Extending garment life with natural dye.

When I first started writing this blog, I never thought I would end up flashing my underwear online, but fast-forward and here we are – a post, solely about my smalls.

Before we go any further, I should probably explain.

Generally, when something of mine wears out, I replace the item with its second-hand equivalent. Generally. There are, of course, some exceptions. One of these is definitely underwear. So, that being the case, when I do buy underwear, I buy it with longevity in mind. For me, that means 100% cotton, bright white (the reasons to be explained below) and with replacable elastic. I can’t honestly remember where the current set came from, but they’re ingenious – the waist band has what appear to be button-holes sewn in, but they’re actually there so that if the elastic snaps, it’s a really simply job to replace it.

Above, I mentioned that I like to buy bright white underwear – that’s because I used to bleach them to extend the time they looked new. Then I realised that bleach probably wasn’t environmentally brilliant so I took to dying them when they started to look a bit grey. This worked far better in terms of longevity – begin with a pale shade and then go darker until eventually you dye them black. Winning. Only, until now, I’d been using the machine-dye packets which are probably even worse than the bleach for my septic tank.

Then I watched this video, and decided to try some of the natural dye techniques it suggests. In this case, I made dye using red onion skins and turmeric.

I won’t show you the horrible, grey ‘before’ shots of my old pants. No one wants to see those… but here are some pictures as things got underway.

I started by mixing water with some of the non-brewed condiment I bought a few months ago – a ratio of around 2 parts water to 1 part condiment. Then I added the cotton and the onion skins and boiled for half an hour. I allowed this to cool in the pan and then tossed them in the washing machine drum.

Then onto the turmeric. Again, I added a 2-1 combination of water and non-brewed condiment, then around 3tbsp of turmeric powder.

Again, I boiled this for around 30 minutes and allowed it to cool. Then I tossed the cotton in the washing machine drum with the onion-dyed garments.

I washed both at 30 with my regular powder (at this point, Asda Non-Bio), then dried them.

The results were far better than I had expected. The vibrancy of the yellow doesn’t really translate to the screen very well, but it’s like sunshine in real life.

What I didn’t realise, as I threw the turmeric underwear into the machine drum, however, was that there was already a pile of napkins in there. The napkins were, from the residual turmeric, turned a very pale lemon colour. Fine – thought I – I can use some laundry bleach on them to bring them back to white. Not ideal, sure, but at least it’s laundry bleach and not actual bleach bleach.

Well… here’s the thing. When you add an alkali to turmeric, it goes red. So there I am, stirring laundry bleach round my slightly yellow napkins and they’re turning slightly pink and it occurs to me that a lot of this ‘bleach’ is probably bicarbonate of soda. My next experiment is absolutely to see what sort of red turmeric and bicarb make.

I’m not sure how these will wear, or if the colour will rub off on other clothes, but underwear seems like a fairly safe starting point – if it does transfer to other clothes, it will be on the inside.

Like I said above, dye is a really great way to extend the life of clothing. I tend to buy ‘new’ things (i,e, in charity shops) in as pale a shade as possible so when they start to look grubby, I can hide all the stains with a new colour. I love the process too – you never know what you’re going to get at the end of it. Some of my all-time-favourite garments have come about this way.

Is there anything you do to make your clothes last longer than they would otherwise? I’d really love to hear about any methods you use.

Improving the bathroom

Those of you who’ve been with me a while might remember my very long post about the single-use and plastic free items in my bathroom, and about how I planned to improve things.

Well, some time has now passed and some of the consumables are coming to an end, so I thought this would be a great time to examine some of the alternatives I outlined last time. In addition to this, I need to replace my toilet brush and soap-trays so I’ll be writing about that too.

As I said last time, we use an electric toothbrush. I had planned to buy the LiveCoCo replacement heads, but they do have quite a hefty price tag and you need to pay additional postage to return them for recycling. A chance post on Twitter led me to an alternative option, by Brushd . The initial purchase price is cheaper, and the postage to return the heads for recycling is prepaid. For me, it’s a no-brainer – I ordered the Brushd option.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brushd also do a corn floss in a glass container. The website doesn’t actually list floss refills so I was reluctant to buy from here, even though doing so would reduce the amount of waste created by postage. I emailed the company to enquire about refills and they will apparently be adding them at some point in January so I decided to take the risk. Hopefully other brands of refills will fit, even if Brushd decides not to go ahead with adding this product.

When we first moved into the house, and I decided to start using bars of soap instead of pumps, I bought some wooden soap dishes. These have served us really well, but they’re… well… wood. And when wood gets wet, it starts to break down.

This is where we get into somewhat muddy waters, if you’ll pardon the tentative pun. What do I replace the soap dishes with?

If I replace them with more wood, I’ll have to do the same in a further five years and though five years is a reasonable amount of time, it’s definitely not the best I can do. My aim with replacing things in this house is to do it once, then never have to think about it again.

With that in mind, what are my options?

PLASTIC:
– Positives – 
It lasts forever (unless it breaks). It’s light to transport, readily available and won’t shatter on the tiles if the children drop it. It’s really cheap.
– Negatives – It lasts forever, unless it breaks – at which point it becomes landfill/recycling. I don’t like the look of it. There’s a risk it will end up in the ocean if it’s not properly disposed of.

