Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Zero Waste Home

This post is part of a series on homes that inspire me, as part of mulling over what my dream house looks like and to help motivate my decluttering. 1: A cob bungalow | 2: The woodsman's cottage | 3: A minimalist cabin | 4: A narrowboat | 5: The tiny appartment | 6: The crafty home | 7: The Burrow

I've not come across a reference to a 'no waste home' before, but the concept is fairly self-explanatory. Bea and her family generate (almost) no waste. This is the total amount of waste thrown in the bin in their house in 2014:

So you may wonder what kind of house they live in, and what their lifestyle looks like. Is it hard work? 

My first thought was of my uncle who, according to family legend, once lived a year without throwing anything away. He just piled the trash under his bed instead. 

So is there home cluttered, chaotic?

Oh no. It's beautifully minimalist. The zero waste mentality also means thinking carefully about everything you bring into your home, and living a very decluttered lifestyle. Bea focuses on five tenets: firstly, refuse things you don't need or which are wasteful, for example free disposable pens. Secondly, reduce what you do use. Thirdly, reuse what you have used before you move on to the fourth step, recycle. Then the rest is rotted down in the compost.

To cut out food packaging, and packaging in general, Bea buys in bulk. And it looks so beautiful.

If you're tempted to have a go at buying bulk, Bea has developed an app (called, logically enough, 'Bulk') which helps you locate and rate shops near you that sell in bulk.

Her archives make for interesting reading, on how she manages to take her zero waste philosophy on holiday with her, and inform her kids on why this matters, and the advantages that down-sizing her home, possessions and consumption have brought.
She's also got a book out, which is definitely going to be in my letter to Santa Claus. You can read an excerpt here. In the meantime, the blog has given me plenty of food for thought. I've started tracking what I throw away in the same way I track my expenses, and on the basis of that I am thinking about how I can reduce my waste.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sunday reading

Hello all! I've not been around much, it's been a rather hectic month. I shall be back at greater length in December because I have three weeks off over Christmas! (Yes! So looking forward to having a decent break.)

In the meantime, please enjoy:

10 Things I Gained When I Gave Up All My Stuff 
The First 5 Most Frustrating Things About Simplicity (plus solutions) 
You don’t need whiskers to do that.
Giving: Fewer gifts, more thought
Introducing the 2014 Unclutterer Holiday Gift Giving Guide 
How to Make a Dish Towel Apron

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My favourite apps for simple living

Simple living and smartphones aren't exactly ideal bedfellows. We're all trying to reduce the amount of stuff we own, to opt out from the need to keep up with fashion and technology trends, and to disconnect more. Being able to connect to your work emails through your phone 24/7 is not quite conducive to this.

But I am trying to reconcile my work life with my simple living philosophy, and unfortunately right now a smartphone is an essential tool for my work. 

So how can I turn the smartphone from a disruption of simple living to an enabler? Can my phone help me to slow down?

I've found a few apps and functions which I find great for this, so here they are. 

 1. Podcasts

There are various podcast apps, so pick the best for your platform. There are podcasts out there about anything - I can now use my walk to or from work or a lunchtime walk to learn something new, and/or to connect with someone else's simple living experiences.

2. Finance trackers

Again, several models out there. I'm using Toshl because it's free, but the basic principle is to track all your expenditure and see immediately how much of your budget is left. If you pay for an upgrade you can manage several budgets at once but I'm cheap, so I am just using this to track one kind of expenditure - the one I am struggling most to contain.

Bulk is an app developed by Bea over at Zero Waste Home (which should totally check out if you don't know it). It picks up on your location and gives you a list of shops in your area which offer products in bulk, so you can cut out packaging. The shops are rated by other app users so you can see which are best for dry goods, which for fruit, which for oils and lotions... I'm dead impressed because it's got loads for Brussels!
Disclaimer: I am not in any way affiliated with any of these app's developers nor am I making any money from this post.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why I love my wardrobe

If you had told fifteen-year-old me that I would love love love my wardrobe, I would not have believed you. I hated shopping, hated fashion, and generally wore whatever came to hand first - usually a block-coloured v-neck sweater and a dark pair of trousers.

