my own medicine

I recently gave advice about how to declutter your wardrobe.  How to stand back from the emotion, guilt and downright exhaustion that leads you to let stuff you will never wear put down roots the size of Japanese Knot Weed in your wardrobe.

This weekend I took my advice.  I thought I had taken my advice some 3 or 4 months ago.  But Reader, I had not.  Project 333 gave me a better idea of how much stuff I didn’t need.  It also gave me a glimpse of how much stuff I didn’t really want.  I kept it because I thought I might wear it, but deep down I knew I wouldn’t.  Not necessarily because it didn’t fit (though there were some shocking revealations on that front) but because I just didn’t like them any longer.  Into that category went,, amongst many other things a brown linen dress, green spotty Boden shirt dress, a long check skirt.  All perfectly decent and wearable but not by me.  So they have gone to the charity shop and I hope they find homes with people who will truly love them rather than merely put up with them as I have.

However, the greatest revealation from Project 333 was how flexible my wardrobe was.  When you only  have 33 items to chose from you have to use your imagination and think outside the box just a little.  Remember that post I did a couple of days ago about multitasking objects (the loofah is still my favourite)?  Do the same with your clothes.  Dresses become tops with leggings underneath.  Cardigans worn backwards become jumpers.  Layer tee shirts and vest tops.  Use your scarf as a belt.  Turn lonely earrings which have lost their partners into broaches or pendants.  Long jersey skirts have hundreds of options (see here)

I have more than 33 items in my wardrobe, but I can at long last say that I know precisely what is in my wardrobe, that I wear every single item on a regular basis and that I am have  whole lot more fun getting dressed in the morning because I am no longer stuck in that “I’ll just put this on again” rut.

It really isn’t hard, it really is quite good fun, and you will have a whole new wardrobe without even spending a single penny.  What is not to like?

the witch in the wardrobe

We addressed the thorny issue of how to declutter books and cupboards a week or so ago.  Today we are going to tackle the wardrobe.  The place which can date you as accurately as a slice through a tree trunk.

Once again I do not advocate the “a little at a time” approach.  Get it all out.  I mean ALL of it.  I don’t care if you have to spread it over three rooms, the hallway and the downstairs loo.  Get it all out.  Look at it.  Scary isn’t it?  And I bet you only emptied the wardrobe, the bit with hangers.  What about your drawers?  I’m not suggesting that you empty all of them right now as well (even I have limits) but bear in mind that the wardrobe itself is not the only repository of your clothes.

Okay, so now you are swimming in a sea of clothes that range in size from Kylie Minogue to P Diddy.  What next?

Start with the easy job.

Remove everything you don’t like

Really, I mean it.  We all have them, clothes we bought or were given but have never worn because actually we really don’t like them.  Remember the guilt word?  If you are only keeping it because you feel guilty about getting rid of it.  Get rid of it.  Every time you wear it (if you ever do) you will feel like a pile of poo.  Do you want to feel like a pile of poo?  Out it goes.  Somebody else will love it.  Make them happy.

Remove everything that is broken or you can’t be bothered to repair

Just as before.  If you can’t be bothered to sew on a button or replace a zip – or even take them to somebody else who can, then are you really ever going to wear them again?  The pair of trousers your bought and intended to take in to fit around the waist.  How long have you had them?  Have you missed not being able to wear them?  Clearly not if they have been hanging around for more than a month.  Get rid of them.

Start trying on what is left

This is quite revealing.  You will be surprised how much doesn’t fit (if you are lucky it will be too big, in my case they are usually too small….)  When you have a massive wardrobe of clothes you rarely wear most of it because it is too much trouble to think of something new.  You fall back on old favourites.  You fall back on things that fit  When you have a clear out you return to the wardrobe whole swathes of clothes that you think you can still fit into but because you have never actually worn them …. you don’t know.

You have to be ruthless.  Unless you are already on a weight loss/gain programme, are moving along according to plan and know you are going to stick to it.  DO NOT KEEP CLOTHES THAT DO NOT FIT.  I’ll say that again just in case you misheard me. DO NOT KEEP CLOTHES THAT DO NOT FIT.