GLASS: 
– Positives – It’s beautiful, recyclable, relatively cheap, easily available.
– Negatives – It shatters if the children drop it on the tiles. It’s heavy, so costs a lot to transport – both financially and in carbon terms.

ENAMEL:
– Positives – This is one of my favourite materials of all time – especially in the kitchen – and I love how it looks. It lasts forever. It doesn’t break if the children drop it. It’s light, to tansport costs are low.
– Negatives – Pinterest and that whole serving-chips-in-old-camping-mugs thing has made enamel really popular so it’s no longer the cheap, cheerful nostalgic thing it was when I first started using it. Whilst I would love to find an enamel soap dish, there don’t seem to be any out there for less that around £15 when you factor in postage and quite simply, I can’t afford that.

CERAMICS: 
– Positives – It’s beautiful, versatile, relatively cheap, easily available.
– Negatives – It shatters if the children drop it on the tiles. It’s heavy, so costs a lot to transport – both financially and in carbon terms. It does break down into rubble, but that seems like a loss of resources.

NOTHING
– Positives –
It’s free! I don’t need to source anything so I get more time to enjoy my life!
– Negatives – 
My sink ends up looking like the slime monster of doom attacked it and I have to clean more often… Which doesn’t happen, because I hate cleaning, so the blob begins to absorb bathroom dust and- Well, you get the idea. Just no.

WOOD: 
– Positives – It’s cheap, sustainable, light to transport, readily available, and doesn’t shatter on impact with the tile floor.
– Negatives – I don’t want to have to keep replacing it every few years.

So, as usual, no perfect option. I was moaning about this to my mum, though, and she suggested that I start to think outside the box in my internet searching. Just because I was going to use something as a soap dish, that didn’t mean it needed to start out life as one. She suggested searching for ‘ashtray’ because the decline in cigarette smokers means that these can be had for pennies and are plentiful. She also suggested I search ‘trinket dish’ as these have largely fallen out of fashion too. Armed with these new search terms, I set to work and soon found a plethora of interesting, vintage articles for no more than a few pounds.

I opted for enamel – as I said above, it’s one of my favourite materials – but rather than choose the kitchen-style white-with-blue-rim, I selected patterned enamel on copper. Not as light as the stuff I use for baking/camping, but still pretty practical for the bathroom. I bought the one pictured below, plus a pair of smaller dishes which will be used upstairs – one for the soap and one for the shampoo bar. Even including postage, these three soap dishes cost less than I would have payed for the modern, fashionable equivalents.

If time wasn’t against me, I would definitely have had a look around our ‘local’ charity shops, but by the time I drive over there, I generally only have ten minutes to look around before I have to drive back to pick up the children.

The other item I really wanted, was an eco-friendly toilet brush. The plastic one we have been using has definitely come to the end of its life and I need to up my game. Shamefully, I didn’t even think of the fact that as my brush was balding, it was shedding the plastic bristles into my septic tank.

This became another case of thinking outside the box. You can buy some lovely toilet brush holders but these were brand new and expensive, and though I’m not advocating second hand loo-brushes, buying a brand new jug to put a poop-cleaner in really didn’t sit right with me.

If you’re happy to spend big money to get plastic free items, Utility make this beauty – pictured above. 

Boobalou also do a lovely version that’s slightly more affordable. It can be purchased from their own website, or from Ethical Superstore.

I decided I didn’t want to pay for the container, though, and though I purchased the Boobalou brush, I made the decision to repurpose an existing object for the container – in this case, stoneware jars.

I seem to remember these being pretty big in the 90s, Changing Rooms sort of era, but happily, they’ve since fallen out of fashion.

Stoneware Jar | eBay

These are absolutely perfect for my needs:

  1.  Not plastic
  2. Second-hand
  3. Really easy to clean (outside with a hose – ha!)
  4. Heavy, so won’t tip over with a brush inside (a fear re. the enamel jug, above)
  5. Cost less than £10 incl. postage, but easily available at charity shops etc.
  6. Durable – most are Victorian, These aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.

In our case, they also match the bathroom tiles so I’m calling that a huge win!

Until now, I had been scrubbing my loo with bleach, but I’ve found a refillable soap – Suma EcoLeaf toilet cleaner –  which I’ll try out when my new brushes arrive. I’ll take pictures too – I’m hoping it will be as pretty a solution as possible!

Hopefully, my septic tank will thank me for all of this!

Right, enough about my loo for one post! I hope you’ve found some of this useful – I think sometimes it helps just to see the various thought processes behind other peoples’ purchaces, in case it solves an issue we’ve been having with our own.

I’d love to hear any comments you have on this – either here or on Twitter. 🙂

My year in review, and my intentions for the coming year.

2019 was a year of wild ups-and-downs for our family, and I can’t believe it’s already come to an end.

The most positive thing that I’ll be taking away from 2019 – looking through the prism of this blog – is that we’ve managed to continue making small changes to our lifestyle, despite all the other challenges we’ve been faced with this year.

My most popular post of 2019 was the book review of Eco Thrifty Living, by Zoë Morrison, followed by the sumary of What I learned in #NothingNewNovember. I would love to hear which posts you enjoyed most so that I can bring you more of what you like reading in the coming months.

