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How to Freecycle without the pain

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a fan of Freecycle , the online discussion group that exists to enable its members to give away unwanted goods.

By the way, although I use the name Freecyle throughout this post, most of the points I make are applicable to all such sites. There are several others, including Freegle, EcoBees and AnyGoodToYou. Freecycle seems to have become a generic name though, like Hoover and Kleenex.

Freecycle is a stonkingly brilliant use of the internet. Here’s some of the great stuff about it:

Reducing landfill

Membership of my local groups has enabled me to pass on loads of stuff that would otherwise have gone into landfill. Things like opened toiletries and cosmetics, partially functioning electrical items and broken jewellery. Broken jewellery is particularly popular as people make new jewellery from it.

Re-using stuff before it goes for recycling

Freecyclers reuse stuff that would otherwise go for recycling too. Empty jam jars are used for homemade jam, or tea light holders at outside events. Corks are used to make cork boards. A Freecycler took my empty shuttlecock tubes to use when posting documents. Another took a load of empty thread reels, for craft purposes.

Moving stuff on easily

I had some work done on my house a few years ago. My garden was relandscaped, I had a new kitchen fitted, and I had a small extension built. I was able to Freecycle a lot of the waste. Which had the added advantage that the people taking the stuff collected it from my door. Freecyclers even did the work of dismantling my shed, which they took to their allotment.

Encouraging decluttering

Because Freecycle provides a way of moving on stuff that otherwise would have to be trashed, it’s encouraged me to move on more stuff than I otherwise would. We green-minded people hate to send anything to landfill so not knowing how to dispose of something any other way can lead to hoarding and clutter.

Getting free stuff!

You might have expected this to be my top benefit. In all honesty though, I value being able to pass stuff on to someone who will make good use of it at least as much as I do getting stuff for free. In fact, I would say that membership of Freecycle has made me more generous. I’ve had so much good stuff from it that, these days, even when I’m thinking of moving on something that might sell on eBay, I tend to favour using Freecycle. It seems only fair.

Here’s some of the great stuff I’ve had from Freecycle: a beautiful silver and moonstone ring, a camera tripod, toiletries, books, CDs, stationery, clothes, replacement parts for my bike, packets of Christmas cards, even food, including unwanted-now-Christmas-is-over chocolates. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that, apart from groceries, I get most of the stuff I need from Freecycle these days. I’ve even cancelled my paper as I now pick up a local Freecycler’s paper after she’s finished with it.

Even more fantastically, the same Freecycler posted a Wanted ad for empty 500ml yoghurt pots, which she uses for starting off seedlings. As I get through two or three of these a week, when I pick up my papers from outside her house, I leave my empties in exchange. They would go straight to landfill otherwise so I’m delighted about the swap.

 

Just like I frequently mention Freecycle and Freegle in this blog, I tell people about them in person all the time too.

I’ve noticed though that, while most people like the idea, and lots of people have started using them as a result of me talking about them, some people join and then give up participating almost straightaway, having had a negative experience.

Often these negative experiences could be easily avoided by following some simple tips.

And, last week, I got a request for a blog post on how to avoid such niggles when Freecycling.

I love requests!

So, here are my …

TIPS FOR PAINLESS FREECYCLING

MANAGING COMMUNICATION

Aargh, I’m getting a million emails every day!

In my experience, the quantity of emails arriving in their inbox is the main reason why people give up on Freecycle. My local groups generate scores of emails every day. If they come straight to your inbox, you’ll probably find it too many to deal with.

It doesn’t have to be like that!

It’s actually easy to avoid being deluged. Just do one of the following three things:

1. Go to your group’s website, click on ‘Edit Membership’ and set message delivery to ‘Web only’  or ‘Special notices’. Setting it to ‘Web only’  will ensure you receive no emails at all, while setting it to ‘Special notices’ will ensure you receive only notices about the running of the group, sent by the moderator. To see the messages members post, you will therefore need to go to the website.

2. Choose the ‘Daily digest’ option at the same place.  With this option, you receive a single email containing several messages.

Although, for my local groups at least, Daily digest is a misnomer as you actually receive an email a few times a day – each time the number of messages posted to the group reaches 25.

3. Set up filters within your email client. I filter messages into separate folders for Wanted and Offer notices. And I filter Taken and Received notices straight into my Deleted Items folder so I don’t have to deal with them.

Check for new messages frequently

If your group is a large and busy one, you may need to check posted messages frequently to avoid missing out on the stuff you want.

In my experience, this means that the people who get on best with Freecycle are people who use their computer a lot, such as people who work at a computer, or frequently check mail on their phone.

Some Freecyclers feel this is unfair, so they operate a fair offer policy. This means that, rather than giving an item to the first person to respond, they wait a set time after their message appears and consider all the responses.

Consider swapping phone numbers

It can be easier to arrange a pick up time by phone, than email. And it’s useful to have a phone number when you’re picking something up, in case you have trouble finding the place.

Café forums

Many Freecycle groups also set up a second discussion group, for general chit-chat and offering things that are excluded from being offered on the main site. For example, my local group doesn’t accept offers of unwanted vouchers (as they don’t reduce landfill, which is the ethos of the group), though they can be offered on the café  site.

These forums are a great link to a community of green-minded people who may know the answer to questions you have about green issues, local recycling facilities, local events etc. In an earlier post, I told the story of how I got a faulty hairdryer mended through this community.

OFFERING

Remember your post may not appear straightaway

If your site is moderated, your post may take a while to appear. So don’t write ‘To be picked up this afternoon’. Readers won’t know which afternoon you mean.

I smile ruefully when I see ‘must go by Saturday morning’ in a message that doesn’t arrive until Saturday afternoon.

