5 Tips for Less (and Better) Screen Time

This year I want to focus more on returning to living a little more simply, and feeling less busy, rushed and stressed. When I think about what this looks like in my life, I’ve realised one area I’d like to work on is the amount of time I spend online: I’d like to spend less time looking at screens.

I know it isn’t good for me to be staring at a computer screen for 8 hours a day, only to switch off the laptop and open up my phone to see what’s going on over there.

I love writing my blog, and I love social media, but all things in moderation.

It’s something I’m always conscious of, and often think about, but this year I intend to be more proactive with it. Whilst I don’t feel that I spend a huge amount of time on screens (and I don’t have a TV), there’s always room for improvement.

I don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to share some of the tools and some of the techniques I’m using to unplug a little. And ask for your help in telling me your own experiences and tips. I’m far from perfect, so if you have your own suggestions I’d be over the moon if you’d share them!

Less Screens

For me, screens can be divided into two: my laptop/computer, and my mobile phone. Because the way I use them is quite different, I’ve divided them up to talk about each separately.

Less Laptop / Computer Time

When you work for yourself and you don’t have a defined work day, it’s easy for laptop time to extend into evenings and weekends. I’m definitely guilty of keeping my laptop on well into the evenings. It’s not that working in the evening is bad per se, but without boundaries in place, it can feel like all I do is stare at the screen.

It’s also incredibly tempting to open the laptop for a few hours on the weekend to “get ahead”. Sadly “ahead” isn’t a place or something solid and attainable, it’s just an idea that sounds good.

Changing this is the challenge for the year.

What it’s going to look like, I’m not sure yet. One reason I like working for myself is that I don’t have to subscribe to the rigid 8am – 5pm model, so imposing that restriction doesn’t really make sense.

Yet the idea of saying “whatever happens in the day, the computer is off by 6pm” is incredibly appealing.

I’d like to reclaim my weekends, and keep the laptop turned off for at least one day, and ideally both. I’d like to keep my work day to a reasonable amount of hours, so if I start work early, then I don’t work late. I’ll let you know how this works out!

Less Mobile Phone Screen Time

When I first decided I wanted to reduce my mobile phone screen time, I realised I didn’t actually have any idea how often I used it, or what I was spending the most time looking at.

To figure this out, I downloaded a (free) app called AntiSocial. It tracks usage (number of minutes per day), number of unlocks, number of minutes spent on each app, the most used app, number of minutes on social media, and more.

I found it quite insightful, and think it is a good place to start when wanting to reduce phone time. The app also has the ability to block or restrict certain apps, by setting a daily limit, schedule or timer. Personally, I haven’t needed to use these.

There are plenty of other apps that offer these blocking services too.

When it comes to restricting my phone use during the day, I use the oldschool approach of turning my phone onto silent and putting it into another room, unless I am expecting a phone call. If someone calls and I miss it, I can always call them back, and not being able to hear the bleep or vibrate of a notification stops me being distracted.

I’m also conscious of the apps I use on my phone. I do not have Facebook on my mobile phone, meaning if I want to look at it I have to log onto the laptop. This works for me.

I also noticed recently that I have started reading the BBC news app more and more, which tends to tell me about all the terrible things happening in the world and puts me in a bad mood. I’m considering deleting this app too. AntiSocial tells me I spent 4 hours using the BBC News app in the past month. Was that a good use of my time? I’m not sure. Sometimes I’d rather not know what is going on in the world!

Less Ads

When I am on my computer I want to keep distractions to a minimum, and removing ads is one way that works for me. I’ve installed an adblocker on my laptop (you can also install them on your tablet or mobile). They work by removing advertisements from the sidebar and content, and replacing with white space.

I use AdBlocker Plus: it’s free to install.

Removing adverts remove the temptation to click away from what I’m trying to do, and stops me finding myself inadvertently shopping for stuff I don’t really need. It also means that if I do look at a product or service online, I’m not followed around by said product or service through retargeting adverts, trying to encourage me to make a purchase.

Another tip that’s worked for me is to unsubscribe from all shopping websites or anything that sends high volumes of sales emails. I find the constant “sales” and “limited offers” arriving in my inbox to be incredibly distracting, and the temptation to click through is always higher than if the email simply wasn’t there.

Better Screentime (When It Can’t Be Avoided)

I do not want screen time to take over my life, and more importantly, I do not want it to interfere with my sleep. Sleep is important to me, and a good nights sleep makes all the difference between a good day and a bad one.

Computer screens have a lot of blue light, which can affect sleep when we use them late at night. One option is simply not to use screens at night, but it isn’t always practical.

To help with this, I’ve download some apps that reduce the blue light, to help with sleep. On my phone I download the app Twilight, and on my laptop I’ve downloaded the app Flux. I can tell the app when the sun sets, and when I get up in the morning, and it will adjust the amount of blue light.

The screen looks a little strange at first, but I definitely feel that it strains my eyes less. The science says it works, and if I can’t avoid using screens late at night, it seems like a better option.

As I said at the start, I don’t have all the answers, but slowly I’m finding solutions to help me unplug. Freeing up my time from screens is going to let me embrace all the off-screen things I’m dying to do but simply never seem to be able to fit in! Not that I want to fill all the time. White space is good too.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How do you reduce screen time? Are there any apps you recommend? Any old school techniques and tips you recommend? Anything you tried that didn’t work at all? Please share your knowledge and experience in the comments below!

8 Tips to Deal with Family/Friends Who Don’t “Get” Our Eco Choices

For anyone whose eyes have opened to the possibilities of embracing change, making better choices and aligning their actions with their values, it is a pretty exciting time. We want to charge full steam ahead towards our new goals. I am definitely from the “bull-in-a-china-shop” mold, and I’m sure I am not the only one among us!

Often when we decide to make changes, our families and friends are not at the same place.

We don’t want to trample others in our pursuit of what we perceive as “better”. We don’t want to drag them kicking and screaming behind us, or simply leave them behind. We definitely don’t want their distrust or negativity or lack of understanding to deflate us before we have even begun!

We want them to join in, or at least support or understand what we’re doing. The question is: how?

I do not profess to have all of the answers. Not by a long shot! I’ve been very lucky that my husband has supported (and been actively involved in) our plastic-free journey since the beginning. Whilst don’t always see eye-to-eye about zero waste, our values are very much aligned.

That said, we have had our fair share of waste-related disagreements in our time! Plus there are always work colleagues, friends and extended family who have different ideas.

This is a list of lessons learned, along with tips I’ve heard from others for dealing with family members, friends and colleagues who might not be quite on the same path… yet.

1. Remember that it is your journey, not theirs.

Everyone is on a journey, and we are all at different points. Sometimes we have to begin our journeys alone. It’s tempting when we’ve seen the potential to expect everyone else to come along too, but people aren’t always ready. Sometimes people need to find their own way, and come to their own conclusions.

Rather than trying to persuade them, or dragging them, or spotting all the flaws in their current situation, we can concentrate on our own journey. We can look at where we can improve our own choices. That’s the only thing we have guaranteed influence over: our own choices.

Whether others are supportive or skeptical; open- or close-minded; helpful or downright difficult; remember that this is your journey. Whilst their help and support would be great, you can do it without them, if you have to.