Moving forwards, the area I intend to address first of all is our plastic consumption in the bathroom. I spoke about this at length in an earlier post and we’re coming to a point where I feel I can start to make changes.

I also plan on getting more out of our garden – we want to plant up four raised beds for vegetables in the coming months, prioritising heritage seeds, purchased from a UK supplier. If all goes well, we may invest in a greenhouse, towards the end of 2020.

I intend to address our wardrobes and root out as many synthetic items as I can. This won’t always be possible, but I will try to minimise the harm we cause.

We will try to reduce our energy consumption by downsizing appliances, updating elements of our heating system, and prioritising low-impact hobbies.

I aim to read more about reducing our waste – prioritising Working-Class Environmentalism by Karen Bell. I am hoping that my library will purchase a copy so that others can benefit from it too.

I don’t want to write a traditional ‘New Years Resolution’ – I feel like that sets me up for failure – but I promise I will keep trying to reduce my impact on the world. Do you have any intentions for 2020? I would love to hear about them.

 

#CutTheWrap – what does low-waste gift-wrap look like?

I’ve spoken recently about trying to #CutTheWrap this Christmas and thought I would take this chance to share some of the ways I’ve done that. I don’t know about you, but I actually found it really hard to visualise some of the ideas people online have been talking about, without actually seeing a picture.

So, here are some pictures!

Some of you may remember my talking about buying second-hand earrings and making my own displays for them. Above is a picture of the finished article – the card the earrings are hanging on is the back of an old calendar which I used to wrap other gifts, whilst the tiny envelope is a sheet of my eldest’s origami paper.

Above is a second-hand silk scarf and a vintage book – I picked both up from my local thrift shop for an absolutely tiny price, then used one to wrap the other. To do this, I used Furoshiki – the Japanese fabric wrapping technique. I have to say – this is a total game-changer for me. I’m going to slowly invest in some second-hand scarves over the next year and use these to wrap my family’s gifts every year from now on.

Here are some gifts wrapped in old music, but you could use maps, or anything else which has a hypothetical expirey date. Arguably, this sheet music could have been put to better use at a charity shop, but it’s an exam piece for grade 2 treble clef trombone – a test I sat in around 1996. As the music changes fairly regularly, this isn’t really going to be useful to anyone…

…Especially as I spilt Ribeana all over the piano accompaniment as a terribly clumsy 11 year old. Honestly, I don’t know why anyone imagined the trombone might be an instrument I should play…

Moving on…

The calendar features again – this time, one of the pages, tied with the annoying shoulder ribbon from the inside of a shirt….

This year, instead of individually wrapping the gifts for my long-distance friends, then posting them in a large outer box, I decided to use the packing paper as the gift wrap. If I’d had more time before the kids came home from school, I would probably have tried to draw a city scape – you know the ones with the gable ends facing out which look a bit like Amsterdam? But time was of the essence so I did a hasty self-portrait instead, instructing my friend to open the card but not the package.

Honestly, I’m sort of wishing I’d waited until the kids were in bed to do the one above because I’m not super happy with it, but never mind. It’s done now and making its way to the intended recipient.

I would love to see any attempts you’ve made to #CutTheWrap – it’s so nice to admire all the creativity that’s out there.

DIY Lego Kits

Recently, I posted about ways to utilise the ‘5Rs’ over the festive period.  If you haven’t already, I would absolutely encourage you to go and check out the full post – there are loads of really lovely ideas for a more sustainable Christmas – but today, I wanted to focus on one of the suggestions in particular.

DIY Lego* kits.

My kids are so incredibly lucky – they’ve inherited a Lego stash which dates back to 1956 and which has been added to over the years by various generations of enthusiasts. Needless to say, we have enough Lego in this house.

That said, both children get an awful lot out of building to the instructions – my youngest, for example, learns how to build in sequence which is a vital skill for pre-reading. And for my eldest, it’s an enormous 3D jigsaw puzzle.

Which begs the question – how do I provide the experience of a kit, without actually buying a kit?

Well, the bricks have infinite possible uses, so all I really need in this situation are the instructions. And it just so happens that the Lego website comes with free instructions for their ‘Classic’ kits, and for ‘Minibuilds’.

I opted for the May Minibuild because:
– I’m relatively sure we have all the parts
– The necessary pieces are presented as a list for easy finding
– The instructions are printed on fewer sheets of paper.

After I’d printed the instructions, I went to gather the parts… There was so much Lego in the box, I literally needed to use a head torch…

And completely failed!

Unfortunately, it became apparent after around 45 minutes of searching through our giant Lego box – with a head torch on! – that we didn’t have some of the more recent pieces required. So, back to the drawing board… or rather, the Lego website…

With a better knowledge of what I could/couldn’t easily locate within the stash, I selected… none of the patterns from the website!

Instead, I did an image search on Ecosia (which – if you’re not using yet – you totally should be 😉 ) and came up with…

This!

It’s clearly not going to satisfy the older of my two children, but for my youngest, it’s perfect.

