Letting go of the perpetual box(es) of unsorted clutter

Ever since I was a child I have had a box (which later developed into boxes) of unsorted clutter. I now have way more than 10 of these boxes.  These are not boxes of books or boxes of paperwork. These are boxes of unsorted random items that you wonder how on earth they ended in a box together.

This is what happens….

A room or rooms in the house become messy and a visitor is due so in a panic I go round with a bag and collect up all the items that do not belong. At this point I fully intend to put the items away at a later date but somehow the bags get stuffed somewhere out of sight.

Over the next few days/weeks/months I might retrieve a couple of items from said bag once I realise they are in there, but eventually the bag gets tipped into a box along with the contents of several other bags and shoved in the loft. I get a happy feeling that the space previously occupied by the boxes is clear whilst my loft groans with the weight of another box of crap.

For me this habit started in childhood and the boxes all contained useful items such as pencils, paperclips, hair ties, Sindy doll shoes, game pieces, souvenirs like badges or tickets, erasers, marbles, used postage stamps etc, etc. All of these items valuable enough to be retained but not unique enough to merit me going looking for them.

Forty years later the habit is still there and remarkably the box contents haven’t changed that much. I can pretty much guarantee that every box will still contain stationery items such as paper clips, pens etc, hair ties, used postage stamps and some kind of souvenir such as a ticket stub. The dolls shoes and game pieces might not be there but there will be other items like coins, silica gel packets, clothing tags, ribbons, buttons, receipts and other random bits and bobs. Most of these items have homes. I have a little stationery drawer set for paperclips, rubber bands, pens etc. I have envelopes to put receipts, used stamps for charity in, craft boxes for ribbons and buttons etc. So why do these boxes of miscellaneous items get put in the loft instead of being put away????

I have no idea.

I talk to friends and it appears that I am not alone with these habits. For years I’ve blamed my behaviour on the fact that I am too busy or too tired.

That doesn’t wash any more. I’ve had more spare time at home over the last six months than I’ve had for years. Yes I’ve still been fortunate to keep my job and have been working full-time from home but pretty much all social activities have been cancelled and my home is messier than ever.

Perhaps the truth is I just don’t like tidying up and I’m a little lazy when it comes to housework. Maybe I’m just densensitised to the mess and the knowledge that no visitors would be coming anytime soon has helped lessen any housework priorities.

The bad weather in August prevented me from outside work so I finally decided to tackle my clutter. I removed a box that has not been looked in for over a decade and was horrified at myself. There were a few objects that went straight in the bin. Paracetamols, old lip balms etc but a few items found their way onto eBay and have surprisingly sold. Turns out if you hold onto your rubbish for more than 20 years it can be labelled “vintage” and people buy it. Who would have thought that some of my childhood badges and old computer software disks could be in demand.

This is going to be a long process for me. As a hoarder I struggle to throw things out, but by putting things up for sale it is helping me to let go. I am not going to get rich doing this – paper round would probably pay better, but it certainly feels like a giant step in the right direction. In just one month I have come to realise that I don’t actually want at least 75% of my possessions but I need to know they are going to someone else that does want them.

I have sold or given away around 25 items now and I feel a real buzz about it. Most of the items were small and came out of the loft so am not yet feeling the benefits of having decluttered them but I feel that I am definitely on the beginning of a new journey.

Reducing screen time

I can feel myself slipping back into the screen trap, mindless scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest and watching rubbish on TV. Hours can disappear away leaving me with a feeling of negativity because I know I have wasted so much time. Not only that a lot of the content leaves me depressed.

These are some thoughts as to how I can reduce screen time and really make it work for me.

TV

I have my favourite programmes that I invested time in watching and am not prepared to give up, but also find it is easy to lose 20mins here and there just scrolling through adverts. It takes willpower not to automatically switch on the TV, especially if you are not always in control of the remote. I am going to try and set a limit on the number of hours I watch TV in a week by only recording my absolute favourites and only watching recordings so I can fast forward through adverts. If I only allow myself a set number of hours a week to watch TV am I really going to waste it on something I am not that bothered about?

Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest etc

These apps are great for inspiring creativity and keeping in touch with people and news, but they can also have a detrimental effect on mental health and wellbeing. I see certain people who are constantly posting about depression and at the same time appear to spend all their time on Facebook sharing negative posts about politics and social issues. I believe a high proportion of these sort of posts are deliberately worded to stir up emotions, followed by arguments in the comments.

I’ve spent the last couple of years finely tuning my newsfeed, particularly on Facebook. I’ve selected my best friends and marked them as “always see first”. I’ve blocked almost all political and / depressing news stories from my feed by blocking the pages that people share posts from as they appear. I snooze people who annoy me from time to time for 30 days. If after 2 or 3 snoozes they still annoy me I completely unfollow them. Some of these people are lovely in real life but annoying on social media. I’ve also unfriended a few people who I didn’t really know but somehow ended up friends with them.

The downside to this is that I am now spending longer on Facebook because there is more to interest me. I also find that I get neck, shoulder and arm pain if I use my phone too long.

I need to try and set a time limit on scrolling time or only use it when my activities are limited such as on the bus. I could also try to not have my phone in the same room all the time.

Online games

These really are addictive and a complete waste of time, particularly those . Last year I realised I was wasting a lot of time on a game I had spent hours probably weeks of my life playing over several years. I deleted it and can honestly say I have not missed it at all.

Thoughts on better preparation

Sometimes I focus so hard on one thing that I lose track of everything else. This has happened this week. I have been so focused on the number of steps I’m doing to the point I comfortably exceed my daily goal by the time I get home so I’ve ended up eating tea then crashing on the sofa.

The downside

Whilst I am really pleased how well I have done on the exercise, I have been ignoring all my little daily routines which help to keep me on track. These include:

  • Preparing clothes the night before
  • Preparing food the night before
  • Sorting bags each evening
  • Checking emails, post etc
  • Keeping on top of laundry
  • Keeping kitchen clear
  • Knowing what’s for tea
  • Eating more slow cooked meals to free up time

The downside to ignoring my routines is the last couple of mornings not only have I struggled to get up, I have had to sort out my bags, food and clothes which combined has probably delayed me leaving the house. The knock-on effect is that it takes longer to get to work because the traffic is busier and I have to stay later at work to make the time up.

How do I stay on track?

There is no magic answer to this. I have one or two ideas to try.

  • Do things as soon as I get home
  • Review my to do list more frequently throughout the day so it is in the forefront of my mind what I need to do
  • Not allow myself to sit down on the sofa until tasks are finished
  • Eat my food at the dining table rather than the sofa so I get up again afterwards
  • Trying to stay positive and motivated
  • Resetting myself every day

Fingers crossed I will get back on track soon.

Pressing reset

I started March all keen and roaring with enthusiasm as I began tackling some long-standing tasks that have been weighing on me for months. Unfortunately it didn’t last and over the last few days I have been struggling to stick to the plan and some of my old eating/spending habits have slipped back in. In just a few days I have regained some weight and am suffering from tiredness, insomnia and indigestion.

Getting back on track

The good news is that with almost any plan it is possible to press reset at any point. It doesn’t have to wait until a new year, month, week. Every day is a new day and a reset can be done at any point in the day. Just because the morning has gone down one path, it doesn’t need to continue. It is possible to change direction at any time. Today I find myself needing to press reset and it is actually a good time to reset. It is the spring equinox and apparently the international day of happiness. Equinoxes are all about balance. Day equals night and it is a great time to address all the imbalances in your life and identify what is required to restore the equilibrium.

