Sold the Toaster, bought…an iPad?!

Inspired by Tiny, the movie I saw a couple of weeks ago, and reinvigorated to declutter, I’ve been listing things on Gumtree this week and I’ve had some success. People want to buy my old stuff!

I’ve talked before about why I think selling stuff can be better than donating it to the charity shop. There’s no guarantee the charity shop will want it, and with electrical goods, not all places will accept them as they need to be tested. If you can find a new owner yourself, that is the best outcome from a waste point of view. If you give something away for free, it’s harder for people to say no, even if they don’t actually want it – they see a bargain!

Toaster

We put the toaster in a cupboard six months ago as a test to see if we really need it. After all, we have a grill, and we had a small kitchen with limited bench space. Now we’ve moved, we have even less bench space.

BREAKING NEWS! The grill will make toast just as acceptably as a toaster! Who’d have thought it?!

We don’t eat bread very often, and when we do, the grill is perfectly adequate for our needs. I’m the kind of person who stands over the toaster, impatiently popping it up to see if the toast is ready, so having to watch over the grill isn’t a problem. It’s not like bread takes a long time to toast!

Besides the toaster, we’ve had $2 here and $3 there, and amused but happy people removing clutter from our house this week. The toaster lady was looking for a toaster for her workplace, and thought to check Gumtree before buying a rubbishy cheap one from the store. We sold our dustbuster vacuum (something my boyfriend has owned for years) which was fine for floorboards, but completely impractical for our carpeted flat. The guy who bought it had just purchased a cheap vacuum for $40. The first time he used it, it died (taking planned obsolescence to the extreme?!). So he checked on Gumtree, saw we lived round the corner and gave us $5 for ours. He was blown away by the fact he could buy a vacuum for $5! An Electrolux, no less! We were happy to be rid of it, but I also hope that these transactions inspire people to look on Gumtree or eBay for what is available second-hand before buying something new.

Which brings me to my next confession…

We’ve bought an iPad.

ipad

I would love to say we don’t need one, but after much debate (probably a year’s worth!) we gave in and decided to get a tablet. We only have one laptop and no TV, and my boyfriend likes to watch DVDs on the laptop. I like to use it for all my blogging, research and other projects. Rivalry!

My phone is so completely useless it barely does anything other than make calls, and I thought a tablet might be a practical alternative. Laptops really aren’t that portable, are they?

I looked at all the second hand sites, but as I was buying something that expensive (second-hand ones sell for almost as much as new ones) I wanted the guarantee it wasn’t stolen or faulty.

I actually found a compromise via the Apple Store. They sell refurbished products (my sister bought a refurbished computer from them a while back and it’s been perfect). A refurbished product is basically a pre-owned product that has been returned to the store and repaired for reselling. Buying from Apple means it still comes with a guarantee. I’d seen other stores that offer this too, but customer comments told me that replacement screens were often cheap knockoffs, and not very good, and the guarantees are much less.

I think my boyfriend was expecting a beaten-up old thing to arrive in a bashed-up cardboard box. But no, it arrived looking just like new. It even had the unhelpful plastic cover wrapped around it!

Sad face : (

Stupid plastic protective iPad Cover

Despite the plastic cover and my guilt over questionable ethics (you can read an article I wrote about ethical electronics here), I have to say, I’m actually blown away by how clever, fast and useful the tablet is proving to be! It’s much easier to read from than a laptop, it’s better for looking things up, and it means I can finally get round to learning how Twitter works! (If you’re on Twitter, follow me at @TreadMyOwnPath, and feel free to give me tips on how it all works – I’m a newbie!)

So out with the old, and in with the new. Overall we still have less than we started with, and the iPad is something we actually use, so I feel like we’re still heading in the right direction. Plus, I sold the toaster using the iPad! That’s some consolation, surely?!

What do you think? Am I just kidding myself ?! How do you feel about splashing out on new technology? More importantly, could you get rid of your toaster?!

PS Whilst the decluttering is going well, I still haven’t tackled the wardrobe. I’m putting off, I mean, putting it back to next week.  : /

Would You Wash Your Hair with Bicarb and Vinegar?

Would you switch from using regular shampoo and conditioner to washing your hair with sodium bicarbonate (also called bicarbonate of soda, bicarb soda or bicarb) and vinegar? Sounds completely crazy, doesn’t it?! Why would actually do something like that?! Well, I’m gonna tell you not only who, but also why, and…what happened when I tried it out myself!

Who Would Wash Their Hair with Bicarb?