If you had told me even a year ago that I would love my wardrobe, I would not have believed you. I still hated shopping, hated fashion, and still wore whatever came to hand first - usually a block-coloured v-neck sweater and a dark pair of trousers.

In January this year, I started something called Project 333. The basic rule involves limiting the number of clothes, shoes, accessories etc to 33 items for 3 months. I told a few people I was planning to have a go at this, and they thought I was bonkers.

The core of the challenge is to limit the number of clothes, shoes etc that you wear for a period of time. The original challenge is 33 items of clothes, shoes, outerwear and accessories for 3 months, but you can set your own challenge. I exclude scarves, coats, belts and jewellery.

Ten months in, I still hate shopping and fashion - but I no longer pull on the first thing that comes to hand in the morning. A number of people have commented that I look smarter. I wear a greater variety of clothes, styles, colours and combinations than before. Despite having fewer clothes in my wardrobe.

I am more aware of how I present myself, and I take better care of my clothes and shoes. When I get dressed, or set out items for the next day, I think about a variety within the outfit and through the week. I do less laundry than before - although I do have to be more organised so I don't run out of things!

I think not just about a garment but about its function within the wardrobe, which helps me when I do make rare purchases or when I plan to make clothes. (Still largely at the planning stage...) This has transferred across to other things I own - I look for duplicates not just in type or appearance but also in function, which helps with decluttering elsewhere.

I have also given away several bags of clothes to charity, so that the clothes not included in my 33 almost fit into one suitcase, where before they filled two. I have emptied a huge box of old clothes, and either donated them or turned them into cleaning cloths. I would have done this earlier if I had realised that cotton t-shirts make marvellous dusters.

When I open the wardrobe in the morning, I am greeted by bright, clean clothes neatly arranged. It welcomes me home at the end of the day, a reminder that order has a place in my cluttered life. I am a total convert and will not be returning to my old arrangement. Which would you prefer?

To anyone thinking of trying this challenge, go for it!!! You can find out more on the Project 333 website.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Saving energy, saving money

We recently received our annual summary of the communal charges for the building. This includes our annual heating and water bill. We pay a monthly sum to the building managers, and at the end of the year they read the meters and send an invoice to settle the bill.

This year, we're due to get almost €1000 back.

It's a good feeling when you open that envelope. We were similarly delighted last year when our electricity supplier cut our monthly bill by two thirds because we were consuming less than they had expected.

Saving energy and water is good for the planet and good for the pocket. The annual heating and water bills have prompted me to think again about how much we use - partly because I'm genuinely surprised about how we've saved so much, and partly because I think we could probably do even better.

I've noticed recently that we've got into the habit of having only one light on in the flat. When we curl up on the sofa in the evenings, one uplighter is enough, and we don't even turn on the main light for the room. I'm not sure when we started doing this, really. I suspect my dad ("Were you born in a power station?") and my boyfriend ("Are you sleeping with the owner of Gazprom?") are finally getting through and I now turn lights off when I leave the room. And they're energy-efficient bulbs. Booya.

All the appliances we've bought have been energy (and in the case of the washing machine, water) efficient. I think the easiest trick is not to own as many. I've been reading tips on saving water and energy online, and am boggled by some of the tips. Get rid of the second fridge? Who are these people?

We don't own a dishwasher or tumble drier. Or a second fridge. I'm not giving up the washing machine, though. Don't even think it.

For heating, we use the fabulous insulating power of curtains, which insulate the room brilliantly. We have full-length wall to wall curtains on both external walls with two layers (blackout lining for the bedrooms, a separate net curtain for privacy for the living room. We also use 'passive solar' - I open the curtains for the east-facing window each morning and allow the sun to warm the room, and then close the curtains when I get back after work. 