2. Rather than preaching, lead by example. Show, don’t tell.

No-one likes to be told what to do. Not only that, but people like to come to their own conclusions about things. Rather than preaching, I find it much better to quietly go about my business. It always makes me smile when I see others doing things of their own accord many months later that I’m sure I had some passive influence over. We have far more influence than we realise simply with the actions we take.

Telling people why you’re doing something is different to telling them what to do. You’re not stating why others should do something, just why you choose to do it. There’s no “this is right and that is wrong”, only what feels right and wrong for you. If people ask, be sure to tell them why! It’s a much better way to start conversations, and sow the seeds that might lead to change in others.

The better I know people and the closer they are to me, the more likely I am to push the limits of this. In fact, if my mother is reading this (hi, mum!) she will probably be staring in disbelief and telling the computer screen that I am a total nag! But this comes down to how well we know people, how well they know us …and what we think we can get away with! That’s not to say it’s the right thing to do. It’s just easier to slip into bad habits with people close to us. Be mindful of this!

3. Make it easy (but find balance).

If you want others to embrace your new ways, make it easy for them. The easier it is, the more likely they will be to get on board. Most people will revert to the easiest option – so make it the one you want! If you’re in charge of the household budget, do the shopping, pack the lunches etc, then you are in a great place to make it easy for others. If not, see what tasks you can take on.

However, realise that others in your household might be happy to support you whilst you’re the one making all the effort, they might never take on the habits themselves. Support is not the same as commitment, and we must be careful not to confuse the two! The question is, how far are we willing to go, and what compromises will we have to make? However far you feel you can go, that is enough.

There is no point in doing everything for everybody and resenting them for it, or making ourselves feel tired, stressed and overworked. There is no point doing everything if it feels like a chore and makes us miserable. We all have differing amounts of free time, differing amounts of energy and of course, different friends and family with differing needs! There has to be balance.

4. Make it fun!

If you’re trying to persuade others to embrace your journey or be more supportive and understanding, keep things positive. Share your good experiences, do things that you find fun and keep your enthusiasm running. Let them get involved with the parts that they find fun and keep them away from the things you know they won’t.

That’s not to say it will always be easy, or that you’ll always feel like smiling. Just be careful not to burden those less supportive with these feelings, if you can. You don’t want to give them any reason to think it isn’t worthwhile, or to reinforce any ideas they might have that it is all too hard.

5. Find a support network that understands and can support you.

Everyone needs a support network. We all need a place to share our struggles, celebrate our successes and debrief or vent! If you don’t want to burden friends and family, look further afield. Look in your local community for groups or meet-ups where you can find like-minded people. If you’d rather find an online community, seek out forums or a Facebook group, or start your own.

There will be like-minded people who are going through exactly the same things as you, and you just need to find them! Being able to share with them will take a lot of pressure of your shoulders – which ultimately, will keep you motivated to keep on going.

6. Time is always on your side.

Changing habits takes time. Sometimes others will be skeptical of our grand new ideas, particularly if we are those people who have “grand new ideas” at the rate of a couple a week! Friends and family might want to sit it out, and see if this grand new idea of ours is indeed a flash-in-the-pan, before committing themselves.

Time is always on our side. Time for others to accept what we are doing, and to join in. Time for us to gain more skills and confidence. Time for others to watch what we are doing, and draw their own conclusions. Time for us to find our own way, and make a path for others to follow.

7. Don’t waste your energy on the naysayers.

Sometimes, people just won’t be convinced. We can share and encourage and support all we like, but they just ain’t budging. If you have somebody in your family or friendship circle (or a work colleague) who fits firmly in this category, let it go. There are plenty of positive places to put your energy into, so let’s not be drawn to arguments that will just leave us frustrated, depleted and angry.

8. People over things. Relationships over ideology.

One of my readers shared this with me, and I loved it! When you’re having an argument with your loved one about some seemingly-important-yet-at-the-same-time-relatively-trivial matter, I think this is important to remember. Arguments such as, because they popped to the shops but forgot their reusable produce bags and picked up a paper mushroom bag that they promised they will re-use, but you’re cross because it isn’t zero waste (ahem, guilty!).

I didn’t marry my husband because of his awesome ability to remember his reusable bags on all occasions. I am well aware that he always strives to do his best, and his best might mean forgetting his reusable bags once in a while.

I married him for different reasons, namely because I love him exactly the way he is. It isn’t as if I am perfect! I shouldn’t let a paper bag or other trivial matter get between us and cause friction. I shouldn’t… but I don’t always remember. Still, I am trying.

The most important thing for me is that we share the same values. Broadly, we prioritise the same things, we care about the same things and we believe in the same things. How that pans out day-to-day on a practical level doesn’t need to be the same. Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have your family and friends been supportive of your journey? Were they on board from the start, or did they take time to adjust to new ideas? Are they still struggling with it? Were there others close to you that began their journey before you, and you were the skeptical one who  changed their mind? If so. what made you change? What tips do you have for dealing with others? Do you have any new ones to add? Have you found any of these worked particularly well – or perhaps they didn’t work at all? Any that you agree with in principle but struggle with in practice? Anything else that you’d like to add? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

5 Reasons to Choose Second-Hand (+ What My Second-Hand Home Looks Like)

Perth is apparently the most isolated city in the world. With isolation comes lack of choice. I sometimes joke that the reason I’m a minimalist is because there is simply nothing to buy in Perth. When you come from Europe, the selection seems limited, expensive, and online shopping is still in its infancy – if anything is ordered online from the east coast of Australia, it takes at least two weeks to arrive. (And costs a fortune in delivery fees.)

It is actually faster to order products from the UK for delivery to Perth than from the east coast of Australia (just think of the carbon footprint of all that online shopping).

Sadly, this lack of choice extends to the second-hand market, too. Most councils allow three free verge collections every year, meaning households can dump their unwanted furniture and other bits and pieces to be taken straight to landfill, which no doubt reduces the pool of second-hand goods further.

I was lamenting this the other day as I was scrolling through Gumtree and finding only ugly, MDF and Ikea furniture available. If I was in London, I thought, I’m sure I could find exactly what I wanted… now. I looked wistfully at a website for one of Australia’s better-known furniture stores. More convenient, maybe, yet I know most (all?) of that beautifully styled furniture is mass produced in China.

But was I tempted?

No. Every piece of furniture we own is second-hand. Every single piece. There are other things we have bought new, for sure, but not the furniture. When you have a 100% success rate, it seems a shame to break it ;)

What do I love about second hand? It might not be as convenient as walking into a high street store and picking something off the shelf, but there are plenty of other benefits. These are my top 5:

1. Saving resources and reducing waste.

There is already enough stuff in the world without needing to make more. Using what already exists makes far more sense: it’s better for the environment, it saves resources, it reduces emissions, and it reduces waste. Oh, and it saves on all that new packaging, too!

2. There’s less “guilty” attachment.

I didn’t always buy second-hand. When I lived in the UK I bought lovely things that weren’t cheap. When I moved to Australia, I sold many of those things for far less than I paid for them. Some were only a year old. I knew I was moving to better things, but it was definitely a lesson that buying new can be a waste of money, and there are better things to spend money on than stuff.

I can see how it is tempting to keep things we don’t really like, need or use, simply because we paid more than we should have in the first place, and won’t be able to recoup that. When you buy things second-hand, you’re much more likely to pay a fair price – and if you change your mind, be able to sell it on at a similar price.

