Why keeping it ‘cos you might use it in future isn’t always green.

This month’s area for decluttering is part of my loft. That part of my loft in which I keep old decorating materials.

And it’s a salutary lesson in not hoarding.

When you’re green-minded, it’s doubly tempting to hoard. I hate to put anything in the bin. My hand always hesitates as I think ‘Can’t I do something else with this?’

So, when I redecorate, I never want to throw out leftover decorating materials.

Old Covertex

Now the consistency of putty

It’s worth storing some of it. Seeing a can of leftover emulsion from when my bedroom was decorated, I brought it down and painted over various marks on my walls. I’ve been meaning to do that for ages, particularly around the lightswitch where the wall was grubby with fingermarks.

On the other hand, I also found half a bag of grout and half a tub of Covertex, both of which are nearly solid.

I hoped that it might be possible for someone to reconstitute them.  However my internet research says not.

What a waste.

Thing is, I put them up in the loft in the days before Freegle and Freecycle made it super-easy to find someone to use the stuff we don’t want/need anymore.

Another great way to move on unwanted paint is through Community RePaint, which redistributes unwanted paint to people in need. Its website has a postcode locator to help you find your nearest scheme.

Rock hard grout

Rock hard grout

Ah well, at least my legs will get a good workout as I cycle them up a big hill to the household recycling site.

The only decorating materials I’m storing from now on are things it would be hard to replace if I needed to do a repair, and which won’t come to any harm over time, like well-sealed cans of paint and leftover tiles.

Other than that, I’m moving on the leftovers as soon as the job is finished.

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Is your conscience as clean as your clothes?

In response to a request for laundry tips, here goes:

1. Balls!

Instead of detergent, I’ve used Eco-Balls for years. Though I was initially sceptical, I’m happy with how effective they are. OK my laundry’s not like a detergent commercial. Sometimes a wash doesn’t get every mark out. However, I think they’re as effective as anything else I’ve used.

Not only do they last for 750 washes (meaning both that they put only a tiny amount of whatever it is they’re made of into the water, and that they’re great financial value), you don’t need to use fabric conditioner (even less resources used and more money saved) and you can use a shorter wash programme because you don’t need to rinse out any detergent (saving electricity and water).

I add a tablespoonful of Ecover bleach to white washes. I guess I would have to say that my whites probably don’t come out as white as they used to when I used regular washing powder. They’re white enough though. I’m not looking to dazzle car drivers as I walk down the street. 🙂

2. Smells

If an item is smelly, I pre-soak it in a solution of Borax for half an hour. Actually in Borax Substitute as Borax is no longer available (due to an EU reclassification apparently). It’s amazingly effective, and my web research, plus the fact that it’s sold by a number of green retailers that I trust, suggest that it’s a safe and eco-friendly product.

After I’ve taken the laundry out of the soak and put it on to wash, I keep the rest of the Borax solution for next time.

A word of warning though, don’t soak for longer than half an hour or colours can start to leach.

3. Marks

I use a regular stain remover stick on marks (e.g. elbows, collars and cuffs of white tops). I haven’t found an effective green alternative for this yet and would love to hear from anyone who has. I’ve tried various green suggestions (bicarbonate of soda, on its own and mixed with lemon juice, followed by drying in sunlight) without success.

Wanna know the best way to get grease out? Soak the area for 15mins in cola. Buy the cheapest own-label one. I use low-calorie as it’s less sticky if I spill any. Any cola will do though. It’s the phosphoric acid that does the trick. And it doesn’t stain your clothes. I got a massive smear of bike grease out of a pair of pale pink trousers that way.

4. Low temperature washing

I do everything on 30 degrees these days to save electricity. Seems to work fine.

Drying my washing machine

Dry BETWEEN the drum and the seal

One recommendation though. Without a hot wash (or bleach) going through your machine every now and then, there is a danger of mildew building up, which can cause nasty smells. To prevent this, leave the door of your machine wide open after each load of laundry, until it and the rubber seal are completely dry. In fact, I recommend drying the rubber seal after each load. And make sure you dry between the rubber seal and the drum.

I speak from experience. About a year ago, my knitwear started to smell nasty. It would smell fine when it came out of the machine and then, as it dried, it would begin to pong. Ew! It took me ages to track down the problem. I even tried running bleach through my machine on a hot wash without success. (It takes something to get me to use bleach I can tell you). Eventually I ran a cloth around behind the seal and it came away black and slimy. Gross! It took about a hour of doing that until a cloth would come away clean. Now I ALWAYS dry the seal, including between it and the drum, after every wash.

And I take out the detergent drawer, empty out any water caught in it and leave it on my draining board to dry.

5. Full loads

Does this go without saying? A full load is the most energy and water efficient way to wash. Using a ‘half-load’ programme won’t halve the amount of water or electricity used.

6. Turn the machine off when not in use

Don’t leave your machine on standby. Switch it off to save electricity.

7. Drying

I read somewhere that tumble dryers are the household appliances that consume the most energy. Makes sense. And they wear out your clothes. I’ve never had one.

I mostly dry stuff inside: over the radiators in the winter, on collapsable drying racks in the summer. Although I’ve got a rotary dryer, I rarely use it as I’ve successfully attracted so many birds to my garden that my laundry is in danger of collecting new (ahem) marks if I hang it outside. I find the place in my house where things dry the quickest is over the banisters. I guess there must be a slight air flow there as cool and hot air moves around the house. It’s particularly good for large items like duvet covers.

8. Don’t believe everything you read

Washcare labels err on the side of caution. Some things that claim to be dry clean only can be machine washed, and some things that claim to need a delicate wash can go in a regular wash. It’s worth experimenting, though there is a risk of course (and please don’t hold me responsible for any disappoinments!)

I’ve noticed that clothes with things like sequins and fancy buttons on them are often labelled ‘handwash only’ and I think it’s to prevent these things getting pulled off in the wash. Instead of handwashing them (or using the handwash setting on my washing machine), I put them in the regular wash, protected within a mesh laundry bag.

9. Which machine?

This article is interesting. It points out that an A+-rated washing machine may have a bigger environmental impact than a lower rated one if it doesn’t last as long. It also suggests that the difference in energy consumption between machines with different ratings is only small. So choose a machine that a consumer organisation such as Which recommends as reliable, as well as one that has a good energy rating.

10. Wash only when necessary

Wear clothes until they actually need washing. Don’t wash them just because you’ve worn them once.

11. Iron as little as possible

Music to your ears, right? Choose clothes that won’t need ironing. And don’t iron stuff like hankies or bedlinen. Who cares if they’re wrinkly?

Got any more eco-laundry tips? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

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What is green decluttering?

That might seem a simple question. Not so I’m discovering. Developing the products I’m going to be offering through the green decluttering service I’ll be launching soon (watch this space!), has had me examine what I mean by green decluttering.

Some decluttering experts seem to concentrate solely on being organised, or tidy. Others solely on reducing the amount of stuff someone has. Some focus strongly on cleaning. None seem to make a link with living a low impact life.

Here’s what I mean by decluttering:

  • Reducing the amount of stuff you acquire, own and consume (including by acquiring less, moving stuff on, repairing damaged things, and finding new uses for things you already own)
  • Organising your stuff
  • Tidying your space.

Personally, I do it to fulfil three aims:

  • To reduce my environmental impact
  • To make my home work for me efficiently (so I can lay my hand easily on what I want to use, when I want to use it)
  • To have my home look lovely.

For me there is an obvious link between decluttering and living a low impact life. It reduces our own consumption of course. And, by moving stuff we own and no longer need on to people and places where it will get used, it reduces other people’s consumption – people use our unwanted stuff rather than buying new stuff.

Plus, by minimsing the stuff we hold onto, it reduces the amount of space we need to occupy. We need fewer cupboards, shelves, drawers and boxes, and maybe even smaller living spaces.

If you’re green-minded, it’s tempting to hoard stuff. It feels wasteful to move it on if there’s the slightest chance you might use it again. And it can be hard to admit to yourself that a purchase was a mistake. I find myself keeping things for years on the basis that I might use them someday. And sometimes, I do bring something back into use after years of disuse.

More often though I don’t. And there’s nothing green about hoarding unused stuff. It’s a waste.

So these days I aim to move things on as much as possible. The advent of Freecycle/Freegle has helped as it’s easier than ever to move things on with a good chance that they will get used.

The fact is, I LOVE green decluttering. I get such satisfaction from moving stuff out of my house. Especially if it goes to someone who’s going to make good use of it. I feel so pleased with myself for using a towel or a T-shirt or a pair of jeans until they’re threadbare and then turning them into a moisture mat for my worm composter.

Recently I’ve come to realise how many people want help to declutter, organise and live lower impact lives. And I’ve noticed how much I do to help people in those areas. Friends often ask me for advice on the lowest impact way to do something, green alternatives and how to dispose of unwanted items in eco-friendly ways.

So I’m launching a green decluttering consultancy, to help green-minded people who feel worn down by their clutter and long  to have beautiful homes and workspaces.