Or would be, if I could find the parts! I did manage to get an alternative for the windscreen though, and as I’ll likely have to hear about every single block my child places, I can be there to talk about how the windscreen needs to be a different piece.

To package it, I made a large envelope out of an old calendar sheet (I posted an image of a tutorial here) and drew a shoddy Lego block on the front. I’ll write my child’s name on the top too, but I don’t really want that all over the internet so will leave it off for now.

So, was it worth the trouble of the research, the searching, half building a model and failing, then frantically trying to find the parts to a second model before Husband arrived home with the children?

Probably. I mean, we have a lot of Lego. I think if I do any more of these prior to Christmas I will:
– refill my printer ink, because the print qualiity doesn’t look amazing,
– invent my own model and photograph each stage
– hoover out our Lego box more often because I found items I’d lost over 20 years ago in that box and even though I’m not hyper vigilant when it comes to dirt, even I am grossed out by this…

In the end, the whole thing took about an hour and a half, and cost me the printer paper and ink. I potentially saved a Lego box, an instruction booklet, an inner plastic bag and the blocks themselves from being dragged into being. I probably saved myself around £5.

Will you be trying to reuse your existing toys in this way? It doesn’t just work for Lego – K’nex, Duplo and other construction kits can be repurposed like this. I’d love to see pictures of any you decide to do – why not get in touch here, or on Twitter?

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* Fun fact – the plural of ‘Lego’ is not ‘Legos’. The term is actually an abreviation of ‘Lego Mursten‘, meaning ‘Lego Bricks’. As this is a compound noun, the pluralisation is added to the second word – i.e. Mursten/Bricks, meaning that ‘Lego’ remains the same, even in the plural.

The term ‘Lego’ is actually a contraction of two Danish words; Lege, which means ‘to play’ and Godt which means ‘good’, or in this case ‘well’.

Look, dad! I used my Danish language degree in real life!

The best of the books

This year, since starting the Trail of Breadcrumbs blog, my leisure reading has taken an environmental turn – for obvious reasons. 😉

I’ve read some absolutely brilliant books, and as books make superb gifts – especially used ones! – I thought I would do a quick round up of my favourites.

So, in no particular order, here are some great environmental reads – including a few I haven’t yet reviewed on here;

My Zero Waste Kitchen – Dorling Kindersley

What’s it about? – How to reduce food and energy waste in the kitchen.
Who might enjoy it? – Anyone just starting out in their attempts to lessen their environmental impact, or perhaps someone just moving out/starting university – it’s a nice change from the usual ‘cheap eats’ cookbooks, but achieves similar things.

A Bunch Of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy – Sarah Lazarovic

What’s it about? – Our patterns of consumption, particularly when it comes to clothes. The art style makes it feel like a really decadent object so I took great pleasure in reading it.
Who might enjoy it? – I feel like I would have benefitted from this greatly in my late teens/early 20s.

Turning the Tide on Plastic – Lucy Siegle

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What’s it about? – This history and future of our plastic use.
Who might enjoy it? – Anyone, at any stage in the process of trying to reduce their household waste.

Eco Thrifty Living – Zoë Morrison

Eco Thrifty Living - Save Money, Save the Environment and Live the Life You Want!

What’s it about? – Living within a budget, with good environmental practices.
Who might enjoy it? – Those trying to work in environmental changes, whilst living within their means.

To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World – Lucy Seigle

To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? Paperback by

What’s it about? – The harm that fast fashion is doing to our environment and the people working within the industry.
Who might enjoy it? – Anyone interested in the production of clothes. This is the book which started me on the path to making my own clothing, so it might be the nudge your friendly neighbourhood craftsperson needs to address their own wardrobe.

Zero Waste Home – Bea Johnson

What’s it about? – Setting up a near zero-waste home. But, an actually near zero-waste home. This is your Mason-jar ideal that everyone aspires to.
Who might enjoy it? – Anyone interested in the extremes of waste-free living. It’s an incredibly inspiring work and has kick-started thousands of people into a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

This is Not a Drill – An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

This Is Not A Drill

What’s it about? – I would call this XR’s manifesto – it’s a series of essays relating the effects of climate change, followed by a series of essays regarding what we can do about it.
Who might enjoy it? – It’s a quick read at just under 200 pages, and the essay format makes it easy to read in small chunks. This is perfect for anyone with a busy schedule,  anyone skeptical about XR (as I was, before I read it), or anyone interested in social reform.

12 Small Acts to Save Our World – Emily Beamont

12-small-acts-to-save-our-world | Culturefly

What’s it about? – This is about change on an individual scale – it does exactly what the title promises.
Who might enjoy it? – Again, this is a very quick and accessible read – perfect for anyone who might want to start making a difference, but not have any concrete ideas how they could go about it.

Landfill by Tim Dee

“Landfill” by Tim Dee (Chelsea Green Publishing) | Ecovici

What’s it about? – The waste created by mankind, through the prism of gull watching.
Who might enjoy it? – This is a great book for anyone with a general interest in birds. I’ve found it to be a good ‘in’ for conversations with older family members on the topic of landfill waste.

How bad are Bananas? by Mike Berners-Lee

How Bad Are Bananas?