Don’t make people work too hard

The subject line of each message states what’s being offered or requested.

If you’re offering many items, there isn’t space to itemise them in the subject line of your message. The convention in this case is to state that you are offering ‘Various’, detailing the items in the body of the message.

It’s sooo annoying to open a message offering ‘Various’ to find only two or three items listed, none of which I want. These items could have been listed in the subject line, saving me opening the mail.

And, if the subject line of a Wanted message says ‘Various’ , I don’t bother opening it. So, if you’re requesting too many items to list in the subject line, I recommend posting more than one message.

Describe your item as fully as you can. It’ll save you having to field questions. And it’ll make it more likely that it’ll be taken by someone who actually will use it.

State your ground rules

If you prefer Freecyclers to deal with you in specific ways, make these clear (while staying within the rules of your group, of course).

I state that, if more than one person requests something I’m offering, I’ll prioritise those people who pick up using a minimum of fossil fuels. So my goods are most likely to go to people who pick up on foot or by bicycle, then to those coming by public transport, and only then to those coming by car.

(Mind you I did have to post a follow-up message once when I included this point only to realise that it would be impossible to carry away the garden furniture I was offering on foot or by bike. Oops!)

If you’re offering multiple items in a single post, it’s also worth saying whether you want everything to go as one lot or you’re prepared for people to take just what they want. This will depend whether your priority is to see the stuff leave your home, or to ensure that it gets reused.

There is a general assumption that people will definitely take away any item they come for. I have collected some items only to realise that they’re not what I was expecting and I can’t use them. I Freecycle them on, of course. Still, it’s a waste of time.

If you’re desperate to get rid, you might not mind about this. However, I want to maximise the chance that the goods I give away will get re-used so, in my offer posts, I say that people needn’t feel obliged to take something just because they come to see it.

To save myself typing all this out every time, I’ve created a template Offer, Wanted, and ‘Yes please I’d like that’ message in a Word document on my hard-drive, and I copy and paste from this into messages I post to Freecycle.

Provide photos

Uploading a photo helps to show people what your item is like.

Plus I use photos to effectively continue listing anything that doesn’t get taken immediately. I keep a small box of stuff that I’ve listed that hasn’t been taken and there’s a photo of each item in an album I’ve created on the site, called ‘Rachel’s stuff’. I was dead chuffed when my wormery raincover was finally taken two years after I first listed it.

In my posts offering stuff, I include the URL of my album and say to let me know if anyone wants anything pictured in it, as well as the item I’m currently offering.

Similarly, when I reply to others’ offers, to say I’d like something, I include the URL of my photo album and ask if they’d like me to bring anything shown in the album when I pick up.

Another way to continue offering stuff that doesn’t get taken immediately is to let anyone picking something up have a rummage to see if they want anything else. I do this too sometimes, although I have occasionally been concerned that someone is taking things they won’t use on the basis that they’re free so they might as well. The photos method doesn’t seem to encourage this so much.

If you just want to get rid fast, you may not want to do this. You may prefer to dispose of anything not taken another way. It partly depends how keen you are to ensure your stuff gets re-used.

Be active

Regular Freecyclers get to know who is active in the community. I’m more likely to give an item to someone I know offers lots of stuff. In fact, if I offer something that lots of people are interested in, I check the site to see what the person I’m considering giving it to has posted. If they’ve only ever post Wanteds, I give it to someone else.

I suspect that’s true of others too. I reckon I’ve been selected as the recipient of offered stuff because I’ve given stuff to the Freecycler offering it, or because they’ve noticed me posting lots of offers.

MANAGING COLLECTIONS

Accept that not everyone will behave as you think they should

You will get some no shows. Some people will snatch the item out of your hand, while turning to disappear back down the path, without so much as a ‘thank you’. Sometimes you’ll suspect that the person collecting your item is going to sell it. Some people post only ‘Wanted’ ads without offering anything. And some people say they want something and then go out of contact once you’ve mailed to say they can have it.

Ah well.

In my experience, they’re the minority.

Best not to get wound up about it. At least the item is out of your home and probably being used.

You could even look at it this way. The person collecting your goods is doing you a favour as much as you’re doing them one. You want shot of the goods after all.

If someone goes out of contact after I’ve said they can have something, I usually send them an email asking if they still want it and saying that I’ll offer the item to someone else if I don’t hear from them in 24 hours.

I try not to get wound up about it. After all, I don’t even know that they received my mail.

Leave stuff outside

I often leave stuff for collection outside my front door. It means I don’t need to be in when the item is collected. And it takes some of the pain out of no shows.

To avoid letting a stranger know that my house is unoccupied, I say I’ll leave the item outside whether or not I’m going to be in.

The downside of this approach is that it cuts down on the human interaction which is part of the fun of Freecycling.

Don’t set up free for alls

Don’t say in your Offer message that you’re leaving the stuff outside on a first come, first served basis. You may cause people to make wasted journeys.

Not only is this irritating for your fellow Freecyclers, you may be increasing fossil fuel use as some of those journeys will be made by car.

Um…did I invite you in?

If you’re expecting someone collecting to come to your door, have the stuff you’re going to give them near the door. Several times, I’ve opened the door to a Freecycler and gone to get something for them only to find, when I turned round, that they’ve followed me into my house uninvited. This is disconcerting, especially when it’s a guy.

REQUESTING

Wanted ads

Some Freecyclers don’t like Wanted ads. If you don’t, filter them out so you don’t have to deal with them (see ‘Managing Communications’ above).

Personally, I’m a fan and have given stuff in response to Wanted ads many times.

Sometimes it’s been an item I no longer want/need and just haven’t thought to move on.

