Minimalism, my way

Minimalism Detail

I’m very late with my blog post this week primarily because I’ve been knee-deep in DIY for the past two-week and only just got finished at 1am the morning carpet was being fitted. We’ve been living in this house for 8 years and had the 40-year-old carpet ripped out when we installed a new heating system 7 years ago. It’s taken us that long to fit a new one, for lots of reason. Now we’re the proud owners of the most sustainable carpet our budget would allow; an 80 % wool 20% nylon carpet laid on underlay made from offcuts of furniture foam. We considered getting a 100% wool carpet or one made from another fully biodegradable fibre but they weren’t as hard wearing as 80/20 wool/nylon blend and when we install carpet we do so for life. This is the carpet people will be spilling tea/whiskey on at our wake!

Anyway what has this got to do with Minimalism? Well, I’ve been struggling to let go of some of my possessions in recent years. I can get very attached to ‘things’, even when they’re way past their point of usefulness. Couple that with a desire to keep everything out of landfill / incineration and you’ll find the problem just builds and builds. Clearing out rooms in preparation for having carpet fitted turned the problem on its head. Now instead of choosing what to take out of my rooms, I now had to choose what to put in to my freshly painted, newly carpeted zen dens. Surprisingly this made the whole decision process of what to say goodbye to amazingly easy.

I suffer from a condition called ‘imaginary lifestyle’ syndrome. It causes its sufferers to believe that they will one day have a life with lots of time that affords them the luxury of coordinating their accessories, trying out new hair upstyles and indulging in all manner of fantastically creative pursuits. So of course over the years I’ve accumulated all of the accoutrements required to support such a lifestyle.  This has been to the determent of my another of my aspirations; owning only what I love and what I need, i.e. getting rid of crap.  If you’re at all interested in decluttering and minimalism you may have heard of New York based decluttering consultant Marie Kondo. According to Ms Kondo ‘Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left only with the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own.’ Inspired by her wise words I drafted criteria for objects seeking residency in my new spaces of serenity;

  • Do I love it? Or is it useful?
  • If I love it is it more attractive than the empty space it’s replacing?
  • If it’s useful, is it working? (you wouldn’t believe the amount of broken items in my house)
  • If it’s useful and working, is it the only thing that can do this job?
  • If it’s useful, working and the one of a kind then does it do it’s job well?
  • If it’s useful, working, one of a kind, does it’s job well, am I realistically going to or want to use it?

 

As I cleared everything out I was left with 8 piles;

  • to be repaired
  • to be donated to charity shop
  • to be offered to friends / family
  • to be offered to local organisations – colleges, libraries, animal shelter, etc
  • to be posted on adverts.ie
  • to be recycled (only for broken or out of date items)
  • to be composted
  • to be sent to landfill / incineration (reserved only for broken non-recyclables/ compostable)

 

If I answer yes to these questions it stays if the answer is no then I seek to rehome. Currently I’m in the process of rehoming;

handmade paper, books, a ribbon collection, my wedding dress, wedding shoes, wedding handbag, perfume, extra party decorations, watercolour paints, toys, kids easel, bedsheets, clothes, vintage posters, babies bottles, accessories, clothes

Passing on these items in a sustainable manner is far from easy. Anything that I felt was of value got given to the charity shop. Having volunteered in one previously, I am very aware at how much unsellable stuff people offload on charity shops just to avoid paying the disposal charge – shocking.

Once that was done I was left with stuff that might not be sellable but could still be useful to the right person, like old CDs that might work as bird scarers for a community garden or old babies bottles that might work for feeding lambs. So now I have to get creative. I consulted my list of What to recycle / donate where and considered who in my local area might get use of out items I was finished with. I decided that the local design college might like some of my design books and equipment, the local computer repair shop might like some of my cables / equipment and that the local Montessori might like some of the kids crafts equipment we’d outgrown.

Anything that was left, and still in working order, was fodder for the free section of Adverts.ie. Honestly this process took way longer than expected. It took hours to photograph everything, create the ads and then deal with the timewasters who promised to call and never did. That’s not to say that I didn’t pass on some stuff to some lovely people who will genuinely use the items they collected but it’s far from a quick process. I think it’s going to take me weeks or months to get through it all.

