The one thing I wish I’d known sooner…

There is so much advice out there about ways in which to curtail our impact on the planet – leave the car at home, stop buying bottled water, stop eating meat, don’t use plastic products…

Refuse.

Reduce.

But for me, none of that was sustainable.

The human mind is a funny thing. I know that all of the above is factually accurate – that these are all necessary things which I should be doing in order to combat the climate crisis – but when I’m told that I can’t do something, I feel a spark of rebellion.

“I don’t want to stop using my car, thank you very much.”

I suspect I’m not alone.

Doing the right thing became much, much easier when I started to rephrase what was being asked of me. Instead of looking at my life in relation to the environment in terms of deficit, I began looking at it in terms of abundance.

Instead of saying ‘use the car less’, I began to think of it as an opportunity to walk or cycle more.

Rather than ‘eat less imported food’, I started to tell myself that I should eat more local produce.

You’re probably sick of this picture, but I’m not sick of eating this kind of mushroom! 😀

So to anyone who is just beginning to look at living more sustainably, I would say look for abundance.

  • Plant more edibles – herbs, or even bean sprouts, on the window ledge are enough, though Project Diaries on YouTube have amazing tutorials about how to garden cheaply/for free
  • Cook more – check out Madeleine Olivia on YouTube for seriously easy, quick, and delicious recipes, or Pick Up Limes for something more involved
  • Plan more – the better the meal-plan, the less food waste there is and the less money lost – an all round win
  • Walk or cycle more – it feels better than being stuck in a car, and could potentially save money on travel (or gym membership if you’re so inclined)
  • Read more – it’s a free hobby if you use the library or Project Gutenberg, and it’s a sustainable choice
  • Get more from your possessions – repair them so they last longer. There are so many tutorials online that the world really is your oyster.
  • Take more picnics, have more adventures – if you have your lunch with you, there’s less of a limit to where and how far you can go in a day (and it’s cheaper than buying something while you’re out)
  • Keep more money – I’ve saved so much money by finding joy in cooking new recipes, exploring the countryside, and reading books.
  • Enjoy more time – fewer things means less to manage and more time for yourself
  • Learn new hobbies – a few mending skills can see you on your way to sewing or knitting a whole garment – that’s a whole new creative outlet
  • Enjoy the things you love – by buying what you adore rather than what’s trending, you end up filling your house with things which are truly unique to you. And if you love the things you have, you won’t want to replace them regularly with new equivalents. (I personally have a penchant for 70s melamine camping crockery and old enamel cookware – both in hideous orange and brown combinations – but find your own

My life feels so much fuller since I started looking at things in this way – it feels like I’m living a life of plenty, not of loss – despite the fact that I’m consuming less. I think that we need to start looking at environmentalism in terms of what we gain, rather than through the prism of what we stand to lose.

What advice would you give to someone who was new to sustainability? Or what aspects of low-waste living do you think aren’t spoken about enough/are spoken about in a way that perhaps doesn’t tell the whole story?

With much love.

Farn

The Ugly truth

The other day, I went looking on Pinterest for some inspiration.

I love writing here, I really do, but sometimes I feel a bit like I’m repeating myself – that I’m not providing any new information. At some point in the later half of 2020, I began to grow self-conscious about what I was writing and it led to me slowing down in terms of posts.

I imagined people reading my work, getting bored of hearing about my garden, or the books that I’ve read, or the swaps that I’ve made.

Other people have done it all before and they’ve absolutely done so in a much prettier way.

And that’s when it really struck me – I wasn’t posting things which I thought were useful because they weren’t also pretty.

There’s a very specific…. aesthetic to low-waste/zero-waste living. Bright, minimalist spaces, glinting mason jars, soft brushed linens….

That just isn’t my reality, and I’m sure it’s not the reality for most people trying to reduce their impact on the planet. We all take baggage – literal and figurative – when we leave home. For my part, I took an entire Saab 9-5 full of stuff with me to university all those years ago, along with a severe lack of practical cooking skills which led me to far too many ready-meals.

Over the years, I consumed without thinking, and it was only in 2011 – after reading Lucy Siegal’s To Die For – that I began to consider the impact of the objects in my life.

As a result, there are multiple relics from my personal ‘before times’ in my life. They’re not pretty – they don’t fit with the ‘zero waste aesthetic’, but they do fit with the spirit of the thing, and so I thought I’d share them with you here. Hopefully they can help reassure you that just because you don’t have beautiful stainless steel lunch boxes, that you’re still doing a great job.

