Archive for April, 2011

One woman’s junk is another woman’s treasure

We all know we’ve got more stuff than we need.

It takes something to get round to sorting out the things we don’t want and getting rid of them though, doesn’t it?

And we tend to want our stuff to go to a ‘good home’. We’d like to know it’s being used, and loved.

AND, we love an evening with friends and food, right?

See where I’m going with this?



I had a ‘decluttering rummage pot-luck party’ on Friday night. 14 of us got together at my house, with everyone bringing veggie food to share and anything they wanted to give away. Clothes, shoes, handbags, jewellery, make-up, toiletries, cosmetics, books, CDs, DVDs, videos, video games, IT accessories, kitchen equipment, stationery, stickers, plants, seeds, a mirror, a standard lamp, a food processor, a hand blender, crockery, candles…

I don’t know whether I’m more chuffed that over half of what was brought found new homes, or that between us we generated several boxes and bags of leftovers that are leaving our lives altogether. Once a couple of other friends have rummaged through them, I’ll find ways to move the stuff on (looking for ways to do so that maximise the chances that each item gets reused).

I gave away clothes, a CD (Kelly Osbourne – what was I THINKING?!), and toiletries I wouldn’t have used. And I gained toiletries that I WILL use, a hoodie, a star for the top of my Christmas tree, a torch, camping cutlery and a hand blender (I’ve wanted one of those for ages!).

Friends from five different areas of my life came along, and one friend brought her flatmate, so no-one knew everyone beforehand. We all had plenty to talk about though as each person showed us what she’d brought and gradually gathered a pile of stuff she wanted.

Glittery shoes

Glittery shoes - irresistable

Everyone went home delighted with their new finds, not to mention to have offloaded so much stuff. I particularly liked it when unexpected new uses were found for things. Like my friends who run Titbits Catering taking a toy van with cakes painted on the side to decorate their stall at markets, and smiley face stickers to seal their cake boxes.

Here’s a challenge though:

how do we get men to do this? In my experience, only women hold/attend these kind of parties. Men must have stuff they could swap too, no?

My tips for a successful swap-o-rama party:

1. Get the numbers right

14 people was probably too many. It took a long time to go through what everyone had brought. If you’re going to do ‘show and tells’ rather than take the ‘put everything in one place and just rummage through it’ approach, 10 people would be plenty.

2.  Be clear about the start time

Ask people to arrive within half an hour of your stated start time. It doesn’t work well to have new people turning up throughout the evening.

3. Provide a mirror

Sexual intimacy book

Could be interesting

Have a mirror in the swapping room. People will want to try on the clothes.

4. Reassure people

Reassure anyone who says ‘I haven’t got much to bring’ or ‘My stuff’s such rubbish’. In my experience, most people worry that they’re not bringing enough quality items, yet plenty of stuff always gets claimed.

5. Make it fair

Consider how you’re going to handle it if more than one person wants the same item. I like to have people take turns to pick an item from the popular items pile (having drawn numbers from a bag to determine who goes first, second etc). With fewer people (and therefore less stuff), I sometimes create a ‘take turns to pick’ system for all the items. This helps to ensure that people who are less confident about speaking up don’t miss out.

6. Dispose of the leftovers in as green a way as possible


And that's just the leftovers

Consider how you’re going to dispose of the unwanted items. You could Freecycle /Freegle everything as a job lot. Or, if you want to maximise the chance that stuff will get used, you might want to Freecycle /Freegle as many items as you can individually. Other options include clothes banks, charity shops, and recycling at household waste sites.

Give others a chance to rummage through the leftovers. One friend who didn’t make the party claimed a pair of shoes and two tops for herself, plus a bracelet and a pair of slippers for her three-year-old. Another friend will be rummaging tomorrow and I’m going to wait until my brother and sister-in-law have been to stay with me next weekend, before I get rid of everything.

7. Don’t overdo the rules

Some people like to set a minimum number of items to bring, request that people bring clothes freshly ironed, provide hanging rails and places to set things out attractively, and ensure that all guests are a similar size (so that they’ll fit each other’s clothes). I say, forget all that. Keep it casual and laid-back. It’s supposed to be fun!

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Ethical finance

I love my insurance company.

I bet you don’t know many people who say that.

I’ve always used Naturesave Insurance for building and home contents insurance, so I’m chuffed to hear today that they’ve been awarded the Queens Award For Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category for 2011.

