Thursday, 14 January 2010

Books, Libraries and clutter

Books are special. We are brought up to respect them, not scribble on them and to never, ever damage them or throw them away.
That is why those of us who are old enough to know better often have bulging bookcases full things like a 1969 tax guide, with the pages stuck together because it got a bit damp when we spilled that cup of tea ten years ago...
The worst thing about book clutter is that it can actually stop us from reading and fully enjoying books. You don't want to buy a new book, or even get one out of the library until you've read the ones on the shelves. After all they cost good money...
Face it - if you haven't yet read Ulysses it is destined to be unread for ever. And do you know anyone who actually has? I never got past the first chapter.

Having begun to log our income and outgoings some years ago, we realised (or rather I did) that books were a major expenditure.
At the same time, we were shedding excess belongings in The Great De-Junk, and the books took up a lot of space. So some of them were sold or passed on in order to make room for new ones.
'How could you do that?' friends cried. Well eventually, either you need a bigger house or have to stop buying new books. We had definitely got to the 'bigger house' stage. There were books in every room except the loo.

The money earned from selling books meant more money for new ones, although some of it went towards paying off the mortgage early, (our Big Project at the time).
Here is how we did it:
1. Checked the library. If a book had been on the shelves for some time and the library had a copy, it was re-homed. If we wanted to read it again it was in the library. The same went for books that had been on the shelf for a long time and had never been read.

2. If a book made us feel bad, or had guilt associated with it,out it went. Several books our children had failed to return actually went back to the school. I had to face up to never being able to take my 25 year old mathamatical log tables book back to school. It was simply too late and out it went.

3. The money raised by selling books was extra pocket money to be spent however we wanted. Quite a bit of it went on new books.

The fatal flaw may now be obvious. Why buy books if you do not intend to keep them? WHAT ARE LIBRARIES FOR??? We had got out of the habit of using the library. (duh)

So now, after browsing in book shops or online, I write a book wish list, then go to the library and ask if they have them. Most are available, if not through the local library then through the inter library loans scheme.
(This means that if any library in your area has the book it can be requested.)
Here are some other advantages of getting to know the library.

*I am now a member of knitting groups (my passion) and a book circle in two different libraries so have a free social life through the library too.

*No one rushes you to leave a library.

*Some have talks, lectures and exhibitions - yet more free or cheap entertainment. But I am sure you know all this and I am preaching to the remember, though next time you are tempted in the book shop that the library probably has a copy.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Snow, sense and nonsense

Like many of you out there, we have a lot of snow right now.
About 12 inches actually.
Living in a village we have shops, buses and can walk to the library, swimming pool, cafe and other amenities. Actually for the size of the place (population about 3,500) we have a lot.

Having all that snow has reminded me just how great it is here. For 10 days I went hardly anywhere else at all, although most of the time we could get out if we really needed to - it just wasn't worth the hassle.
I couldn't get the car out at all actually, due to the water board digging a whacking great hole at the bottom of the drive then going away and leaving it. I could have got the bus to the local town, but could not go anywhere else.
Admittedly it has been a lot better since the library, cafe and swimming pool/gym opened up again after Christmas break.

I was fine over Christmas. Then I got stressed about the weather and not being able to get the car out. The snow's just gone on so long hasn't it - we are used to it coming up here in Scotland but it doesn't usually hang about for this long. And the seasonal break meant hardly any gritters or snow ploughs out.
The buses kept running most of the time though (and yesterday I finally got the car out of the street safely and parked it at the bottom of the hill.)

After a couple of post-Christmas days of Being Fed Up and according to my hubby a Pain In the Neck, I went out on foot to get a change of scene and found that I immediately got de-stressed and started having fun.
Due to the weather I have:
*spoken to people I had never met before.

*Got a lot of exercise shovelling snow, developed muscles and lost 4lbs in weight over Christmas instead of putting it on.

*Been more environmentally friendly and realised I don't need the car as much as I thought and can have an even better social life without leaving the village (I already do do quite a lot of things here).

*Used local shops more than usual and not found it that much more expensive.

*Got out in daylight every day for the half hour required in winter to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Apparently this is many times effective than a whole daylight bulb light box.

*And yes I also got frustrated with not being able to get out, but it was okay, actually and I am learning not to get het up about things I can do nothing about.

Just so's you know, as well as being snowed in, the access to our street was closed for 2 days earlier this week due to a burst water main turning it to ice. Before that there were two other bursts in our street. Unfortunately the Water Board dug a hole at the bottom of our drive and went away for a week, leaving my car trapped in the garage.

We have had our share of trials. Not nearly as bad as some though and nothing like the (now famous) Scottish Islander who went to get a turkey 2 weeks ago and still hadn't got home by yesterday!
How stressed we get about the perfect Christmas - would it have been so bad not to have a turkey, given the weather forecast?