There is a whole other post here about coming to terms with your size and shape which I am not going to go into.  But keeping clothes that do not make you feel great, do not make you want to skip out of the door or at the very least do not make you feel as if you have a bum the size of the old Eastern Bloc and a waist that went down river along with Livingstone and Stanley is not going to make you feel good.  And feeling good can’t be bad.

Once you have eliminated anything that you feel makes you look like Gollum on a bad day you can start to work through what is left.

I have a bit of a jacket problem.  I love jackets, they make my heart sing.  There is one problem.  I rarely wear them.  I wear cardigans.  So I have a choice, live dangerously and wear a jacket or two or twenty.  Or get rid of the jackets and live the rest of my life in a twinset.

I have opted slip on a jacket and have discovered my inner Audrey Heburn 😉

What do you buy but not wear?  Are you going to start challenging yourself  or decide to stick to what you know and love?  Either is absolutely fine.  BUT if you have twenty pairs of linen trousers but only ever wear jeans either wear the linen or get rid of it.

There is no such thing as “just for best”

Granted you are a rare bird if you wear a ball gown to do the grocery shopping.  But how many items of clothing do you have carefully stored away and never worn because you are saving them “for best”.  How many “best” occasions do you have?  What is the ratio of best clothes to best occasions?  Quite.    You have bought clothes that you love, that make you look gorgeous and  you never wear them.  Is there something a bit wrong there?

Mix it all up

Now you have got over the idea of wearing that cashmere jumper with the ripped denim skirt think about what else you might wear with it.  Do you have a drawer full of scarves?  Do you wear them?  If you do great.  If not then grab some now.  Play with them.  Wrap them round a messy bun, use them as a belt, a necklace, a hair band. Play with your accessories.  If you can’t use them or don’t feel comfortable then get rid of them.  Mix up textures and styles, play dressing up.  Try a that gold lame tee shirt you last wore to a black tie dinner  with a pair of jeans and a leather jacket.  Be wild and imaginative.  Some of your outfits will look like a dog’s dinner but who cares?  Who else is going to see? Until you start to experiment you have no idea of the endless possibilitiesl

This summer I took part in Project 333, 33 items of clothing and accessories (with some allowed exceptions) for 3 months.  It was remarkably easy.  But the most exciting part was discovering the multitude of different ways I could wear a small number of items.  You don’t have to go quite so hardcore… but let yourself be surprised.

If you really really can’t bear to part with some items then pack them up in a box or bag and put them somewhere where you can’t get at them.  Then three months later open the box and ask yourself again if you really need them or if you could pass them on to somebody who does.

I don’t agree with the “if you haven’t worn it for a year get rid of it”  because for most people they don’t wear most of their clothes because it is too much effort to work their way through their wardrobe and find a new combination of items.  But once you eliminate what you don’t like, what is worn out, what you hate to wear, then you can play around with what you have left and that skirt that hasn’t see the light of day for 6 months suddenly shows itself to be a key item in your wardrobe.

Good luck and have fun 🙂


something a little alternative


It all started when I lost my lovely wooden washing up brush.  No I don’t know how you lose a washing up brush either, but the fact is that I did.  As it happens I was not quite as in love with it as when I first bought it as the head had a tendency to come out just as I was giving it welly.  So I needed an alternative.  It needed to be:

  • effective
  • biodegradeable

Ta Da!!!

I bought a cheap loofah, cut it up into hand sized chunks and now I have an effective, biodegradeable and dead cheap pan scrubber.  And best of all, not one member of my family, including the very teenage Dancer and Singers have batted an eyelid.  Which, for them is pretty impressive.


So it got me thinking, I do like a good think, it beats a good workout anytime.  What else do I “misuse”?  There is a whole other post waiting to happen on things like vinegar, bicarb, cornflour, toothpaste and banana skins (yup banana skins).  I’m thinking more about long lasting stuff you have already …

graphite pencil

The scientifically minded among you will know that graphite is a crystalline allotrope of carbon (hey Dr Carpenter and Mr England – bet you thought I would never remember any of my Chemistry A-level!).  Consequently it is much used as a lubricant in industry.  You do not have to manage a factory to use graphite.  How often have you found yourself with a stuck zip?  Run a pencil up and down the zip and 9 times out of 10 your zip will magically unstick leaving you free, at last, to go to the loo.  If you have more time than sense you can also use graphite to unstick sticky drawers, but it would take an inordinate amount of pencils and it would be several hours of your life you will never have again – try a candle instead 🙂


This is one of the few occasions where I think our American cousins have a better word.  Don’t you think “pantyhose” sounds so much better than “tights”?  As I prefer stockings the point is moot, but nonetheless ….

