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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?

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Learning patience from wild food (and veg growing)

Posted by on Friday 5 November 2010 in growing, meta, wild food | 0 comments

As I said in my post about our fungi forage last weekend, that walk taught me to confidently identify about half a dozen wild mushroom species, and the wild food walk we did in the early summer taught me how to identify another half dozen things, mostly green leaves. These built on things I’d learnt how to identify myself and the obvious things that we all know (nettles, dandelions, blackberries etc). So after a couple of years of being interested in wild food, I can identify maybe 25 things with enough confidence to eat them. That’s not exactly that many when you consider the variety of stuff out there.

When I want to learn a new craft or a new way to cook or bake something, I tend to grind it – a video game term for doing some repetitive task/quest over and over again in order to “level up” as quickly as possible so you can go onto more exciting things. When I was figuring out my (lazy) way to make slow rise no knead bread, I made it every other day for a fortnight. By the end of it, I was knocking out perfect, uniform loaves without much effort at all. By grinding it, I can quickly learn from my mistakes and don’t ever get stuck in a “it didn’t work last time, I don’t want to try again” slump.

But I can’t grind wild food. Nature won’t let me grind. It won’t let me focus on finding just one type of thing at any given time. I have to learn by its schedule and its randomness, an enforced slow learning curve.

Growing things in our garden is possible even worse. I’ve usually got a couple of months to collect and experiment with different wild plants before they go out of season, but I have, by and large, got one shot at growing things each year. If I miss the narrow sowing window or my seedlings die a few days after transplanting, that’s pretty much it – I have to wait a year to try again.

I always feel a bit sad when each wild food window closes – but I suspect it’s good for me to have these limitations in part of my life. It’ll teach me patience and there is nearly always something new to move onto finding or planting. I can continue reading about boletes & russulas and tomato seed varieties & manual pollination techniques over the winter – grinding the theory – but I have to wait until next year to continue the practical work.

After three decades of flitting from one thing to another fractionally more exciting thing, I think developing the skills of patience and sustained year-on-year learning is as important for me and my sustainable living as being able to tell the difference between a death cap and field mushroom. I just wish I’d started earlier ;)

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