I remember hearing on the radio about someone who went back out at the last minute on Christmas eve because they had forgotten the stuffing. They had been unloading the car when they remembered and drove off in a hurry, managing to reverse over the CD player they had just bought for their son in the process.
Then the car broke down in the dark on a bend on an unlit road and they spent the next 2 hours with torches trying to stop it from causing an accident while waiting for the breakdown company. I often say that simplicity is about more thinking than doing... illustrates the point huh?
The New Road Map Foundation website put it well about Christmas - whose birthday is it anyway?

Today a digger came up the street, followed by a gritter. We felt like cheering and waving. Thanks guys. I wonder when they will get their tea tonight and whether they got a lunch break?

Thanks to those residents and shop keepers who cleared their bit of snow too - it has made life a lot easier over the last few days.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The hidden cost of clutter

Once up on a time,we lived in a bigger house and paid a mortgage. We had been working hard to pay off that mortgage for 4 years when we downshifted from the countryside to the lovely bungalow we now live in, which is in a village with shops and buses and friends.

Then my sister, who ironically still had two of everything at the time, lent me a book called 'Clutter's Last Stand' by Don Aslett.

Not that we had an unreasonable amount of stuff - at least I tell myself that. The cupboards were getting fuller all the time and we had bought more cupboards. There were five of us and you know how kids accumulate stuff...We had come to accept that really the house was just too small. It was smaller than those of many of our friends after all.

Don's book is very funny, not at all preachy and is the 'original' clutter book, having been re-printed many times since it was first published 1984 by a guy who is actually a professional cleaner.
I laughed until I cried when I read that book, which is full of witty clutter cartoons and amusing stories, then lent it to a friend who did the same. Actually I left it in her front porch to see if she would guess who it was from. She did, of course.

Clutter is of course anything that you no longer need, even if it is not broken and is still useful.
So here is a wee clutter quiz - how many of these do you have?*those nifty little film cannisters
*empty margerine tubs
*used jiffy bags (unless you have a mail order business like me - when you find them you can send me yours.)
*spare parts for a car you no longer own
*paint in a colour you don't have on the walls any more
*old plant pots or margerine tubs that you don't use
*Oh - and what exactly is in your loft?

Well we had fun getting stuck in to what I now call Stage One Clutter.
Stage One is getting rid of rubbish such as old paperwork, cuddly toys, old jam jars and those margerine tubs. We still had every bank statement and pay slip we had ever got and lots more besides. it was all filed neatly, but lots of things got filed in that filing cabinet and not much ever made its way back out again. I got rid of 3 bin bags full of paperwork and had a bonfire. We were then also able to get rid of one of our 3 filing cabinets and put an easy chair in the office instead.

Stage two is stuff that still has some life in it but is not worth much, such as clothes past their best, plastic containers surplus to requirements, ornaments and old holiday souvenirs that are no longer fashionable and crockery that doesn't match. I see people down the car boot sale with this and it doesn't sell. Picture yourself looking at your junk as if it was someone else's and you will soon know.
I know it cost a lot in the first place, but face it - the money's gone and you are better spending the time on something else than trying to sell this stuff. donate it to charity and move on. A big clue here: if you are selling stuff down the boot sale and go home with most of your junk again and not much money you are at Stage One or Two.

Stage Three
Stage three is awesome! Finally this is where we realise that although the various types of coffee makers (etc) are all still perfectly good, we just don't need more than one and the space in the cupboards will make it a lot easier to get things in and out. It is stuff that is still good and worth some money. If you struggle to part with it, picture paying that money off the credit card debt or mortgage, using it to go on holiday or to help your daughter pay for college.

And - remember - almost evcerything you bought new can be got down the car boot sale. So if you do regret getting rid of anything, you can buy another for just what you sold yours for or even less. Here is a story to illustrate that point. Some years ago, I bought a £70 mini trampoline bouncer to keep fit. Once we had the kids there was no room for it any more so I sold it to a neighbour for £25.
The kids grew up and left home and I bought another one, new, for £25 because by then they had gone down in price. Net profit £45 and I had the space I needed in between times. Then I developed a minor medical condition that means I am not supposed to bounce. I sold that second trampoline and bought a step machine, reduced in price, for the same amount. This all took place over a period of some years but mini trampolines are still cheap should I ever want another.

So with all that in mind, we made over £1,000 selling stuff we no longer needed. We used some of it to buy new things we all really wanted, and made a point of getting the children something new with some of the money to encourage their efforts. Then went out for dinner as a family and paid the rest of it towards the mortgage.
These days stuff still accumulates and we still make buying mistakes. We try to just say 'the money's gone and sell it for what we can instead of having it clutter up our lives. I would be lying if I said we always managed it.
So once a year we try to have a clear out, as I swear the stuff comes in during the night of its own accord. Even with a 'one in one out' policy the stuff still accumulates, and we find reasons not to let something go.