First up, my box full of ugly plastic bags…

This is exactly what it looks like. I keep a small box full of plastic food bags. I have diligently washed and dried each of these and here they sit, awaiting use! I employ them in my freezer, or – more pertinently at the moment – when giving my children snacks for school. Pre-covid, I used to bake them little cupcakes and back them in decades-old tupperware, but the fewer things which go to/from school just now the better. And that being the case, having these free bags as ‘disposable’ packaging for home bakes is excellent. Generally speaking, I try to get a few uses of the bags at home before I send them off with my kids, but given that typically these would have been tossed out instantly after unpacking the food within, even one extra use is a huge bonus.

And aside from anything else, I find it bizarre that we’re willing to spend money on a roll of freezer bags, whilst simultaneously throwing perfectly functional plastic bags out…

Next up – my ‘compost bin’…

This is an old yogurt pot from back when I used to buy yogurt regularly (I think I discussed yogurt before and decided that this is one of the ‘basic’ things that should be a real treat).

It sits on the side in the kitchen and gets filled with compostable food scraps. It’s ugly – especially now it’s so sun-faded – but it’s the perfect size to collect things in. It fills up quickly enough that we remember to empty it before it starts stinking.

I also have a load of these tubs which I use to freeze food in too – no need to buy special containers when I could just repurpose something that was free. It’s not as pretty as its custom glass/metal counterpart, but it’s keeping something out of the waste management system and that’s important.

Next up, my packaging supplies…

Yup. That’s where it all lives – in front of my dining room fireplace. We don’t light this fire because we haven’t had the chimney swept in actual years so try not to worry about the safety hazard all that paper near a flame presents.

Here’s a close up…

All that folded brown paper in the basket on the left is ‘padding’ from deliveries we’ve been sent, so I save it for gift wrapping. Either the children draw on it, or we use stamps to decorate it, and we reuse it that way. Also visible are some gift bags and some printed wrapping paper (which I rescued from the skip when we cleared out my inlaws’ house). I literally haven’t bought gift-wrap in years, but as a result, we do have to live around this… sculpture…

None of these things are attractive to look at. You’re not going to find them on Pinterest. But I think it’s important that we talk about the instantly accessible ways in which we can reduce our waste. I hope that this mini-selection of the literal (but useful!) junk that I keep around my house has given you some ideas.

I would love to hear some of the uglier things you manage to keep out of landfill. At some point, I plan to do a post about ‘random things which we’ve found and attached to our walls as art’ but this seems like a good place to start!

Much love.

Farn

The Ukelele, or ‘when we get it wrong’.

For Christmas 2019, I bought my eldest child a ukelele.

Money was tight. It usually is at this time of year for most families, but there are few freelance jobs in December (in our line of work), and the car needs a service and MOT here too – and on this occasion, a new timing belt. So I bought the Aldi ukelele on a whim when I saw it in store – there it was, the exact gift I had been looking for and under budget. It was even in a physical, real-life shop, so no packaging from a postal order to dispose of either.

Feeling rather clever, i stashed it under my bed and went on with the Christmas preparations. It was only on the 22nd when I took the ukelele out to tune it that I realised it was largely unplayable.

Let me be clear – the ukelele as a gift isn’t a problem. Its an ideal first instrument. Tuned to a chord, even strumming open strings sounds great – instant musicality. Its compact and light-weight which makes it easy for small people. You don’t need to read music to play – ukelele ‘tab’ music is accessible and easy. All in all, its a rock-solid way to introduce children to the creativity inherent in music.

The issue with this particular ukelele, is that the g-string couldn’t really be tuned without making it so loose as to be baggy.

So, with two days until the gift was due to be given, I called my brother and had him source a second ukelele online. This one cost £15 more, but the build quality was vastly superior, it came with a strap, case and tuner, and a small yet concise book of chords and tab to get a beginner started.

My eldest was absolutely delighted with the second ukelele, but this left the problem of what to do with the first. Initially, I planned to return it, but then I read this article. In short – most returned gifts are sent to landfill, and I absolutely didn’t want to be responsible for consigning a brand new object to oblivion.

In short, my haste, lack of research, and desire for a low price had left me with an item I couldn’t use, an overspend, and the responsibility of disposing of a brand new object – one that probably wasn’t constructed using best-practice to begin with.