Asking questions

Today I am asking myself the following questions:

  • Am I happy?
  • Is my home a happy one?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Am I drinking enough water? Are my consumption levels of alcohol, carbonated drinks or caffeinated drinks acceptable?
  • Am I eating a balanced diet? Are my consumption levels of fat, sugar, fibre, carbs, protein, processed foods, fruit and veg acceptable?
  • Is the amount of leisure time spent in front of a screen acceptable?
  • Am I getting enough exercise?
  • Am I spending the right amount of time at work? Am I taking sufficient breaks?
  • Are my stress levels acceptable?
  • Am I spending the right amount of time with family and friends?
  • Am I doing enough of the things I enjoy?
  • Am I free from any minor little health problems such as as digestive issues, skin complaints, aches and pains?
  • Am I sticking to my budgets?
  • Are my plans on track? Are they working for me?

To any of the questions I have answered no (and I already know there are going to be a few) I will be noting what I need to increase or let go of in order to bring my life back into balance.

Frugal breakfasts from random baking lingredients.

My food cupboard seems to be largely full of ingredients normally associated with baking e.g. flour, sugar, flavourings, syrups, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Often these were purchased for a specific recipe and have sat in the cupboard ever since (sometimes years).

I have been slowly using up some of these items in my breakfast oats which I either have as porridge or overnight oats. Both of these dishes are very frugal and are often associated with healthy eating. I make porridge with water but if I have yogurt or non dairy milk available then I make overnight oats which is even quicker than porridge and can be eaten on the go.

I don’t find my porridge lasts me all morning unless I add some protein in the form or nuts or seeds and some fruit whuch helps flavour it. I usually soak, dried fruit, nuts and seeds especially the smaller hard seeds like linseed or chia which can pass through the system undigested unless the hard shell is softened or ground. Soaking also seems to enhance flavour.

Some of the ingredients I have used in my porridge so far this year include:

  • Various dried fruits
  • Various seeds e.g. linseed, chia, nettle, watermelon
  • Mincemeat, jam, jelly, marmalade
  • Sugar, maple syrup, golden syrup
  • Frozen fruits
  • Fresh fruits including apples, Rhubarb, banana, oranges, lemons
  • Other breakfast flakes e.g. millet, muesli, barley
  • Cake flavourings like vanilla or almond essence
  • Nesquik powder and cordial (in very small quantities only as they incredibly sweet)

This is slowly helping me declutter my cupboard and provide a varied breakfast each day.

Delicious dandelions: coffee and more

I took advantage of the lovely spring weather in February and did a lot of digging. Before I start a digging session I usually go over the ground and harvest any useful “weeds” so that they don’t get trampled. One plant I seem to have been blessed with an abundance of this year is the lovely dandelion. I find it very hard to throw a single plant away.

Dandelions are especially known for their liver and kidney benefits, but there are numerous other health benefits(1) in addition to the plant’s usefulness as a pot herb.

Over the years, as well as cooking and eating dandelions, I have preserved dandelions in numerous ways:

  • Dandelion leaf vinegar
  • Dandelion root bitters
  • Dried roots
  • Dried leaves
  • Dandelion root coffee
  • Dandelion flower wine
  • Dandelion flower essence
  • Dandelion flower infused oil

The two favourites are dandelion leaf vinegar and dandelion coffee. The first time I tried the vinegar it reminded me slightly of salt and vinegar crisps and I couldn’t get enough of it.

I have found a failsafe recipe online(2) for dandelion coffee and now automatically choose this as my preferred method of preserving the roots if I have harvested enough. The only difference I make is that I chop up the roots much smaller and skip the dehydrator phase so I have a delicious beverage in less than an hour.

My steps are as follows:

  1. Scrub roots
  2. Chop in food processor
  3. Roast at 200°C for 30mins (turning halfway because my oven is not an even cooker)
  4. Return to (clean) processor
  5. Return to oven for 5-10 mins at 180°C
  6. An optional further whizz in the processor (although if it is going to be drunk from a tea infuser rather than a cafetiere, it doesn’t want to be too powdery)

I will be honest in that it is not as good tasting as real coffee, but as I am trying to reduce my caffeine intake and increase beneficial foods, it is an acceptable alternative.

Edible stems?