We do keep a box in the porch for unwanted things though and that definitely helps. Anything one of us no longer wants can be put in the box. Having somwhere to instantly put the unwanted stuff makes a big difference, and visitors often have a rummage when they come to see us and make off with something. When those charity bags come round the doors all we have to do is take the stuff out of our box, dump it in the bag and its gone.

Anyway, the net result of our early dejunking efforts was that we realised that we didn't need a bigger house after all. In fact, we moved to a slightly smaller one.
We paid a chunk off the mortgage by doing it and although we had been paying extra off the mortgage for a while, getting rid of clutter actually helped us to pay the whole thing off significantly sooner than would otherwise have been possible.

Clutter tips:
1. Clothes don't seem to sell well at car boot sales, but good quality ones - eg Marks & Spencer, Next or other names often do sell well on Ebay.

2. Start with one drawer and dont try to do it all at once.

3. Think of the benefits when it is hard to let go of something - more space in cupboards, it is easier to find things when there is less stuff, you can do something else with any money raised...

4. How often do you use it? We got rid of unread books if the library had them. We never did get them out of the library to read and it was a relief not to feel guilt everytime we looked at the bookshelves. We bought some other books that we wanted to read instead.

5. If you only use something occasionally, such as extra glasses for parties, can you borrow or hire instead of owning?

6. Cleaning is much easier when you have less stuff.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Who Got a Foot Spa for Christmas?

I did a survey down the local car boot sale just before Christmas.
Here's what I found:
7 foot spas (there was also one on freebleayr one on Cheapcycle and one in a nearby charity shop.)
5 slow cookers (NB Tesco, across the car park was selling these on special for a lot more money...) There was also one on Cheapcycle.
3 vegetable steamers .
...And a partridge in a pear tree?? Please note - this is no reflection on the actual foot spas, slow cookers etc. I have a slow cooker (got second hand) and I love it.
But get this: I have checked AND IT IS TRUE. Practically everything I had have bought new could have been got down the car boot sale. Felt a bit sick when I realised it.

Why are we spending money on new foot spas and slow cookers when you can get a perfectly good one for £5? Could it be partly because it is not seen as 'proper' to give a second hand one for Christmas?

Do we also feel is it not good enough to make a gift, give something we no longer need ourselves, or give a gift of time, as it may make us seem mean?
We don't want to be mean, so we buy the new one. We are less well off as a result and the poor old foot spa goes into land fill.
Here's another take on it. Imagine the new one costs £20 and the second hand one £5. Get the second hand one. Then either:
  • donate the £15 to a charity and get one of those nice cards for the recipient to say what you did (chicken in 3rd world etc)
  • get your dear friend, lover ect a second gift for £15 and enclose a note saying why you were so generous.
  • Get this second gift down the car boot sale for £5 and get them three additional gifts with the remaining money...we could go on forever here and your friend is now embarassed because you are being over generous!
  • Agree with your friend that you will both buy only second hand gifts and put a limit on it of £5. This is a great idea if your friend is hard up as it takes the pressure off them. If they are the hard up one, they will never be the one to suggest it - it has to come from you.

The most fun we had with a group of friends one year was when we all agreed we would not spend more than £1 on each other. We got the most amazing gifts. It was almost as if because it was just £1 we didn't care as much and it made us Creative and Daring. The hit of the day was a pair of psychedelic orange and pink long johns bought (still in packet) in a charity shop for a gardening friend. they were meant to be a joke actually but he thought they were great!

Then there was the Bird Bower Year. We had bought these fetching little birdie resting places from the RSPB. To make it more fun, we took them out of the packs of 3 and wrapped them individually. I got a bit carried away and in the end there were 9 little packets for my folks. On Chrismas day, Dad opened a gift from my Aunt and there was...a bird bower. Then another And another. Turned out she had done the same thing. We were all opening bird bowers for simply ages.

We ended up hysterical with laughter and it gets talked about yet. In fact you only have to mention the words Bird Bower in our family to cause helpless giggling, completely incomprehensible to outsiders and, presumably, the RSPB who produced this laudable product. My Dad had one on every fence post for many a year and each time I sat in the conservatory and looked out it made me smile.

The last Bird Bower fell from our eaves a few weeks ago (sob). And I realised it must have been at least 6 years since that Christmas. (built to last these bird bowers but I don't think a bird ever went in).

so be daring and remember it's the people who make money out of Christmas who want us to spend money at Christmas.