I wanted to write about this for many reasons – but primarily, I wanted to show that everyone can and does make environmental mistakes. I spend my free time writing about how we can be kinder to the earth,  reading about waste reduction, and trying to use what I have creatively,  yet I fell prey to a tiny price tag during a tricky time of year.

It takes planning to avoid this kind of error, and planning takes time. If you’re working, have children, have other people in your care, or any combination of the above, then time is something of a luxury that most of us don’t have around Christmas. It’s easy to talk about shopping earlier in the year, or about making sure we take the time to do our best, but sometimes that either isn’t possible or one or two items fall through the net.

When this happens, it’s natural to want to berate yourself – to be cross about the avoidable error – but treat yourself the way you would treat a friend. Remind yourself that you were busy, that these things happen and that you’ll try harder next time. Then move on. If we begin attaching guilt and shame to the things we do which are less than ideal then it’s easy to lose the motivation to keep going.

In short – be kind to yourself this holiday season. None of us are perfect.

Preparing for Christmas

Last year, I did a really good job of reducing the waste our household creates over the festive period.

This year, I want to do even more!

To start with, I plan to continue my efforts to #CutTheWrap by using cloth bags for all of my family’s gifts. This will not only cut down on expenditure over the long term (never having to buy gift wrap again!) but it will also save me time – something that’s very presious in the winter months.

I will also continue to champion my low waste advent calendars, and try to gift as many eco-conscious books as I can.

But… what else can we do?

Over the coming weeks, I would like to talk a little bit about expectations, panic buying, and the need for research before gifting anything. I want to discuss whether it’s ever OK to ‘gift’ someone a library book, and what you can do instead of giving gifts.

These are all pretty big topics, so I’ll pause here for the time being and invite you all to ‘watch this space’ for what’s to come.

As ever, if you’ve got any suggestions about ways to make Christmas a less wasteful period of time, I would absolutely love to hear them – either here, or on Twitter.

 

Liebster Blogger Award

A couple of months ago, someone commented on one of my posts, and – as usual – WordPress sent me an email notification. I absolutely love to read comments and if the person leaving them is also a writer, I take the time to go and go and enjoy their work. I’ve found some wonderful blogs this way.

On this particular occasion, the commenter was Msdedeng of Read, Learn, Live. 

I was hooked, as soon as I read the post  ‘I shall paint my nails red’ – “because a bit of colour is a public service.” So true! Recently, I really enjoyed reading ‘First Things First’ and the linguistics student in me gobbled up the word ‘Endiro’. I absolutely love learning about other languages.

The other day, Msdedeng was kind enough to nominate me for a Liebster award.

If you’ve not heard of The Liebster Awards before, the premise is fairly simple – you answer the questions posed by your nominator, decide on your own set of questions, then tag other writers you admire. It’s a wonderful way of discovering new work and learning a little more about who is typing on the other side of the screen.

  1. Where do you get the inspiration to keep writing/blogging?

    I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember – my parents still have little paper books I made as a child and gifted to them! Prior to having children myself, I thought in fiction – how i would describe a landscape I was standing in, what would happen if a dragon suddenly flew over the forest on the horizon… but after my eldest was born, I was diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND) and the fantasy I used to enjoy so much became too much work. I switched to reading fluffy romances, but I never shook the habit of describing everything I saw. Writing a blog seemed a natural outlet for this, and it’s helped me to keep up my wordy skills. I keep posting here because I’m still learning, and it’s a way to keep track of what I’ve done.

    I actually have two blogs – this one, where I try and chronicle the things I’m learning about environmentalism, and The Inquisitive Newt, where I talk about the things I’ve read with the children. As they grow up, though, I write less and less about the books we share together because increasingly, they read alone.

  2. How do you find the time to blog on top of everything else that needs your attention?

    I set aside an hour on a Monday evening – it coincides with #EthicalHour on Twitter so I can do two things at once! – and try to tap out as many posts as possible in that time. I usually don’t even manage one, but as long as I can get the bones of something down, I can flash it out later. I aim to publish two posts a week – Monday and Thursday – but this isn’t set in stone and it’s just to give me a goal in my writing.

  3. What is the first thing you plan to do in the aftermath of COVID-19?

    My husband is Danish and we lost his parents in the last three months of 2018. I didn’t realise how much I would miss visiting Denmark, or the funny little traditions we’d built up in the time since we met there in 2004.