Since our curtains have gone up last spring, we have only turned on the heating three times - when we had visitors. We turned on the radiator in the spare room for a few hours each time - and were told the room was too hot. The rear wall has just had another few inches of insulation stuck on the back of it too, so I don't think we'll be turning the heating on at all this winter. Sometimes it gets a bit chilly but that makes it all the nicer to snuggle up under a blanket with a hot cocoa. My top tip if you're cold is to go for a run or walk outside - the apartment will feel lovely and warm when you get back.

While we have installed low-flow tap heads in the bathroom and reduced the water level in the toilet tank to reduce our water usage, there are plenty more savings to be made here. I never remember to turn the tap off while I brush my teeth, I enjoy long showers, I wash dishes with the tap running and I never think to re-use water from washing or cooking vegetables on the plants. 

As a side note, I have seen analyses that suggest that dishwashers are more efficient in water usage than handwashing, but when you take into consideration the electricity used by the machine, and particularly the energy and resources tied up in its manufacture and disposal, I plump for handwashing. Plus that gives me more space in the kitchen.

There's some really good tips for those who are interested in saving energy and water over at the Energy Saving Trust

How about you? Where do you save energy, and where do you want to do more?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Frugal brewing

Making things yourself saves you money - some of the time. To be honest, if you buy a pattern and good quality fabric to make a dress, it ends up being more expensive than something from a cheap shop. Better quality, and better value for money, but more expensive upfront.

When we started brewing our own beer, I thought it would be the same. A fun activity that gets us off the sofa, a new skill, and one that would over time save us money but would be more expensive for the first years.

Not so. We have just bottled our second batch of beer, and my boyfriend has kept rigorous records of everything we have bought - ingredients, equipment, bottles... Our beer currently works out at €2,25 per 33cl bottle. Which is already cheaper than craft beer in the stops. I am very pleasantly surprise to find that our homemade beer so, well, frugal.

We are finding more ways to make homebrewing more frugal. Re-using the bottles from beer we drink, rather than buying bottles. Did you know you can 'wash' yeast after a brew and re-use it for a total of up to ten batches? And now I find myself with a bowl full of hops - with the most delicious smell. I can't bear to just chuck them in the bin, they smell amazing. Reuses for hops, anyone? I'm thinking to try them out and make a sleep-inducing herb pillow or pot pourri for the bedroom.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday reading and acorn coffee

So. Acorn coffee.

I think you could say it's an acquired taste. And I don't intend to acquire it. I know it's free, but I'll stick to water.

It's not bitter. It's just not particularly pleasant.

Next time I forage for acorns, I'll go for acorn flour, which from other blogs seems to impart a nice nuttiness to pancakes and other bakes.

A simple guide to thrifty vegetable gardening
How to make herbal steams for colds and congestion
The Latte Factor: 8 ways we often overspend
Life in a tiny apartment - cloth napkins
How to store fresh fruits and vegetables
I made shoes!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On letting go of the last box

It's astonishing how much an off-hand comment from the unlikeliest of places can have an unexpected impact.

At work, we were discussing my new colleague's unpacking process over lunch, and several people commented on still having sealed boxes from moves years or even decades earlier. I felt mostly smug - but there was a guilty twinge. I have one last box in the basement. (The previous box - containing every pair of jeans I have ever worn, or so it seems - was finally dealt with earlier this year.)

The box contains all my old notes and files from university. I have left it because I couldn't decide what to do with it. I know I would like to keep my old essays - I have a small box of precious things I keep for sentimental reasons, like old diaries, photo albums, the first thing I ever knitted, letters from friends. The essays could go in there. And the scrap paper or rough notes - chuck.

But the research? The hours of my life spent standing in front of a photocopier in the library coping chapters and academic articles. The realisation that I could not access these again without paying for them. The guilty knowledge that some never got read. The secret hope of one day dusting them off, to research and write a historic novel. This expands beyond the notes in the basement - I have another two or more shelves of books, articles and so on from my final year dissertation in the spare room.

And then my new colleague commented that research moved so fast that it is quickly out of date. 

Duh. Why didn't I think of that?