At the end of this journey my home is not a pristine white box; it still has lots in it but, for now, it only contains the stuff we love and need. So, not wanting to go through this decluttering process EVER AGAIN, I’ve drafted a check list to avoid ‘stuff’ infiltrating our house. When offered something we always refuse, unless we really want / need it, e.g. this week my kids handed back the t-shirts given to them at an activity camp – I was so proud – and before I buy something I ask the following questions;

  • If this is a replacement, can I repair the original? If no, see next question.
  • Do I already have something that I can repurpose to do the same job? If no, see next question.
  • Can a friend or family member loan me one?

 

If I answer no to all the questions above then I feel I’m fully justified in buying something, as long as what I buy is either second-hand or is, as far as possible, locally made, long-lasting, repairable and compostable / biodegradable / recyclable (in that order) at the end of its lifespan. I find personal recommendations from friends very helpful in finding long-lasting items, as is the website BuyMeOnce

This was a very good Zero Waste week for me. I managed to find

  • a very well priced second-hand race car bed for my 7 year old on adverts.ie,
  • a second-hand task light on adverts.ie and
  • a load of second-hand boy clothes from a friend but I’m particularly proud of
  • my new homemade plant fertiliser container. I make the fertiliser by steeping comfrey leaves for a few weeks and then diluting it with water. The plastic bucket I used to use split and in the past I would have headed straight out to buy another one. But instead, armed with my new Zero Waste knowledge, I enquired about unwanted plastic containers in my local deli and got a lovely blue plastic container that originally contained pie-filling. So I’ve saved my self money, kept some oil in the ground and interrupted a container’s journey to landfill.

 

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Ethical Sustainable Shoe Brands

Ethletic Trainers

I find buying sustainable, ethical shoes in Ireland an absolute nightmare. It seems that either you go for vegan plastic or biodegradable leather. I’ve know canvas shoes are in vogue at the moment and I’d happily chance a pair of canvas trainers in showery Ireland but not a pair of canvas pumps – too risky! To date I’ve limited myself to trying to buy the most durable shoes I can find in an effort to buy less shoes overall but this blog post has introduced me to some really stunning options that I’m keen to road test in the future. I would prefer though, to buy.

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Mesmerising Naturally Coloured Homemade Pasta

homemade star pasta by Salty Seattle

I am completely blown away by the skill of the amazing Linda Miller Nicholson, a mum from Seattle who dyes her own pasta with natural colours creating edible works of art. I think these would make amazing presents if you were able to get the hand of them, plus the ingredients aren’t expensive so what have you go to lose.

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Baby Buying – What you DON’T need

organic wooden frog rattle

I must have liked some baby stuff recently because Google and Facebook keep showing me ads for baby stuff at the moment. This reminded me of just how much crap i accumulated in the run up to my first baby, most of which was completely unnecessary and took me ages to dispose of in a sustainable manner.

Here is my list of all the stuff you DON’T have to buy in preparation for your bundle of joy.

  • Toys. Unless you are completely devoid of family and friends you will be inundated with more than enough toys, which you will struggle to pass on when the time comes. Your baby won’t really be in a position to play with many toys for a good while anyway and when they are the best way to find out what they like is to go to a ‘parent and baby’ morning and let them try out a range of toys. Charity shops, freecycle Facebook groups and adverts.ie are also a great place to find second-hand toys.
  • Muslin cloths. Okay get yourself one nice cloth to use outside of the house but in the house scraps of old clothing works just as well and they’re practically free.
  • Nappy changing stations. I found a towel on the floor much safer, cheaper and easier to clean than those furniture items with foam changing mats, which always ended up ripping and having to be binned.
  • Parenting books. My first few weeks of parenting were ruined by me obsessing over the ‘right’ way to rear a child. Before you give birth for the first time, find a parent that you can trust you to tell it as it is and ask them if you can ring them for advice. Most will be delighted and at least you’ll be getting real advice. I found parent and baby groups great for this but be warned, watch out for the lying ‘Johnny slept through the night since day one and has never had a tantrum’ brigade!
  • Newborn clothes. Babies typically only wear these for a couple of weeks and most parents will be happy to loan you some.  In fact buying clothes for kids is such a waste of money. Find a parent in your area with a child slightly older than yours who wants to pass clothes on. I was always delighted to move clothes on and delighted to receive them from others. It didn’t mean that I never bought clothes but the amount i had to buy was dramatically less than if i had’t receive pre-loved clothes.
  • Moses Baskets. Again something you only use for a very short period of time so borrow, borrow, borrow.
  • Slings / harnesses. These can be a life saver but you have to find the one that suits you and your baby. There are babywearing and sling library groups on Facebook or simply ask parents with them to let you have a go.
  • Blackout Blinds. If you’re child is a bad sleeper, and I had two of them, you’ll try anything to get a good nights sleep. If this is you then give the black out blinds a go; what have you got to lose, but don’t buy them before you need them. Babies that get used to sleeping in total darkness may have trouble settling in other settings so you could be making an unnecessary rod for your own back.
  • Mobiles, especially musical ones. If a baby gets used to listening to a tune when it’s going asleep it may need that tune every time it needs to settle back to sleep and with babies this is VERY often. Like blackout blinds, above don’t make a rod for your own back unnecessarily. Mobiles can make lovely room decorations but they’re not essential.
  • Cot bumpers. These are slightly padded lengths of fabric that are tied around the cot to protect baby’s head from bumping off them. Some children have become tangled in these and died, and there has been a suggested link with SIDS so I’m not even sure why they’re still on sale.
  • Plastic breast milk storage pouches. Easier to just store in a glass jar in the freezer. Just remember to leave enough space at the top of the jar for the liquid to expand when it freezes.
  • Grobags. There are like sacks you put your children into to sleep at night. I found them useless firstly because they’re arm-less and my kids arms got cold, waking them up and secondly, when you’re kids start trying to climb out of the cot – and they will – these grobags are lethal and you’ll inevitably hear a thud in the middle of the night as your little one drops to the floor. Our family much preferred heavy sleepsuits / onesies.
  • Blankets. Every parent I know ended up with way more blankets than they needed. I only really needed one nice blanket for the pram / buggy that I could washed and dried easily. Blankets in cots just end up over your babies head so I found these best to avoid completely.
  • Baby Shoes. These are gorgeous and those without kids just love to buy them but if I had a euro for every baby shoe I lost I’d be rich. All I have to do now is find a one-legged leprechaun to pass them onto to.
  • Playpens. These are huge monstrosities that parents are only too delighted to get rid of when the time comes so don’t buy a new one.
  • Stairgates. As above parents are usually delighted to see the back of these when the time comes so ask around or check adverts.ie

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Sutainable Ethical Swimwear

under the same sun bikini

Thankfully I don’t have to buy a swimsuit this year. This is a task I absolutely abhor and it is something you need to do you have my sympathy. Here are a few swimwear companies that may offer a more ethical, sustainable option than your high street. The first two consider the sustainability of the materials that they use, while the others are simply made closer to home, i.e. the UK.

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Summer Activities with Kids – 2017

painted cactus rock garden

I’m not the type of parent that feels the need to fill every hour of my kids’ days with entertainment. I think boredom is a great encourager of creativity and I feel that my kids, now 9 and 7, are more than capable of being responsible for their own entertainment. That said it’s nice to have a few crafts / activities up your sleeve for those whiny days that all parents get, and as always I am focusing on compostable / recyclable materials wherever possible.

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Origami Money Gifts

origami money heart

I used to buy kids presents in advance and have a little ‘present box’ so that i wasn’t dashing to the shops every time my kids got an invite to a party. As I’ve moved towards Zero Waste I’ve given up on this. I no longer feel comfortable supporting the production of non-recyclable plastic toys by multinationals based outside of Ireland. So I’ve started to give cash, and when i say cash I don’t mean those nasty non-recyclable gift cards that expire. I mean cold hard glorious cash. Let the birthday girl or boy buy themselves exactly what they want, or better still save it.

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Planet Positive Tokens for Teachers

Summer cupcakes

Okay, I’m going to admit straight out that I think giving teachers gifts at the end of the year is a joke! If everyone got a gift for doing their job well the world would be drowning in crap that no-one wants. I think a verbal thank you or simple handwritten note is more than enough to show gratitude.

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