    I hope I can get back there before Brexit takes its inevitable toll and makes travel through Europe harder for me. My family will all be fine to go – they have dual citizenship – but I fear being left behind at the passport desk. On top of that, one of my greatest joys in going to Denmark is taking the dog and letting him run his little sighthound heart out on the beach. I hope that the powers that be see sense and continue the UK’s involvement in the pet-passport scheme.

So, which questions would I choose to ask?

  1. Has the Covid outbreak made you rethink your life in any way?
  2. Do you have any unexpected hobbies?
  3. What’s your favourite book and why?
  4. Ketchup is evil – discuss.

If you’re reading this and have the time, I tag you 🙂 Make sure to let me know if you answer – I would love to read your responses!

 

 

Unexpectedly useful items for low-waste living

Whenever I find myself in a bit of a rut, I tend to find myselflooking online for some ideas about low-waste living. Sometimes I’ll find something new, but often, I keep coming across beginner tips in low-waste living. Which is great – we all have to start somewhere – but I do sometimes feel like after a certain point, we’re sort of just left to get on with things.

And on the one hand, I absolutely appreciate just how much of a difference it can make if you take your own reusable water bottle and coffee cup when you’re out and about, but I find myself wishing that there was more being written about the unexpected things which help with waste reduction.

So, keen to redress that balance, I thought I’d give you a run-down of things that I find really useful when it comes to cutting back…

  1. Funnels – I really, really love my jam funnel. The wide opening makes it ideal for decanting things like pasta and rice, preventing wastage through spillages. Since we started using our local refillery for dried goods, decanting dried goods has become a fairly regular occurance and whilst I could technically manage without this, it does make life significantly easier. The example below came (I think) from Lakeland many, many years ago. It has survived many jam seasons, the dishwasher, two children using it in the bath to slosh water… I highly recommend. The other funnel is equally useful for cordial, homemade schnapps, oils and all things liquid. I use the jam funnel to refil glass yogurt tubs for school lunches – replenishing the containers with chocolate mousse, or homemade jelly. The jam funnel also allows me to buy mayo and other table sauces in glass jars, then decant them into old plastic ‘squeezy’ bottles.

  2. A Bucket – This one might seem a little random, but I honestly don’t know where I’d be without my bucket! I’ve spoken before about trying to save water, but that’s not easy when you factor in how my shower works. You have to turn it on from across the corridor, before running into the bathroom, stripping off and jumping in!  Having a bucket on hand to retain water that would otherwise run down the drain really helps for watering plants – both inside and out. I also use the water to wash the car. Whilst we don’t have a water meter (water is included in council tax in Scotland), I can imagine this being especially useful for those who do.
  3. A teapot & thermal cup – This has halved the amount of tea I use. Not because I drink less tea, but because I waste less. At the moment, I use a little red, enamel pot. It happily fills two cups and uses one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea to do so. When I make tea now, I always pour a second cup into my thermal ‘to go’ mug and come back to it later. This means I don’t have to boil the kettle a second time, use another spoon of tea, or throw out the unused no-longer-hot liquid. Winning all round.

The beauty of all of these things, is that they tend to be present in most households. Perhaps not the jam-funnel, but the bucket and the teapot are fairly common items. The others are cheap to pick up second hand, and the bucket needn’t be a bucket – it could be an old waste-paper bin, a washing-up bowl, a particularly large saucepan…anything which catches water. You don’t need a teapot either – using a heat-proof jug is perfectly acceptable too.

What are the unexpectedly useful items on your low-waste list? I would love to hear them – either here or on Twitter.

Buy Nothing New – month 1 review

So, what I have a learned so far?

It’s only been a month, and I wasn’t a huge ‘consumer’ before I made this pledge, so I haven’t found the actual not-purchasing as difficult as I might have done, were my buying habits different. That said, books and other things I ordered online before my birthday have been coming through the post in drips, which means I haven’t felt it as acutely as I might.

What I have noticed, however, is a feeling of what can only be described as ‘overwhelm’ at the quantity of things in my house. As I’ve said before – we’re not a family overburdened with stuff. I like to aim for a quantity of items which would fit easily into two transit vans, should we ever need to move again – one for me to drive, and one for Husband. We also have no storage built into the house. As a property that was originally constructed in 1901, there just wasn’t a need for built-in wardrobes…

Even so, I’ve become acutely aware that if anything breaks, I can’t just throw it out and buy a replacement. This means that I’ve been hit with a sense of responsibilty for every single object I own. I feel that I am obligated to repair anything which needs it because I am unable to replace it in the near future.