I’m not talking about eccentric old ladies with too many cats, the ones who sit at the bus stop talking to themselves. Maybe they do too; I’ve never asked. But if you think they’re the only people who would do such a thing, you’d be mistaken.

In fact, there’s so many people on board it’s even been described as a movement. It’s called the “no poo” (as in “no shampoo”) movement, but as someone who cringes at toilet humour, I try to avoid that description! No poo is bad enough, but combined with movement…nope, I just can’t (won’t) go there. However, if you Google it, you’ll be amazed how many entries pop up!

Broadly speaking, converts fit into three groups – the environmentally conscious, the health conscious, and the thrifty. Their motives are all slightly different, but the outcome is the same – clean, shiny hair!

Kate with Bicarb Vinegar Hair

This is my friend Kate Raynes-Goldie (@OceanPark), “doing a Shirley Temple”… “Getting ready for the WA Screen awards (and to think, once upon a time I had purple hair, and pink hair, and bright orange…) But, even more exciting is that as of the time this picture was taken, I hadn’t used shampoo on my hair in over a month (sodium bicarb and apple cider vinegar, baby! ” KRG

 Why Would You Wash Your Hair With Bicarb and Vinegar?

There’s actually a whole heap of reasons.

  • Shampoos can strip natural oils from the scalp, so the scalp produces more oil to compensate. This makes more regular shampooing needed to remove the oil, and becomes a vicious cycle. Feel like your hair is constantly greasy and needs washing every day? Ironically, your shampoo may be to blame. Dermatologists found that reducing shampoo use causes oil to be produced at a lower rate.
  • Shampoos typically contain synthetic ingredients and their safety is increasingly under question. Parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity, and 1,4-dioxane has been labelled a probable human carcinogen. Sodium bicarbonate and vinegar are both completely safe – we put them in our food!
  • Silicone derivatives such as dimethicone which are added to shampoo to coat the hair and make it appear shiny and more manageable are now thought to dry the hair out because they prevent moisture entering.
  • Plastic! The majority of shampoo and other haircare products come in plastic bottles, which contribute to plastic pollution in the environment. In addition, flushing these chemicals down the drain does nothing for our waterways.
  • Bicarb and vinegar are far cheaper than the majority of shampoos and conditioners, and if you’re on a budget, can help save money.
  • It’s another way to simplify. You probably already have bicarb and vinegar in the house, so why not multi-purpose them? By replacing shampoo and conditioner you’ve got two less bottles cluttering up the house, plus that’s two less things to run out of.

What will happen to my hair?!

If you’ve been using conventional commercial shampoos for a while, chances are you’ve got a lot of residue built up on your scalp, which takes time to wash away. You’ve also got to allow your sebaceous (oil) glands to slow down once they realise you’re no longer stripping the natural oils from your head.

It can take 5-7 day for your scalp to adjust, but usually 2-6 weeks is more usual to break the cycle. During this time, your hair may seem a little greasier than usual.

My Bicarb Vinegar Experiment

So what was my experience? My experiment began on 1st June this year. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and I decided that I should give it a go before making judgement!

As a bit of background, I have reasonably short (maybe shoulder-length) curly hair. I haven’t used commercial shampoos and conditioners for two years; I use natural products made locally. I only wash my hair every 2-3 days – curly hair doesn’t like too much washing!

Method:

Mix a few tablespoons of bicarb with just enough water to make a paste. Rub into your scalp and work towards the ends. Leave for a couple of minutes, and then rinse out.

Mix 1/4 cup vinegar with 1 cup (warm!) water. Tip your head back and pour onto your scalp so it runs onto your hair, and rub in with your hands. Avoid getting it into your eyes – vinegar stings!

Rinse off.

Results:

Please excuse the bad photos. There was no-one around, so I had to take them myself. Clearly I’m no master of the “selfie”…but that’s possibly a good thing…

Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed 2 Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo

The process was very simple, and my hair actually looked normal straightaway. There was no greasy hair, and no frizz problems. I was expecting a couple of weeks of bad hair days, but that never happened (or at least, no more than usual)!

It definitely needs washing less. Whereas before I would notice my hair getting greasy after a couple of days, now it will last three or four.

As for the vinegar smell… I read that the vinegar smell will dissipate after an hour. Not true! The first time I was paranoid that I was walking around smelling like fish and chips. I’ve since tried adding essential oils to the vinegar mix. Rose oil was too subtle and didn’t work. Lemon myrtle was a little overpowering. I’m currently using clove oil, which seems to be a good compromise. Lavender is often recommended but I really don’t like the smell. There’s plenty of options though, and they do work to mask the vinegar odour effectively.

