dear diary :: another week, another challenge

Do you ever get to the point when you want to stop the world for a day or so for a breather – well I have reached that point this week but I do wonder how can I be so busy when we are in lockdown? Well for us, even in lockdown, we have so many commitments.

This last week we had little Freddie (who is in our childcare bubble) for an extra day as daughter No1 had to put in an extra day at work – she is working alongside two younger people who live on their own and do not have children, they are able to put in the extra hours quite effortlessly, but it is not so easy for my daughter to do this with a little one to look after.

We also had daughter No2 (who is in our support bubble) with the two girls, Little L and Sweetie, to stay for a couple of days to give her a break from the 24/7 childcare as a single mum while her husband continues to work away.

As you can imagine my house looks like a tornado has swept through (mainly in the shape of Sweetie) and feels a little chaotic, which is a good representation of how my head feels too at the moment and although I love them all dearly and it is very endearing to hear ‘graneeee’ all day long I am presently savouring my quiet, noise free home and taking time to recover before it all begins again on Monday.

At the end of these long days of granny daycare the evening phone calls to mum are becoming quite wearing going over the same conversations repeatedly every night.

Oh and the washer has broken down. First it would not spin…now it refuses to wash…it has had the ‘if you don’t work this time it is curtains’ warning – but to no avail…….. as it remains lifeless and silent.

If I sound a bit downhearted it is only while I catch my breath and it won’t last for long, a quick wallow in the situation and then I will be fine again.

On a brighter note I am conscious of the little signs of new life appearing in the garden and it does lighten my soul. It means there is surely a promise of warmer, sunnier days ahead and they cannot come too soon for me; the snow is one thing – I love the snow, but waking up to endless dull, wet and windy days are only just tolerable. Being out in the garden again is the remedy I need right now to end the long winter malaise that is setting in.

Whilst I am in the midst of this present new life you might notice a few changes to my blogging format in the next week or two that better suits my time available for blogging. There will be, if I have the energy to write, more frequent, but shorter, posts logging my day but probably fewer photos; they can be time consuming and it is not always possible to keep camera in hand whilst juggling with the needs of our little charge. Just getting out of the door for a walk can be a major operation, beginning with nappy change and ending with a fight to stretch the rain cover on the pram once little Freddie has been togged up as if he is going for an artic adventure and fastened securely into his pram like he is being launched into space.

So many new skills to acquire.

Anyway, before I wander off track again – back to the blogging changes.

My challenge this year is not only to bring about consistency to my life but to make a real effort to offload more of the stuff in our house and, more importantly, curtail any attemps to buy or acquire more. So for the next few weeks I will be blogging and logging my daily efforts to meet my challenge.

There is a freedom I find in having less, an empty drawer is a thing of beauty to me, but I wrestle with the fact that I bought much of the stuff we have accumulated with hard earned money and this makes me want to hang on to it or make use of it so as not to feel wasteful.

At the end of a decluttering session I find the pile of unwanted items a bit disturbing and wonder how I could make so many rash purchases of things that have proved to be less than useful or even worse…. that do not have the same appeal as when I bought them.

But editing and letting go of stuff is necessary to create space. So I am considering the options I have for disposal:

  • Donate unwanted items to a charity shop (when they re-open)
  • Sell items on Ebay
  • Make an effort to re-use items that have been abandoned for too long in a cupboard or drawer
  • Re-purpose an item
  • Recycle any items still in a new condition as a gift

I am hoping that most of my unwanted items will fall easily into one of the above options but then there is a cupboard full of craft and sewing items to go through such as, boxes full of blank cards, a mound of decorative papers and a stack of fabric and wool, not to mention the basket full of half-started projects.

This is all stuff that can be transformed into something useful and will save money at the same time….and crafting is something quite pleasurable and satisfying. I definitely need to make the effort to complete more of (ideally all) the unfinished projects on the go and then look for some ideas to make gifts and cards to use up some of the craft stash. And make a promise to myself not to buy more.

So far I have finished the jumper for Freddie and my mum’s knitted cushion. Success. Next on the list is the half-started winter tea cosy and then the Christmas tablemats with a robin pattern (getting a head start on next Christmas would be a bonus). Sewing these days is a daytime job, sewing at night is not an option for my over strained eyes, but I can knit and so I intend to start the little summer tops for the girls this week even if it is just casting on and doing one or two rows.

One of the most difficult areas of accumulated stuff to edit and reduce is the paperwork (and I think I have mentioned before the headache that is our home office) – there is no indication of a paperless office here – in fact I am a bit of a paper hoarder………old to-do lists, menus, magazine cuttings, lovely old cards – I tend to keep the lot and the file drawer, which contains our more important documents like pension papers and insurance policies, fills up so quickly.

It hardly seems anytime at all since the last declutter and shredding marathon. Paperwork is so different to decluttering objects around the home from drawers and cupboards. It is not something you can donate to charity or sell on Ebay or even repurpose – no the only course of action for this category is the shredder.

But first that all important decision has to be made – ‘do I need to keep this’?

I have tried to edit the paperwork many times before but for some reason I find paperwork is quite overwhemling and I cannot decide on what should be kept and what can be shredded. I liken the process to weeding the borders and once I start I have to do the whole garden at once – it is the same with the paperwork, I try doing a file hanger a day but then find I cannot stop until I have sorted through it all – having a whole day to tackle it just suits me better; though having so few free days at the moment means I might have to resort to the bit by bit technique. I do want our office to feel a much more restful and orderly place and I also want to lighten the load in this room so we can decorate.