3. It means stepping off the consumer treadmill.

For me, going to furniture stores meant seeing beautifully styled and laid out settings that I couldn’t afford, and didn’t even know that I “needed” until I stepped foot into the store. It meant trying to keep “up-to-date” and “accessorising” – which I now think meant spending money I didn’t have on stuff I didn’t need.

Now I don’t step into those stores, I have no idea what is “on trend” and I don’t feel the pull to spend my money on “stuff”. I find it safer not to browse. Instead, if I need something (and only then), I look in the second-hand stores or online. If I find something I like, at a price I’m happy to pay, then I buy it. There’s no clever marketing or external factors influencing my decisions.

4. It’s more community-friendly.

High street stores and national or international chains are where most people buy their new furniture. These businesses rely on global supply chains and overseas manufacturing; they order huge quantities and often externalize costs to keep prices low. They also encourage us to consume more and more.

Second-hand stores are mostly independent and local. Many sellers on Gumtree or eBay (or other classifieds sites) are regular people, trying to make a few extra dollars (or pounds, or whatever currency it is) getting rid of excess stuff.

I have the choice to line the coffers of big businesses, or choose to support smaller ones and keep the money within my local community economy.

5. Second-hand pieces have stories.

There’s something much more rewarding about choosing a one-of-a-kind second hand piece. than a generic 600-more-in-stock identikit piece from the furniture store. Whether it’s the thrill of the find, the history you uncover about the item, the conversations you have along the way, the trouble you go to to get it… second-hand pieces just have stories oozing from them. That is what gives them character.

Our furnishings won’t be gracing a design magazine any time soon. But they suit us and our lifestyle, and they saved huge amounts of new resources being used. And every item has a story :)

The bed and side table:

When we moved into our first flat in Australia, we actually slept on an air mattress for the first three months. Eventually we had to hand it back as it was needed by its owner (my sister-in-law!), and we bought this bed. The side table is one of a set of three nesting tables: the other two live in the living room.

bedroom-bed

The side tables were purchased from an eBay seller who restores furniture and the bed and mattress from Gumtree.

Clothes Rack and Chest-of-Drawers

When we bought our flat there was supposed to be a huge built-in wardrobe across the entire length of the bedroom. Knowing we wouldn’t use it, we requested it not be built, and found this clothes rack on Gumtree instead which takes up a fraction of the space.

The chest of drawers has had many uses in its life: from junk to board games to tools – it is now in the bedroom. It was restored by the seller who replaced the top with 70s laminate : /

bedroom-wardrobe-chest-of-drawers-hoarder-minimalist-treading-my-own-path

The rack is a current Ikea model and at any stage there seems to be at least 5 on Gumtree. I wish more people shopped second-hand!

The Desk and Chair

I remember when we picked up the desk from a Gumtree seller, she was having a party and there must have been 50 people in her house! The desk had seen both her kids through school and onto university, and she was pleased to hear I was studying and it would continue to enjoy its life. Now it’s my work desk.

The chair is one of our dining chairs. I cannot see the point in owning a separate office chair.

desk

The desk and chair.

The Dining Table

This table was an Ikea table that we bought second-hand, and was still flat-packed in the owner’s garage. It came with four chairs: the fourth chair lives with my desk. I’m not a fan of Ikea but at least this table is actual timber, rather than laminate. We’ve been saying that we will upgrade now we’ve moved and have space to fit more than 4 people in the flat, but we never seem to rush these things…

table-treading-my-own-path

Our dining table.

The Seating Area

Our seating area is a bit of a mish-mash of things, but it does the job. The chair on the right was technically my husband’s before he moved to the UK. He gave it to his parents, who kept trying to give it back to him when we moved here. Eventually we had room for it, and so we took it back. He did buy it new but to me it’s second-hand!

The sofa was our old neighbours who left it in our last flat when she moved out (we moved across the hall). She’d either found it on the verge, or paid $10 for it at a second hand store. My husband was never keen on it, and it was super worn out with itchy cushions, but the frame is solid. We decided to get it reupholstered. We probably should have waited until we moved to choose the colour, and it wasn’t done quite how we asked, but it’s definitely given it a new lease of life.

The chair on the right we gained from a swap table at a local event. We took a stainless steel pot with a lid that doesn’t work on our induction cooktop (shame, I liked that pot). We weren’t going to take anything in return, but then we spotted the chair and thought it could come in handy. It kinda just sits there awkwardly, but it does get used!

In between the sofa are the two other tables from the nest of 3. We call them the tiny tables as I hadn’t checked the dimensions when we bought them and I thought they’d be much bigger. I went to the shop with my mother-in-law and we were asking the guy if we’d need to put the back seat of the car down – he looked at us like we were crazy. Turns out I could fit them in my lap! This is the only second-hand item I’ve probably paid too much for.

sofa

Random chair collection and the nest of tables.

old-sofa

Just to give you some comparison, this is the old sofa before it was reupholstered. It was very sunken!

Whilst all the furniture is second-hand, not everything in our home is. Our original washing machine and fridge were both second-hand, but when we moved to our new flat we chose to buy new (I discussed why here).

We also bought some new things from before our zero waste days: our dinner plates and bowls, for example. Even since our zero waste days, there is the odd new purchase. Most recently (by which I mean, April) I bought some indoor plant pots.

Whilst I’d love for everything I own to be second-hand, sometimes it just isn’t convenient enough. I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that. It’s something to work towards ;)

Now I’d love to hear from you! Tell me, do you shop second-hand? What things do you choose second-hand, and what things do you choose new? What are your top reasons for choosing this? What is your favourite second-hand purchase? Have you had any bad experiences with buying second hand? Have you had any bad experiences buying new, for that matter?! Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave a comment with your thoughts below!

6 Things Minimalism Taught Me About Tidying

I’m going to come right out and tell you now, I am not naturally a tidy person. I like things to be tidy, but I am less keen to actually tidy them away. What I’ve come to realise is that being in a constant state of not-wanting-to-tidy-but-wanting-it-to-be-tidy means I spent more time thinking about tidying than actually tidying, and if I just went ahead and did the tidying in the first place I’d have far more energy and drive for the things that were important to me. Consequently, I began to embrace the idea of tidying.

These realisations don’t mean that suddenly I learned to love to tidy. Not at all. I would still rather spend the minimum amount of time tidying, but I now accept that it needs to be done, and I’m happier when my home is tidy. In my quest to figure out how to tidy less, the ideas of minimalism, of simplifying, and of letting go really clicked with me. After all, everything we own is something else to look for, find, move, clean, put away, maintain, worry about and probably at some stage, get frustrated with. Less stuff means less of all these things… and more time for getting on with living life.

Decluttering has definitely made my home tidier. The less you have, the less there is to tidy – there’s no arguing with that. But whilst decluttering has made a big difference, my home didn’t transform miraculously into one which no longer needs tidying. I wanted to believe that it would happen, but of course, it didn’t. Decluttering is not the whole story. However, it has taught me a lot about tidying, and made me realise some truths that I probably wouldn’t have figured out if I hadn’t started down the minimalist path.