Sometimes, it’s been a waste item that I would otherwise have recycled or sent to landfill. Empty yoghurt tubs, empty jam jars, corks (popular for making cork boards).

And I’ve had great responses to Wanted ads I’ve posted too. Often I’ve been able to avoid buying something by posting a Wanted to Freecycle instead. For example, I got an epilator this way from someone who hadn’t been able to stand the pain. Saved me £40 and another electrical item being bought new.

TAKING STUFF

C u 2moz?

I recommend taking the time to write a proper message when responding to postings. The person who mails me “I’d like this please. I’ll collect on foot. Thanks either way” is way more likely to be successful than the one who writes “Yes. U in tmrw?’

And respond to anything they’ve asked about in their message. If they’ve stated that the item must go by Saturday, for example, offer some times before then that you can collect.

Be considerate

When you pick something up, be on time. If you can’t make it, let them know, apologise and suggest another time. Apart from it being basic good manners, if someone knows you’re reliable, they’re more likely to give you stuff in the future.

Be polite

When you reply to say you want something, say ‘please’. When you pick something up, say ‘thank you’. A ‘thank you’ email afterwards doesn’t do any harm either.

Post Taken/Received messages

This is considered good practice. I didn’t used to bother unless I received a lot of replies to an offer. However, I guess it enables those running the group to see how effective it’s being.

For my group, the process has recently been automated so, whenever I offer something, I get a follow-up email a few days later asking me to click a link if the item has been Taken, which generates a Taken posting. Of course, this doesn’t help if I’ve posted multiple items and only some of them have been taken.

HAVE FUN

I love being a Freecycler. It’s great seeing my unwanted stuff go off to be reused. It’s great getting freebies. And it’s great to be linked in to a community of green-minded people, most of whom are super-friendly and helpful. I’ve had people collecting stuff from me give me homemade chutney, or bags of sweets as a thank you. I’ve had people giving me stuff offer to deliver it as they’ll be passing my way or because the item’s heavy and they know I haven’t got a car. I’ve met and chatted with loads of lovely people.

Freecycle is just like any other community. Get active, be friendly and you’ll get out more than you put in.

Wow, that’s what I call transformation!

Yesterday I delivered my first Clutter-Busting Jump Start. And it was so much fun! It was so satisfying to help my client transform an area of her home from a dirty, dusty heap of jumbled stuff to a beautiful, pristine space.

About a week before my visit, I had a conversation with my client to get a thorough understanding of how she felt about her home and her clutter, and the impact it has on her.

I got how much it gets her down. Most of the time, she ‘blanks it out’ and, on the occasions when she allows herself to acknowledge the reality of it, she is shocked and upset. Her shame about it prevents her from inviting people over, and that also upsets her. She feels like a failure. Particularly because she has a 10 year old son, and she fears that she’s teaching him bad habits.

She explained that she got used to a chaotic home as her Mum’s home was that way.

She was becoming aware that she held onto stuff for psychological protection, and that therefore the idea of letting stuff go could be scary.

Nonetheless, she was ready to take it on and had recently made £140 by selling stuff at a car boot sale. She had also improved the state of her son’s room.

Next, we talked about her vision for her home. She saw that it could be lovely and clear, with a place for everything (especially things that are special to her), and clean, so that she was proud to have friends visit.

I asked her to develop this vision further before my visit. I emailed her guidance for a visioning exercise to help her create a stronger picture of the home she might create, which would motivate her through her decluttering.

I also asked her to decide, before my visit, which area of her home we were going to declutter, suggesting that she choose an area which:

  • Would be relatively easy to declutter and/or
  • Would give her a ‘quick win’ (it would look amazing when finished even though it wasn’t the hardest area to declutter) and/or
  • She used a lot and/or
  • She was itching to get started on and/or
  • Was the first place she saw on entering her home.

When I arrived,  we talked further about her vision for her home. She had become even more conscious of the extent to which her home was holding her back and keeping her stuck. She had noticed that visiting the clutter-free home of a friend made her feel like she was on holiday.

She is going to create a home that is clear and spacious, though not minimalist. The things she uses will be easily to hand in their proper place. It will be welcoming and bright. And she will feel comfortable inviting people over. She showed me pictures from Elle Decoration magazine which she’d chosen as inspiration.

The area she’d chosen for us to declutter was the space beside her bed, which looked like this.

Before

What it looked like before we started

Apologies for the quality of the photos by the way. I forgot my camera (doh!) so took them on my phone.

The first thing we did was create a clutter-clearing station by clearing a rug at the end of her bed for us to work on. We simply moved everything from the area that was to be our clutter-clearing station to one of the other (cluttered) areas of the room, without sorting through the stuff we moved.

Then we moved everything from the area we were decluttering into our now clear clutter-clearing station, and set ourselves up with our containers for different types of clutter.

Next we cleaned the area for decluttering, vacuuming up massive dust balls, washing the skirting board and wiping the floor. Dirt is often a consequence of clutter. It’s so time-consuming to clean thoroughly when an area is cluttered that most people simply give up and live with the dirt.

Only then did we start going through the stuff we’d removed from the area. With ‘help’ from her pretty, short-haired, grey cat, who liked to walk on whatever we we were looking at, and sit in our clutter containers, we considered each item one at a time. My client decided whether to recycle them, send them to landfill, move them to somewhere else in her home, return them to their owners, put them back in the area we were clearing, take action relating to them, or sell them at a car boot sale. If she wasn’t sure, we put the items to one side for reconsideration later.

As we worked, it became clear that she’d chosen an area that she was itching to get started on and used a lot. And definitely not an area that would be relatively easy to declutter or would provide a quick win.