Really, though, shouldn’t this just be usual?

Shouldn’t we feel a sense of responsibility to care for the items we’re custodians of?

Anyway, in practical terms, how have I done?

I have made purchases this month – though as specified, these are not new items. I’ve bought:

  • A second-hand set of stainless steel sieves. Two days after my birthday, our 25p-just-got-married-Sainsbury’s-Basics plastic sieve snapped in half. We tried to glue it and failed. We then tried to live without it – using a collinder instead – but failed in that too. Rice just poured through the holes. I bought second-hand commercial cookware, though, so these items should – in theory – last a domestic setting a lifetime.
  • Four Woodland Trust Guide Books. These were brand new, so I think I’ve technically broken my promise in the first month, but these aren’t for me so… does that technically count? I was caught off guard when the opportunity to meet my youngest child’s nursery teachers arose. We went foraging with the class one day and I thought it would be a nice ‘Thank You’ gift to hand over something about fungi. Because I’m fickle, I’m OK with this – it supports the Woodland Trust and shares a love of the outdoors.
  • A two-minute egg timer. Bought second-hand on eBay, this is to aid in the daily battle that is brushing teeth. It’s made of wood and glass, and is pre-loved. I think it fits the bill of ‘permitted’ purchases well.
  • Books. In addition to the guide books noted above, I bought the next comic in the series Husband is reading, and a violin music book for myself. In both instances, I bought these items used, though ironically, the violin music cost more second-hand than it did to buy new. That one stung a little, I will admit.

And that’s it! A total of just under £70 including postage.

Has there been anything I specifically wish I could buy, but didn’t?

  • Cotton wadding for the middle of a patchwork quilt. I’ve done the top layer, have the fabric for the bottom layer and just need some kind of filling. I’m sure that if I wait, a solution will present itself, but I’d love to tick another finished craft off my list, so this one’s haunting me a bit. If, by November, I haven’t found a way to complete this without making a purchase, I probably will buy some wadding and use the quilt as a gift.
  • Buy a Stranger a Book via the Big Green Bookshop. Every Wednesday, Simon at the Big Green Bookshop runs the ‘Buy a Stranger a Book‘ event on Twitter. It’s exactly what it sounds like – people can offer to purchase a copy of their favourite work for a stranger. I think I’ll make this an exception to the rule and participate in this going forward, but for June/July, I haven’t done it because I felt like I was breaking my own arbitrary rules.

‘The 5 Rs’ – Recycle

A bit of a different one this time (compared to ‘reduce‘ and ‘reuse‘), because I’m not going to talk about how to recycle. I’m going to tell you not to.

Recycling is great – don’t get me wrong – but people tend to act as though it solves all of our waste problems and it really, really doesn’t. Yes, it takes less energy to melt down a plastic milk bottle and make a new one than it does to extract oil, turn it into to plastic and then make it milk-bottle-shaped, but it also takes much less energy over time to just keep reusing a glass milk bottle instead. And glass can be recycled indefinitely so is less likely to end up in landfill/the sea at the end of its useful life. And if it does, it’s less likely to cause harm throughout the food chain.

So, remembering the 5 Rs, we can see that recycle is the penultimate step. By the time we get to this stage, if we’ve been doing our job properly, there shouldn’t be an awful lot of food-related or general recycling left.

So what about the things which are?

Well, when trying to dispose of larger objects – cot mattresses, furniture, carpets etc. – I try to pass them on via Freecycle. Interestingly, if they don’t find new homes through this site, they tend to via the ‘Freebies’ section on Gumtree, or – back when I used the platform – Facebook marketplace. I don’t know whether this is simply because people don’t expect something for nothing, but for whatever reason, things which won’t move on Freecycle will go on Gumtree.

For smaller items which aren’t collected as part of kerbside pickups, it’s worth checking on Terracycle. There are various collection points for hard-to-recycle goods throughout the country so seeing if there are any near you is a good start. For those with a few more spare pennies, you could invest in an ‘All-In-One’ zero waste box but – fair warning – they are an investment. The smallest option is over £100 so this does price it out many budgets. I don’t think it’s something that I’ll be doing, but it’s always nice to see that the option is there.