More or better storage is not the answer to a tidy house

I used to think more storage was the answer, but in reality it was a way for me to hide my clutter out of sight. At first glance my home might look tidy, but inside most of the cupboards and storage boxes it was chaos. The more storage I had, the harder it was for me to remember where anything was, and the longer it took to search.

It’s not just cupboards and storage that we use for storing our stuff, it is whole rooms. Several years ago my husband and I started noticing that our small one-bedroom flat was getting very full. We didn’t have any space for extra storage, so we considered doing what everyone else does – move to a bigger place with an extra room.

But when we thought about it, we realised that we would be paying extra rent for a bigger home (and going through the pain of moving) just so we could store a bunch of things that we probably didn’t even need. We started to get rid of those things that we didn’t need instead… and we got rid of our storage too. That freed up space, and rather than costing us money (in rent), we made money by finding good homes for the things we no longer needed.

We let our spaces dictate to us how much stuff we have. If we have a big shed, or plenty of kitchen cupboards, or a spare room, we let ourselves fill them. More storage means more space to put stuff, and encourages us to accumulate more – and that means more tidying. We don’t need more storage. We need less stuff.

Better organisation isn’t the answer to a tidy home, either

I will say this first: everything you own needs a place. How can you tidy it away if you don’t know where that place is? Beyond that, there’s no need to over-complicate things. There’s no need for complex systems, or boxes with labels and dividers and subdividers and headings, or neat stacks of things balanced precariously one on top of the other. All that means is extra work, and extra clutter… and more reason not to put something away properly. One moment of “I-can’t-be-bothered-I’ll-do-it-properly-later” shortcut-taking and the whole system crumbles.

If you live with other people, this is even more important. The more complicated your systems are means the less likely anyone else will be to follow them.

When it comes to organising stuff, simplest is best.

Someone has to do the work

Houses don’t tidy themselves. This took me a long time to figure out. I would often wonder how other people managed to keep their houses clean and tidy. I thought there must be a secret, and if I could just discover it for myself, my home would be miraculously clean. The truth is of course, there is no secret. They simply do the work. If I want my home to be clean, I have to clean it.

There’s an interesting lesson there, too. If I want my home to be clean, I’m the one who has to clean it. I can’t just nag my husband to clean it for me. Having tried (and failed) on numerous occasions (and yes, I do still try occasionally) I have realised that if I’m the one who wants the tidy home, I am the one who has to do the work.

Everyone has a mess threshold: the point at which the mess becomes unbearable and they have to do something about it. I consider mine to be fairly high – I can tolerate quite a bit of mess before it annoys me. Frustratingly, my husband’s threshold is even higher. Consequently, when I think it’s messy and needs tidying, he is still oblivious… and of course if he doesn’t think it needs doing, he won’t join in (or he will, but very reluctantly and after much nagging).

If I want to maintain the peace, I either need to raise my tolerance levels or accept I need to do the work myself. (Note to husband – I’m still trying to come to terms with this.)

The cleaning will never be done

When I first realised this, it was something of a shock to me. The cleaning will never be finished. There is no “once-and-for-all” with cleaning. I can clean until the place is spotless, and everything gleams, but soon enough everything is dirty and dusty and needs to be re-cleaned. The dishes will need doing. The clothes will need washing and putting away.

Rather than save up all the cleaning until it becomes a monstrous job, and resenting how much time it takes up, I’ve realised that it’s best to accept that there will always be cleaning, and do a little every day. Do the dishes when they’re dirty straight away, and put them away. Do a load of laundry once the basket is full, and put it away. It doesn’t seem so much of a chore this way.

I’m not perfect, not at all, but when I get lazy and let a few loads of laundry build up or the dishes accumulate in the sink, it’s always far more onorous than little and often. Slowly slowly, the lesson is being learned.

A tidy home is all about mindfulness

If you have a messy home you’re probably like me: walk in the front door, drop shoes at the doorway, throw coat over a chair, and drop on the sofa after throwing bag on the floor. Whether my keys go in the bag, or on the sofa (probably falling behind the cushions) or remain in my coat pocket, or get left on the side seems to happen at random. Yet it causes panic and stress the next morning when I cannot remember where they are but realise I cannot escape the house without them. This is the opposite of mindfulness: it’s mindlessness, literally!

What if, instead of the above, I came home, left my shoes at the entrance and then walked to the wardrobe and hung my coat and put my bag away (ensuring the keys are in there)? Really, it takes me a couple of extra seconds at the time, but it saves me having to go through the whole process of looking for where I’ve left things and putting them away later, plus it decreases the clutter immediately.

It shouldn’t be that hard, should it? It’s something I’m working on, slowly. Rather than putting things down to deal with later, thinking about putting them in their final place the first time. I have to say, the less you own, the easier this becomes!

Habits take time

If I know one thing about habits, it’s that they take time to adopt. You have to work at them, and if you practice every day you’ll get better faster. You have to do things consciously until they become unconscious.

Tidying is a habit. As someone who is messy and doesn’t naturally tidy, learning to become a tidy person has taken time. Is taking time! It’s not a case of tidying the whole house and thinking – right, I’m never letting it get messy again! (Has anyone else done that? I used to cycle between this and messiness-to-the-point-of-despair, until I realised there had to be another way.) I have no idea what made me think that I could go from messy person to tidy person following one afternoon of cleaning, but I constantly did!

Realising that I needed to be more mindful and tackle things as they happened was the first step, the next step is making them habits that I do without thinking. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting better.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Has minimalism (or decluttering, or simplifying) taught you any lessons about tidying? What tips do you have for keeping clutter at bay? What habits you find most useful? What area of your home do you find hardest to keep clutter-free, and what is the easiest? Are you naturally a tidy person, or are you naturally messy? If you’re messy, have you come to terms with your messiness or do you long to be tidy? If you’re naturally tidy, please give some insights into how you do it! I love hearing your thoughts so please leave me a comment below!

Stop Chasing and Start Living

From an early age we are taught that bigger is better, that more is better. Maybe we aren’t taught it directly, but all the advertisements we see show us that the more we have, the happier we’ll be. The more we earn, the more respected (and powerful) we’ll be. The better we dress (and the more we spend on face cream), the more beautiful we’ll be. The more holidays we take, the more relaxed we’ll be. If we work hard, we’ll be able to accumulate all this stuff, we can live happily ever after in a nice house and afford to retire comfortably and live in the countryside.

I used to believe this too. I had no reason not to. It seemed to make sense. A big house must be far better than a small one. Six bedrooms and space for a pony must be better than two bedrooms and just enough space to swing a cat. A job where you earn a heap of money must be far better than a job which pays only an average salary. A hundred pairs of shoes must be better than ten pairs of shoes. Several holidays a year must be better than one. Surely?

Like many, I graduated from university, went travelling, came home and got a full-time job. That’s what you do, right? I was at the bottom of the corporate ladder, but I was determined to climb it, to get that great job with the fat paycheque and buy all that stuff that was going to make me happy.

Climbing the ladder means working hard. I had to jump through hoops and put my hand up for “projects” that increased my workload but reflected well on me, and were noticed by management. I’d work extra hours, and take work home to try to get ahead. Slowly I began to climb. I got a few successive small promotions, with bigger teams, larger budgets, more pressure…and further to fall.

But I wasn’t enjoying my job. My passions in life did not match the work I was doing, and it was getting harder and harder to put extra effort into something that I had no passion for. I was frustrated, and miserable.