Verdict: Overall, I think its great! I’m definitely a convert : )

Give it a Go!

Everyone’s hair is different, and just because it worked for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you…but that shouldn’t stop you trying! Why not give it a go?!

Now I want to hear from you! Do you already use the bicarb/vinegar method, and how have you found it? Did you try and admit defeat? Are you tempted…or is it something you’re still not even game to try?! I’d love it if you shared your experiences so please leave a comment below!

Decluttering, Minimalism…and the Emotions that Get in the Way

Inspired by the Tiny House movie I saw last weekend (I wrote a review of Tiny: A Story of Living Small in Tuesday’s blog post), I decided it was time again to tackle our stuff, and to declutter some more. We may not live in a Tiny House, but I still believe in minimalising our possessions. There’s no need to keep things in our home that aren’t useful, that no longer serve us and that create mess, take up time (to clean, to find, to sort) and bring up negative emotions (guilt for buying, guilt for keeping, stress for maintaining, frustration, and so it goes on).

As I’ve said many times before, I’m a natural hoarder, and letting go is something that I’m having to learn. A lot of this hoarding is attached to my dislike of waste – any waste. I’m someone who keeps used matches in case I can re-use them! But I also think that I use my dislike of waste as an excuse – even subconsciously. After all, it’s easier to say “I just hate waste”, than admit to myself that there’s more to it than that.

Thing is, there is a lot more to it than that. It’s not just about “stuff”. If it was, we’d decide we didn’t need it, and get rid of it. Simple as that. But that isn’t what happens. Particularly if you’re a hoarder, but it’s true for most people; our emotions play a much bigger part in the decluttering process than we realise.

Here’s some examples.

Say you buy a pair of trousers, and you know that they’re a bit tight, but you think to yourself – I’ll slim into them. Maybe you will. More likely though, is that they will hang in the wardrobe, not being worn, but a constant reminder of how you failed to slim down, how you failed at the task you set yourself; how you made a bad decision and how you wasted money buying something that you may never wear. Maybe you bought them, knowing you wouldn’t fit into them, because you wanted to hold onto the past. You don’t want to accept that you’re getting older, and you can’t wear the things you used to.

What about the ornament you’ve got sitting in a box in a cupboard – the gift from your nan? The ornament that you never really liked. The ornament that reminds you that your nan really doesn’t know what styles you like. She really doesn’t know what you like at all, actually. The ornament that reminds you that you aren’t as close to your nan as maybe you should be. You aren’t the person you want to be; the one you imagine you would be. The ornament remains, because you want to like it. You know that she spent quite a bit of money on it. You feel guilty about that. You feel like you should keep it, and what’s more, you feel like you should like it. But you don’t, and it reminds you of all the feelings that you wish you felt, but don’t.

Or the fancy kitchen gadget that you bought after seeing all the adverts – the ones where cooking looked so easy and hosting friends for dinner was made to look effortless? The gadget that you were convinced you’d use every day, that would turn you into a wonderful cook, yet it sits there, untouched. Because the reality was very different. You still don’t actually like cooking, the gadget is a pain to wash up, and actually, you’d rather go out for a meal with friends than invite them to your house. You still love the idea of being a great host, even though you know this probably won’t happen. The gadget remains because you feel foolish for being duped by the adverts, you feel guilty at having spent so much money on something you use so little. You want to see the gadget  as a symbol of that hope. Really though, it is a symbol of what you are not; an unwelcome reminder of a dream that didn’t come true.

Whatever it is, we all have moments like this. Most of us have things in our houses that we know, deep down, we should get rid of. Why can’t we? All of the items we have sitting in our homes that we don’t-use-yet-can’t-get-rid-of have some kind of emotion attached to them. These aren’t necessarily emotions relating to how we feel about an object, but how we feel about ourselves.That’s what makes it so hard to get rid of them.

We don’t want to admit that we made a bad purchasing decision, that we failed at a hobby, or that we weren’t the person we wanted to be. In this way, these objects represent us, and by keeping them, we still feel that there’s a chance that we might change…that it will become a useful purchase, that we will take up that hobby or that we will start to appreciate Grandma’s eclectic taste. But this pressure doesn’t make us feel good. It’s not accepting what is. We don’t live in the future, and we don’t live in the past. We live in the now, and we need to accept things as they are. To focus too much on the future or the past is draining. The guilt, the sense of failure, the embarrassment.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to remove all that bad energy and all those negative emotions? Well, we can. Simply by giving things away.

That doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Don’t underestimate the power your possessions hold over you. But don’t give your power away, either. Take things slowly. Notice any resistance you feel, but don’t let it take control. Tackle one item at a time. Find the things that no longer serve you, and slowly let them go.

Do emotions play a big part in decluttering for you? Do you hold onto things you know you should get rid of, or do you find it easy to let things go? What emotions do you feel when trying to clear out your unwanted possessions? I’d love to hear from you – please tell me what you think in the comments!

Doubt and What to Think About What Other People Think

It’s been almost two weeks since we moved from the tiny flat to the palace. I’ve found these last few weeks quite difficult. After we made the decision to move, the initial feelings of excitement and elation were suddenly swapped with feelings of doubt and panic.

“What am I doing?!!!”

Our old flat was comfortable, familiar, well maintained…and our home. We liked it. The new flat is new territory. It’s unfamiliar, and not particularly well maintained. People would ask us excitedly in the weeks before we moved: is the new flat better? We’d shift about uncomfortably, look at our feet and say…well, no.

Why does it have to be better? We have more space (which we wanted), we have an outside balcony, the new flat has a sunnier disposition and is warmer, and without the mold or damp problems of our old flat. However, it really needs repainting. And possibly rewiring. The bathroom and kitchen are the originals – so they are decades old. It looks tatty. Being a rental, there’s not much we can do about these cosmetic things, but these are the things that other people see.

What will people think?!

The thought kept going round and round in my mind. Would I feel embarrassed inviting people round? What would people think? Would they judge us?

What didn’t help is that right after the move (probably as a result of the stress that change causes) I got sick. When I get sick, I feel really sorry for myself. The sorry-for-myself thoughts compounded the doubtfulness I already felt. When we’re ill, we want to be comforted, and I found the unfamiliarity of the new place a little unsettling. Being sick also meant we didn’t get everything unpacked and into place straightaway, which delayed the feeling of homely-ness.

Over the last three weeks I questioned myself a lot. I questioned my journey, my motivations, and the way I was choosing to live. I felt really confused, and I struggled to write. I just couldn’t put into words what I was thinking.

Now, two weeks later and (finally) with a clear head, I’ve gotten over myself. No more self-pity for me; no doubts and no regrets either! I want to share some wisdom with you: words I really needed to hear three weeks ago!

What other people think of us is none of our business.

Who cares what other people think of our home? It only matters what we think; and we like it. I thought I gave up caring what other people thought a long time ago. Obviously I didn’t. I try not to care, but sometimes it can be hard. Change can be confronting and lead to doubt. The truth is, if this is the way I want to live, and I’m happy, and it doesn’t impact on anyone else, then it doesn’t matter what other people think. We don’t need the approval of others to validate our decisions.

Of course people will have their own opinions. We all have opinions! I just don’t need to know what they are, because they don’t affect me. I’m out to please myself, not someone else.

Don’t compare your life with others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

For me, the move caused a huge case of comparison-itis. What will people think also translated as would other people do what we’re doing? No? Why wouldn’t they? What are they doing instead? Should I be aspiring to what they’re doing?

I’m not living their lives, I’m living mine. Whatever they are doing is their own journey, and one I know nothing about. I only know about my own journey. I know my own values, my own circumstances, and my own plans and dreams and schemes… and the choices I make reflect this. In the same way that I mustn’t care what other people think, I mustn’t compare with what other people do. My life is about me, not them.

Looking back now this all seems so obvious. Yet at the time those doubts were very real. I think it was a good experience though…to question everything, and find the answers. Change is what makes us grow. Ultimately it’s made me more sure that I’m on the path I want to be on.

As for the flat, whilst it’s not exactly like home yet, it’s getting there, and we love it. On Mothers’ Day we invited both Glen’s parents and his sister and her family over; something that couldn’t have happened in the last place as it was just too small.

And check out the new view from my desk:

View from office window

I get to look out of this window every day! How could I not fall in love with a view like this?!

What about you? Do you ever worry about what others might think? Do you suffer from self-doubt? Do you find change a little unsettling? Or have you learned to just do what makes you happy and not worry about anyone else’s opinions? I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below!

The best $199 ever spent?

One of the best lessons I’ve learned about living with less is to avoid looking at adverts. Tricky, yes, because they’re everywhere. I don’t have a television, and I don’t tend to read magazines or newspapers, so I don’t get exposed from these sources…

But I walk past billboards every day, buses and taxis drive past me with adverts emblazoned across them whenever I step out of the house.

I see them at shops, the cinema, in stairwells, on the back of public toilet doors. The internet is rife with them too, and I even get them delivered to my inbox hidden amongst other content.