If ever I do get around to writing a historic novel, the evidence for and understanding of that time period will have moved on since my first year of university. And I know I would enjoy doing that research. Not having a box of dusty old articles in the basement would not really be much of a barrier.

So finally - thanks to an off-hand comment at work - I am ready to let go of the last box.

(That just leaves the unknown number of boxes in my mother's attic. But let's forget that for now!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Woot woot! Five years (and a few days)

 So, err, sorry guys. I set this as a scheduled post so I wouldn't forget to write and then... I forgot. And it got posted. As a bit of a non-post.

So now I'm a couple of weeks late, but what the hell. The 8 October marked the five-year anniversary of my first post on this blog, which you can read here.

Looking back at that post, I'm struck by two things. Firstly, my choice of Meadow Orchard as a blog name foreshadows my discovery of permaculture in the last year rather neatly. A meadow orchard is a form of landscape encouraging meadow wildlife among fruit trees, so very positive for biodiversity.

The second thing that strikes me is that the lifestyle I was then interested in building - log fire, fruit trees outside the back door, home comforts and handmade crafts - is still very much what I am endeavouring to build today. 

And I've definitely made progress, which I reflect on every night as  we sit down to homecooked healthy food on a handmade tablecloth on a second hand table and talk about our next beer, and when I draw my homemade curtains in homemade pajamas and slippers made out of old jeans and cardboard.

I thought for my five-year bloggiversary, I'd share five posts and an assortment of photos representing five themes of this blog:



Living better with less

New skils

Savouring simple pleasures

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Beer update and Sunday reading

I know we're all about the freshly made, but this post comes to you pre-prepared. While you are reading this, I will be brewing about 20 litres of ale.

After the beer had fermented for two weeks, we racked it off the dead yeast and sediment into a clean bucket and left it for a week to clarify. Then we bottled it.

26 bottles standing on the wall, 26 bottles standing on the wall, and if one brown bottle should accidentally get opened and drunk...

The last batch is now sitting in the depths of our basement and will age there for some time. The ale should be ready to drink rather sooner, but we're also more than doubling the volume that we will brew. It's essentially the same amount of work whether you make 5 litres or 25 litres.

Meanwhile, some reading for you:

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A tv-free day?

Some of you may have seen the coverage in the UK over new recommendations that people limit themselves to two hours of tv per day, and try to have a 'tv-free' day, to promote active lifestyles and combat obesity.

I've been thinking for a while about how to reduce the amount of tv we watch. It's partly that after a long day at work we are both too tired for anything more stimulating. But if I'm really honest, it's mostly that I have yet to find a way to make a tv-free evening sound attractive to my boyfriend. 

The good news is we are probably just about at the two hours a day limit, many days watching less, and we rarely watch live tv, it's usually pre-recorded shows we know we enjoy, or films. This is definitely some progress. But I'm struggling to come up with easy, relaxing alternatives to sitting staring at a screen.

To be honest, that's kind of scary. Like an addiction. What did people do before they had tvs? This is crazy. I know how people did laundry a hundred years ago, but not how they whiled away the evening hours.
So I did what everyone of my generation would go - I googled it. How to give up tv. And I mostly found blogs and forums of people who replaced tv with watching DVDs or playing games on mobiles/tablets. Doesn't that defeat the point? Surely the idea is to not be sitting in front of a screen?

I have found some interesting posts on this which intriguingly refers to several side effects of going tv-free - including greater sensitivity to the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life.

After a bit of thinking, I decided to try to avoid watching tv this last week. I've been pretty successful, really an hour or less most days and one tv-free day. So far, three things have helped:

1. Reach for the book (or the sewing/knitting) rather than the remote. I usually feel too tired to read, but after a few pages I'm fine and I think it's actually more restful - more restorative - than watching tv.

2. Don't sit down opposite the tv. Move your sofa, or sit down somewhere else. Ideally so that you are now looking at someone else rather than the screen. This seems to make conversation arise without effort, and makes turning on the tv something antisocial rather than just the default option.