What’s it about? – This is basically an index of items, each with a detailed account of their carbon footprint. It sounds dull, but it’s actually fascinating.
Who might enjoy it? – This is a great title for anyone with tough decisions to make – i.e. do I drive 20 miles to get local, organic milk in a glass bottle, or do I save the petrol and live with the recyclable supermarket vessel?

Plastic Sucks by Dougie Poynter

What’s it about? – This is a brief introduction to the plastic problem, aimed at pre-teens.
Who might enjoy it? – This book is pitched at ages 9-12,  and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. The focus on personalities and interviews might help it appeal to a slightly older audience, however.

This Book is Not Rubbish by Isabel Thomas

What’s it about? – Another pre-teen title about ways to reduce our impact on the world.
Who might enjoy it? – Again, pitched at 9-12, this is a little lighter on text that the previous title so might be better for more… reluctant readers.

Kids Fight Plastic by Martin Dorey

Kids Fight Plastic : How to be a #2minutesuperhero: Martin ...

What’s it about? – This is my favourite of the children’s books listed. It generally does the same as the others, though.
Who might enjoy it? – Pitched at a slightly younger audience, I would say that this is suitable for ages 7+.

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So what have I missed? What should I be reading next year? I’d love for you to set me a reading list! Why not let me know your favourite titles here, or on Twitter?

 

 

 

 

What did I learn from #NothingNewNovember

Well, that’s November at an end, and it’s time to think about the impact of #NothingNewNovember.

I suppose the main question that I want to ask myself is: Did this curb my consumption?

In short, yes.

The longer answer? Not really – I’ve been priorising used goods for myself for a very long time. Had this challenge not come at Chrismas, I might not have noticed the difference. That said, it did come in the run-up to Christmas and I suppose that’s the point.

The challenge forced me to consider a lot of things I hadn’t really thought about before in regards to my gift-purchasing habits. It’s so very easy to ‘justify’ brand new objects if they’re for other people, despite the fact that I really appreciate it when people give me used/homemade presents. Not having the option to instantly purchase brand new gifts resulted in me putting more thought into what I was giving.

In the past, I’ve been worried about gifting second-hand items because I feel ‘cheap’ for the tiny price tag, but this challenge forced me to get past that and assess the difference between the value and worth of an item. It’s something I’ve touched on before on other platforms, but in short I’ve been guilty of assuming that for something to be giftable, it needs to be expensive. Of course, that isn’t true  – the cost of a gift isn’t an indicator as to the usefulness of it, or the worth it will have to the recipient. So – for example – even though the tiny Christmas stocking I knitted for my friend’s tree cost nothing (in terms of materials – it took around an hour of time), it will be treasured. I made it to honour the weeks we spent getting to know one another as I taught her to knit socks.

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Another point of interest came as I set about making gifts. Again, I’ve often justified the purchase of new materials because the thing I was making was a present. But although the working conditions in my house are significantly better than those in a lot of garment factories, brand new raw materials are still  brand new materials, regardless of who is using them.

I don’t actually have a huge stash of craft supplies, but it transpires that what I do have is ample for the gifts I’ve made. I think, going forward, that I will put a ban on new yarn purchases until I’m down to around 50% of what I currently have. The same applies to my fabric, though I haven’t been brave enough to sew any gifts yet…

So, did I buy anything new in Novemeber? Yes, two things, but I’m fine with both purchases.

  1. A book, intended for my husband. I initially tried to get this from the library but there is a long waiting list for it so although I could write him an IOU, I wanted to make sure the children had something to hand over. I then tried to find a copy second-hand but the only ones were coming from America. At the end of the day, I decided to support my local bookshop and bought it there. I could technically have waited until it was December to buy it, but as I’d planned to make the purchase for over three months, I thought that was just lip-service to the challenge… Regardless, one paperback book was purchased. It could be argued that I should have chosen a different title, but this one was just too perfect – the other titles I plan to equip him with will come from the library.
  2. One ball of sock yarn. I was lucky enough to visit friends of mine in the middle of the month. One of these friends had a birthday at the start of November, so I waited until we were together, got her to choose the colour of yarn she wanted, and knitted her gift whilst in her company. This ensured that the gift was one which would match her current wardrobe and fit correctly. It was a planned purchase and a considered one, so I don’t feel in the least bit bad about it. I have half a ball left and will use this in future projects – likely sets of baby socks for impending bumps amongst other friends.

Did I feel deprived, saying ‘no’ to purchases whilst out and about? Not at all. Rather than trawling through online shops for ‘perfect’ presents, I took stock of what I already have in the house. Along the way, I rediscovered my violin, dug out my recorders and started to teach my eldest to play. And what an honour that is.

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So obviously, there are limits to buying used items – sometimes used things are actually more expensive (out-of-print books, for example), sometimes geography dictates that certain items are more desired than others (i.e. wellies are impossible to buy used in our muddly shire), and sometimes you just want to buy the item new (underwear, anyone?).

Did you take the #NothingNewNovember challenge? I would love to hear how you got on!

Low waste advent calendar alternatives

It’s nearly time for the countdown to Christmas to begin, so I thought I would take a moment today to speak about advent calendars.

There are loads of really great ways to reduce the waste created by advent calendars. You could opt for a traditional paper-only offering, or buy a toy-themed calendar and reuse this every year – then there’s the refillable option, and books!

