Where growing, making & good living come together

Six things that have helped me live a simple, frugal life in 2011

Posted by on Saturday 31 December 2011 in meta | 11 comments

1. Making every day tasks easy for myself

If something’s easy to do, I’m so much more likely to do it when I’m in a rush or distracted. We’ve always been avid recyclers but for a long time after we moved to our new house, we didn’t have a recycling bin in the kitchen – stuff just stacked up on the window sill which was messy and annoying; a new bin has made it easier. Ditto always having a roll of masking tape & a pen next to the freezer has made us much better at labelling food as it’s going into the freezer – which in turn makes us much more likely to get it out and eat it again. Just something as simple as having that masking tape & pen on standby has improved our freezer usage no end! I’m going to look for more ways to make my life easier like that in 2012.

2. Having defined “rules”/mini-goals

Funny, I’m not a fan of arbitrary rules generally – I usually use them as a to list of things to rebel against ;) – but having a few rules that I’ve set for myself this year has worked well (possibly because there is no one to rebel against except for myself ;) )

I’ve tried to make them SMART rules or goals – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Timely. For example, in the past I’ve set myself a goal of “buy less clothes” – that’s not SMART, but this year’s “buy no more than 12 items of clothing in 2011” goal has been exactly that — I think it’s been a lot easier to stick to as a result. I also have two other rules when it comes to clothes: they must be at least 50% natural fibres (in practise this is typically 80+%) and I must try them on before I buy them (when I first started buying a lot of clothes, I was a pretty standard size/shape so everything fit me and I didn’t get into the habit of trying things on first. Now I’m not-so-standard and clothes sizes seem to vary greatly – and I know I’m not very good at taking things back – so I force myself to try before I buy). Overall, those three rules have really helped me cut back on my clothes buying – and overall, my desire to buy clothes. Now I struggle to find stuff I actually want to buy!

I’ve given myself another few rules/ongoing goals this year too – for every two books that come into the house, one has to go out; to put at least two meals (of two servings each) in the freezer each month to use as future ready meals (John does similar too so we should always have something in the freezer for lazy evenings); and to save as much as I spend on frivolous/luxury items – myVAT. Which leads neatly onto…

3. Keeping a spending diary

Keeping a track of all the money I spend has been very useful in making me conscious of my spending in 2011. Do I still splurge on silly things that I regret afterwards? Yes, occasionally, but it’s made me think twice about a lot of stuff too. Reviewing at the end of each month has made me especially aware of when I’ve had book heavy months, or craft supply heavy periods, and that’s made me more conscious in those areas the next month: not binged/purged, just generally aware. I’m definitely going to continue doing this in 2012.

4. Getting into a decluttering habit

As a lifelong hoarder, I’m really coming around to the idea of stashing less stuff. I’m never going to have a minimalist home – I like books and have too many hobbies for that to be the case – but as our November challenge revealed, there was (and still is) plenty that can go without it being the slightest bit painful. I think our eyes were really opened when we finally sold our old house over the summer – we moved most of our stuff out when we moved over here in September 2009 but we left the stuff we didn’t want over here — the junk tucked away under the eaves or filling up the tiny cellar — until we *had* to get rid of it before the sale was finalised. We had a lot of stuff that had sat there for a decade – just in case we needed it, but we hadn’t and instead it had just got in our way. As soon as we finished the final clear out there, we got rid of, amongst other things, a spare fridge-freezer, a spare separate freezer, two microwaves, two electric keyboards, a drum machine and various old computers. Lots of space freed up! We’ve found that once you start giving stuff away, it makes it easier to give more stuff away – and we’re hoping to stick to that in 2012. I would much rather other people got definitely good use out of something rather than us possibly maybe using it in the future.

5. Knowing what isn’t worth me bothering with

I think I’ve had a bit of an ongoing epiphany in 2011 about everyone having different motivations in life – to borrow another project management idea, they have different key drivers. I’ve always known it but it feels like I know it on a deeper level now, and whenever I wonder why someone is doing something completely different to how I’d do it, I now try to say “different drivers” rather than get all “what the heck… flaming idiots!” about it. I’m sure I do a lot of things that would get me branded a flaming idiot by other people too because I’ve got my own drivers and they’re not necessarily consistent/understandable. I am trying to become more aware of them though and that’s where this point comes in: I’m starting to become more aware about what is and isn’t worth me bothering with.

For example, I made soap at the start of the year because it’s something I’d wanted to try for a while. It was cheaper than buying the equivalent 100% olive oil soap from the soap but more expensive than generic cheap soap – and very time consuming (I’ve bought a cheap stick blender for next time) — but we’ve liked the result so I’ll do it again. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s worth me making my own homemade laundry detergent – I’d had that on my list to try but since we don’t use that much powder in the first place, weighing up the risks (it not getting the clothes clean enough for a while) and the potential gain (a saving of no more than £10 a year), I’ve decided that it’s not worth it for me.