Avoiding catalogues and brochures (both printed and electronic) is one way I avoid advertising exposure. These adverts are more dangerous – not only do they try to make you desire something, but they tell you the price and where to buy it too! If we do get any through our mailbox, they go straight in the recycling ( and I curse the fact I still haven’t got round to putting a “no advertising material accepted” sticker on the box).

If I don’t know what this season’s hot look or colour is, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I conform (which, no doubt, I don’t). It’s unlikely anyone else does either. Advertising works by making us feel inadequate; that’s what sells stuff. Let’s face it, these catalogues know how to get to our hearts, with their gorgeous models and flattering photography, and beautiful, clever and quirky products. It isn’t easy to just look and feel nothing. The mind starts to wander. Maybe my life would be better if I purchased a blue-and-white stripy themed dinner service. With the matching stripy napkins. So classic, and the nautical theme is just so…in! Hmmm.

Yesterday we had a whole heap of them stuffed through the door. (We really must get a “no junk mail” sticker.) I thrust them into the recycling. Then I noticed my boyfriend was reading one. I ask him what he’s looking at: it’s a sport’s catalogue. I frown. He has a bit of a penchant for purchasing bicycle accessories at the moment, so this could be dangerous. Then he hands it to me. “Here, check this out!”

I look at the picture, puzzled. “But it’s a box!”

“Yep”, he says. “And it costs $200!”

Plyobox small

How ridiculous. Really. A box made of plywood (or is the fact it’s called the Plyo Box a strange coincidence?) that costs $199. Do these fitness types really need such a box? Won’t the stairs do? Or a sturdy chair? Or a wall? For the man who has everything…everything, that is, except common sense?

I was thinking about this today when I was cutting up some crackers I’d made. I was using a knife, and I was thinking about pizza cutters, and how unnecessary they are – unless perhaps, you run a pizza shop. I used to have a pizza cutter, many years ago, and I used it on the few occasions that I ate pizza, until it broke. Then I had to cut my pizza with a knife.

I’m going to offer you some wisdom here, and I come from a place of experience – cutting your pizza with a knife does not affect your enjoyment of eating said pizza. A pizza cutter does not increase your happiness (but it will probably piss you off when it breaks). Profound, huh?! My knife, by the way, is still going.

That box and the pizza cutter aren’t actually so dissimilar, I realised, except one costs $199 and one costs $9. Both are completely unnecessary, yet price makes a huge difference to our perception: it’s a lot harder to justify spending $199 than to is to spend $9! What if we didn’t consider price at all – we only considered if something was necessary or unnecessary?

I wonder how many people who look at the Plyo box and laugh at its pointlessness are pretty sure they have a pizza cutter lurking at the back of their kitchen drawer? (I may not have a pizza cutter, but my kitchen drawer is no mimimalist’s dream, either. We have a cheese knife, I discovered the other day. That is possibly even less useful than a pizza cutter!)

Which brings me back to advertising. These ads are trying to sell us things we don’t own yet. We all have pizza cutters and cheese knives and other unnecessary items in our homes, but if we could just stop looking at adverts we wouldn’t keep buying more to add to them. How many times have you thought you needed something after seeing an advert? (Quick test: before seeing the advert, had you been lamenting that no-one had invented this item you now think you want? No? Then you don’t need it now.)

5 Ways to Keep the Ads at Bay

We can’t walk around all day with our eyes closed, but there’s a few things we can do to reduce our exposure to adverts:

  • Get a “no junk mail” sticker, and stop those ads reaching your mailbox. (Yes, point taken. It’s on the to-do list.)
  • Any catalogues, brochures and flyers that you do receive, throw straight in the recycling.
  • If you watch TV, try to avoid the ad breaks. If there’s too many, simply turn the sound off. It’s amazing how much less notice you take if you can’t hear them. Try it!
  • Do you subscribe to any magazines that you don’t really read? What about ones that are basically a big shopping advert? Can you cancel them? (Libraries stock magazines if you still want the occasional hit – and they take all the advertising material out!)
  • Unsubscribe from retailer newsletters, or anything else that tries to sell you stuff too frequently. You really won’t miss anything.

Next time you see an advert and feel yourself getting drawn in, just remember the Plyo box. Is it really going to be the best $199 you’ve ever spent?

Tell me what you think! Do you have any tips for avoiding advertising? Do you find it easy or are you swept up by the clever marketing tricks? Can you stick to only necessary purchases? Do you think I’ve got it wrong, and clearly the Plyo box is the best invention you’ve ever seen?! I’d love you to leave your thoughts in the comments!