If that’s you, help me tailor the products and services I’m developing to address your specific problems. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me what gets you down most about your clutter. How do you feel about decluttering? What’s your guiltiest green secret? Your biggest green challenge/dilemma? What help do you want/need?

Why secondhand isn’t always green.

In a word (OK, two words), dry cleaning.

Vintage green ballgown

Beautiful dress. Shame about the dry cleaning.

I took a gorgeous dress that I’ve worn to a few parties recently to be dry cleaned today. Man, that made me uncomfortable.

I only buy (or get for free) secondhand clothes. I’ve bought almost no new clothes for years and it now feels scandalously wasteful to me to buy new when there is so much unwanted stuff available (kinda like buying a dog from a breeder when you could take a rescue dog).

My main motivation is to reduce my eco-impact. However, it has other benefits too. It saves me soooo much money. Spending more than a fiver on anything feels extravagant these days. In fact, spending money on clothes at all feels extravagant, given how much I get for free.

And I get great clothes. I love vintage pieces, for their quirkiness, their style and their quality.

Plus I never see anyone wearing the same stuff as me.

The proportion of my vintage stuff that has to be drycleaned is a serious drawback though. Apart from the money it costs (some of my vintage items end up costing me more in drycleaning than they did to buy), dry cleaning’s far from eco-friendly.

I minimise the packaging involved by taking a clothes bag and hanger with me so I can refuse the disposable ones I’d otherwise be given. If the item is already wrapped, I swap the hanger for my own. I don’t leave the plastic wrapping as I suspect they’d put it in the bin.

If I end up bringing a plastic bag home, I put it in a plastic bag recycling bin and, if I end up taking a hanger home, I return it to the dry cleaner for reuse.

Worse than the packaging though is that most drycleaners use perchloroethylene, or perc.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency classifies perc as an air contaminant, which must be handled as hazardous waste. Its website says:

"Breathing PERC for short periods of time can adversely affect the
human nervous system.  Effects range from dizziness, fatigue, headaches
and sweating to incoordination and unconsciousness.  Contact with
PERC liquid or vapor irritates the skin, the eyes, the nose, and the
throat.  These effects are not likely to occur at levels of PERC that
are normally found in the environment.

Breathing perchloroethylene over longer periods of time can cause
liver and kidney damage in humans.  Workers exposed repeatedly to
large amounts of PERC in air can also experience memory loss and
confusion. Laboratory studies show that PERC causes kidney and liver
damage and cancer in animals exposed repeatedly by inhalation and
by mouth.  Repeat exposure to large amounts of PERC in air may
likewise cause cancer in humans.Perchloroethylene by itself is
not likely to cause environmental harm at levels normally found
in the environment.  PERC can contribute to the formation of
photochemical smog when it reacts with other volatile organic
carbon substances in air".

Nasty, huh?

Some time ago, I heard of an alternative. GreenEarth Cleaning is a dry cleaning system that, instead of using petroleum-baesd solvents, uses liquid silicone, which breaks down to sand and trace amounts of water and carbon dioxide after use.

However, at that time, it wasn’t available in the UK so I’ve continued simply to use the nearest dry cleaner to me. In researching this blog post though, I’ve discovered that Johnson’s the Cleaners are now using it. Fantastic!

I’ll still favour clothes that don’t need dry cleaning, and have the ones that do need it cleaned as rarely as I can get away with. And I’ll still take my own hangers and clothes bags. From now on though, my dry clean only clothes will be cleaned in silicone, not perc.

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Make the whole world a library

One of the most common types of clutter is books. They seem to have a mystique about them that encourages us to hold on to them. Is it because we feel the sight of lots of (tasteful?) books on our shelves projects a certain image about ourselves? Or because we subconsciously believe that the proximity of all that knowledge and erudition will cause at least some of it magically to transfer itself to our brains? Or do we fear not being able to put our hands on a piece of information or quote that we’ve once read?

I used to keep all books that came into my possession. Stacked up on overladen bookshelves. I liked the idea that I could get a fiction book down if I wanted to reread a passage, and I held onto lots of non-fiction as I was sure the contents would be useful ‘someday’.

Then I joined BookCrossing. BookCrossers register books on the BookCrossing website, and write a unique reference number (a BCID) in each book, along with a message explaining how BookCrossing works. Then we leave our books in public places in the hope that whoever finds them will log them on the website. When they do, the finder’s message is added to that book’s ‘journal’ and we get an email to let us know. (Of course, we also pass books between other BookCrossers and people we know personally).

Released book

I left a book at Brighton railway station yesterday. I let you know if it gets journalled.