Naturesave puts sustainability and ethics at the core of its operations. Amongst other policies:

  • It gives preferential treatment to charities and not-for-profits;
  • Its staff use public transport for business journeys;
  • It incentivises staff to avoid air travel for holidays;
  • It puts ten per cent of all household, and some commercial, premiums into its charitable trust fund, which gives grants to UK-based environmental, conservation and community renewable energy projects.

It’s great to know that money I give them each year is being used to do good, not harm.

And the cherry on top is that, whenever I’ve phoned them with a query, they’ve been friendly and helpful, providing the sort of customer service that only seems to exist in black & white films.

I’ve made ethical choices for other financial products too, such as pensions and mortgages, using a financial adviser with a commitment to ethical investing and banking with The Co-operative Bank.

I confess I don’t go into the nitty-gritty of the industries into which my policies invest and I suspect, if I did, I might find myself having to make some tricky choices, and educate myself further around some of the issues. One peron’s ethical is another’s unethical (or irrelevant). As a relatively simple example, some ethical investors would avoid investing in businesses involved in alcohol. Since I’ve been known to enjoy the odd tipple (!), I don’t insist on that. Where do I stand on gambling though? Up to the individual, isn’t it? Though some people get ‘addicted’ which can lead to serious problems. And I’m opposed to horse-racing, which is tied in with the gambling industry. Hmm…See what I mean?

Personally, I’m most concerned about environmental stewardship, though I also wouldn’t want my money used to support a company with a poor record on human rights or social justice.

A big question, of course, is whether I’ve traded value for money against a clear(er) conscience. And the truth is I don’t know. I’m not savvy enough with financial markets and financial products to make a judgement on that (and anyway, it’d be impossible to know for sure). I’m happy with what I pay for the products I have and the returns I’ve got so far though, and wouldn’t feel right investing any other way.

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Make do and mend

Once again, Brighton’s Freecycling community comes up trumps. My decades-old hairdryer starting cutting out recently and a cursory investigation revealed the problem: the flex was splitting at the point where it entered the body of the hairdryer.

HairdryerWhile I could probably have picked up a new hairdryer for £15, it seemed a shame to take my old one to the household waste recycling site, when I knew it could be easily mended (though I didn’t have the skills to do it myself). So I posted to Brighton Freecycle Café, a discussion group for Brighton Freecyclers, asking for suggestions for how I could get it mended.

Within two days, someone had messaged me offering to repair it. He picked it up from my house, fixed it and dropped it back off the same day, asking nothing in return. What a star!

Freecycle (and Freegle) are more than ways to find new homes for your unwanted stuff, and source secondhand items you want yourself. They provide access to a community of like-minded people in your area whose members support each other to live low impact lifestyles.

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Stumbling into Aladdin’s cave

Have you ever dreamed of finding a cornucopia: a crazy, dusty junk shop piled high with curiosities, where you could spend a happy hour rummaging and delving, drawn by the possibility of discovering a gem, a gorgeous mysterious object that you would treasure forever?Elementree Studios

Last week, as I made my way home from a friend’s in the late afternoon/early evening, I passed a turning I’ve walked past countless times and noticed an A-board, hanging baskets and crates of items out on the street. Intrigued, I went to investigate and found a series of workshops, open to the public, where artists and craftspeople are taking waste materials and turning them into art, furniture and household items.

Choppa White and the other occupants of Elementree Studios rummage through skips to collect bits of industrial machinery, pieces of wood and metal, and refashion them into tables, cupboards, frames for mirrors, boxes…

Choppa’s workshop is a sight to behold. Everywhere I looked, something else surprising caught my eye: a trumpet, a shop window model, wooden index card drawers, a dog curled up asleep on an armchair… Choppa loves to turn something unwanted into something cherished and ‘the quirkier, the better’.

Somehow it added to my sense of magic when I asked Choppa how long Elementree Studios had been there and he told me ‘nine years’. How is it possible that I’ve never found this place before?

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The Green Death: when you go, go green

Do you remember the Doctor Who Green Death serial? First broadcast in 1973, it terrified the five-year-old me. Now I find myself scaring others by talking to them about my green death. I’d like to go the way I lived, with as little impact on the environment as I can manage.

Crematoria use gas (a finite resource and producer of air pollution), plastic/chipboard coffins may pollute land and water, burial grounds may pollute groundwater supplies, cut flowers may be grown with heavy use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides before being flown in from abroad.

I made a will last year (using Will Aid) and I’ve placed a document with my will which states:

I’d like my funeral to have a relatively low impact  on the environment. Some ways to achieve this would include:

  • Using an eco-friendly coffin, such as The Greenfield Biodegradable Coffin, currently sold by Brighton & Hove City Council for £107 (and using it as it is, without decorating it).
  • Using a natural burial ground. I like the one at Clayton Wood
  • Not embalming my body.
  • Not placing a memorial or headstone to mark my grave. (If you’d like a marker, perhaps you could plant a tree).
  • Choosing whether to cremate my body and scatter the ashes at the burial ground, or bury it there, based on the latest advice as to which has the least detrimental environmental impact.
  • Requesting mourners not to send flowers. Those who wish to might make a donation to one or more of the following charities: Friends of the Earth; the RSPB; Amnesty International; the Vegan Society; Oxfam; the RNID.

I’ve also told my family that I’ve done this.

I considered purchasing an eco-friendly coffin, and storing it in my loft, to save my relatives having to find one after I’ve died. I decided against because it would involve buying something that won’t be used for (I hope) a long time. Who knows, by the time I die, maybe there’ll be an even-more eco-friendly way to dispose of my remains.

While I was thinking these issues through, I talked about it with several friends, some of whose reactions surprised me. A few were horrified by the idea of me storing my coffin in the loft, finding it macabre, as though I were courting death itself. To me, it’s only a bit of cardboard: not as scary as bright green slime and giant maggots.

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Cut your carbon noseprint

Here’s an easy way to reduce your impact: switch to cloth hankerchiefs instead of disposable tissues. Save trees, land, water and more, and reduce how much waste you sent to landfill.

A couple of years ago, an article in The Times (scroll down past the stuff on photos) said that, according to the European Tissue Symposium (the European Tissue Symposium?!), an average European uses 13kg of tissue a year (albeit including toilet tissue), which is apparently the average weight of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy. That’s a lot of tissue paper!

I switched two or three years ago and I’m still amazed that I used tissues for so many years. Why didn’t I think of it before? After all, we greenies (is that an unfortunate term for a post on this topic?) know that anything disposable=bad, right? I bought some lovely, soft, unbleached, organic cotton hankies and I’ve even found hankies (brand new in box, don’t worry) in charity shops.

I guess some people might be put off by the ick-factor. How is it any worse than carrying round a used tissue though? And there’s no danger of a hanky disintegrating in your pocket: not even in the washing machine.

They’re easy to wash. I just put them in my ordinary 30 degree white wash. And I don’t iron them: they’ll soon be scrumpled up in my pocket anyway.

The only time I use disposable tissues now is when I’ve got a heavy cold. Then I do treat myself to balm-infused tissues to stop my nose getting sore.

And the cherry on top is that this is one of those green changes that saves money. No more buying boxes of tissues. Each hankie last for years. I haven’t even yet had to face the dilemma about how worn out they have to be before I chuck them in my worm composter.

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The joy of charity-shopping

I was in Selsey, in West Sussex, on business yesterday and I noticed several charity shops as I was looking for the place I had to be. So, after my meeting, I went for a rummage. And I found a gem.

I love to cook. However, I hate to grate! It’s knackering. I’ve got a delicious borscht recipe, for example, which I hardly ever make because it requires grating half a kilo of beetroot, a carrot and an onion. Too much work! And grating onions is horrible (stinging, watering eyes and runny nose).

Some time ago, I looked for an automatic grater. They don’t seem to exist though. The only option was a complete food processor and I couldn’t justify buying one. It’d be another significant thing to own and store (I’ve already got a blender for making soups and grinding nuts, seeds, breadcrumbs etc), and it would have me using electricity to undertake tasks I could undertake manually.

Yesterday, in a charity shop in Selsey, I found this…

Kitchen mill

How grate is that? (Sorry!)

It’s a Kitchen Mill. You put pieces of whatever you want to grate in the food compartment, turn the handle and Bob’s your uncle. Easy on the arm muscles and no danger of grating your knuckles.

I’m pretty sure it’s never been used. £1.50. What a bargain. I can’t tell you how chuffed I am. Charity shops are fantastic. My problem’s solved without me buying new, someone else’s clutter is being used and the money went to charity.

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