Up until a week ago I had no idea that the stems were edible, I had made this assumption based on the fact I had seen the sap from the stems recommended for the treatment of warts, plus the green caylxes at the base of the stems tend to get discarded when wine making. However, I came across an article(3) which suggested using them as an alternative to noodles. This intrigued me and following a quick Google search I found references (on more than one site)(4) to the fact that all parts of the dandelion plant are edible. This is something novel that I might attempt to try next month when the flowers are blooming. I have already started collecting recipes for the flowers so it would be a shame to waste the stems.

Caution

Dandelions can cause problems if consumed in excess due to the oxalic acid content and it is a potential allergen in some people. The reference below(5) explores this in more depth.

References

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dandelion-benefits#section8
  2. https://www.eatweeds.co.uk/dandelion-root-coffee-recipe
  3. http://foragedfoodie.blogspot.com/2017/03/paleo-dandelion-noodles-gluten-free-keto.html?m=1
  4. Such as this https://www.fix.com/blog/dandelion-health-benefits/
  5. https://www.botanical-online.com/english/dandelion_toxicity.htm

Using up herbs – part 1: blending herbs

Before I started harvesting herbs this year I had already run out of space to store them so I took advantage of a spare afternoon and decided to go through some of my older herbs. I don’t worry too much about adhering to storage dates. It’s more important for me to consider how herbs are stored. I try to keep mine in glass jars in a cupboard. If they have lost colour and scent they are probably less effective. I would certainly never use dusty or mouldy herbs.

I decided that some of the older herbs would be fine for general use teas. I made up four teas and one general purpose herb mix for cooking. I’ll list the ingredients at the end but for reference purposes only as these were intended to use up what I had and provide me with free beverages rather than to treat any specific conditions. The quantities were variable depending upon how much was left in the jar and whether larger quantities would be too overpowering. The blander and abundant herbs like nettles tended to be the main ingredients.

All blends got put through my mini chopper until they were a uniform size. I use a tea ball at work (similar to the picture above) and if the pieces are too big it won’t shut properly so the contents escape through the middle; too powdery and it escapes through the fine holes.

All the blends have been OK but nothing exceptional. I had a really good night’s sleep after the stressbuster tea and the goddess tea was probably the most pleasant to drink.

Hopefully I will be following up the using up theme over the next couple of weeks.

Blend #1: Cleansing tea

  • Cleavers
  • Nettles
  • Dandelion
  • Red clover flowers
  • Ginger
  • Calendula flowers
  • Golden rod
  • Ground elder
  • Peppermint
  • Corn silk

Blend #2: Goddess tea

  • Lady’s mantle
  • Rose
  • Motherwort
  • Sage
  • Red clover
  • Nettle
  • Fennel seeds
  • Hops
  • Hibiscus

Blend#3: Winter health tea

  • Elderberry
  • Elderflower
  • Ginger
  • Calendula
  • Nettle
  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint
  • Sage
  • Ground ivy
  • Marshmallow

Blend #4: Stress busting tea

  • Chamomile
  • Lemon balm
  • Vervain
  • Rose
  • Nettle
  • Catnip
  • Betony
  • Orange peel
  • Hibiscus

Blend #5: General pot herb blend

  • Nettle
  • Dill weed
  • Coriander leaf
  • Shepherd’s purse
  • Hyssop
  • Lovage
  • Cajun spice blend
  • Coriander seeds
  • Basil
  • Fennel seeds
  • Marjoram
  • Yarrow

Homemade supplements

In the past I have spent a lot of money on nutritional supplements such as green powders and multi-vitamins.

I am currently working on building up a selection of vitamin and mineral supplements as well as improving my intake through my diet.

Vinegars

One easy hit is to take herbal vinegars in hot water as an alternative hot drink. I find this works well and I am currently taking a combination of lemon balm, nettle, mint, dandelion and horsetail in cider vinegar with a drop of honey. I pop a generous splash in a mug of hot water. It’s a pleasant alternative to tea or coffee although this particular blend is quite astringent.