3. Make plans, ideally with people. Go out to see a show, check out a new bar, arrange to meet someone for dinner. Extend those plans - go early to wander around the neighbourhood if the weather is nice, or suggest a detour on the way back.

Do you have any tips? Is it something you've had a go at?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Autumnal baking

I've been baking quite a bit in the last few weeks - partly inspired by the Great British Bake Off, partly in practice for the Brussels bake off in which I am participating, and partly to celebrate the tastes of autumn. There have been quite a few firsts...

First attempt at parkin - I had a hankering for something dark, rich and gingery. I think I added too much baking powder but it still tasted AWESOME! Recipe here.

First chocolate and beetroot cake. This looked fabulously pink while making it but came out beautifully. I wasn't sure how beetroot-y it would taste - the answer is not at all. The beetroot counteracts the 'sickliness' tendancy of chocolate cake, and made it beautifully moist. I took this into work - one colleague had three slices, and no one could taste the beetroot.

First chocolate ganache - I always thought this was a highly complex process but it's mind-numbingly simple and I will most definitely be repeating this. Yum!

I've also been baking some staples - chocolate cupcakes.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bathing in autumn sunshine

Happy autumn equinox people! It's miserable weather today so I thought I'd share some autumnal pictures from last weekend instead.

We went for a walk in the nature reserve at the edge of the city last weekend with some friends. It was a beautiful day full of autumn sunshine, with just a taste of winter in the air.

I spotted some hops growing over a doorway.

Our friends spotted some Siberian chipmonks stocking up for winter.

We tasted some small and very bitter wild apples.

We spotted some unidentified berries, which we didn't taste!

Unfortunately, there was a distinct lack of blackberries, which were our main target - they were all small, shrivelled and dried out. I did however pick some acorns to have a go at making acorn coffee...

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Slow Living - July/August 2014

This post is part of a series started by Christine at Slow Living Essentials - although from this month it is now hosted by Linda at Greenhaven. I haven't actually done one of these since April!

{NOURISH} We've been enjoying warmer summer evenings to sit outside and linger over our food. More yoghurt has been made, and our first attempt at brewing beer, inspired by all the fantastic craft beer we've been drinking. There has been much yummy homemade pizza as well!

{PREPARE} The jam-making bug bit hard one weekend, and I'm hoping it will bite again soon as we are entering the last moment we can make jam for the year.

{REDUCE} Can I put my decluttering here? Much progress made. Still nowhere near enough but much. I'm also making progress on my first attempt at a patchwork quilt, which I'm making from old bits of worn out clothes. I also cut up my old jeans (found in a box in the basement) for cleaning rags and they are working much better than the synthetic fabric rags I was using before. Old jeans also became a pair of soft, comfy slippers.

{GREEN} Still making homemade cleaners - but being a bit more disciplined about routines so getting better results. I think I can probably count my egg-wash here as well - my latest attempt at no-poo is working well, currently alternating egg-wash and water only.

{GROW} I am finally growing something easily edible - lettuce leaves - and it feels great to toss them in with dinner. (Although not yet enough to supply our own salads - a goal for next year will to try to be able to avoid the salad bags in the supermarket and just eat homegrown.) Fresh basil goes on the pizza, and there are radishes about ready for eating.

{CREATE} Quite a lot of overlap here, as the patchwork quilt and even the beer brewing probably fall into this category. I've also made a pair of slippers from old jeans and cardboard. I've made some more progress on my embroidered table cloth but it's very slow-going.

And you? how has your month been?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Autumn bucket list

The wheel of the year is most definitely turning and autumn is here. The chestnut leaves are turning brown and beginning to fall. It was ten degrees yesterday and the hot water bottle made its first appearance. It's such a shame there aren't really any autumn traditions, I thought. Hang on a minute, I thought back. There's loads, I just don't observe them. Well, I replied, isn't it about time?

I spent a bit of time browsing pictures of autumn scenes on pinterest and once I had the picture of red trees, piping hot mugs of cocoa and seasonal food in my head, I started to write down ideas. I've been adding to them over several days and now I think I should reign myself in just a little - bearing in mind that it will be busy at work and I will only really have weekends to do autumn things. 