I have been known to use a NEW pair of stockings as an alternative to muslin when making jelly and had run out of muslin.  It was not a good look.  The kitchen looked like an abattoir (bramble and red and blackcurrant juice everywhere) and in addition to three traditional jelly strainers I had four stockings hanging from hooks from the beams.  Unlike muslin,  stockings and tights … stretch … a lot.  As a last minute, desperate option they just about pass muster.  Personally I would recommend you keep a good supply of muslin to hand.


On the other hand.  Do you use soapnuts?  Do you regularly lose the little bag to put them in?  Pop socks/ stockings / tights are perfect.  They even help you remember how many times you have used the soapnuts.  I tie a knot each time I have used them.  When I  have a row of four knots I know it’s time for a new set.

newspaper/paper bags

Yes you can use newspaper to clean windows.  But I have some far less messy uses.



Green tomatoes.  I have a very strong memory of the pervasive tomato smell in my grandparents conservatory.  There were tomato plants everywhere.  But even in the south of England there can be a shortage of the essential light and warmth required to turn them a rich red.  Green tomato chutney is indeed wonderful, but if you , like me have as many apple and plum trees as I do there is a limit to how much chutney even our greedy family can eat.

My grandmother and my great aunt would carefully wrap the tomatoes in newspaper or paper bags and store them at the top of every wardrobe in the house.  By late October …. ripe tomatoes.  Newspaper is also essential in the storage of apples.  Wrap them up and make sure they are kept in a secure (from mice and/or rats) cool dark place.

Apparently they make a good deodouriser though I’ve never tried that.  Although they are the only way to dry out wet wellies and shoes.  Scrunch up and stuff boots loosely.  Leave overnight.  Hey presto.  Dry wellies.

There are more, but the Singers need to be picked up from the station and dinner will not cook itself ……


I have not fallen off the edge of the planet (despite the prayers of many no doubt) I have been preserving and catching up with all those little jobs that have the ability to turn into thwacking great monsters if I don’t keep on top of them.

I am on top of them.  So life, if only momentarily, is returning to what passes for normal in our house of fun.  This is the time of year that feels like new year for me.  In the days when I wore knee length socks and a navy blue tunic it was the time of new pencils and a squeaky new pencil case and Helix Oxford Maths set in  it’s distinctive blue and silver tin.


Form teachers handed out pristine new exercise books and we carefully copied out our timetable.  Over the years this process has evolved but I still buy new pencils and it is  now that I start our timetable for the next 12  months.

Planning is everything, if you are  decluttering, downsizing and aiming towards a life of less then you need a plan.   And there is little I love more than a plan.  Not surprisingly you will  need some basic equipment. I prefer pen and paper, but if online and digital rocks your boat then far be it from me to question your choice.  Just choose something you are comfortable, you like and most importantly will use.  A plan can be pretty but it can be pretty useless if you never consult it!

If you are thinking of changing you lifestyle first you need to know what you what to change, how you are going to change it and how that will impact on your day to day life.  There are big plans and there are little plans.  To ease you in gently we will start with a little plan.

Let’s start with the grocery shopping.  This is how we did it.

What do we want to change?

  • Reduce or eliminate supermarket purchases
  • Produce as much ourselves
  • Purchase as much as possible from local producers
  • Purchase as much of what remains from local suppliers

How are we going to change it?

  • Increase fruit and vegetable production
  • Increase poultry numbers
  • Bake own bread etc.
  • Use locally grown co-operative vegetable box scheme
  • Use farmers’ market
  • Purchase direct from farm(s)
  • Use local greengrocer/butcher/fishmonger
  • Make own cleaning products
  • Consider alternative purchasing options for dry goods, tins and general household goods.

How will that impact on our day to day life?

  • Cannot do all shopping in one place
  • Increased work in the garden
  • Need to plan ahead both the shopping and the way it is purchased
  • Freezer must be cleared to ensure that whole butchered animals can be easily stored and accessed.
  • Bulk purchasing of some products (esp vinegar and bicarb for cleaning) required.

