Posts Tagged ‘waste’

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.

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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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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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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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Compost (or how I learned to stop worrying and love worms)

I share my house with about 20,000 worms. They live in a Can O Worms composter. It’s a great composting solution for me because I haven’t got a garden big enough for a compost heap/bin, and because the organic waste I produce is all from cooking (rather than gardening). It’s particularly fabulous that I can keep it indoors (in my utility room) so I don’t even have to go out in the cold or rain to put my fruit and veggie peelings in the compost. And you can put cooked food in it (which you can’t put in a regular composter as it attracts rats). Not that I throw out much cooked food.

Can 'O' Worms composter

My Can O Worms composter in the corner of my utility room

When I got my Can O Worms and started composting for the first time, I was amazed by how much it reduced the waste I sent to landfill.

You can see from the photo that the Can O Worms consists of four layers, covered by a lid. The bottom layer collects liquid (which you drain off using the tap) and the other three layers contain the organic waste (mixed with torn up cardboard). When the top layer is full, you take it apart, empty out the bottom layer (which is now full of rich, dark compost) and put it back together with the now-empty bottom layer becoming the new top layer.

Emptying it is quite a job. The full trays are  heavy plus I’ve never done it without making a mess of the floor. I clear other stuff out of the utility room first and mop the floor afterwards.

However, it was five months between the most recent time I did it and the time before that. And it’ll probably be longer than that before I need to do it again because summer’s coming and, when the air’s warmer, the waste rots down faster, making room for more.

Here are my tips for happy worm composting.

1. Don’t leave it too long

Don’t wait until the top tray is full to the brim before emptying it. Remember the top tray will become the second tray and the new top tray needs to sit within it. If it’s brimful, the new tray will sit on top and the worms won’t be enclosed. They like to explore so they’ll climb over the side, fall out and expire on the floor.

However, it can be fairly full. The waste in the tray below will have broken down making some space so you can move some of the waste from the new second tray into the new third tray. Plus it seems to work for the new top tray to sit slightly high at first, as the waste in the new second tray soon breaks down and, within a few weeks, the top tray is fully slotted into place.

2. Protect your wormery against the rain

I did encounter a few challenges at first. My Can O Worms was outside for several years (my utility room is a relatively recent addition to my house). It rained heavily not long after I’d first got it and lots of worms got washed into the liquid tray, where they drowned. While it wasn’t enough to stop the Can O Worms being effective, I felt bad about it. I know they’re only worms. Still, though, I feel responsible for their wellbeing.

Even once your wormery is well established, rain is a nuisance as it fills up the liquid tray. If you’re going to keep your composter outside, you might consider getting a raincover for it. (They’re a tight fit by the way. I could just about get one onto my Can O Worms using both hands and one knee! You might want to get someone to help you).

3. Keep your worms cosy

If you’re keeping your wormery outside, and the temperature falls below freezing, wrap your worms up. You don’t have to knit them each an individual worm sock, just tie a large piece of plastic (e.g. bubble wrap) around your wormery. I was lucky enough to find a roll of plastic that someone was chucking out on my street. You could try asking on Freegle/Freecycle.

4. Follow the instructions

I thought I’d be able to get away without adding ripped up cardboard. BIG MISTAKE which resulted in a disgusting smell and an infestation of fruit flies, which took years to die down. Each summer, whenever I lifted the lid, they’d swarm out. They don’t do any harm. They just make putting waste into the compost less pleasant and they tended to get into my kitchen too.

To solve the problem, the first thing I had to do was work loads of ripped up cardboard through the slimy, sludgy mess my organic waste had become. I wore rubber gloves for this task, which helped. It didn’t stop the smell though. Man, it was bad. Bad enough to make me gag.

Moral of the story: follow the advice that comes with your Can O Worms! The flies continued to be a nuisance for years afterwards: until it occurred to me to put cardboard on top of the waste I added each time, instead of the other way around. It’s never smelt bad since by the way.

Inside of Can 'O' Worms

What it looks like under the lid and moisture mat

5. Make your own moisture mats

Don’t spend money on replacement moisture mats. The moisture mat is a mat of organic matter which sits on top of the top layer of waste/card. It keeps it moist and dark in there, which encourages the worms to come to the surface and eat the freshest waste (which speeds up the composting process). Eventually the worms eat the moisture mat too.  They get through one every six months or so.

You can buy replacement ones made of, for example, hemp. I make my own though. I just cut a circle of fabric out of a worn out piece of clothing, a towel, bed linen etc. You can use anything so long as it’s made purely from organic fibre (e.g. cotton including denim, wool, hemp, linen, flax). You could even use a newspaper or a piece of cardboard. If you make a mistake and put in a worm mat that’s got some inorganic fibre in it (like polyester, nylon or rayon), all that will happen is that the organic fibre will break down and the inorganic material will be left behind. It won’t do any harm.

By using waste material rather than buying a moisture mat, you not only save money, you reduce your environmental impact even further.

6. Don’t accidentally start an allotment in your wormery

I avoid putting in seeds (tomato, pepper/capsicum, butternut squash, orange, lemon) as they sprout. I came back from holiday a few months after I’d got my wormery and lifted the lid to find a small crop of etiolated sprouts fighting their way out. While it doesn’t matter if one or two get in, I put seeds into landfill. Celery bases sprout sometimes too though it doesn’t cause a problem. Apple and pear pips don’t seem to sprout.

7. Other than that, if it’s organic they’ll eat it (mostly)

The booklet that came with my wormery says that the worms will eat foods they prefer first, which means that acidic items like citrus peel and onion skins will take longer to break down. I can’t say I’ve noticed this. What I do find is that some waste, such as tomato skins and avocado skins, doesn’t break down at all, and I no longer put such items in.

I do put in the paper bags that my veg box people put mushrooms and other veg in, empty flour bags, worn out cotton knickers…anything made of paper, card or organic fibres will break down and get eaten.

Watch out for paper items that have layers of plastic in them though (e.g. paper plates, the internal bag of a packet of icing sugar). Not that it’ll do any harm. The plastic just won’t break down so it’ll still be there in your compost when you empty the tray.

8. If you don’t like the muck, wear gloves

I keep a pair of rubber gloves by the composter which I use exclusively for it. Not everyone would bother. I’m sure people who are into gardening and used to digging their hands into earthworm ridden mud wouldn’t feel the need. That’s just not me (I’ll talk about gardening in a later post).

Anyone else out there a worm composting fan? Anyone trying it and having problems? What other composting methods work well for you? What prevents you from composting?

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