I started questioning what I’d been led to believe. Was more really better? I wasn’t earning big bucks, but I was earning the national average, so I could afford to pay my bills, go on holiday and still save a little. It was enough. I doubted I’d ever reach the heady heights of the luxury I saw on the billboards.

It seemed like aspiring to a life like that could only ever bring disappointment. Even if I worked harder and got closer, would relentless pursuit of promotions and payrises really bring extra happiness?

Slowly, another idea began to grow in my mind. What if, rather than working towards having more and then being happy, I learned to be happy with what I already had? What if, rather than trying to earn more money, I found ways to spend less?

If I am happy with myself and my situation, and accepting of who I am, I reasoned, even though I’m not perfect, then I don’t need to chase the external rewards I’ve been told will make me happy. I don’t need them. Who I am now is all I ever have.

That’s not to say I don’t (or I shouldn’t) aspire to change or grow or be more, and chase my dreams.

It just means I shouldn’t depend on this for my happiness.

What makes me happy is spending time with friends and family, being in nature, gardening, cooking and good food. Learning new skills. Seeing new places and experiencing new things. Being connected to my community. Contributing to society, and having a positive impact.

I’m not alone: research shows the three main things that make people happy are close relationships, a pastime they love and helping others.

What helps with this is having time. I don’t want to work more hours, I want to work less. I don’t want to spend more time cleaning a bigger house and shopping for stuff to fill the extra rooms. I don’t want to be too busy working (or too tired after working) to miss living life right now.

I stopped chasing. I stopped thinking about work as a career and started thinking of it as a job; something that paid the bills. I reduced my hours. Colleagues thought I was unusual: after all, I wasn’t semi-retired and I didn’t have children, the two socially acceptable reasons to work part-time hours, but it didn’t matter to me what they thought.

I spent more free time growing my own food, and doing the things that brought me joy. Interestingly, I found that with less time spent at work, I enjoyed my job more. I also felt less inclined to shop and “treat” myself – something I hadn’t consciously noticed I was doing in the past.

I owned (with a mortgage) a flat in the UK, which I sold when we moved to Australia. My husband and I have been renting for the past four years. I laugh when people say that renting is money down the drain, or a waste – actually it’s a great deal because you get somewhere to live in exchange for your money. There are plenty of things that I consider a waste of money, and renting is definitely not one of them.

We’ve been able to live in a suburb we couldn’t afford to buy in and live car-free with excellent access to everything at our doorstep. Now we plan to buy a flat, because we want to move to a new community and the project is something we believe in. We didn’t think about re-sale factors, or whether it was a bargain or over-priced when we bought it because we aren’t buying it to sell. We are buying it to live in. Maybe we’ll never need (or want) to move again.

We don’t need more. We need enough. Learning to accept what we have and being able to find pleasure in the simple things is something we can all do. Chase dreams, but don’t chase more in the pursuit of happiness. You might never get there.

Wardrobe Minimalism: Progress in Pictures

It’s no secret: I struggle with wardrobe decluttering. In my minimalism journey, this has been the hardest area for me to let go. I keep at it, because I know that practise makes perfect, and that decluttering gets easier with time (flexing those decluttering muscles is the only way to make them stronger). When I’m finally finished, the taste of success will be oh so sweet!

About this time last year I undertook a mammoth wardrobe decluttering session, and I photographed everything in my wardrobe. I say mammoth not because of the amount of items I discarded, but because owning so many things made it a big job! I removed every single item of clothing I owned from my wardrobe, shelves, those items hanging behind the door, languishing in the laundry basket and generally distributed about the flat, and made a big pile in the living room. Techinally, several piles.

I lay a sheet out on the floor and category by category, grouped together everything I owned, took a photograph and then considered what I could do without. Once those items were decluttered, I took another photo for prosperity.

I really recommend this process if you want to reduce your wardrobe. Of course, you’d think it would be easier to just look at everything hanging on a rail and make choices from there, but physically moving your things is so much better for a number of reasons:

  • You can be really clear about exactly what you own.
  • You can group things together so you can see exactly how many of every different type of item you own.
  • Physically moving everything makes you realise exactly how much you have. Clothing is surprisingly heavy, and actually lifting and feeling this is much more powerful than glancing at a rail of hanging items.
  • It’s harder to ignore something when it’s in your hands. You can’t miss it, or skim over it, so you consider every single item independently.

Originally, I took photos to write a blog post, but I found it very useful as a tool for helping me see what I owned. I think being able to visually see everything is actually far more helpful than a list. 10 skirts sounds like nothing, but when I see 10 skirts in an image, I see that is far too many! It’s also helpful in working out what goes with what, far more than a list will.

One year later I’ve repeated the process. These pictures show the journey from August 2014 (pre- and post-decluttering), and my progress in October 2015. Remember that my wardrobe decluttering journey actually began 2 years prior to the first pictures in 2014, and clearly I still have quite a way to go!

Smalls decluttering

Smalls Pre-Decluttering August 2014

Smalls decluttered

Smalls post-decluttering August 2014

Underwear Cull Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls pre-decluttering in October 2015

Underwear Cull Take Two Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Smalls post-decluttering October 2015

Wardrobe Minimalism Marie Kondo Folding October 2015

And this… folded smalls Marie Kondo style! These boxes sit in the shelf in my wardrobe where the heaped pile of mess used to be, and in 2 months it has not got remotely untidy. Folding works!

More Tops Decluttering

Tops and shorts pre-declutting August 2015. I can’t believe looking at this that I used to own so many tops!

Tops decluttered

Tops and shorts post-decluttering August 2014.

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts pre-decluttering October 2015 – a new (second-hand) one has even snuck in! This was a concious purchase – I needed a green top to go with a skirt I own. I have worn it plenty of times. Unlike some of the other tops in this picture…

Wardrobe Minimalism Tops and Shorts Final Cull Casual October 2015

Tops and shorts after decluttering October 2015

Tops decluttering

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering August 2014

More Tops Decluttered

Shirts, blouses and other tops post-decluttering August 2014

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism Pre Cull October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops pre-decluttering October 2015. The thick British shorts are gone, and the green top is a cycle top which helps avoid sunburn when out on my bike.

Other Tops Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Shirts, blouses and other tops after decluttering October 2015.

Skirts decluttering

Skirts August 2014. The pre- and post- images are exactly the same as I only got rid of one (the denim one at the front). How many did I wear between then and now? Honestly? Less than half.

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Skirts October 2015

Skirts decluttering October 2015. One of the yellow skirts wore out, I donated the other denim skirt when I went back to the UK, and the coral skirt ended up in the charity shop pile before I took this picture.

Jumpers cardigans decluttering

Jumpers pre-decluttering August 2014. Woah, that is a lot of jumpers for someone who lives in a city which has 40 degree summers!

Jumpers decluttered

Post-decluttering August 2014. Well, I say post-decluttering, but there’s not much difference!

Jumpers Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism October 2015

Jumpers Decluttered October 2015. The cream cardigan on the right is old and somehow escaped the August photos – it must have been in the laundry. I decided to donate the black cardigan right after taking this picture.

Dresses decluttering

Dresses pre-decluttering August 2014. Looking at this image now shocks me – how can I have owned so many dresses that I wore so little?!

Dresses decluttered

Dresses post-decluttering August 2014. Good effort, but a long way to go! Two of those dresses weren’t worn the entire summer in between 2014 and 2015.

Decluttering Wardrobe Minimalism Dresses October 2015

Dresses post-decluttering October 2015. Two gone, but two new ones have taken their place. Hopefully these will get the wear they deserve!

Trousers decluttering

Trousers August 2014

Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism Trousers October 2015

Trousers October 2015

Final Bits and Pieces Wardrobe Decluttering Minimalism October 2015

Other bits and bobs October 2015…nothing new since 2014 though : )

Tops and Jumpers Underwear Tidying Marie Kondo KonMari Minimalism

I’ve taken Marie Kondo’s advice to fold jumpers and t-shirts. They are easier to find, don’t take up as much space and folding means I’m more aware of their condition (spills, rips etc). Love this approach!

Decluttered Wardrobe October 2015

My newly decluttered and Marie Kondo-ed (meaning folded neatly) wardrobe October 2015. I’ve also switched sides: I realized it made more sense to adopt the bigger half as I have the most stuff. For now! But the decluttering will continue…

Since taking these photos, and writing about my minimalist wardrobe struggle back in October, I’ve had a bit of a wardrobe minimalism breakthrough. Yes I have! A large part of it has to do with all the helpful comments that you left with advice and tips. They didn’t fall on deaf ears, quite the opposite, and I want to thank you all for providing well needed advice. Stay tuned, because I’m looking forward to sharing the next chapter with you shortly!

Now it’s your turn, and I want to hear from you! Now you’ve seen my wardrobe in all its, er, glory…I’d love to hear what you think! Any areas for improvement? Any glaringly obvious mistakes or inappropriate (mis-matching, for example) items? Anything I could add to make what I have much more usable? Any colours missing or over-represented? Any parallels with your own wardrobe minimalism struggle? Anything else you’d like to add?! Please keep the advice coming in the comments below!

Am I Really a Minimalist? I’m About to Find Out…

Since returning from the UK at the end of September, I’ve had a renewed enthusiasm for decluttering. Partly this was inspired by the success I had in finally letting go of old possessions stored at my parents’ house, and realising how far along this path I’ve now come… and that there is an end in sight. Partly it was inspired by Marie Kondo, whose book about the magic of tidying-up even managed to spark enthusiasm in my husband, who for all his dislike of mess and clutter, is never quite as keen to do anything about it as I’d like!

This enthusiasm has meant that every weekend since we have been back (4 so far) there has been some mention of decluttering, some effort made to donate / sell / fix / discard things that we no longer need, want or use. There has been much discussion about whether things are useful or not, needed or not, wanted or not. To be honest, whilst the idea of a clutter-free home is very exciting, the groundwork needed to achieve this is rather less so.

You may remember a few months ago that I mentioned  we were planning to move at the end of this year. We’re buying a flat in a community we love and can’t wait to move in. The only thing stopping us is that it isn’t quite ready, and we’re still unsure about whether it will be ready at the end of the year. We’ve renewed our current lease a couple of times on short term contracts, and the current one is due to expire on 21st December.

We’ve been wondering what to do next, and whilst faced with (yet another) weekend of thinking about decluttering (because the “thinking” part seems to take up far more time than the actual “doing” part), I had an epiphany. Decluttering will take as long as we have. Whether that’s two weeks or six months, it will expand to fill the time and deprive us of spending that time doing fun stuff. What if we set ourselves a deadline…and don’t renew the lease?!

Moving the week before Christmas might not conventionally be the best time, but actually we won’t be doing any last minute Christmas shopping, we won’t be decorating our home and we won’t be having family or friends over, so really it’s the ideal time! There’s just one detail missing…where will we move to?

And that detail is the beauty of it.

What first attracted us to minimalism was the freedom it promises. The freedom of a life not enslaved to stuff. The freedom to spend our time doing the things we love, enjoying the company of our friends and family, taking the time to explore the country we live in. Our possessions restrict us. They take up space and they take up time. We’ve been working to reduce our possessions to just the essentials (meaning the things that we personally need…essentials of course, are different for everyone), but moving out with nowhere to go? That is the ultimate test.

The truth about moving, is that whilst we always tell ourselves that we’ll get organised beforehand, what actually happens is we run out of time and shove everything in boxes, which we move at great effort… These boxes then languish in storage until we (finally) get around to opening them, at which point we wonder why we ever bothered to keep all this stuff (having forgotten that we even owned most of it) before taking it all to the charity shop after all. That isn’t going to happen this time. That can’t happen this time. We will move the essentials. The superfluous will go.

Strictly speaking, we have somewhere to go. The other advantage of moving out at Christmas is that people often go away, and we have friends and family whose homes we are welcome to stay in. The emphasis is on “we”. There may be room for us, but there is no room for lots of stuff.

Is this really a good idea?! I don’t know. Maybe I’m wildly underestimating how much stuff we own, or how easy I will find decluttering. Part of me wonders what will happen if our new place still isn’t ready when our friends and family come back from their Christmas holidays and no longer want us squatting in their homes. Only a small part, though. A far bigger part of me is relishing the adventure. That’s the fun part of life, isn’t it? To explore the unknown, to take risks, to accept challenges, to have experiences…and learn and grow from them, whatever happens and however things turn out.

That’s why we chose minimalism, after all. To set us free.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Does this appeal to your sense of adventure, or would you balk at the unknown? Have you ever experienced something like this yourself, and did you have far more stuff than you realised? Or have you moved recently and discovered that you are far more minimalist than you thought? Freedom is one of the things that appeals to me most about minimalism – is it the same for you? Or are there other motivations for you to live with less? Please join in and leave a comment below!

Food Waste That You Can “Re-Use”

It’s Zero Waste Week this week, and the theme is “re-use”. I talked last week about household items I use to generate less waste, particularly packaging waste. That got me thinking about food, or more specifically food waste. There are so many food “waste” items that can actually be re-used that I thought I’d write a list, to encourage you to think twice before committing something straight to the bin (even if it is the compost bin).

10 Food Waste Items that you can Actually “Re-use”

1. Spring onion roots

Those end bits you chop off of a spring onion with the roots still attached don’t need to go in the bin – they can be replanted and will re-sprout! Celery will do the same thing. If you grow your own you could cut them at soil level rather than pulling up, and leave the roots in the ground to re-sprout!

Zero Waste Spring Onions in Egg Shells

Spring onion bottoms re-sprouting on the window sill : )

2. Vegetable peels

If I can avoid peeling my vegetables then I don’t do it, but occasionally peeling them is required for a particular recipe. Make sure the skins are scrubbed first, then save the peels, toss in a small amount of oil, sprinkle lightly with salt and spread out over a baking tray. Bake for around 10 minutes on one side, turn over and bake for another 5 – 10mins at a medium heat. Voila! Your very own zero waste vegetable crisps! I’ve made these using potato peels, as well as parsnip, carrot and beetroot peels – and they are all delicious : )

Zero Waste Week Making Crisps from Vegetable Peels

Potato and beetroot peels make great vegetable chips – just brush with oil and pop in the oven.