What will we do to fit the above into our day to day life?

  • First, in terms of food shopping PLAN AHEAD.
  • Usually on a Sunday I check the fridge, pantry and freezer to see what I already have in stock that I can use.
  • Then I check the diary and see what is going on during the week,  I do not want to be cooking a complicated dish on a day when I am ought all day and we have multiple pick ups in the evening.
  • Then the fun starts.  I choose up to three or four recipe books and start to plan menus for the week ahead.  That way we don’t get stuck in a rut with the same old recipes and can experiment and try out new things.
  • As you chose a recipe allocate it to a day , write down the page and the recipe book and check what, if any ingredients you need to buy and write them down on your list.
  • When you are happy with the menu plan tackle the shopping list.
  • Break it down by store.  I am quite lucky in that I pass the butcher every day and with a bit of a diversion and a child looking out for traffic wardens I can nip into the greengrocer too.  If the greengrocer list is long then I save that for a day when I have to go into town and park the car.  Bear that kind of thing in mind when you are deciding what to eat on what day.  Don’t make Monday’s meal one that cannot be done without a shopping trip unless you know you can go shopping on Monday!
  • We also have a blackboard in the kitchen, whenever anything runs out the last person to use it is supposed to write it on the board.  It’s not foolproof but it’s not bad!  Add anything on the blackboard onto the appropriate shop section of your list.
  • Non food items and dry and tinned goods are a bit of an issue.  Personally if I can’t buy local then I prefer to buy ethically.  This means, that for the most part I don’t use supermarkets except Waitrose (which is a partnership) and the Co-op.  The other supplier I use is Suma, a wholefood co-op and a couple of online stores.  This is my choice and does mean that I tend to buy in bulk and only once every month or so.

I am not perfect, I run out just like everyone else and I have to make emergency shops.  I try to make those at places like the Co-op or locally owned shops, but I have been known to go to Tesco!  Don’t beat yourself up.  We have to start somewhere.

I haven’t addressed packaging because for the most part if you buy local you tend not to get that much packaging.  Any veg I buy I can buy loose or pack in my own bags (mushrooms, soft fruit and veg etc.).  Our local veg box scheme the wonderful Abundant Earth    gives each member 4 hessian bags which are used in rotation for the veg.  Any soft veg are put in paper bags which are reused until they are composted.  The fishmonger wraps up in paper and is just coming to terms with the fact that I don’t need a plastic bag around my fish.  The baker only uses paper or my own bags.  Whole animals direct from the farm do come in plastic.  They are butchered and given to us in a large box.  But by far the biggest problem is that which is bought mail order.  Everything comes in plastic, understandably nobody wants to send 5 litres of vinegar through the mail in a glass jar but why did my soapnuts come in a plastic bag?  Albeit a plastic bag inside a very nice cotton drawstring bag.  Long gone are the days when you could get your jars refilled at the grocers because there are no grocers left, because everyone goes to supermarkets or Costco or WholeFoods.  Which brings me back to why I don’t shop in supermarkets…..

Here in Durham we have The Durham Local Food Network  (I am just a little bit proud because I am a founder member and I think it’s brilliant)  but we are not unique.  There are lots of groups like us who have directories of local producers and suppliers and information about local food news and events.  Google your town and find out what’s going on.

Materials required

  • Eyes – to see what you already have!
  • Pencil
  • Used envelopes, backs of circulars to write out shopping lists, menus etc (we keep our on a magnetic bulldog clip on the fridge)
  • Cookery books or a head full of recipes
  • Diary
  • Shopping bags or trolley
  • Bus ticket/car/shanks pony






what about you?

Decluttering books has been possibly the most controversial thing I have done.  I have written a full post about it here.  However, it is still something that rises hackles when I mention it and has got me wondering about why.