She did brilliantly. She got rid of so much stuff!

We had to empty our recycling tub twice as it was brimful of paper.

She’s got a big bag of stuff to sell.

We put a small bag of stuff out for landfill.

And we re-homed most of the rest. Stationery, such as postcards, envelopes, sticky tape, pencil sharpeners, calculators, a hole punch, and post-it notes, found their appropriate place in the living room. Her son’s toys moved back to his room. Cosmetics and toiletries went to the bathroom. An umbrella is now handily hanging from a peg in the hall.

So hardly anything went back into the original area.

She even decided to move on two collapsible laundry baskets, and a cardboard carton that we’d emptied. I particularly acknowledged her for this as, by reducing her storage options, she made it harder for herself to reclutter.

The stuff we worked through included a lot of paperwork, each piece of which required an individual decision. Amongst other things, we sent old utility bills and bank statements for recycling, put all her son’s artwork into one file, put important documents into another file, and moved stationery to the appropriate place in her living room. She was delighted to find some crucial legal documents.

When she’s finished decluttering her home, and she’s got all her son’s artwork in one place, she’s going to decide which bits to frame and display, letting the rest go.

Similarly, we came across a lot of photographs, which she put in one place. Again, when she’s got all her photographs together, she’ll be better placed to decide which ones to keep, which to display and which to let go.

We sorted through her jewellery, piece by piece. This was particularly challenging, as jewellery often is. Many pieces had been gifts, or belonged to now deceased relatives. There were lots of items she’d had a long time. Each piece had a sentimental attachment.

Allowing herself to be ‘not sure’ worked wonders here. On our first pass through, whenever she hesitated for more than about 30 seconds over an item, I suggested she put into the ‘not sure’ pile and we moved on. She let a lot go on the first pass, including a jewellery cabinet. Although it had been given to her by her late grandmother, she didn’t actually like it and, after careful consideration, she decided to sell it, acknowledging that her grandmother wouldn’t want her to have something in her home that kept her stuck or didn’t give her pleasure.

And, when we’d been through everything once, and we returned to the ‘not sure’ pile, she found it easier to reach decisions about each item.

We sorted through lots of art materials, and stored them in one box, using smaller boxes and bags to group together items such as some little wooden sticks and sticky paper shapes. We tested all the pens and threw out the ones that didn’t work.

We found hundreds of cards from a variety of her son’s games and collections, including several sets of Top Trumps. We sorted them into sets, putting incomplete ones out for recycling, and complete ones on the games shelf in the living room.

A broken music stand went to landfill, as my client realised that it was unlikely that it could be mended.

When we’d finished, the area looked like this. (Believe it or not, that white cabinet is in the ‘before’ picture too!)

After

And the entire contents of that cabinet is...three earplugs!

Once we’d started, my client didn’t want to stop and I had trouble persuading her to break for lunch!

And when we finished, she was blown away by how much we’d achieved. She’s going to use the new space to practice yoga, something she hasn’t managed to do before as she’s never had a clear space in which to do it.

She was only left with a couple of items about which she was still not sure. A polished, heart-shaped pebble which she didn’t know what to do with although she found it pretty. And a painted-glass jewellery box which contained lead and came with a health warning exhorting you to wash your hands after handling it. The health warning made her feel uncomfortable both about keeping it and about giving it to someone else, though she did find it beautiful. She held onto each of these items for now, safe in the knowledge that she can always reconsider as she continues her decluttering.

As we were re-homing the last items, her son came home from school and I suggested he have a look beside his Mum’s bed and tell us what he thought.

“Clean!” he announced with a grin.

These were the elements of my role that made a difference and enabled her to achieve more in this decluttering session than she ever has before.

Keeping her focused

It would have been easy for her to get distracted by the clutter elsewhere in her home. For example, when we were re-homing some items, she couldn’t find the box or file where they belonged, and was tempted to work through piles of clutter to look for them. I recommended that she put the items we were re-homing where she wanted to keep such items and then, as she decluttered other areas and found the boxes/files she was looking for, she could consolidate.

Similarly, when we found certain types of clutter, she would remember that there was more of it elsewhere and be tempted to deal with that at the same time. If she could lay her hands on it easily and there wasn’t too much, it made sense to do this. For example, we brought the rest of her jewellery in from another area as it was easier for her to make decisions about her jewellery when it was all in one place. However, if there was a whole boxful of stuff elsewhere or she couldn’t easily find it, I suggested she leave that to another decluttering session.

Acknowledging her

I took every opportunity to point out how well she was doing. Clutterholics always tell me that they feel like failures and starting to tackle their clutter can exacerbate this as they come face-to-face with the amount of stuff they’ve amassed. This is often so discouraging that they give up.

I kept telling her how admirable it was that she’d chosen to tackle the issue, pointing out the progress we were making, and reminding her of how lovely it would be when her home was the way she was planning for it to be.

It wasn’t hard to remember to do this. My glee as we filled another tub with paper for recycling, or reached the end of one of her boxes of stuff wasn’t feigned. And I think I got as much pleasure out of gazing at the finished area as she did.

Advising her on what she needed to keep and how to dispose of things

She wasn’t sure whether it would be sensible to keep certain things, such as old utility bills and I was able to advise her on what was necessary.

I was also able to advise her on green ways to dispose of several items that she would otherwise have put into landfill. I told her about a local charity that takes foreign and old coins, a local printer that has a recycling bin for CD-ROMs, and that broken jewellery gets snapped up on Freecyle/Freegle, by people wanting to rework it.