We’re leaving the tiny flat…

After a little over two years in our tiny flat, it’s time to say goodbye. We’ve signed the papers and handed in our notice, and in just over two weeks we’ll be moving out.

It was a tough decision. We really like our tiny flat, especially in the Australian summer. It doesn’t get any direct sunlight so it stays relatively cool, even when it’s above 40ºC outside (and in Perth in summer, that happens often). We like living in a small space, and it’s been an excellent teacher in living with less and making do with what we have.

Plus we like the area; as we don’t have a car we chose this spot as it had excellent public transport links, and lots of facilities within walking distance.

However, last winter was brutal. When you live in a flat that doesn’t get any direct sunlight, with gaps in the doorframes that cold air blows right through, huge panes of single glazed glass and a bathroom window that actually has a 3inch x 25inch gap with no glass at all, it gets pretty cold.

Australia might be hot in the summer, but temperatures can drop to 0ºC overnight in winter. Brrr. Not only that, but when you have a cold flat, it gets damp. Last winter our bedroom (and everything in it) went moldy. Whilst we cleaned it up successfully (with no nasty chemicals) and the mould hasn’t returned, I was quietly dreading the possibility of having to deal with it again this year.

There’s a couple of other things that are less than ideal. Our toilet/bathroom is en-suite, which makes it awkward when visitors come to stay. It’s too small to have more than a couple of extra people over at one time, and we’d like to have people round more often. It would be nice to have somewhere else to keep the bicycles rather than in the way in the bedroom, where I manage to fall over it at least once a fortnight.

We ummed and ahhed about it for a while (it’s such a lovely place to live in summer that it’s hard to remember the horrors of last winter, but I remember saying at the time there was no way I could face another winter in this flat). The flat is inexpensive for the area, and moving is another expense. We decided that if the landlord didn’t put the rent up, we’d stay for as long as we could stand, and then hopefully find somewhere else.

The landlord decided to put the rent up.

We wrote to him to ask whether they would hold off for three months, to give us time to adjust. The job I was working on finished at Easter, so losing an income source on top of a rent increase was not ideal.

They said no.

We resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d have to start looking, and then something perfect came up.

The flat next door!

In our block of 16 units, only four are one-bed units. The others are two-bedroom, and our neighbour’s flat is one of these. This means it is slightly bigger, and the bathroom is not en-suite. It also has a big front balcony area with some natural light which means we might be actually able to grow some plants at last! Also, it’s not technically next door but across the passageway with a different aspect and far more natural light. In the 8 years our neighbours lived there, it never went moldy. Plus, it’s the same price!

The downside? It’s not in such good condition as our current flat. Most of the features are original (read dated and falling apart). The kitchen is even less spacious than our current (and fairly tiny) kitchen.

We’re really excited to be moving, though…and yet glad to be staying where we are. The best of both worlds. There’s nothing like moving house for the chance to declutter, either – and we intend to move with far less than we currently have. All those things that we’ve been keeping in case they turned out to be useful? Well, if they haven’t been useful in two years, perhaps now is the time to let them go.

Two weeks tomorrow and counting…

The gift of giving (and what it has to do with minimalism and living simply)

Meet Grace. She’s 15 years old and lives in Uganda. She’s attending secondary school, thanks to a great little charity from the UK called ACE.

UWIMANA GRACEACE stands for Aid Conservation through Education. They are committed to supporting rural primary education in rural Uganda in communities bordering the national parks, believing education is the key to conservation and poverty eradication. Whilst primary education is free in Uganda, parents have to supply pencils, exercise books and uniforms. This is complicated by the fact that many children have been orphaned dues to the AIDS epidemic, so rely on more distant family members to support them. A single class may have more than 200 children, with only one teacher and no teaching materials. Classrooms and other buildings are often in poor condition, and without electricity and safe toilet facilities.  ACE help by providing equipment including books, desks and chairs, and funding repairs and construction of new buildings and latrines.

Back to Grace. She was a pupil at one of the primary schools that ACE support. She was one of the brightest pupils, in fact, but also one of the poorest. To go to secondary school in Uganda you have to pay, and it is unlikely she would have been able to attend… were it not for ACE. In addition to their core work, ACE run a sponsorship program for the brightest and poorest pupils to attend secondary school. Which means that someone like me can pay the fees and expenses so that someone like Grace can attend school.

Their sponsorship scheme is well thought out. ACE realised that pupils who board do better than day pupils, who have to walk long distances between the school and their homes and don’t have time to study in the evenings because of needing to help their families. They decided that all sponsored pupils would board at the school. So in addition to day school fees and equipment, I also pay the boarding fees.