For a lot of objects, however, thinking outside of the box is required. When we cleaned out the bathroom at my inlaws’ house we excavated a lifetime of spectacles, stacked in neat, sedimentary layers in the cupboard. On the off chance, I asked my optician back in the UK if they could do anything with the collection. Surprisingly, they could! There are actually lots of options for old eyeglasses, some of which are listed in a Metro article here.

Obviously, there are so many things we could talk about disposing of here – pens, scissors, cutlery… the best place to start would be to make a list of the things that you’re disposing of, either regularly or irregularly. After you’ve safely/responsibly disposed of said item, it’s worth having a look at your list and checking out the alternatives that are out there.

Using the example of our sieve, which broke the other week:
– I tried to fix it.
– I tried to look for a way to recycle it (but couldn’t find one).
– I threw it away and tried to live without one. I struggled.
– I did some research as to what alternatives there were. Whilst I could buy a sustainable, fair trade wooden sieve, I wanted something that I wouldn’t have to replace in the future so I looked up industrial cookware on eBay and found a set of 3 used sieves for £25.

Whatever you’re throwing away, take a good look at it first. If you can’t mend it, try to live without it, and if you can’t do that then buy to last. This is the theory that the website (and attached book) Buy Me Once is all about.

It’s also worth noting that some companies will accept their products back. The first example which springs to mind is the oral-hygiene supplier Brush’d. The toothbrush heads we purchased from there came with a stamped, self-addressed envelope which makes it super-easy to recycle the heads. It’s really encouraging to see more companies doing this sort of thing.

Obviously, if you can find alternative products to your usual choices which don’t need recycling then that’s even better – pencil highlighters instead of plastic ones, pens with refillable ink cartridges instead of disposable ball-points, online magazine subscriiptions via the library… there are all sorts of more sustainable solutions out there.

I really hope this was helpful – it’s a hard topic to write about! I’d love to hear what you think – either here, or on Twitter.

Playtime

I hear it time and time again when the topic of children arises – how can they have so much stuff?

And at the risk of sounding brutal, the answer is: because we buy it for them.

But do we really need to?

It’s easy to feel judged as a parent – to feel as if by not doing what others around us are doing that we’re somehow failing. But that simply isn’t the case – all our children are different and they all have different interests and passions.

But we don’t need to buy whole new sets of playthings for each of these interests if we invest in good quality, versatile items to begin with. And these might not necessarily be toys. 

The loose parts play movement aims to foster a sense of creativity and inventiveness in children by providing them with tools from which to create the things they want to play with. There is a wealth of information online with ideas all over Pinterest , but there’s also a really comprehensive guide available here, on Play Scotland’s website.

Loose parts might include things like shells, buttons, sticks, empty picture frames, feathers, building blocks, small bean bags, dried peas, cups, and old baking equiptment.

In the picture above we’ve got some corks, stone eggs, chopsticks, wooden fruit, feathers and wooden cutlery.

We also have some beautiful old Danish and German coins we found, whilst clearing out my inlaws’ house.

The dried peas have long been a favourite to play with – they form the basis of many a pretend meal, as well as rubble for diggers and landslides for trains.

Blankets are another wonderful item to add to the mix too – old cot-blankets are ideal as they’re a managable size for small people. These serve as dressing up, dance floors, doll beds, landscapes, i-spy scapes (in the case of one particularly colourful patchwork example) and den-building fodder.

With the above selection of seeminly random objects, we’ve played supermarkets and cafes, built bridges and birdnests, and done no end of collages.

This is the bird my eldest made, following a trip to the local falconry centre.

Over the lockdown period, we used the loose parts to supplement learning – shown here when we modelled parts of the butterfly/caterpillar lifecycle.

The above wooden tray is actually a bread-board I found in a charity shop – the dip where the letters are is intended for butter, whilst the chamber holding the rice originally held a grid for slicing the bread over to stop the escape of bread crumbs.

I used the grid part for threading when the children were younger…
Nowadays, it tends to be used as a musical instrument ‘scraper’. Running a chopstick along the ridges makes an excellent sound.

In the past, it’s also been used for Hama beads – the beads themselves occupying the butter cavity, whilst the plate sit in the bit where the rice currently is. In fact, this single, unobtrusive item has possibly one of the most-used play things in our house. And I can use it for its intended purpose when the kids have finished with it!

