washed and clean I am not sure she has any space to put them away.  I had them out on the line yesterday in the sun and they dried very quickly and they will not need ironing thank goodness.Washing

I also watered and fed my planters outside as we need to empty the water-butt to move it – the scaffolders are coming on Thursday and Friday to erect the scaffolding ready for the rendering next Tuesday.  At last we will be closer to getting our leaky wall done and making it waterproof by the winter – it has only taken us the best part of a year to co-ordinate all this as the date has kept moving on due to the really bad weather at the start of the year.  The fact that they will clash now with the Bank Holiday and my mum’s visit next week is not insurmountable just a bit irritating when we have waited so long… but such is life.

I had a quick run round with the Hoover whilst DH was out – DH fixed it yesterday as the handle had almost seized up and would not pull down very easily – now it is working freely once again whatever he did worked.  In fact yesterday was quite a ‘fix-it’ day – the boiler engineer came early with the part for the boiler so we have hot water again which is really helpful when you are doing a lot of cleaning in cupboards – boiling the kettle all the time was such a bind.

Whilst he was here DH removed the outside light ready for the rendering men next week only to find it was rather contorted inside with the heat and beyond repair  – it is over 30 years old so not surprising – so he ordered a new one from eBay.  Meanwhile, I was decluttering and cleaning one of the pull out drawers in our laundry room when the runner broke – drawer (also more than 30 years old) would not move in or out, luckily we had a spare runner and Mr Fix-it stepped in again, maybe it will last another 30 years!  Whilst he was busy fixing the drawer the washer flooded slightly at the end of the wash cycle through the drain cap  – Mr Fix-it managed to screw the cap on tighter as I grabbed a cloth and started mopping up but he reckons the seal isn’t good and has perished slightly so we needed to order a spare.  The Hoover was the last straw and the beginning of a few expletives!  I will say no more.

At 4.30pm this afternoon we both jumped in the car and headed to Meadowhall our nearest shopping mall – they have a Neal’s Yard store there and I needed night cream.  I use the Frankincense Intense with the serum – love the smell and it suits my skin – I also had some Boots No 7 vouchers given to me so I stocked up on the basic face creams that I use to eek out the expensive Neal’s Yard cream.

I was delighted to find the cotton wool pads I use were also on offer in Boots – buy one get one half price so I bought 4 and in Bodyshop the olive shower gel is cheaper if you buy in multiples so I got 4 of them saving £6.  None of these items will go off as we use them all the time.

I was really pleased with myself that I only bought what I went for – I had a little browse in WH Smiths which incidentally is looking much cleaner and smarter these days – they have new lower fitments and the whole place seemed far more open and airy and organised. I can’t help myself with stationery and books it is such a temptation.  Remembering the piles of stuff I have already at home waiting to be sorted I knew I didn’t have need of anything and walked out empty-handed.

A plus point surely.

clEAn and lEAn ~ in the kitchen

Day one – begin at the beginning…

I decided that I should begin at the beginning but like a tangled ball of wool I am not sure where that is exactly.  But a start must be made.

I am already making sure I rise by 8am – perhaps that is late in your book but in mine I love that extra hour of sleep I have now that I am not going to work and it suits me – I feel more refreshed.  I will adjust this back to 7am soon as I think early risers do get more done but for now I am just enjoying some rest.

As soon as I am up I wash and dress so that I don’t  mooch around in my dressing gown (which in my case could turn into an all-day attire if I am not careful).   It is remarkable how quickly you form a routine and I don’t want to get into bad habits that I then have to try and dismantle.

a Monk's Guide to a clean house

It is strange that we had the visit to Mount Grace priory  – I was quite intrigued by the life of the monks especially as I have been reading a tiny book entitled A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind by Shoukei Matsumoto.  He is a Shin-Buddhist monk who talks about the ritual of cleaning and how this helps to have a calmer, happier life creating a refuge from today’s busy world.  The monks have few possessions but what they do have they keep well maintained and clean – everything they have is of value and valued.  The ideas in the book are that your external environment is a reflection of your internal environment – your body and mind.