The answer is, I think, not a pleasant one.  Essentially book hoarders fall into four categories:

  • Academics or other specialists or professionals who need (or believe they need) to keep a large library of reference books.  As I am the child of one and married to one I feel I am relatively well qualified to speak!  My mother was a lawyer and made regular reference to the All England Law Reports which lined her study.  My husband is a medic and a translator.  He tends to read most academic papers online, although for his sideline is medical translation he has a wall full of dictionaries, some quite old and very specialist.  Some used regularly some rarely but essential when they define some obscure medico legal term last used during the First Republic.
  • Collectors.  My mother falls into this category again in that she collects cookery books, from early seventeenth century handwritten ones to Delia Smith.   There is a place for the collection of social history and books can do this very well, but it is all too easy to slip from discerning collector of items of historical and personal interest to unthinking or obsessive purchaser of items you may never even open let alone read.
  • Forgetful readers.  The person who enjoys reading and purchases a lot of books which are read for pleasure and/or personal enrichment.  But then puts them back on the shelf and never reads them again. It’s not wanton hoarding but just not quite getting around to doing something about the books.
  • Snobs.  The person who may or may not have read the books on their shelves but who feels that having vast quantities of books, gives them a certain cachet.


I believe that most of the people who sniffed with horror at the news I was having a massive book cull fell into the latter category.  When questioned about why they kept their books they expressed shock that I could even ask the question.  One just did not dispatch books (other than perhaps “airplane reading”).  Yet almost none of them could put their hand on their hearts and say that they regularly read or even irregularly reread those books.

Some books are kept for emotional reasons, I have plenty of those.  Some books are kept because they have an intrinsic value or are family heirlooms.  But the majority of books on most people’s shelves are books that have been read once and will probably never be read again .  They may be quite learned, they may be interesting biographies, they may be well considered modern novels or ancient classics.  They all look “good” and they are all gathering dust and could be passed on to somebody who will read them.

I know what I would rather do with those kind of books.  What about you?

any way you want

Before I go any further can I make two things quite clear.

  • There is no right or wrong way to do it
  • I have still got a LONG way to go.

That was in response to all the lovely people who have asked my advice on decluttering, people who have read my blog and said, “I need to do that” and then said “but… how?”  Thank you for reading, thank you for being interested and in return here is my answer to your question.

Drum roll …………… any way you want.

Really it is that simple, what ever works for you is the right way.  Traditional decluttering advice is to start small, maybe empty a small drawer, or sort out a single box.  If that’s the way you like to work then go for it.  Personally I would (a) bore myself rigid and (b) never clear out a room let alone a house if I worked that way, but that’s okay too.

What this is not: the hard and fast rules to a good clear out.

What this is: the way I did it.

I hope you can pick out the bits you think may work for you and have a good laugh at the bits that you think are so stupid as to be worthy of a “Can you believe this” quote on Facebook.

  1. First empty out whole cupboards at a time, occasionally two at a time if the contents are similar (eg kitchen cupboards).  Everything is dragged out and put on the floor or any available surface (watch out for small dogs, actually big dogs can be a problem too as then tend to just lie down on top of stuff.  Declutter the dogs to the garden for the duration).
  2. Clean the cupboard.  There is no point putting your nicely ordered and much reduced belongings in a cupboard that is housing Eighteenth Century dust (however lovely that dust might be).
  3. Survey the chaos on the floor and designate three areas BIN, KEEP, CHARITY/GIVE AWAY/SELL.
  4. Do not try to sort the last category right now, your priority is pare down what is going back in the cupboard, what you do with the rest of the stuff can be decided after you close the cupboard door.
  5. Do not spend too long thinking about something.  If you have to really think about whether you need to keep it you don’t need to keep it.  Interesting items that make you want to sit down and read them/try them on/look them up on the internet, are all well and good but now is not the time to do it unless you are doing the wardrobe when trying on is essential (see separate bit about clothes).
  6. Take a good look at your keep pile is there anything else you could take out?
  7. Guilt.  Guilt is a great ally.  If you feel the remotest twinge of guilt about not keeping something then it absolutely must go.  Guilt is not a reason to clutter up your house and furthermore every time you look at that item you will feel bad.  Do you like feeling bad? I rest my case.
  8. Just because you haven’t used it in six months is not necessarily a good reason to get rid of it.  If you have a copious collection of Christmas cookie cutters but make hundreds of cookies at Christmas then by all means keep them, but perhaps you could find somewhere out of the way for them so they don’t get in the way for the rest of the year?
  9. Remove the discarded items AT ONCE.  Stuff for the skip should be boxed up and put in the back of the car, the other pile put in another room for sorting once you have put everything else back in the cupboard.
  10. Before returning items take out any that need washing or small repairs.  DO IT NOW.  If you can’t be bothered to do it now put the items in the out pile because you aren’t going to use them if they are broken or dirty and if you can’t be bothered to do it now you are not going to do it when you need to use them.
  11. Tea break
  12. The charity/sell/give away pile.   First of all take out anything you know to be of value that is worth selling.  I know loads of people put anything and everything on ebay but personally I can’t be bothered to sell stuff that is only going to achieve a few pounds.  I would rather give them away.  Big ticket items such as antiques, furniture, sports equipment etc. may be worth approaching a specialist dealer.
  13. Next take out items that you KNOW somebody else would like.  Don’t add to their clutter, but if you have a friend who has always hankered after your bread machine then offer it to them.  Put these in the back of your car/by the front door if they can be picked up RIGHT NOW.
  14. Box up the rest for charity.  Don’t put rubbish in the charity bags, they don’t want it either.
  15. Some people advocate an “I’m not sure” option too.  I used to have that, but I am more ruthless now.  If it gets as far as the “I’m not sure box” it is probably in there because of guilt – return to paragraph 7.
  16. Tea break (actually it is undoubtably wine o’clock by now).

