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?


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