Sounds good to me so with my cards spread out on the desk I have chosen to first of all declutter and clean my house as I agree with Shoukei that a tidy clean house not only makes for a tidy clean mind but also gives me some sense of order to my life.  It seemed sensible to begin in the kitchen and in particular to start in the food cupboards.

In true Kondo style I removed all the food from the cupboards – tins, packets, jars and storage containers and covered most of the table and the worktops with the contents.  I was quite shocked seeing it all spread out before me on mass like this and it made me wonder how the two of us would ever eat such a mountain of food and why was I going shopping each week for more?

Decluttering the food cupboards

I think the main problem is that some of the packets, jars and tins of food get overlooked as often we might need other ingredients or more time to make something – sound familiar?   I have jars of fruit compote to make crumbles and tins of evaporated milk to make rice pudding yet we don’t really eat puddings I just like the idea of them!

I noticed that with one particular cupboard we tend to use the food at the front and ignore the items at the back – that old 20:80 rule even applies to food it seems.  Recently through lack of time I have made a sketchy menu plan then bought the items to make the dishes rather than making dishes that use up some of the older items.

I also found the remnants of items I have bought for our various visitor’s benefit that we don’t eat and I have been left with the surplus when they have gone home.

The items out of date were the easy ones to dispose of (the guilt not so).  Most of these items were for baking which I have not done for ages and when Little L came and we baked we were limited in what we made by what I could find still in date!

decluttering the cupboardsThen I put red stickers on anything with a use by date in August and September so I can make a menu plan to include these and find suitable recipes.

Finally I refilled the storage containers and grouped together any multiple items.  The visitors foods I will off load onto the visitors!

I couldn’t  decide whether it is a good idea to carry some stock or not.  My keep it simple, lean and minimalist side says just keep exactly what you need and only buy it when you need it therefore reducing storage space and preventing waste when things go out of date.  My thrifty, just in case side, says stock up when there are offers to save money and also in case of emergency like getting snowed in.  Though I must say I can’t ever remember having such an emergency that we have not had enough food.

In the end I decided that I would take the lean approach to keeping a stock of the most used items which is to keep one in hand and when you start to use that one you then replace it.  Some items I use very little of such as honey or flour so I will continue to replace these as I am getting to the end of the one I am using.  For some basic items like instant coffee, butter, jam and cereal I will continue to buy in multiples when on offer as the savings are beneficial and I might keep an emergency kit of baked beans, tinned fruit and other bits during the winter months in case of bad weather.

After a thorough clean and sort I rearranged some of the cupboards (DH will love this as he hates it when I have a move round as he cannot find anything). I am still in the process of switching things about a bit and trying some items in new places as well as using up the red sticker foods.  Once eaten I probably will not be replacing all of these items –  as they are nearly out of date we obviously don’t eat them very often and most of it is ‘puddings’.  The olive oil is the end of a bottle – for some reason we had opened a new one before finishing the old one.

I have designated one cupboard as a ‘stock’ cupboard to take the duplicates – think of it like a mini supermarket – so when we finish something we can check if we have one already before putting it on the shopping list.

So far my cupboards are looking a whole lot leaner and certainly a lot neater  – it is a bit of a work in progress at the moment but when I am satisfied with the outcome I will post some pictures.  I am actually enjoying the process but I really need to change my shopping habits in future to make sure the food we buy is the food we eat.

In conjunction with this exercise I have been going through my recipe folders looking for new recipes to try and at the same time doing a bit of decluttering here – only keeping the ones I know I would make.  The test for this being would I make this for tea tonight? – if the answer is no because it is too long and complicated or requires ingredients we would not normally buy such as buttermilk then it has been removed and put in the recycle bin.

DH thinks it is hilarious that I have spent so much time clipping recipes from magazines then spending more time putting them into a folder only to spend yet more time removing them.  He is right of course so much wasted time when I know I will only make 20% of them.

I am a slow learner!