There, that wasn’t so hard was it?  I’ll look at specific issues such as clothes and books later on.  In the meantime, there is no short cut.  You just have to get in there and start sorting.  Don’t worry about the big picture, it will take care of itself.  Every single item that makes its way out of your front door is a step in the right direction and every journey starts with a single step.



If I don’t get a grip this will turn into a recipe blog.  Fear not, the usual abnormal and bonkers service will resume tomorrow but today I have been tweaking my apron strings.  It is that time of year, all good downshifters are filling their larders with jars and bottles.  The harvest is astonishing.  One of my apple trees has fallen the weight of the fruit was so much.  I think we can rescue it, but as it is only 10 years old it doesn’t have the great root base it needs for its gargantuan harvest this year.  The plums and damsons are almost ready, the crab apples are starting to blush and the quinces are fantabulous.  This is a super jelly year.

I collected about 6lb of brambles and made up the juice before the weekend so I had to make the jelly today.  Oh the deep richness and intense flavour of bramble jelly is so exquisite.  The hedgerows are still offering up more so I shall pick some tomorrow for jam.

However today I was determined to use up the last of the beans.  They have been hugely successful this year.  I planted them in the “three sisters” format.  Beans, sweetcorn and squash and all three are thriving.  I am going to expand to fill the whole raised bed next year.

Back to the beans.  I don’t usually like piccalilli but the Boss loves it.  We have come to a compromise.  Valentine Warner’s bean chutney.  It isn’t like any chutney I know, it is a delicious sweet, mustardy beany piccalilli and I love it.

What you need to get

  • 4 medium onions
  • 250ml malt vinegar
  • 1kg runner beans
  • 1 heaped tablespoon English mustard powder
  • 1 heaped tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 25g cornflour
  • 250ml white wine vinegar
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • 2 heaped tablespoons wholegrain mustard
  • 2 teaspoons flaked sea salt

What you need to do with it

  • Peel and chop the onions into a small dice. Tip into a large, heavy-based saucepan and pour over the malt vinegar. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover loosely and cook for 15 minutes until softened, stirring once or twice.
  • While the onions are cooking you can prepare the beans. Trim the ends, then cut down each side to remove any strings. Place each bean flat on the board and slice thinly lengthways on a long diagonal into 7 or 8 strips. How many slices you end up with will depend on the size of each bean. Ignore any that have plump little beans hiding within, as they will be the toughest. Plunge the beans into a large pan of boiling water and return to the boil. Cook for 3 minutes, then drain in a colander and refresh under cold water. Drain.
  • Mix the mustard powder, turmeric, cornflour and 4 tablespoons of the white wine vinegar until smooth.
  • When the onions are ready, stir in the sugar and remaining white wine vinegar. Bring to the boil and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir the cornflour mixture until smooth once more and then pour slowly into the onions and beans, stirring vigorously to dispel any lumps, followed by the wholegrain mustard and salt.

It will look a bit like this and smell of heaven.


  • Gently simmer the vegetables, mustard and spices for 20 minutes, stirring regularly so that the chutney does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Pot the chutney into warm, sterilised jars and leave to cool. Cover, seal and store in cool dark place for at least a month.