There are lots of possible games and activities you can make from loose parts – we’ve enjoyed DIY draughts/checkers, a ring-toss game, mancala, and a whole variety of transient versions of snakes and ladders. You can make counting games, where children place the correct number of buttons or pine cones or blocks onto the relevant digit (i.e. 7 coins on the number 7), or bingo grids where they roll a dice and cover the number they roll using – for example – a shell.

We’ve made matching games, which are great for early literacy – matching shapes is an essential skill for early reading. All I did here was lay keys out on the scanner bed, then press scan.

One of our recent favourites has been float vs sink. You ask the child which items they think will float, and which they think will sink and then you experiment…

The only limits, really, are your imagination… and the size of item you include for younger children.

You can make use of loose parts anywhere – they’re great fun for playing with in the garden and on walks.

Most of the things we use either came from charity shops, the kitchen drawers, or the countryside around us. Conkers and acorns were gathered on woodland walks, wooden spoons and chopsticks were purloined from the kitchen, whilst corks, bobbins and buttons have been diligently saved over the years. Keys were purchased on eBay and things like the wooden fruit and stone eggs were picked up along the way in charity shops.

Obviously we do have purpose-made toys too, but I tend to focus on truly versatile things – Lego, wooden blocks, vehicles, animal figures, dolls, stuffed toys, musical instruments, and STEM sets like Georello gears and Magformer shapes. All of these are readily available second hand (though branded things like Lego can be slightly more costly, even when used).

Loose parts are cheap, easily-accessible and versatile. A few small drawers of them can replace cupboards-worth of conventional toys. The ones I’ve showcased here tend to be made from natural materials, but that’s only because I’ve been trying to reduce the plastics in my house for many years now. Plastic bottle tops, plastic bobbins, single-use neon shot glasses, plastic straws, plastic pipes… these are all useful, valuable resources too. The point is not to elimiate synthetic materials, but to have fewer, more versatile items. This, in turn, will reduce the need for new toys, the storage to keep them, and the production of them – most of the items listed have either been used before (i.e. corks and bobbins), or can be used after they’re grown out of (i.e. the bread board).

One of the single, easiest things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to consume less. Loose parts are a great way to do this whilst fostering a love of imaginative and educational play.

I would love to hear any ideas for how to use loose parts – I’m always on the lookout for new ideas on how we can use them! You can contact me either here or on Twitter.

Need vs Want

At the start of lockdown, my eldest’s favourite club issued the following challenge.

We were given a list of ‘things’ and had to divide them into categories – things we want and things we need.

In a group setting, this was meant to encourage the children to think about and discuss the idea of actual need – so, things like food, water, clothing etc. over cinema trips, technology, and vehicles (for example). But naturally, we didn’t have a group, so we did the best that we could on our own.

It was interesting to see which items my child though were essential.

The picture above is terrible (because I still can’t find my camera charger and I don’t want to buy a new one), but the ‘needs’ included things I’d never thought about. Education, friends, sewage, clean water, clean food, shelter, medicine,trees and plants… at nine, my child understands so much more than many of the adults I know – myself included.

– What about the car? I agrued.
– What about the car?
– How would you get to school without it? 
I said.
– I wouldn’t. Or I would, but we’d have to get up really early and walk, or bike.
– And books? Education? You don’t 
technically need them.
– But without them, I can’t learn and get better. And if we’re not getting better, what’s the point?

What indeed?

I’m not posting this to brag – to say, ‘look at how wonderful my child is.’** I’m posting this because I’ve never actually sat down, with intention, to look at the things I need. For example, I’ve always thought that living where we do, we need a car. But my child is right – that simply isn’t the case. It would take over an hour to walk to the village, and then a further 20 minutes to get the train to town, and then a further 30 minutes to walk from the station to the supermarket*. But I could do it.

This is the case with so many things – do I need the lovely skein of yarn that will sit in a box until I can think what to do with it? No. Do I need another book to rest on a shelf indefinitely, as I continue to gather more that I’ll read at some point? No.

Do I need the pretty, ‘sustainable’ version of the item I already have? No.

I will definitely try and keep this question in mind far more as I move forward.

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*Interestingly, it would only take ten minutes to walk from the station to the butcher and refillery which is where I do most of my shopping.
** Though I do have very wonderful children.