Initially, we tried a Lego calendar with the intention of reusing it indefinitely, but it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to work in our house. Lego seems to inspire such creativity in my kids that they would build that day’s model, then grab blocks from our existing stash and then set about incorporating the calendar bricks into some vast structure that only they could fathom the purpose of… By the time day 2 was over, we realised we weren’t ever going to manage to keep the Christmas blocks seperate.

In the end, I opted for a reusable cloth calendar. It’s beautiful – handmade by the lady who runs House of Wonderland (which you should absolutely take a look at – she has the most beautiful things).

In the pockets, I put a combination of plastic-free sweets and little slips of papers with activities on. Initially, I found it really hard to come up with things to do which didn’t focus on getting, but I think we had a good list last year:

  1. Welcome to DECEMBER! Let’s have some fun! (Chocolate lollies)
  2. Let’s have a walk if the weather is nice and collect some pine cones to decorate the table with.
  3. Write Christmas cards to people we love. You can even draw pictures to put in too!
  4. Take the cards to the post box and send them on their way!
  5. Make some bird feeders from lard and birdseed.
  6. Bake something to give to all the houses on the track.
  7. Here’s £20 – lets see how many yummy things we can get for the food bank.
  8. Write a list of all the things you’re grateful for which happened this year.
  9. Watch the Muppet Christmas Carol.
  10. Sort through our books and give any we don’t want to the library at school.
  11. Make a special card/present for the postie – she’s so busy just now!
  12. Have fun with some sparklers.
  13. Sort through our toys and see if the library wants any for the toy boxes there.
  14. Find out about ‘Sal’s shoes’, ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘The Little Princess Trust’. Choose which one gets £5.
  15. Let’s have a morning dance party before school!
  16. Let’s put up and decorate the Christmas tree!
  17. Watch the Christmas Curious George film.
  18. Let’s read a book by candlelight.
  19. Let’s take your Christmas gifts to your teachers at school & nursery.
  20. Let’s dip some marshmallows in white chocolate to make snowmen!
  21. Write down some of the fun things we did this year – it’s good to remember.
  22. Go to Nannan’s and bake some mince pies!
  23. Not everyone is celebrating Christmas – let’s learn about some other religions.
  24. Watch some Christmas carols on YouTube.

In total, this calendar costs just over £25 – this money covers the food bank donation, the charity donation, and any sundries (like marshmallows) which we don’t already have in the house. Obviously, you could change this amount to suit your own budget, or replace these activities with free things, such as litter picks, or carol services – whatever your wallet and schedule allows for.

All of this was pretty perfect when there was only one child – but then there were two… We did start by taking it in turns to check the calendar, which was fine, but then I read about book calendars so we made one of those too and the kids go turn-about for each.

The book calendar was super easy and very cheap – we just went through our collection and plucked out any stories which were wintery. I stashed them in my room and brought one out a day for the run up to Christmas. Rather than wrapping each one, I made a cloth bag out of some festive fabric from my stash and ploped a new book in each day. At the end of the season, I packed the books away with the decorations so that when the next year rolled around, the stories were both novel and nostalgic – perfect!

What are your advent traditions? I’d love to hear about them! 

 

Super affordable, eco-friendly gift ideas

I’m still in the depths of #NothingNewNovember, but that hasn’t slowed the relentless crawl towards Christmas.

This time of year is full of contradictions – it’s a time of enormous waste, but simultaneously one in which families stretch themselves to their financial limit. And often beyond.

So, what can we do to redress this balance?

There are lots of ways in which you can reduce the amount of waste you create this winter.

To help me do so, I’m going to begin by looking at the ‘5 Rs’ of Zero Waste:

So, how do we REFUSE this Christmas?

My large group of university friends and I have agreed not to buy one another gifts this year, and another friend and I have agreed not to buy for one another’s children. None of the people involved need anything new, so an electronic greeting will be more than enough.

And what if – for whatever reason – you can’t come to this sort of agreement with friends and family? REDUCE.

This could be as simple as starting a Secret Santa, rather than buying individual gifts for everyone in your friendship group/office. With children, we’ve had great success with the following formula for Christmas lists –

Something they WANT
Something they NEED
Something to WEAR
& Something to READ

want need wear read printable tags | Cool for Christmas ...

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of buying additional ‘bits’ for stockings, on top of the above however having a specific set of perameters to aim for has helped to focus my mind considerably when shopping for gifts for my children.

Using existing toys in new ways is another way to reduce the amount of things entering the house. If you have siblings with an appropriate age gap, having the eldest gift one of thier outgrown toys to the youngest can be a great way of fostering generosity between family members.

I’ve not tried it myself, but I have heard great things about Whirli – a toy-box subscription. This sharing of resources is a great way to reduce unwanted toys in the house – when something is no longer played with, it can be returned for another child to enjoy. This looks a little costly for us, to be honest, but

And while we’re on the idea of libraries, I really love the idea of letting someone else choose my books for a set amount of time.

For adults, it might also be possible to gift a charity donation, or offer to pay a month’s fee for a subscription service they already use. Even something as simple as offering to do someone’s ironing, or bring their lunch to work for a week at a time of their choice, or gifting someone a home-cooked meal could serve as a Christmas present. Not all gifts need to be physical – our time is valuable too.