If you can leave it for a month you are stronger than I!

project smellie – the review

All good project managers have regular reviews so I thought it was time to review our declutter project.  Unfortunately as I am a rubbish project manager I haven’t written a project plan or overview.  I had no particular goals other than “get stuff out”.  I had no timescale other than a vague idea that if it wasn’t done by Christmas I might just move out.  There were certainly no mini goals, you know, the  ones you are supposed to have to (a) ensure that you achieve the big goals and (b) keep you on track timewise.

You will note, therefore, that review is going to be (a) very difficult or (b) rather different.  I tend to take approach (b) in most of my life and I see little reason to change now.  So here is the “different” review of Project Smellie – the Great Declutter of 2013.

1.  How do I feel?  BRILLIANT!


I think we can call that Success 1.  Now I could put the feeling of wonderfulness down to wine/sertraline/my lovely family/the summer holidays/the fact that the sun shone this summer.  I am sure all of these have played a part, but  the feeling you get as you clear out cupboard after cupboard, as bags and boxes leave the house, as you open a drawer and find exactly what you need, as you can see SPACE is immeasurable.  Do not underestimate the gorgeously squiffy feeling that newly discovered space can give you.

2. How does everyone else feel?

Well I can’t speak for them personally but there has been a general consensus that it was about time.  (Having said that, the Dancer and Singer 1 could do with some decluttering of their own, in the meantime I just keep their doors closed.)  There is some concern amongst the teenagers that this could lead to “one step too far”, more about that later.

3. What practical changes have you noticed?


Dressing is so much easier using the 333 method.  I will confess to have broken rules occasionally, but I reckon this is about making life easier not about sticking to a rigid set of rules.  I am being more adventurous in what I wear and how I put clothes together because I have less to choose from so I have to make them go further.  Having sorted through ALL my clothes, accessories, shoes, jewellery and dispatched about 40% I still have a lot but it is well sorted, easy to find and on display.  Packing for holiday was a dream.


There are no surprises in my freezer.  I know exactly what I have and where it is.  We have saved a fortune on groceries this summer because we know what we have and we have made a conscious effort to eat it.  I am putting less leftovers in the freezer (unless there is sufficient for at least lunch for 2) and using them either the following evening as the basis of another meal or if there isn’t much then it’s my lunch the next day.  Thus the freezer isn’t full of obscure little boxes of unidentifiable “stew” (the labels always fall off) which never get eaten and just clutter it up.

Things get put away more quickly – if there isn’t any clutter for them to hide in they stand out like a sore thumb (well to  me anyway, some family members are still blind).

4. What less tangible benefits have you noticed?

Mindset shift.  This year I have been out foraging as usual but instead of looking at 5lb of rosehips for example and thinking “I’ll put them in the freezer and do them later”  I do them now.  I don’t want to put something away unless it’s finished.  I have made rosehip, rowan and blackberry jellies.  I have dried seaweed, lavender, soft fruits.  I have made fruit brandies and vodkas, I have made fruit vinegars and oils.  The shelves are groaning with preserved foods for the winter and it’s only 5th September.  I am getting things done.


I don’t have any particular urge to shop unless there is something I actually need.  In fact I am almost evangelical in not buying.

My mind feels more open.  Okay this does sound a bit weird, but I feel less cluttered in my head.  I am interested in new ideas.  I want to learn and discover.


5.  Any complaints?

Not from me.  The hardest part is physically getting the stuff out of the house.  It is easy to put it all in the Gin Gan and shut the door but even that isn’t a complaint.

The children think I am “going one step too far” 🙂  Once you start on this journey you can’t stop and you start to look at other things you can change.  Going plastic free (ish), aiming to be waste free. Decluttering is one thing, suggesting that they rinse their hair in homemade rosemary vinegar is quite another.  I do sometimes wonder if they will rebel and become high consuming adults but I think probably not…..

At this point one is supposed to propose the plan for the next three months based on what one has learned from the previous three months.  But as I said at the start I am not going to do what I am supposed to do.  So there will be no plan other than to keep doing what I am doing.  If I had a plan then there would be no opportunity for serendipitous moments to make themselves known, no chance for unexpected opportunities to be grabbed, no room for the random idea to be allowed to mature and grow.