I don’t hear from all my books again straight away. Though I never know when I might. Nearly two years after I left The Optimist’s Daughter in a phone box in Dorset, having just finished walking the South West Coast Path, I got a message saying it had been to Brazil and was now off to Toronto. Who knows where it is now?

Other times, a book jumps from owner to owner quickly, with journal entries that make me laugh out loud. This Dictionary of Quotations & Proverbs was journalled several times in quick succession.

Nearly a third of the books I’ve ‘released’ have been journalled again since.

Soon I was pulling down books to release and wondering why I’d kept them all these years. I found books I was never going to read again, books I couldn’t remember reading, books that had moved house with me several times even though I didn’t even think they were any good…

It freed me up. Before I became a BookCrosser, I kept a record of the books I’d lent out and felt aggrieved if someone failed to return a book, or returned it in a much worse state that it was in when they borrowed it. Now I don’t care. Once I’ve read a book, what’s the point of it cluttering up my house? Chances are I’ll never want to read it again and, if I do, I’ll easily be able to get hold of a copy from a library or online.

Close up of BookCrossing release

Close up of The Meaning of Night at Brighton railway station. My note says "Travelling book. Please take. See inside :-)".

I haven’t completely let go. I now keep:

  • books I haven’t read yet (and am intending to!)
  • about a dozen of my absolute favourites
  • books set in my beloved home town of Brighton (only good ones though)
  • some classics (this is probably the least justifiable as they are so easily available)
  • recipe books
  • books I’m in (there aren’t many!)
  • coffee table books
  • non-fiction/reference books that I’m genuinely likely to use.

That’s the theory anyway. In truth, my shelves still contain lots of books that I could move on. Ah well, maybe I’ll shift some more when my bookshelves come up in my decluttering schedule. And I already have two clear shelves. Wow, I love the feeling of space that gives me.

And I never buy books, even secondhand. Most of my books come (and go) through BookCrossing and, if I find myself running short of reading material, a trip to the library, or a loan from a friend, soon sorts that out.

The only exception is guide books, which are tricky because they go out of date so quickly. The ones available to borrow from my local library are usually at least one edition out of date. So I do sometimes buy guide books when I travel. These days I Freegle/Freecycle  them or pass them to charity shops as soon as I get back, before they’ve dated too much. My old ones probably wouldn’t sell though. I have them marked as ‘available’ on BookCrossing (which tells other BookCrossers that I’m ready to move them on and it’s worth contacting me to see if I’d like to do a swap) and local Freeglers/Freecyclers sometimes ask for a guidebook saying that they’re only interested in the information on sights, so the age of the book doesn’t matter.

BookCrossing‘s probably not the LOWEST impact way of reading. We post books to each other, using (and reusing) jiffy bags and the fossil fuels involved in transporting them. Plus a proportion of the ones we wild release (i.e. leave lying around to be found) probably get thrown away by overzealous cleaning staff. Using the library has got to be lower impact. BookCrossing‘s fun though and makes you part of a community. Plus using a library didn’t shift my attitude to keeping books the way BookCrossing has. I didn’t expect it to be such a great clutter clearer when I joined.

Beware though. BookCrosser’s tend to be generous and, if you’re not careful, you could end up with more books than you started with.

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The party’s over yet the fun continues

So, what to do with the leftovers from the decluttering rummage pot-luck party…

The clothes and shoes are easy. I’ll bag them up and put them in a charity clothes bin.

The rest of the leftovers are books (including loads about digital design), CD-Roms (mostly educational), a DVD, a few videos and a couple of CDs, plus some computer peripherals.

Oh and a plastic dragon and a Postman Pat badge.

I listed all these items on Freecycle /Freegle this evening, individually naming each of them.

I’m getting some fabulous replies.

A student wants a couple of the digital design books to help with her course.

A teacher wants the rest of the digital design books, plus  a few others for the library at her school.

Another teacher wants the CD-Roms for her school.

Someone wants the computer peripherals for the club rooms of a residents’ association.

And the guy who fixed my hairdyer wants a video, a CD-Rom and a book.

How fab is that? I thought this stuff would be hard to shift.

Now I’m delighted that I devoted half an hour to typing out the name of each item. Things are more likely to get used if they go to people who request specific ones, rather than as a job lot to a charity shop.

I can’t tell you how much it pleases my decluttering low impact heart to pass individually requested items on to people. I’m looking forward to seeing the items go out of the door tomorrow, and the smiles on the collectors’ faces.

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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?

Swapping

Rummaging

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

Leftovers

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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