Finally, consumables are an excellent idea – especially if you know it’s something the recipient loves. These transient items take up no space in the home long-term and prove useful in day-to-day life.

And if this isn’t an option? REUSE.

Most of the gifts I’ve actually purchased this year are used items and certainly for the rest of this month, I only plan to buy used things.

There are loads of ways to get pre-loved objects – car-boot sales, charity shops and online are tried and tested methods, but organising a swap amongst friends is surprisingly easy. When I hosted a swap of children’s items, we agreed to only bring things we’d be happy to recieve as a gift and that anything left at the end would be donated to a specific place (in our case, the donations were split between the local women’s shelter and the local council’s social work department).

This is all well and good, but where does RECYCLE fit into all of this?

Well, it’s possibly to recycle items already in your house. Over the course of the year, you might have been given things that aren’t to your taste, or made purchases you now regret. These can either be traded – as above – or gifted directly.

You can also ‘recycle’ toys already in use. Lego has a variety of free building instructions on their site which you can print off. Then it’s just a matter of raking through your stash to find the relevant blocks. From the looks of things, this would work better for younger builders, but there’s nothing to stop you from building your own huge fortress, photographing it as you go, and then smashing it to form a DIY kit. As we’re swimming in Lego, inherited from my brother, this is something I plan to do for my youngest, so I’ll update you on my progress there…

Possibly the best point to make regarding recycling is that any gift wraps should be carefully considered.

Yes, most paper is recyclable, but wrapping with metalic patterns and any covered in plastic tape isn’t. Perhaps it’s possible to reuse some gift-bags from previous years, or to use cloth to wrap with – wouldn’t a lovely bar of homemade soap, wrapped in a face cloth be a great gift? Or using second-hand silk scarves instead of paper? There are loads of great tutorials online for how to do this – just search ‘Furoshiki’.

Alternatively, reusing old maps, old calendars (pictured below), old books, old magazines and newspaper, with plastic-free tape or plain string can look fantastic. Failing that, buying a new roll of brown packing paper is probably the most eco-friendly gift wrap you can get. All of these can be dressed with ribbon, drawings or evergreen trimmings.

Hopefully, you’ll have no need to ROT anything over this festive season, so instead, if you’re still considering new gifts, try to make things yourself from salvaged materials, or buy ethically and intentionally. Avoiding palm oil, choosing FSC wood products and simply not purchasing more than you need to, all make a positive impact at this time of year. This is also a great opportunity to gift items like tote bags and reusable water bottles as the recipient of these gifts might begin to make small changes in their own life.

I would love to hear your top low-waste, low-cost gifts. Why not come and share them on Twitter?

Reducing waste with very young children…

This post has the very real potential to be huge, so let me just cover the basics today and if anyone has any specific questions, feel free to let me know here, or on Twitter.

Anyway.

Happily, my children are past the baby stage.

I found those very early days so difficult – especially with my first. Trying to do anything through the haze of sleep-deprevation was an uphill struggle – even something as basic as feeding myself. Whilst I did use cloth nappies and breastfeed both children, my experience of being too tired to cook and relying solely on ready-meals made me determined to reduce the waste I produced for my second child.

Before I offer up the list of things I learned, I want to add, above all else, how important it is to be kind to yourself in those early days. The information below is based on my own experience – if you don’t feel up to doing any of these things then that’s OK. Your mental health after welcoming a child into your family – via adoption as well as birth – can be stretched to its very limits so I will say it again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.

That said…

There are numerous ways to reduce waste with very young children.

Reusable nappies
Let’s start with the obvious. Reusable nappies are probably the first thing which spring to mind when you begin to consider reducing child-related rubbish. Full-time cloth can seem daunting, but swapping just one disposable nappy a day for cloth can save 365 nappies a year from landfill – and with a pack of 35 Pampers costing around £8.50 from Tesco, it’d also save you approximately £85.

Whether you opt for terry squares, or a modern all-in-one cloth nappy, there are all sorts of solutions out there. There are cloth nappy libraries all over the UK and most can be found via facebook so you don’t need to heavily invest in one style straight away. Even if you’re not up for cloth nappies, using cloth wipes, old flannels or cut up towels can help cut waste.

Breastfeeding
I’m not here to discuss bottle vs. breastfeeding. There is absolutely a place for both – either in isolation or in combination. For a whole host of reasons, however, breastfeeding is considerably kinder on the environment. That said, it can be tricky to establish a good breastfeeding relationship – both mum and baby are learning to respond to one anothers’ cues and this takes time. It can help to find a breastfeeding group prior to giving birth so that you already have a support network to help when the time comes. Libraries should have copies of the book ‘The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding‘ by La Leche Leauge, whilst websites such as Kellymom and ABM are a wealth of information. Failing that, there is always another breastfeeding mother on facebook, and plenty of groups dedicated to the art so support is available day and night.

If you do choose to go down the route of bottles – for formula or expressed milk – borrowing a selection from friends can be a good way to figure out which your baby prefers, before investing in a certain set. The same goes for formula, if you want to use this – buying a selection of ready-mixed cartons before settling on a huge tub of powder will help to reduce waste if your baby won’t take to a specific brand.