I admit I have always had more than a passing interest in decluttering and organising and my book shelves are well stocked with a variety of books on the topic (DH is never amused if I find another one to add to the collection) – some more useful than others and re-reading one or two might just start the momentum going…so watch this space.

Have a good week everyone. x

homestead :: the pantry tour

Don’t we all love a good before and after story – well this is one with quite a transformation. The space we now call the pantry started life as a downstairs cloakroom positioned just off the kitchen and one that we hardly ever used; sometimes it was a job to squeeze in there at all.

It was really a forgotten and unloved space with a basin and toilet, tiles and wallpaper from the 80’s.

Many of our neighbours have knocked down their cloakroom walls to incorporate the extra space into a bigger kitchen. With our layout this would not really have helped us so we chose to take out the basin and toilet and make the room into extra storage; after all it had become a dumping ground anyway!

So after a good declutter and a little rearranging and a lot of hard work from DH we have gone from this…….

….to this……

and finally this.

……..And this…….

………to this

These Ikea cookie cutters are too big to fit into the large glass storage jar on the windowsill so I found two of those clear licker sticker hooks and attached them to the window to hang them on. I quite like the way they are both decorative and useful.

I now have a home for my juicer too and as DH has put in some sockets I can use it in here – we could also fit in a small microwave should we ever decide we wanted one.

Starting at the wall cupboard to the left of the window on the back wall – we had to cut this ordinary wall cupboard down to half its depth as the base units we used beneath are actually Ikea wall units too, without doors, but we didn’t want the wall cupboard to stick out quite as far. We used a full length door with aluminium frame and frosted glazing so I can hide away medicines and homeopathic remedies in here as well as small jars of cake sprinkles and other baking goods.

The bread bin is a new addition (John Lewis Home £16)- we chose it because it has a flip up lid which I prefer, it is stainless steel and not as wide as our previous roll top wooden one so saves on space too.

We had one of those ‘left over’ narrow spaces which has actually turned out to be quite useful. The long slot at the bottom stores cooling racks, my glass pastry making sheet, large chopping boards and other things too large to store elsewhere. In the slots above I managed to find some clear plastic long and narrow fridge storage containers that slide out and are good for holding packet foods, such as stuffing, and my selection of herbal teabags.

There are three large open shelves beneath the counter top which go right into the corner and I can store less used items here – the maslin pan, baskets and mats and cake making and decorating items as well as some cake tins.

Above the counter top DH built some fixed shelving. I liked the look of the painted wooden brackets that we got from B&Q. I doubt I will need to alter the depth of the shelving in the future as the glass storage jars will last a lifetime (well mine anyway) and I don’t envisage needing to replace them. It is wonderful to see at a glance now what we have and what needs replenishing.

The very top shelf is now home to my old tin collection.

The tall fitment has shelving that is flexible – I have been moving the shelves around until I have (I think) finally found the best combination of shelf positions. The top few shelves have stores of staple foods such as canned foods, nuts, dried fruit, baking goods, packets of pulses and tomatoes, tea, coffee and oil. I can now buy stocks of these when on offer.

The shelves lower down contain my baking trays and tins.

The smaller undercounter fitment at the back of the room is again fitted with flexible shelving but for the moment I am happy with this arrangement and have used these large white plastic bins from Ikea as drawers and these contain snacks and crisps.

On the two lower shelves I bought these two wicker baskets from Ikea for £6 each. I like the fact they add a little rustic feel to stop the pantry looking too clinical. I keep onions in one and potatoes in the other. Most of our other veg is kept in a larder fridge. Tomatoes, bananas and ripening fruits are kept out on the counter top.

The drawers beneath the wall cupboard – two narrow and three deeper all have a purpose. The top one contains our old cutlery set that we were given as wedding presents – very useful when we have a party or get together.

Under this I keep all those odds and ends of gadgets that are used infrequently like an apple corer and pie slice.

This drawer is a work in progress – I will keep the paper serviettes in here but I am on the look out for better drawer inserts that don’t leave wasted space.

A drawer for tea towels and kitchen hand towels.

And the final drawer for aprons, tray cloths and tea cosies.

Organising the pantry has been one of the hardest things and DH is quite amused when each day he struggles to find something but I feel everything is at last in the right place. I shall be on the look out for anything that is not used and I am adamant that this space will not require decluttering as I won’t be filling it up with unecessary purchases. Other than a new icing turntable and a larger scraper for cake decorating I am pretty much sorted with equipment.

I have space now to stock up on a few basics that I find on offer and a place for all the items that are little used such as the maslin pan and the Easter basket. I couldn’t be more pleased at how it has turned out.

No pantry would be complete though without a notice board where we can jot down the items we need to buy on our next shopping trip.

DH painted the wooden frame of this whiteboard, originally pine coloured, to match the paint colour of the walls.

He then made a little wooden pen holder tray to fit along the bottom.

I have tried hard to only use plastic storage where it will be used for a long time and where possible have opted for glass, metal and wood. The old tupperware that I had some foods stored in will now be used for the freezer or storage in the garage so nothing is wasted.

The flooring is only temporary and we used some stick down dark grey vinyl tiles onto a sheet of hardboard – it will be much better than dusty floorboards until we have the new kitchen fitted and the same wooden flooring will be put down throughout.

So that is the end of the tour – I hope you enjoyed it as much as I love using it, and I am sure you will be seeing a lot more of it very soon – like my tablemats it is just a joy to photograph.

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?