Being with her emotions

There were emotional moments as she came across papers relating to deceased loved ones. This can be difficult to deal with alone and can prevent people from starting decluttering, or stop them from progressing. It was a privilege to sit with her and allow her to express her emotional reactions, until she was ready to move on.

Encouraging her not to cut corners

Within the boxes and piles of stuff, we came across containers which she was tempted to keep without examining the contents. At my suggestion, we worked through them and, in most cases, let most of the contents go. For example, though she initially suggested simply keeping a collapsible file of paperwork, when we went through it, almost every single item went for recycling, leaving her with an empty file which she’ll be able to use to order her remaining important paperwork once she’s finished decluttering.

Acting as a sounding board

Bouncing her thoughts off me helped her to make decisions, often without me needing to open my mouth. She would say things like “Oh, I don’t know about this…I was going to get a frame and make it into something I could put on the wall…Will I ever do it though?..I could do it…Realistically, though…I don’t think I need to keep it…Shall I let it go?…You know, I’m going to sell it. I don’t really need all this stuff from my past, do I?” Just having someone listen to her as she worked the thoughts through enabled her to reach her own conclusions, and feel confident in her decisions.

Advising her on staying decluttered

Before I left, we talked about scheduling the actions we’d identified for her to take with the stuff we’d gone through, keeping the newly cleared area clear, how she is going to take her decluttering forward, and how to reduce the amount of stuff that comes into her home.

The more decluttering she does, the easier it will be to reduce what she acquires. She won’t be buying sticky tape for a while as we found five reels and, more importantly, she now knows where they are. Same goes for post-it notes. And, if it rains, she knows where her umbrella is.

Plus she’s going to have a gentle word with her Mum, who often buys stuff for her unsolicited. She’s going to explain that, while she recognises that her Mum does it out of love, she’s got too much stuff in her home and it upsets her so she’d rather her Mum showed her love another way.

What a successful day. I find helping someone else declutter at least as cathartic as decluttering myself. Maybe it’s because, with the green decluttering process I’ve developed, I’m never tackling serious clutter. In my own home, it’s more about maintenance than transformation. On the other hand, in a matter of a few hours, clients can, with my support, transform a space that has been causing them stress, anxiety and upset into a space they love.


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How to jump start your clutter-busting

I’m excited about the Clutter-Busting Jump Start service I’ve just launched. It seems I never mention it in conversation without someone saying either that they’d like it themselves or they know someone who would.

I’m looking forward to doing my first one on Tuesday and have already had the set-up conversation with my client. I talked her through a visioning exercise to get clear what she’s creating, gave her guidance on which area of her home to choose for us to work on, and explained what she needs to have ready when I arrive (six boxes/bags to hold different categories of clutter as we sort through her stuff).

At an art show last night, I got chatting to someone I recognised. She’s a friend of a guy that used to rent a room to someone I used to be in a relationship with about ten years ago. Make sense? :-)

Turns out she needs help clearing her attic and we arranged to speak this week.

Being car-free creates an extra fun challenge. A Clutter-Busting Jump Start includes taking the actions we identify as we sort through the client’s stuff. Listing things on Freecycle/Freegle/ebay/Friday-Ad. Taking stuff to a charity shop, a recycling point, the municipal household recycling centre…

We take the actions the same day because I’ve noticed that some clutterholics have a pattern of sorting out stuff to go yet never taking the actions. The bags of sorted-out stuff sit around their homes, continuing to be clutter and sapping their energy.

Clutter doesn’t stop being clutter until it leaves the home for good.

An attic-load of stuff though might produce more than we can shift by hand  or on my bicycle. I’m going to see if I can borrow a car from a friend for the day. Otherwise I’ll use Whipcar or Streetcar and pass on the costs of the car hire to my client.

Below is an advert I’ve created for the service.

I can only do five Jump Starts a month because I need time to develop coaching materials for the online/telephone green decluttering coaching/support which will be the main service I provide. And to create promotional materials.

Apart from gaining me more valuable experience (and the fact that there are few things I love more than green decluttering), I’m intending that providing Clutter-Busting Jump Starts will generate testimonials and before & after pictures for my website and promotional materials.

Roll on Tuesday!

Clutter-Busting Jump Start

Overwhelmed by clutter?

Does walking through your own front door sap your energy?

 Tackling a clutter-mountain can be overwhelming. You want to clear the backlog but where do you start? What if you make decisions you later regret? And what’s the most eco-friendly way to dispose of the stuff you’re ready to move on?

That’s why I created the Clutter-Busting Jump Start.

Imagine having someone in your home helping you get clear what you want to achieve and where to start, keeping you on track when you feel like giving up, providing useful tips and hints, and advising you how to dispose of things in an eco-friendly way.

I’ve applied four years of coaching training and experience to the area of green decluttering, breaking it down to create a process that is manageable, easy to adopt, and WORKS! It gives you the confidence you need to create a home you love, a home that supports you to do the things you want to spend your life doing, while reducing your environmental impact.

In just one day you’ll completely declutter an area AND learn how to apply the process to the rest of your home. Plus, we’ll discuss how to stop clutter creeping back.

You’ll be amazed how much you achieve in a single day.

It costs just £300+travel (or the equivalent of 6 months off-site storage!)

I provide friendly, non-judgmental support and, if you prefer, can work with you by telephone.

I will never push you to get rid of something. And my process gives you space to be unsure so that you only decide to let something go with complete confidence.

Only four Clutter-Busting Jump Starts available in June.

Call now on 07952 791821

Crazy green logic and how to defeat it

I’ve been working soooo hard for the last couple of weeks, putting together materials for my green decluttering coaching programme. I’ve decided to run a prototype programme (of maybe 10 weeks duration) for half a dozen people, starting end July/beginning August, and I’ve got five people ready to sign up already. The lucky six will get my programme super-cheap in return for giving me feedback so I can tweak it and improve it ready for a full launch later in the year.