I think this is an ongoing thing but I feel like I’ve made a start in 2011 on pinning down my wants/not-bothered-abouts. I think it’s important to realise the latter as much as the former so I don’t feel overwhelmed by having so much to do – and so I’m…

6. Not beating myself up about what I don’t do

I had so many things on my goals list at the start of the year which I’ve just not done in 2012. I had so many mini-goals throughout the year that I didn’t do either. I’m frankly a little disappointed in myself but really, if I’d wanted to do them that much, I’d have done them. (I think it’s the difference between how I want to see myself and what I’m really like – a id/ego/super-ego clash.) I’m disappointed about not meeting those goals but I’m not beating myself up about it. I’m not beating myself up about feeling meh mid-summer even though that means we don’t have much at all in the garden over winter, I’m not beating myself up about .. actually, I’m not going to list what I haven’t done because that’s exactly my point here: I’ve done a metric heap of stuff in 2011 – I should be concentrating on being happy about what I have accomplished and not getting bogged down in what I haven’t.

I need to do my December review and a statistical summary of the year – mmm numbers! mmm graphs! – but I think that’ll have to wait until 2012 now. See you all in the new year – I hope 2012 is as fab for you as it, hopefully, is going to be for me :)

Have you had a good year? What’s going to be your take-home thoughts/ideas/memories from 2011? Have you learnt/applied any new tricks or ideas that have made your life better?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. lovelygrey

    Love this really reflective and thoughtful post. Happy New Year!
    PS I would stick to twelve items of clothing next year but for the fact that I badly need new undies and that limit just wouldn’t cut the mustard!

  2. Katie Lazenby

    Love it – wholeheartedly agree with the being forced into sorting out junk…after packing up the whole house into storage to live in Africa for a while I know what you mean! We’re living a lot more simply over here and enjoying it. Look forward to more tips from you for 2012!

  3. shaz

    Wise words indeed

    Theres a few pictures of wooden boxes and wooden plant stand /ladder did you make these? Is there a link to the post?


  4. Jan

    I like your philosophy louisa, be glad you tried lots of things and enjoy the triumphs. You’ve learned about yourself in the process and sound quite relaxed about the rest. I failed the clothing challenge, but I lost quite a lot of weight and had to buy new jeans/trousers, and I recycled 5 large bin bags of clothes.So not all bad. I got very fit doing lots of gardening and gave lots of fruit and veg away. I’ve been given lots of stuff in return and made some new friends too as well as rekindling some old friendships and interests. I’m looking forward to trying new things in the new year, but don’t have a specific agenda. Will definitely keep reading your blog though-it makes me think about things in a positive way!

  5. Millie

    What a thoughtful, well-written post! There should be more review posts like this! I could definitely do with learning a few of these lessons in 2012!

  6. louisa

    Hi lovelygrey, I excluded replacement underwear from my criteria because I knew I’d end up “wasting” half my quota on a multi-pack of pants otherwise :)

    Hi Katie!, I was amazed how fast you guys seemed to get everything packed up – if it was us, we’d still be there now, getting in the tenants way ;) I can’t wait to hear more about your Africa adventures :)

    Hi shaz, I did make those things – all the pictures are makes/grows from 2011 (I gathered the pictures together to reassure myself that I had achieved some things!). I didn’t do how-tos on the planters or the ladder because they’re just bodged together from scrap wood I had to hand but here are the links about them: the long planters in the first pic set, another long planter, square planters, and the ladder (and the second ladder I also made). If I make more planters/ladders in 2012, I’ll try to write a how-to!

    Hi Jan, well done on losing the weight – and what a good way to do it! Sounds like you had a great 2011 – hope 2012 is even better :)

    Aww, thanks Millie :) Hope you have a great 2012 too :)

  7. shaz

    Thanks Louisa , will check them out!

  8. Su

    I started 2011 with no intention of making either soap or laundry detergent, but ended up doing both!
    The soap is, as yet, untested but the laundry detergent is great! Even gets muddy dog towels clean and definitely saves money (the biggest expense in it is a bar of soap & it makes nearly 10 litres). However, I get so much pleasure from using something that I made, something I don’t have to buy (yes I know I’m a bit weird) that I would use it even if it was more expensive than the bought stuff, plus it takes about 30 minutes to make. Go on, give it a a go!

    • louisa

      Alright, maybe I will then ;)

      When I made soap last year (nearly a year ago now, cor!), I did keep all the off-cuts in a tub for making into laundry detergent so I guess I should do it, sooner or later. I guess I can make a small-ish batch and try it on stuff like dog towels first — a challenge for it but also something that won’t have to be re-washed if it’s not sparklingly clean.

  9. Maggie

    Louisa, I Love the idea of having take-home thoughts from a year. I started our better life because I was thinking about what my take-home thoughts from a holiday were (ie how I needed to live to carry on feeling as chilled as I did on the plane, I went home and planted honey suckle). That was four years ago and we’re still building things in – bees this year plus my husband has learnt how to bake and make bread – and have plans for the future, including my leaving work and temping when we need extra money for the house (yes, it’s a do-er-upper, but we adore it and I’ve learnt to live with the nothing finishedness of it).It was wonderful to stumble across this site and know that there are other people out there trying to live (I was going to say relatively simply, but actualy it’s trying to really live rather than exist). Yes, it’s a journey, but it’s the whole ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ stuff and so much more fun than just spending money to buy happiness. Cheers to anyone giving it a go.

    • louisa

      Glad you liked it Maggie :) I do worry about getting overly reflective but I think by and large, it’s better to reflect and learn from things than to just let them pass by without consideration. I try to learn from anything and everything that’s going on in my life :)

      I’m jealous about your forthcoming bees – do let me know how you get on :)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *