Confessions of a terrible eco-warrior…

Well, I just did the WWF carbon footprint questionairre survey thing (official name, that) and apparently, I’m producing 108% of the carbon I should be for 2020…

Apparently, the areas in which I need to improve on most are…

…unsurprisingly, my household consumption of energy and my travel.

So, firstly, do I agree with this? The travel – certainly. The household – probably.

For balance, I took another survey and got the results above. There seems to be a discrepency between the two surveys – the WWF one puts us at 11.4 tonnes, whilst the second survey puts us at 8.44 tonnes. Given the UK average is apparently around 10 tonnes (according to WWF) and 14.1 tonnes (according to Carbon Independant), I would say we were somewhere in the  average range for the UK population… (…but then, isn’t everyone – technically?)

I’m trying not to get too hung up on the numbers, but I have to say – I’m a little disappointed. I work really hard to reduce the impact I have, but short of moving into a city (or at the very least, a village), I can’t think of ways to reduce our travel impact further and which are within our financial reach.

At the moment we’re running a relatively new (2014), small-engined Petrol car. It’s well maintained, the tyre pressure is checked monthy and I make a conscious effort not to carry excess weight. I suppose that after summer, the number of trips to school/nursery will halve as both offspring will be in the same building at the same time, so perhaps it’s just a matter of holding on until then.

In an ideal world, I’d be able to either swap this car for an electric vehicle, or add one to our ‘fleet’ (the fleet of one car and two bicycles! Ha!), but again – finances make this a prohibitive action.  The best I can do for now is to combine trips – i.e. go shopping whilst my eldest child is at their club, or visit friends whilst children are at school rather than making special trips. On the rare occassion I make a trip alone, I do walk into the town, but there’s no way I could do that with my miniature entourage – it’s over an hour’s walk, and health complications make anything more than around 30 minutes painful for my youngest. If anyone has any ideas on reducing milage when you live in a spot with minimal public transport, I would LOVE to hear them.

In regards to the household usage, heating accounts for just about all of this. We live in a 3-bedroom, detatched house in the middle of nowhere. When we moved in, I had no idea just what a difference this would make to our heating use, compared to living in a small semi-detatched bungalow and our previous terraced house… More fool me. Exterior walls are cold.

Eventually, we plan on replacing the old velux windows upstairs with newer ones (again, money) as the double glazing that’s there was installed in the late 80s so isn’t very efficient. Meanwhile, I’ve backed each of the radiators with reflective foil (I think there’s a DoNation pledge that covers this, but I can’t remember what it is) in an effort to lose less heat to the rock that surrounds us. We keep the ambient temperature to a cool 14C in the rest of the house and heat the living room with a log-burner as it’s where we sit. We wear a lot of sweaters. And woolly socks. And walk around with wheat bags stuffed about our clothing. The glazing is better downstairs, but I’d like to get curtains (again, money) which would help keep heat in.

We buy the wood for our stove from managed local woodland, and the stove doesn’t get lit until later afternoon. We boil our kettle on the top of it when it’s on – it’s not reducing our immediate emissions, but it’s at least lowering our electricity costs, I suppose.

That’s it, really.

And you know what? All of it feels like excuses. We could do X if Y… We could change X but… At this stage, I’ve done pretty much all of the ‘superficial’ things I can do. The next stages seem to need serious commitment, whether financial or otherwise.

To improve at this point we could: move to the village where school is, move to the bigger village where there is public transport, change to an electric vehicle, change our whole heating system to a more earth-friendly one, clad the house with insulation… none of it cheap, none of it easy.

It’s disheartening, because it feels a lot like I’ve plateaued, but I suppose I should take heart from the fact that we’ve managed to get this far without having to do anything drastic to make a difference. Which is actually a pretty interesting thought – at no point so far do I feel as though I’ve made a sacrifice. The actions I’ve taken to reduce our impact on this earth have either enriched our lives, saved us money, or both.

So, what is the next step for us?

Well, it will require some serious thinking. We’re currently a single-income, self-employed, EU-citizen-earner family, living in the UK, so nothing is certain at the moment. It’s not the nicest place to be, and it certainly leaves us reluctant to spend money. I think, to begin with, curtains are probably the next step…

I’ll keep you updated. ❤

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

Image

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?

 

 

 

 

Orange-peel stars – plastic-free Christmas decor

Just a quick tutorial for you today, but it’s super cute and uses orange peel – a pretty common waste product at this time of year!

All you need is citrus skin and something to cut it with.  I used cookie cutters, but a knife and a steady hand is fine.  A microwave is beneficial, but not essential.

First, peel your fruit in as big a piece as possible. Lay it flat on a chopping board and cut out your shapes.

Once you’ve done this, you can set the shapes aside to dry for a few days, or you can cheat and microwave them on full power for around a minute and a half.

Once the shapes are dry, they’re ready to use. I plan to thread these on some cotton to hang on our tree, but they would also be great as a gift tag – perhaps with the recipient’s initials on.

Some practical notes: larger citrus fruits produce larger skins, but they’re also thicker and therefore take longer to dry. With thicker skins, it might be prudent to pierce any shapes you wish to thread before allowing the peel to dry – it gets increasingly tricky as the citrus skin hardens.

So, that’s it!  I would love to see your results if you have a go! Send me a picture  here or on Twitter 🙂

 

Eco Thrifty Living – Zoë Morrison

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

Recently, I downloaded a copy of Zoë Morrison’s book, ‘Eco Thrify Living’, for my Kindle.

I’ve been following Zoë’s blog for a long while now and in addition to all sorts of really interesting articles, her list of package-free shops in the UK is so incredibly useful.

I think one of the things I liked most about this book was the realism of it – contrary to Bea Johnson’s (otherwise wonderful) work, this advocated the slow-change approach and I think for most people, this is the manner of change which will work best.

I also really like the format of it – it’s accessible and easy to read. I devoured the whole thing as I travelled down to see a friend and didn’t leave the book feeling disspirited. It’s so easy to read a book about the environment and feel helpless – too small to make even the slightest difference – but that’s not the case here. I felt empowered to continue playing my part as best I can.

As someone who’s been trying to reduce my impact on the planet for the past decade – at least – some of the information was a little basic, but actually, it was nice having the steps that I’ve taken ‘validated’. That said, there was lots of new information too and in coming posts, I’ll share whether or not the actions I’m implementing on account of the book are working.

Have you read Zoë’s book? What are your favourite environmental reads? Let me know 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.

Image

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!