It’s starting to seem real now, which is exciting and scary in equal measure!

In the meantime, I’ve also started offering one-on-one support, where I visit people at home to work with them directly. They get a jump start on tackling that overwhelming clutter mountain, and I gain even more insight into the psychology of clutter and decluttering, particularly for green-minded people.

And I’ve been interviewing people to really get how they feel about their clutter, and why they are cluttered.

One of the things I love about working in this area is how it makes me look again at my own attitude to my belongings. Over the years, I’ve developed effective systems and processes for managing my stuff so that my house is almost clutter-free. (It’s not, and never will be, completely clutter-free. I don’t want my house to look like a museum and I don’t mind if a few things sit around waiting to be dealt with, so long as it doesn’t get overwhelming).

Nonetheless, I’ve been surprised by some of the irrational thought processes I’m spotting in myself.

It might come in handy

When you’re green-minded (and, especially if you’re thrifty too, as green-minded people often are), it’s tempting to feel that it’s better to hang onto anything that there’s any chance of you using in the future.

There’s false logic here though. For anything that you’re not likely to use, and which you could replace relatively easily and/or cheaply, the greener option is to get it back into circulation.

And, if your clutter means you’re paying for off-site storage, it might be the cheaper option too.

The trick, when decluttering, is to think it through logically. If you’re tempted to keep it because ‘it might come in handy’, think:

  1. How LIKELY is it that I’ll use it in future?
  2. How EASILY could I replace it if necessary?
  3. How CHEAP/EXPENSIVE would it be to replace if necessary?
  4. How much would I CARE if I couldn’t replace it?

If you’re unlikely to use it (even though you might) and you could replace it relatively easily and cheaply (or you wouldn’t care that much if you couldn’t), the greener option is to get it to someone who will use it in the foreseeable future.

For example, ever since I decluttered my leftover DIY materials, it’s been nagging at me that I wasn’t rigorous enough. Apart from the part-used cans of coloured paints, here’s some things I held onto:

Paint etc

Bye bye

  • 4 part-used cans of interior wood varnish
  • 1 part-used tin of white satinwood paint
  • 1 part-used tin of white eggshell paint
  • 1 part-used spray can of primer
  • 1 part-used tin of primer
  • 1 part-used tin of metal primer
  • 2 part-used tins of white emulsion
  • 1 part-used tin of white undercoat
  • 1 part-used tin of off-white undercoat.

In the light of what I said in my previous blog post, I’ve been reconsidering those items. While it’s true that I might use them in the future, it’s not likely. I’m not planning any redecorating, plus, if and when I do, the chances are that the decorator I use will prefer to use new materials than old ones that might have deteriorated over time (which is why I’ve got more than one can of varnish and white emulsion). And they’re all easily, and fairly cheaply, replaceable.

Meanwhile, all that stuff is out of circulation, sitting in my loft when someone else could be using it rather than buying new. And, if I ever do come to use it, I might find it’s deteriorated beyond use (like the grout and Covertex I mentioned in my previous blog post). How annoyed would I be then?

So I sent a Facebook message to Choppa at Elementree Studios to see if he can use them and he messaged back to say he’d be delighted to take them off my hands. Fantastic! If he hadn’t wanted them, I’d have put them on Freecycle and Freegle and, if that hadn’t worked, I’d have contacted Community RePaint.

I bought it, I’m responsible for it

I also hold onto stuff because I feel responsible for it. This particularly applies to things that are unlikely even to be wanted by Freecyclers/Freeglers yet which are still functional. Old towels and clothes that are way out of fashion for example. I feel obliged to keep using them, or find a use for them (which often really means hanging onto them in the hope of finding a use for them) until they’re worn out.

If I’ve got more of them than I can ever hope to use though, that’s not the greenest option. It would be better to give them to charity shops, who can raise money by selling them as rags to be reprocessed for use in, for example, carpets and underlays.

When my clothes cupboard next comes up in my decluttering schedule, I’m shifting some of those no-longer-good-enough-for-everyday clothes  that I’ve been telling myself would do for gym cover ups or to sleep in. I’m going to see how many I’ve got and get realistic about how many it’s worth keeping. I suspect I’ve got more than I can hope to wear out in my lifetime.

And, if that’s true, some of them are going for charity rags.

Stuff as a security blanket

So then I noticed something else. As I made the decision to move on those decorating materials, I got a flash of anxiety. What was that about? I took a look and found that the thoughts behind it were:

  • How much stuff do I want to get rid of? Am I in danger of getting rid of so much that I haven’t got what I need?
  • How will I feel about empty shelves and cupboards? Will my house start to feel bare, soulless and grim?
  • Will I reach a point where I can no longer justify living in my (beloved) house because I’ve got rid of so much stuff that I need less space?

All that in response to considering moving on a few part-used tins of paint!

It made me conscious of the extent to which we accumluate stuff as a security blanket. And how irrational that is. After all, we can’t store in our homes all the stuff we’re ever going to need in our lifetimes. Or even all the stuff that passes through our hands that we would use again in the future (let alone all the stuff that we only might use).

There are many other irrational justifications we have for acquiring and holding onto clutter (‘but it’s a bargain’, ‘I will get round to doing that craft project/losing that weight one day’, ‘but it cost a lot of money’, ‘but it might be worth something’, ‘but it was a gift’ ‘but it reminds me of someone/something/sometime’…). The ones above are just those my own decluttering, and my recent even stronger focus on it, has had me noticing.

Developing this business, and writing this blog also has me discover even more ways to move things on so that they will get reused, and even more green alternatives to everyday products. Connecting with the green community on Twitter, and researching issues for my blog posts immerses me even deeper into this domain that I love so much.

It’s all good. :-)

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Two wheels good, four wheels bad

Following Monday’s post about going carfree, here are my tips for urbanites who are planning to make a bike their main form of transport.

1. Which bike?

If you haven’t already got a bike, you’ll need to think about what type of bike to get. I bought one at the low end of the range of a good make of mountain bikes.

My bike

My trusty steed

I bought towards the bottom of the range because I wasn’t positive I would keep on cycling. In fact I have done, yet I don’t regret buying a cheaper bike. The more expensive mountain bikes come with features that I wouldn’t need given than I mostly cycle around town. Suspension for example which, while though no doubt welcome off-road, reduces your efficiency so requiring you to work harder, and isn’t necessary for on-road cycling.

I bought a mountain bike because I thought it would be hardwearing and take more knocks. (OK, and because it was what everyone was buying at the time and I thought it would make me look cool). I have since changed its chunky tyres for hybrid ones. Mountain bike tyres are designed to grip the ground and provide traction. Necessary for off-road riding: a waste of your pedalling energy on road. While I still enjoy my bike’s robustness, I don’t enjoy the stream of water that pours down my back when it’s raining (mountain bikes don’t have mudguards), or the dirty patches on the inside of my right trouser legs (mountain bikes don’t have chain guards). With hindsight, I think I’d have been better off with a road bike.

I still love my bike though :-)

Another option is a hybrid, though personally I regard that as the worst of both worlds, rather than the best.

2. Get a rack and panniers

More comfortable than a rucksack and MUCH safer than carrier bags hanging off your wrists (I know someone who smashed her shoulder when the bags she was carrying caught in her front wheel as she sped downhill on a bike).

3. Outer gear

You’ll want a waterproof jacket, trousers and overshoes. As well as keeping you dry, they’ll be windproof so they’ll keep you warm when necessary. Keep them in your panniers so you don’t get caught out.

I recommend gloves too. Long-fingered waterproof ones for winter, short-fingered ones for summer. Not only do they keep your hands warm and dry, they make riding more comfortable, acting like shock absorbers for your hand. And the short-fingered ones make you look like an urban warrior, which is always a bonus.

I always wear a helmet. Debate rages about this. (Do drivers give more space to cyclists without helmets? Does promoting their use discourage people from cycling? Do helmeted cyclists ride less carefully?) I’ve come off my bike a few times in the last ten years and been glad of my helmet. On the worst ocassion, caused by black ice, though I was severly bruised, my helmet saved my face a nasty scrape (and kept my glasses and hearing aid on and intact).

I bought a pair of cycling shoes a couple of years ago. While they’re not essential, they make cycling more efficient (the solid soles transfer more of your legpower to your pedals). Plus, they take away the need to work out what shoes I’m going to put on to cycle! I can always pop a more glamorous pair in my panniers to change into on arrival. Or sometimes I just cycle in the glamorous ones (see benefits of being carfree number 5).

They’ve also got cleats in the sole that can clip into specially designed (clipless) pedals. That increases your efficiency as it harnesses the power of your pedalling upstroke as well as your downstroke. I’ve never used them though as I’m concerned about failing to unclip quickly enough on stopping (leading to me tipping over and looking like an idiot) or remaining attached to my bike in an accident, resulting in more serious injuries. Having said that, I just did a quick internet search to check my terminology for this blog post and found stuff on the web suggesting that clipless pedals and cleats disengage easily and won’t stay attached during an accident (unlike pedals with toeclips and straps) so maybe I’ll reconsider.

4. Use two good locks

Get more than one lock, of different types (thieves are likely to be carrying equipment to get through a single type). I use a D-lock plus a chain & padlock. Lock your bike to something secure (I once saw thieves attempt to lift a bike over the roughly ten foot high post it was chained to). Make sure you lock both the wheels and the frame to whatever you’re securing your bike to (especially if you’ve got quick release wheels).

5. Service your bike regularly

Do it yourself or use your local bike shop. It costs way less than servicing a car and will ensure that your bike is safe (by replacing worn brake pads, brake cables, chain etc). I have mine done annually.

6. Learn how to fix a puncture…

I confess I could do better on this one myself. I do know how. I did a great course on basic bike maintenance recently. However, I found I didn’t have the strength to get the tyre back on the wheel once I’d fixed the puncture so I don’t know whether I’d attempt it if I got a puncture while I was out. I rarely cycle so far from civilisation that a flat tyre would leave me stranded. However, if I was going way off road or far from public transport, I’d want to be carrying a spare inner tube and a pump and know that I could fix a puncture if necessary.

7…and prevent them

Pump up your tyres every week or so. It’s harder work cycling with soft tyres. Plus soft tyres result in damage to your wheels and tyres, and to more punctures.

For the first few years after I started cycling as an adult, I was lax about pumping up my tyres. I knew I ‘should’. And I rarely did. And even when I did, working hard with a hand pump, I wasn’t sure if I’d achieved anything because I never knew if I’d put in the right amount of air.

And then I bought a strirrup pump with a pressure gauge. Transformation! Now pumping up my tyres is easy, and the pressure gauge (combined with the recommended pressure printed on the side of my tyres) tells me when to stop.

Also, every  now and then, have a good look at your tyres. You’ll see that they are full of nicks and indentations from sharp objects you’ve cycled over. Some of these will have the sharp object in question embedded within them. You can gently ease these bits of glass etc out with, for example, a screwdriver, which will reduce the chance of them being pushed further in and causing a puncture next time. I love doing this. It’s like squeezing spots. Dead satisfying!