The money they ask for correlates with how much they need to spend in Uganda; £30 a month (around $50). It costs what it costs. If people can’t afford to commit this much, of course they are happy to accept donations for their other projects, just not for the sponsorship programme. If you’re wondering how much it all costs, it is laid out below. Total transparency.

KisoroVisionAdmissionLetterIt’s not a fluffy ‘sponsor a child’ scheme with membership packs and yearly Christmas cards. They only have one paid staff member – in Uganda. They choose their pupils based primarily on exam results but also on the poverty level of the family; not by how photogenic they are or whether they’ll look good in a glossy brochure. They don’t do glossy brochures. Their website may not be flashy, and the children in the photos may not be all smiles and laughter (that we’re used to seeing), but it just makes them more real. After all, if I was 14 years old and leaving my family for the first time, having never been away from home before, and going to a strange new place, I would probably not be all smiles either.

Being part of this means I’m making an actual difference to someone’s life. To Grace’s life. Whilst I don’t know a great deal about Grace (she sends me letters three times a year, but English isn’t her first language), I do know that when she’s not at school she lives with her mother in a temporary house built from mud, poles and metal sheets, with no electricity, no running water and a single paraffin lamp for lighting. They are too poor to own any livestock. I hope her education will open up opportunities for her as an adult.

For me, this is another great benefit of minimalism, or living simply. By not wasting my money buying stuff I don’t need, I can give it to people who can really benefit. I don’t miss the money being taken from my account. I could easily spend that same amount on coffee or chocolate or an evening out every single month and not even notice. When I think about how far such a small amount of money can go, and what a real difference it can make to someone’s life, how could I not want to do something to help?

“No-one has ever become poor by giving.” ~Anne Frank

My minimalist living space (I’d like to show you around…)

I often refer to the “tiny apartment” that I live in, and I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be nice to take some pictures and, well, invite you round for a (virtual) look.

But then I didn’t, because the flat was never quite tidy enough. Despite my constant quest to have less stuff, there always seems to be stuff cluttering up the place. It’s not that we have a great deal of stuff, but we also don’t have huge amounts of furniture or cupboard space to hide all our stuff like other people do. It’s a constant reminder to us that we have too much.

Another thing that put me off was that despite me calling our home the “tiny flat”, I realise that it is far bigger than many other “tiny” homes. In fact, there is a tiny house movement, and if you know anything about that you will realise that our flat in no way qualifies. Tiny homes are seriously tiny, and our apartment is palatial in comparison. I didn’t want to face the wrath of readers outraged that I have been making fraudulent claims all this time!

Lastly, I’m well aware that our flat is never going to be photographed for House Beautiful (or whatever those glossy home magazines are called). My eye for style goes as far as to recognise that some decor does indeed look pretty and stylish, and our flat has nothing like that in it.

We don’t have strategically placed cute retro teapots, or a surf board (why is it that every house I’ve seen photographed recently, no matter how far from the ocean, has a surf board?), or candles and flowers in all the corners. We don’t have quirky vintage antique stuff, we have old (and in some cases a bit tatty) stuff.

But then I got a grip on myself, and thought, so what? I like my house. Do I care that my house isn’t a interior designer’s dream? No. I like it. We like its simplicity. I like not having to dust all those quirky vintage nick-knacks.

Does it really matter that our flat isn’t the smallest house ever? Not at all. We are happy with the amount of space we have, so why would I compare it with other far smaller houses? They may be cleverly designed, inspiring and beautiful, but they would be too small for us at this stage in our lives. We need a space that we can live in, not one that impresses others with its tiny-ness.

Does it matter that it’s a bit messy and full of stuff? Well…I’d rather it wasn’t, or course… But we still invite our friends round, so why wouldn’t I take photos and invite my virtual friends round too? It’s just stuff, and it really shouldn’t have the power to influence my decisions!

So here’s the tour. It’s our attempt to live simply with less stuff; we have had some successes, but there are still plenty of areas we’d like to improve. It is a journey, and one that we’re always working on.

The Living Space

When you walk through the front door, you immediately step into the living space. There’s no porch or entrance hall. Our flat is pretty much a square, so from the front door you can see right the way through to the other side.

Livingspacefinal Livingspace2 LivingspaceothersideThere’s no storage aside from what furniture we have, which means lots of things can’t be put “away”, as there is nowhere to put them. My bicycle lives next to the dining table, and our broom sits next to the fridge.

This is our entire book and DVD collection. We don’t own a single DVD, and of this little stack of books, three are actually loans from friends. Who needs books and DVDs when you can borrow what you want from the local library?