3. Veggie scraps

Rather than making vegetable stock with new vegetables, I save up scraps in my freezer in a big glass jar, and once the jar is full I use these. I use the tops and tails, stems and stalks, and the outer white layers of onion that aren’t suitable for cooking with. I tend to avoid using cabbage as it can be overpowering. Recently I’ve started separating in the freezer, so I have a big jar of onion tops, tails and skins, and a smaller jar of other bits and pieces, so I can make the stock into the flavour I want more easily.

4. Lemons (and other citrus)

Lemons are made of so many good parts, it just doesn’t make any sense to use one of them and throw the rest away! Before juicing a lemon you can zest it (remove the yellow skin) with a grater or zester, or even a potato peelers – just chop afterwards. The zest can then be frozen, or dried in the oven at a low temperature and stored in the pantry. The juice can also be frozen too (I use an ice cube tray, then transfer the frozen cubes to a glass container).

If you don’t want to zest them, the peels can be made into candied citrus peel. A final resort is to add the peels to homemade household cleaners (like vinegar) to give a citrus fragrance.

This isn’t just true for lemons – it’s perfect for all citrus fruit.

Zero Waste Week Re-Use Lemons Citrus

There’s no need to use just one part of the citrus fruit – use all the bits!

5. Egg Shells

This isn’t one you can eat – well, not one that I eat – but I think it’s worth mentioning as egg shells are one of those things that don’t break down well in compost or in worm farms. Not whole, anyways. When I’ve used eggs, I rinse the shells and leave to dry, and then pop into a jar. Once the jar is reasonably full (you can squish them to fit more in) I add them to my food processor and grind to a powder. If you don’t have a good food processor you can use a spice / coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or even a bag (reusable of course!) and a rolling pin. The powder can then be added to compost, a worm farm or even directly on the soil.

Zero Waste Week Reuse Egg Shells

Egg shells can be ground up to make a great soil additive.

6. Coffee Grounds

This is another food waste item that doesn’t need to go in the bin. Coffee grounds are great for the soil so even if you don’t have a compost bin or worm farm, emptying your coffee pot directly under a tree or shrub adds nutrients to the soil and saves waste. The caffeine in the coffee is also thought to act as a slug deterrent – hurrah!

Another use for coffee grounds is to make your own DIY body scrub. It’s a natural alternative to those plastic microbeads that are so damaging to the environment, and one that uses a waste product! Whether you just use the grounds on their own or mix with oils or other ingredients depends on your level of patience (I am all for the simplest option) but one thing is required – get a filter for your plughole or you’ll end up blocking your drain!

7. Carrot Tops

It just doesn’t make any sense to chuck the lush green tops that come with real carrots. I find that they make a great alternative to basil in pesto. You can use any pesto recipe and sub some of the basil (from half up to tho-thirds) with carrot tops. I still use basil to keep that distinctive flavour, but you can make it using carrot tops alone if you prefer. You can also use the leaves in salad.

It doesn’t have to stop at carrot tops either – beetroot leaves, celery tops, in fact, most other leaves can be eaten raw or cooked with. You just need to get creative!

8. Juice Pulp

Juicing vegetables and fruit can be delicious, but so much waste is generated. The great news is, it can be made into food of its own! I make flatbreads using the pulp from juicing carrots and the same recipe should work with beetroot. You can also incorporate pulp into baking, or search for other recipes on the internet. It takes a small amount of preparation beforehand such as ensuring cleanliness, removing pips or seeds, and peeling if necessary (eg fruit such as apples). If you’re not sure what to do with it, you can always freeze until you have enough or you’ve found a recipe to try.

Carrot pulp crackers with hummus

Cracker flatbreads made with leftover pulp from juicing carrots.

8. Nut Pulp

If you make nut milk, particularly almond milk, then straining will leave you with a large amount of almond pulp. I can’t believe anyone would throw this in the bin! Nuts are expensive, but also full of goodness. What a waste! Again, there are hundreds of recipes out there for using nut milk pulp. The simplest is to mix with s0me olive oil and a little salt, roll out, score into squares and bake – and you have crackers! There are plenty of both savoury and sweet recipes to try.

Whilst the pulp is freezable, another option is to dry out and store in a jar in the pantry. Spread on a baking tin and put into the oven on a low  heat, checking often. Once it dries, pop into the food processor to whizz into a powder, and finish in the oven to ensure no damp bits remain. The resulting powder is more of a flour as the fat has been squeezed out to make milk, leaving the fibrous part, and is great to use in baking.

9. Bread Crusts

Those dry scrappy bits of bread that have slowly turned into rocks don’t need to go in the bin. Ditto old bread rolls. Chuck them in the food processor, grind into breadcrumbs and freeze. Actually, they will keep in a jar in the pantry for a few weeks if completely dry (you can dry out in the oven first to be sure).

Zero Waste Week Breadcrumbs

Use stale bread and old crusts to make breadcrumbs.

10. The Liquid from Cooked Beans / Pulses

This can be the liquid from tins of beans, if you buy those, or the liquid from cooking your own. It has its own name – aquafaba – and it can be used as an egg replacement in baking as well as an egg alternative to make meringues and macaroons. Don’t just take my word for it though – check out the Vegan Society’s Aquafaba article to see what I’m talking about. I am completely fascinated by this – the idea of using something that you’d pour down the drain to make actual delicious food! You don’t need to be a vegan to think this is a great idea! So far I’ve eaten meringues made this way (not by me, by the accountant at work – she was as mystified and intrigued as I was!) and I was very impressed. Stay tuned for some experiments later in the year!

There you have it – 10 food items that you can re-use. Even if you’re a committed composter, it’s always better to find a way to re-use something than to rot it!

Now I want to hear from you! Things always seem obvious after the fact, but several of these were real “a-ha!” moments for me when I first came across them. I’m sure there are plenty more that I haven’t come across yet, and I need your help! I want to know what food waste items you re-use, and how. Have you had any great successes? Any fails? Any recipes you’d like to share? Please share your thoughts, experiences and tips in the comments below!

Not Quite Homesteading: My Balcony “Farm” Project

Living in England, I had a beautiful allotment, and I loved growing my own food. It gave me so much pleasure! Moving to Australia meant giving that up, and the flat we lived in for the first 2.5 years had a dark balcony and no natural light, so it was almost impossible to grow anything.

Last May we moved across the hallway to a flat with a much bigger balcony with a much better aspect, and I was determined to get some plants growing. After all, this was what I was going to see every time I looked out my living room window if I didn’t…

Concrete Balcony

The concrete balcony outside our flat (and living room window)

When we moved, the plan was to be here for about a year, and then move onto somewhere where we could actually grow our own plants. We decided to keep things in pots that we would be able to transport with us to the new place.

First up, we bought some trees. A lemon, a lime, a strawberry guava and a blueberry bush.

Balcony gardening fruit trees

A Tahitan Lime, Strawberry Guava, Blueberry bush and a Eureka Lemon tree.

Next up, we bought a couple of old wine barrels from a local winery, and four planter boxes made from old mattress parts (sold by a local company that recycle mattresses).

Drilling Wine Barrels2

Drilling holes into the wine barrels for the citrus trees.

recycled planters

Four planter boxes made from old mattress components – the trellises are made from old cot mattress springs!

We also got herbs and seeds from friends and family, and slowly planted these into the planters and other pots that we found on the verge.