Utilising existing kitchen equiptment to sterilise is another good way to reduce waste – for example, a microwave steriliser.

Baby food & Eating in the early days
It’s really easy – as I said above – to forget yourself in those early, sleep-deprived days. I relied heavily on ready meals with my first and still feel guilty about it. With my second child, I made sure to batch cook and fill my freezer with homemade meals, but not everyone has that option.  If you feel able, it might be worth asking friends and family to gift you some proper food, rather than baby items you might not need. Jars of dried fruit, foil wrapped chocolates and other easy-to-grab snacks can help stave off the ravenous hunger that comes with breastfeeding – the same ravenous hunger that is rarely assuaged because to do so would involve moving a tiny, sleeping human. Leaving snacks around the house is one way to help meet your/your partner’s own needs during this time.

When baby is ready for solids, jars, pouches and mini snack-packs of baby food usually account for a large proportion of child-based waste. Something as simple as packing a (reusable) bottle of water and a banana or some carrot sticks when you go out can help stave off meltdowns caused by hunger, and prevent you from needing to buy anything that’s individually packaged while you’re out. Feeding Baby the foods you eat is the easiest way to avoid waste at mealtimes, but if you’re really not the most confident cook, then there are loads of crafts on Pinterest which utilise baby food jars. It’s also good to remember that of the pre-packaged foods available, jars are probably the least wasteful – glass can be recycled an infinite number of times, but plastic has only a few cycles before it’s destined for landfill.

Clothes
Second hand is definitely the way to go here – babies seldom wear clothes out before they’re outgrown so there’s a good chance you can pick up some high quality items. You can even extend the life of poppered tops in one of two ways – either by snipping the crotch off and hemming the bottom to make a t-shirt (or not, if it’s a jersey fabric), or by purchasing vest extenders. Available online, these essentially lengthen the crotch section by adding another slip of fabric. You can also snip feet out of sleepsuits to extend their life by a few months, and skirts can be made to last longer with a little lace sewn around the bottom hem.

The easiest thing you can do though, is to remember that children need fewer clothes than you think. Conventional wisdom says that you need a lot in case of accidents – and in the early days, this is very true – however it’s easy to carry this forward as our babies become toddlers, pre-schoolers and ‘proper’ children. In reality, you only need around four or five tops, three or four sweaters and five or six pairs of trousers, shorts or skirts.

Toys and books
Again, second hand is a wonderful way to buy toys. Aside from the fact that you might be able to pick up some vintage gems from your own childhood – My Little Pony and Optimus Prime, anyone? – it’s easy to find good quality toys, either online or at car-boot sales. Again, conventional wisdom would have you avoid plastic, given that it’s non-biodegradable, but used, good quality plastic playthings are ideal if you plan to have further children or if the toys themselves will span a large age range. Lego is the perfect example of this. Daughter is the third generation to enjoy our enormous box of Danish blocks and I remember playing with the same bricks from the age of four until I was well into my teens.

If you have the budget available, a toy subscription such as Whirli is a great option as this means you don’t have to store any toys which aren’t getting played with. Like a book library, this is a wonderful way to share resources.

As with clothes, it’s easy to think that we need more toys than we do, but creative toys can fill almost any hole. Again, Lego is a perfect example – it can be a castle, a dolls house, a race car… the options are literally limitless. Toy kitchens can be made outdoors from scrap timber and used as mud-laboratories, the birthplace of culinary masterpieces and as a paint palette. Dressing up clothes can be found in charity shops, or from parents’ wardrobes. Craft supplies can be as simple as some beads cut from old costume jewellery or the contents of the recycling box.

Loose parts play is a fantastic and affordable way to fire the imagination. Keeping a collection of things like corks, pine-cones, shells, twigs and feathers is a great start. My absolute favourite things in our loose parts collection are a set of wooden Ikea bowls that I found in a charity shop, some absolutely beautiful chopsticks (similarly sourced) which feature carved animals, and some sea glass that we found on our camping trip to Oban. The children absolutely adore the dried marrowfat peas and dried butter beans we’ve got out at the moment, but the biggest hit in terms of ‘grains’ has been the coffee beans my husband bought and didn’t enjoy – they were played with for months and served as pepples in a dinosaur diorama, food on our toy farm, filling for tin-can instruments, and just about everything else in between. Loose parts make up the bulk of our toys and I doubt I’ve spent more than £40 on all of them over the decade I’ve been a parent.

Our favourite ‘toy’ at the moment is our ‘Story Stones’ – we painted characters, settings and props on some rocks we found in the garden and spend hours making up stories about the combination we pull at random from the bag.

And speaking of stories, books can be found second hand, or at your local library. Doing this can make a huge difference in terms of waste as books cannot be recycled with regular paper due to the glue which binds them.

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Like I said at the start, these tips are generally for very young children, though there are a handful which transfer to school-age.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I’d be really keen to hear what your suggestions are – for all stages of childhood.

But, once again – BE KIND TO YOURSELF.  Above all else, remember that those travelling with children need to attend to their own oxygen masks first – we can only do our best.