Books are a minimalism success; my desk, however, is not. On a typical day, it looks something like this. That’s not to say that I’m not organised, because I actually know what’s on all those little bits of paper and always notice when they get moved. I just have a terrible habit of writing on the back of old receipts and old envelopes, and they accumulate. Mess and clutter are not healthy though, and I need to go paperless to get things a bit more zen in my litter corner of the room.

Messydesk

The Bedroom

It’s a bit more zen in here. There’s no space for any furniture in the bedroom, although we’ve had to squeeze my boyfriend’s bike into the small amount of spare space that we do have.

Bedroom Bedroom2 Fortunately we have an enormous built-in wardrobe…

closetcombined…and it is full to the point of almost overflowing! Yes, we have far too many clothes. No, they’re not all mine! Yes, I do have far too many pairs of shoes. Yes, they are all mine. Definitely an area I need to work on. But progress is being made. I’ve given clothes to the charity shop, and I’ve downgraded others to kitchen rag status. Last year I only bought a handful of items, and so far this year I’ve bought none. I don’t intend to buy anything else until my collection has at least halved. This is my compromise to myself, because I don’t want to send stuff to landfill, and there’s a lot in there that is too worn for the charity shop to take.

The Bathroom

Bathrooms in rented apartments are generally nothing to write home about, and ours is definitely no exception.bathroomsmallThere’s not too much clutter, but we do have a ridiculous amount of towels. (This isn’t even all of them – there were some hanging out on the line when I took the picture!) I’m reluctant to get rid of them; the charity shop won’t be able to sell them for much and I don’t want to send them to landfill. So another compromise – as they wear out they won’t be replaced. Right now, they (just about) fit into the space we have, and so they can stay.

towels

The Kitchen

I would love a bigger kitchen as I spend a huge amount of time here (you may have noticed that I like to cook?!). Learning to manage with what space I have has been hard, but I think it’s been good for me. Oh, and don’t judge us – we rent this flat and did not choose the lime green/acid yellow tiles ourselves!

Kitchen1 Kitchen2I’ve been able to keep the cupboards pretty orderly, and I only keep the things that we use regularly.

The pantry, however, is a different story! No matter what I do, I cannot seem to empty it out. I am pretty good at finding things in there, but my boyfriend does not fare so well, unless he knows there is a jar of chocolate spread… (I also don’t label the jars – surely everyone knows the difference between ground turmeric and ground cumin? Or rapadura sugar and soft brown sugar? They don’t? Oh. No wonder my boyfriend is reluctant to cook!) It’s cluttered, and awkward, and there’s been a few near-misses with almost smashing glass jars. But my love of food (and the bulk produce stores) means it never gets any less full. Any tips greatly appreciated!

PantryThose jars to the left of the pantry are there because they don’t fit in the pantry. Definitely a sign that I have too much in there!

Outside

We have a small space outside, which houses our two worm farms and various gardening-related bits and pieces I collected from verge collections. I then discovered we don’t get any sunlight so we can’t grow anything much here, sadly.

balconySo that’s the tour. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking around. I’d love to hear what you think, and if you have any tips for those areas that I need a bit of help with, please share them below!

Rested, refreshed and ready for 2014!

Ah. Four weeks away from it all. It was fantastic. I finally managed to slow down, take the time to relax properly and have a well-needed rest. I’m feeling so much better as a result.

That’s not to say I took time out from trying to live as sustainably as possible, keeping things simple and continuing to embrace minimalism. After all, why should holidaying change anything?

Having spent four weeks with a small backpack weighing less than 6kgs, and not feeling once like I was without something I needed, I am sold on the idea of taking as little as possible when travelling. It was such a great feeling not to be burdened by a huge heavy backpack, and it certainly made traveling around much more enjoyable. Read more

Holiday packing: the battle of minimalism vs sustainability

In less than 12 hours, I’ll be on my way to the airport for a month-long break overseas. It’s not my first trip abroad, or course, but it is the first time since I really started embracing the sustainability path. The last time I went overseas I hadn’t taken part in Plastic Free July (or given up plastic), I wasn’t passionate about reducing waste, I’d never heard of simple living and i thought minimalism was a furniture/design style.

Fast forward 18 months, and all of these things have become really important to me. I don’t want my ideals to go out of the window just because I’m going on holiday, although it would be much easier to take a break from all of that too.

I have decided to pack as lightly as I can. Having been on numerous trips where I’ve taken far too much and cussed as I’ve had to haul heavy luggage all about the place, this is something I’ve been working on for years. Read more