I want to get outdoors more, to be more proactive socially and to wring as much joy from the darkening days as I can. I hereby present to you:

The Autumn Bucket List

Get out - for a long walk, kicking leaves.

Forage - for fruit, nuts, pinecones.

Preserve - dried, candied or jammed.

Make - an autumn-themed decoration.

Bake - gingerbread, apple pie, or whatever inspiration hits.

Celebrate - the autumn equinox.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First adventures in brewing

So after drinking a lot of craft beer, attending a demonstration and generally thinking to ourselves 'this could be fun', we finally took the plunge and braved our first brew over the weekend.

There are many things that attract both of us to homebrewing. We both really enjoy good quality beer, and we like the people that we meet when seeking out craft beer bars and shops, visiting breweries and generally sharing this small pleasure. It's a very friendly, welcoming community - people want to share their love of brewing and drinking good beer, and encourage you to have a go. It very much fits in with our general philosophy of prioritising quantity over quality, and it supports our frugal living efforts because it's a fair bit cheaper to brew beer than buy it. Plus it of course appeals to me as another traditional craft to learn, a part of the traditional farmhouse's ordinary routine, and a very local activity and product.

I found a local supplier of homebrew kits and we went along to explore. To our delight we found the shopowner is a keen brewer, and spent a fair bit of time talking us through different options and advising us on where to start (which was essentially start with the simplest option and then add new steps gradually.) He also does demonstration days. It makes such a difference when starting out on a new challenge to know that we can call him up if we have any questions or if things go wrong.

We came home weighted down with some basic equipment and our first kit beer. There are three kinds of brewing - brewing from kits, brewing with malt extracts and brewing with whole grains. The most authentic and the most difficult is the last, in which you boil or 'mash' malted grains to extract the sugars and flavourings, then boil this with hops and other flavourings, then allow to ferment. Malt extract allows you to skip the mashing process - you get a powder or syrup which you dissolve in water, then you boil with hops and flavourings and ferment. We are starting with the simplest brewing method - kit brewing - in which you get a syrup containing all the sugars and flavourings which you dissolve in water and then ferment with yeast.

Sounds simple, but there's a lot of sterilising and temperature measuring involved already, so it is definitely worth starting simple to familiarise yourself with the equipment, and with things like reading the 'original gravity' (a measure of the sugar content before brewing which can be compared with a measure of sugar content after brewing to calculate alcohol content).

This has the potential to be a very frugal hobby. We have invested in some basic equipment, but we have calculated that (provided the beer comes out ok and drinkable) it would be substantially cheaper to brew our own beer than to buy it - about €0.70 per 33cl bottle for beer made with a kit, potentially much lower with grain brewing. Ideally - fingers crossed - we will soon be able to produce as much beer as we want to drink, with enough to offer guests and give as gifts. This will either get us invited to all the local parties - or none!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New tastes

The office has a fruit basket, stocked up every week, to encourage us to eat healthy food and not get sick. (They also have a biscuit jar, which encourages quite different behaviours!) They get seasonal fruits in, and this week I have discovered two new things I have never tasted before.

These are noisettes, which I think means hazelnuts. I googled and have discovered a world of fine nuance between hazelnuts, cobnuts and filberts. I am not entirely sure which is which

I don't think I've ever seen a fresh hazelnut before, let alone tasted. They're the same size and shape as the brown things you find on chocolate cakes, but they taste totally different. They taste fresh, crunchy and almost juicy - the closest comparison I can think of is fresh peas eaten straight from the pod. Yum.

The other new taste for me is these. I wasn't sure what they were, tentatively nibbled, and YUM! It's slightly tart, and sweet, but gently sweet rather than overpoweringly. Lovely. It's a kind of small green plum - so I think it's a greengage. I've never had a greengage before. I'm a convert - I think I'll get some for my fruit salad. Anyone have any experience of greengage jam?


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