Not Quite the Garden of Overflowing Produce I’d Dreamed Of…

We quickly realised that we didn’t get enough sun to grow many veggies. My early experiment with seedlings saw them grow elongated and straggly. Fortunately the planer boxes are on wheels, so I was constantly moving them about to get more sun, but from the whole first planter box, I grew two radishes and four carrots. The kale would have made it had the caterpillars not decimated it first…

Planter with seedlings

Poor straggly seedlings : ( Two radishes made it, and 4 carrots, plus there’s one kale seedling still clinging to life several months after it was planted out…

The other problem that came with the lack of warm sun and the exposed position on the corner above the driveway was that it got very cold in winter. My lime tree didn’t make it.

My peas and beans in the trellis planters never took off either, and I had a handful of beans and a couple of peas.

The odds may have been against us, but we kept on trying. And we did have some successes.

Not Quite Urban Homesteading – but it’s a Start!

When spring came this year, the trees fruited! All of them! The strawberry cherry guava (which may not actually be a strawberry guava at all but a lemon guava) has several fruits, and the first three were harvested at the weekend. The lemon tree flowered prolifically and has about 15 lemons slowly maturing on the branches. Plus my mandarin (which replaced the lime) has a sole fruit – it did have two, but the other dropped off. The blueberry has, to date, yielded 2 blueberries…

Cherry Guava

Strawberry cherry guavas… except they’re not red! The yellow colour seems to mean they are actually lemon guavas. Regardless ,they were delicious!

Lemon Tree with Lemons

My lemons are slowly ripening on the branches…

Balcony Project March 2015

Can you see the lonesome mandarin? On the tree on the far left – it’s on the right hand side. It’s still very green at the moment!

We’ve had success with the seedlings we’ve pushed against the railings. A couple of cucumbers, a single capsicum (with a second on the way), and heaps of cherry tomatoes. The aubergines have been flowering continuously, but are as yet to bear a single fruit. Still, it makes me happy that they are there, greening the place up. We’ve also got oregano and parsley, and last week I planted a mango seed that I found sprouting in the worm farm, so we’ll see what happens with him!

Aubergine plants

I have 7 aubergine plants, and despite their continual flowering, I’m yet to get a single aubergine. Ah well. I enjoy their company!

Tomato Crops 2015

Tomatoes tomatoes! I had three plants and these have gone great guns! Plus I love the pop of colour they add to the balcony.

Whilst it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to stop food shopping any time soon, the few things that we have managed to grow have given us heaps of joy. Gardening is so magical, and I never tire of the excitement of a seed sprouting, or a flower turning into fruit. I’ve probably spent far more in soil and planters than I’ll ever recoup in food, although I hope the planters last for many years, and the soil I can amend with compost and worm castings which are free. I’m excited that in 6 months time we’ll be moving to a place with a proper garden, and I’ll be able to go crazy!

Sadly Not Everyone Thinks Like Us…

My husband and I are very proud of our little corner of greenness, but sadly one of our neighbours isn’t. (He’s the neighbour that heads the Strata Board (and built the whole building), and last week we received a letter from the Strata company informing us that pot plants need to be kept out of common walkways. Whilst we consider this to be our own private space, our landlord has taken this to mean we can only have a couple of pot plants by the front door, and has threatened to issue us with a “breach of contract”.

Threaten away, landlord, because I’m not getting rid of my beautiful plants without a fight! Removing my plants will be like cutting off my arms! How can I get rid of them, when the outcome would be this?

Doom and Gloom - our Balcony with No Plants

Doom and Gloom – the view from our front window if we moved all our glorious plants…

Have you had any experience of balcony gardening? Are there any tips you’d like to share? Plants that grew well, or things that didn’t? How about strata companies…have you had anyone try to evict your plants (or you!) simply for trying to grow some tomatoes? And tell me…who’s willing to come round and chain themselves to my fruit trees if it comes to it?! ; p I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below!

Don’t Get Organised. Get Less.

One of the things I noticed when we returned from holidays is how cluttered our home is becoming. Having spent 10 days with just a handful of possessions that could pack neatly into the boot of the car, it was somewhat of a shock to be back amongst the midst of the disorder that is our home.

It sounds strange, but walking back through the front door, I could physically feel the presence of all these things in the room. A literal weight on my shoulders.

It’s not that we have a lot of stuff, but over time we do accumulate things. We also have very little storage, which makes it hard to tidy the things we do have away, because sometimes they just don’t have places to go.

You hear about minimalists who can fit their entire belongings into a single duffel bag. That will never be me. My zero-waste / plastic-free lifestyle means I need possessions to make it work: glass jars, a reusable coffee cup, storage containers, a stainless steel water bottle, produce bags etc.

I also get a lot of joy from spending time in the kitchen and I consider my various pots and pans all to be necessities.

However, for all those things that I consider necessities, there are plenty more things that are not. Just as we accumulate things as we need them, items that we already own become redundant, taking up space and causing stress.

There are two major lessons I’ve learned about minimalism and decluttering. The first is that you are never finished. I love the idea of the decluttering muscle, and the more we work (at) it the stronger it gets, and the easier it becomes to let go of things we no longer need.

However, I really don’t think there’s an end point. The things that we need and the things we no longer need are always changing. We accumulate things not just by purchasing, but via gifts from friends and family, through work, events we go to and items in the mail. We can make our decluttering muscle really strong, but there will never be a point where we can say, “that’s it, the decluttering is finished forever, and now I can sit back.”

The second is that having too much clutter doesn’t mean you need to get organized. It means you need to get less. It’s very easy to pop your items into storage, and because they are out of sight, feel like you are in control of your possessions. But are you really?

I’m not just talking about external storage either, but putting things in cupboards, boxes, the attic, the shed, the spare room, drawers, files, etc. Do you really know what stuff you have in each of those places? Could you make an inventory? Can you find things when you’re in a hurry? Probably not.

I’m not suggesting that people don’t need some level of organisation, or that drawers and cupboard aren’t useful! It’s more that when we start to feel overwhelmed with our clutter, we think “I need to get organized”. We then head to the nearest shopping centre to arm ourselves with new folders, bigger cupboards, or extra storage cabinets…which is more stuff and clutter!

In reality we probably have too much stuff, and need to let some of it go.

Whenever I’ve tidied and organised, the stuff has eventually resorted back to its pre-organised chaotic state. Keeping things continually tidy and organised is a lot of work! There is far less energy required to simply get rid of things.

With this in mind, when I arrived home from holidays, I resisted the urge to find a big box and stuff everything in the spare room. I gritted my teeth, and I flexed my decluttering muscle… and I let…things…go.

I listed a few things on Gumtree. I returned some borrowed items to a friend. I took a huge box to the charity shop. I recycled a pile of unnecessary papers. I donated some old towels to the local dogs’ refuge. Of course, there’s more work to be done, but our home (and my shoulders!) feel lighter already.

Fed up with battling the never-ending need to tidy up? Want to feel more in control of your space and your possessions? Don’t get organised. Get rid of them.

Now I want to hear from you! Do you wish you could be tidier, or think that you have too much clutter? Have you tried just getting rid of things rather than trying to organize them? Do you still cling to the hope that this time, you will be able to make things tidy and keep them that way?! Or maybe organization has worked for you – in which case I’d really like some tips! Please leave a comment and join the conversation below!