8. Carry your lights at all times

I went to a party last weekend, expecting to stay for the afternoon and come home early evening to go out with some other friends. Once I was in the swing of the party though, I didn’t want to leave early and my plans for that evening were easily rearranged so I stayed. Luckily someone was driving home from the party and could fit my bike in their car (with my quick release front wheel removed), otherwise I’d have had an unpleasant ride home in the dark.

Find a way to have your lights on you whenever you’re out on your bike (e.g. keep them on the bike, or in a bag you always take with you cycling). If you don’t, you’ll inevitably get caught out, especially in the Spring and Autumn, when you’re more likely to be going out in the light and coming home in the dark.

I use clockwork bike lights. The five minutes I spend winding them up every couple of weeks are worth it to reduce my reliance on fossil fuels still further. You might prefer battery operated lights if you frequently do longer journeys though (say over half an hour).

If you’re using battery operated lights, use rechargeable batteries to keep your environmental impact as low as possible.

It’s a good idea to carry spares batteries, especially if you’re using rechargables (as they die suddenly rather than gradually fading over time). I’d suggest carrying alkaline batteries as spares so there’s no danger you’ll put your spares in only to find they’ve gone flat too.

Another environmentally-friendly option is a dynamo, though you will have to pedal harder as your legs will be powering the light as well as your wheels.

Happy cycling folks. Enjoy getting from A to B with minimal environmental impact, at little financial cost, while improving your physical and mental health. What’s not to like?

And please do share your cycling tips below.

Is your car more curse than convenience?

I ditched my car ten years ago. I’d been debating with myself whether to go car free for a few months as I was using my car less and less. I wasn’t sure though. If I got rid, would I be able to manage? I was self-employed with clients all over South East England and London. Would I lose out on work through spending too much time on travel? Would my travel costs significantly increase? Would I find myself spending lots of money hiring cars to get me to social events in out of the way places, or because I had too much luggage to carry on a train?

Then my car started overheating.  A garage told me the head gasket had cracked and it would cost £800 (more than the car was worth) to repair it. That made the decision for me and I said ‘goodbye’.

And I haven’t looked back (except before changing lanes on my bike).

I cycle or walk for local journeys (I rarely use taxis or even buses) and use the train for anything further away. I occasionally hire a car if I’m going away for a weekend (especially with others), doing a journey with lots of stops, or travelling somewhere with a lot of luggage. Probably only about half a dozen times in the last ten years though.

There are options for using cars without owning one that are cheaper than traditional car hire.

For example, car clubs provide locally parked cars that members can hire for slots as short as 30 minutes, booking online at short notice so long as a car is available.

While WhipCar enables car owners to rent out their cars to other people when they’re not using them.

In fact, I haven’t found I’ve wanted use of a car enough even to pursue those options.

Aside from the obvious contribution to me living a low impact life, here are some of the benefits I’ve noticed.

1. I’ve saved money

In my last year of car ownership, I spent about £2,000 on car-related costs (maintenance, petrol, insurance, tax, MOT, parking…), and about a further £1,000 on public transport. In the last 12 months, I’ve spent about £2,000 in total on transport. According to this inflation calculator, the £3,000 I spent ten years ago would be equivalent to £3,700 today. So, while I can’t be sure that there weren’t changes in my travel patterns that I haven’t accounted for, this crude analysis suggests I’ve nearly halved my travel costs by ditching my car. And that’s without taking into account the cost/depreciation of the car itself.

Money’s only part of the picture though…

Glass of wine on train

Let the train take the strain

2. Less stress

I no longer worry about the safety of my car parked on the street, or whether I’ll unexpectedly be faced with a large bill because something’s gone wrong with it. Parking where I live in Brighton & Hove is becoming increasingly challenging and the Council is introducing restrictions in more residential areas, prompting heated debates and strong feelings: not with me though.

3. I’m fitter

Not having a car handily parked outside my house results in me using my bike or Shanks’ pony even more than I would have done otherwise (and Brighton’s hills demand the use of every one of my gears). On a memorable occasion before I ditched my car, because it was pouring with rain, I drove to the gym instead of cycling. Big mistake. The world and her husband had made similar decisions and I was late for my fitness class because of the traffic. Now I haven’t got a car, that’s not an option. I just don my waterproofs and set off by bike. As my Italian friend says “After all, I’m not made of paper”.

4. I’m more connected to my community

As I walk or cycle about, I stop to chat to people I know, see notices for local events, pick up on changes in my neighbourhood, spot birds and listen to them singing, pop into local shops for errands…

5. I wear my high heels more

Didn’t see that one coming! Thing is, it’s easier to cycle in heels than it is to walk in them. So, if I’m cycling for a night out, I can wear vertiginous heels rather than carry them separately and change on arrival.

6. Lots of time for reading

Car-driving friends wonder how I manage to get through so many books. What a waste of time driving is!

7. Not MY fault guv’

OK, so sometimes trains run late or are cancelled. Driving is unpredictable too though. Accidents and breakdowns happen. Traffic gets backed up. And, if I’m late for a meeting because of public transport delays, I think people are less inclined to think that I should simply have allowed longer for my journey than they would be if I’d got caught in traffic.

There probably have been occasions when my life has been more inconvenient or more expensive than it would have been if I’d owned a car. I’m not aware of them though because I simply don’t think about it. And overall I reckon it balances out in my favour.

Admittedly I live near the centre of a city in the South East of England, which is relatively well-served with public transport and I haven’t got kids, or a job that requires me to transport lots of stuff around. All the same, if you’re convinced that you can’t cope without a car, maybe it’s worth thinking again.

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