On the subject of the random idea maturing and growing I have one rumbling around what passes for my brain.  I’m going to leave it there a little longer and maybe, if it shows signs of intelligent growth I’ll set it free.



I had a eureka moment this summer.  Actually that’s a lie, it was more of an aaaaaaaaaah realisation moment.  One of those moments when stuff that has always seemed a bit out of kilter suddenly makes perfect sense.

I have always thought of myself as an autumn/winter person.  The kind of person who loves snuggling up by the fire with the dogs and a good book; crispy winter walks; big rambunctious winter casseroles.  And indeed, I do love all those things.  But I love warmth and sunshine and long summer days more.

Perhaps because of our wonderful summer this year, following the dreadful excuse for a summer we had last year I have been outside much more.  The garden has been more productive and the foraging has been superb.  It’s been wonderful.  I don’t want it to end, I don’t really want winter and darkness.  I want the light to last.

I tried to cheer myself up with the prospect of Christmas.  And that is when I began to panic.  I have always gone full pelt at Christmas.  Not necessarily spending money but  in making, baking, preparing, decorating, gathering.

I don’t want to do that this year.  Having spent all this time taking things out of our house I do not want to bring any back in.  But that’s not all there is to it.  It isn’t just a question of things or stuff it’s a question of attitude.

I want simple.  I want a simple Christmas. Simple decorations, simple food, simple celebrations.  It doesn’t make them any the less valued or special but the thought of a heavily decorated house and a freezer full of meals that will probably still be there in January makes me feel just a little bit ill.

I can’t stop the present fest on my own.  The Boss and I tend to give each other things we need.  Last year we both unwittingly gave each other saltpetre for preserving and smoked salt which we both love.  Not perhaps the most traditional of presents but it made us laugh that we had both been thinking along identical lines.  Or we give days out.  That’s how I got to spend a weekend at Taste The Wild and a fabulous overnight at The Crab and Lobster.  But I can wear the present fest down.  I can do simple.

presents and plastic

So it is the 2nd of September.  That means two things.  I need to make sure I have my mother’s birthday present (tick) and we are day two into the month of no (or at least as little as possible) plastic.

Mother’s present was quite easy.  As I don’t think she reads my blog I can tell you she should be enjoying a rather nice lunch with my stepfather in a rather nice restaurant in London.  No plastic was involved in the purchase, preparation or sending of said present and I sincerely hope that there is no plastic involved in the serving of her present either.  Though unfortunately I cannnot vouch for the kitchen in which it will be prepared.

As for the September challenge.  We have hardly done any shopping and have already failed.

Sunday newspapers – the supplements come in a pre-sealed plastic bag.  I imagine it makes the assembly easier, however I remember Sunday newspapers as a child and there was no plastic bag then.  My father gets the LA Times which is vast and there is no plastic there either.  Letter to Sunday Times on its way.

Quayside market.  Wonderful produce from local producer.  One beauty of a swede.


Gorgeous selection of onions.


Beautiful variety of tomatoes.


But I had failed to bring any small cloth or paper bags for the tomatoes and they were put in plastic.  Have now added one cloth and three paper bags to the little parachute silk Onya bag that lives in my handbag.

Then absolute  massive fail whilst my back was turned.  The Boss as a bit of a sock thing.  He likes them brightly coloured and not necessarily matching.  He bought a set of three pairs of very attractive stripey socks and….. let the stallholder put them in a solitary plastic bag all of their own.  I had THREE Onya bags they could have gone in.  He has promised to be more vigilant in the future.



Today I have purchased some wine (glass bottles that will be used for homemade wine), fruit juice (cartons that will be used as firelighters) and carrots (bought loose). All brought home in one of my plastic free hessian bags.



On all occasions I refused a receipt.  Nobody seemed too surprised or fussed.  So I wonder, would shops which issue receipts automatically consider having a no receipt option on their till at the buyer’s risk?

Tonight I will do the menu plan for next week and write out my weekly shopping list.  I will have to plan very carefully.  I suspect what we eat will be dictated by where I can buy the necessary ingredients without incurring the input of plastic.  Fortunately the hens are still laying so we will always have the egg option.  Although as I was planning on using up the last of the asparagus with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce tonight they had better get laying!