Powders

As I am new to dehydrating I am intending on creating a range of herbal powders which I will try blending together. These can be added to soups, stews, smoothies and juices to provide additional flavours as well as vitamins and minerals. I have been powdering fruit and veg peelings along with some greens. As soon as the opportunity arises I will be collecting and dehydrating dandelions, nettles, cleavers, ground elder, chickweed and plantain. I’ve found in the past that some herbs including cleavers do not dry at all well yet they are available for purchase in a dried form. This year will be a big experiment on whether they can be preserved better in the dehydrator. I will also be looking at dehydrating more veg including pulp from juicing.

Teas

Some vitamin and mineral benefits may also be obtained through herbal teas. I will be making some experimental tea blends over the next few months.

Vitamins & minerals present in the herbs mentioned above.

N. B. More vitamins and minerals may be present. Where B vitamins are mentioned there will be at least one but not necessarily all present.

Dandelion:

Vitamins: A, B, C, E, K

Minerals: Iron, Calcium, Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorus, Copper, Magnesium.

Lemon Balm:

Vitamins: B, K

Minerals: Copper, Manganese, Magnesium, Zinc

Horsetail:

Vitamins: B

Minerals: Calcium, Zinc, Silicon

Nettle:

Vitamins: A, B, C

Minerals: Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium

Mint:

Vitamins: A, C

Minerals: Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Phosphorus, Iron

Cleavers:

Vitamins: B, C, E

Minerals: Calcium, Sodium, Iodine, Copper

Ground elder:

Vitamins: A, C, E

Minerals: Iron, Calcium, Magnesium

Chickweed:

Vitamins: A, B, C

Minerals: Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Zinc, Iron, Phosphorus, Potassium

Plantain:

Vitamins: A, C

Minerals: Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Phosphorus

Disclaimer

I am not a nutritionalist, scientist, herbalist or doctor.

The presence of vitamins and minerals is based on third party information which has not necessarily been verified scientifically.

The information collected has been gathered solely for my own purposes.

Some vitamins and minerals can be harmful if taken in excess or for certain conditions including pregnancy. Quantities present will vary according to preparation methods.

Please seek advice from a qualified herbalist or doctor before preparing your own supplements.

Organising and letting go of “useful” items

When you are a frugal crafter with hoarding tendencies you eventually reach a point when your hoard prevents you from crafting because you cannot access items or have no idea where anything is. Luckily my house is not yet as bad as this picture.

A lot of the items taking over my house would be instantly binned by most “normal” people I know. Some of these items include:

  • Boxes/bubble wrap/jiffy bags
  • Buttons/zips/ribbons/old clothes that might come in useful for craft projects.
  • Card/coloured files/sequins/beads/broken jewellery for sewing or paper crafts
  • Glass jars/bottles/unmarked plastic pots for herbs/oils/cordials/salves/tinctures/homebrew
  • Old paperwork
  • Old herbs and herbs stems
  • Tissue paper for wrapping or pattern making
  • Bags – paper and plastic
  • Old greeting cards and sentimental items
  • Old wrapping paper/gift bags/bows

The biggest problem I have is that these items are not organised so any one of 20 or so boxes of miscellaneous unsorted items in the loft could contain a mixture of these items.

What I am working on is creating a home for these items and setting a limit so that I don’t become overwhelmed.

I’ve recently been through a load of boxes and bags and extracted out all packaging, gift wraps and paper bags. I have a large plastic box and they all have to fit in there. The box will be stored in the office for easy access. I have a friend with an ebay business who needs a wide range packaging materials so I now keep a bag to put in items I will never use but hate to throw like polystyrene chips or small boxes and periodically I take it round to her house.

I’ve set up crates in the garage for glass jars and bottles and when I reach the limit I have to stop and recycle instead. I also know of someone who makes preserves is always on the look out for small jars so I can always donate some to her.

I’m planning on making all handmade cards this year and am currently working on setting up a card making kit containing glue, scissors, card, paper, paint, glitter, stamps etc so I can easily work on a few cards in a evening. At present these items are scattered all over the house. Hopefully card making will help to reduce the stash.

Herb stems and old paperwork are being slowly used for fire starting (I’m not an arsonist, I have a garden incinerator and a chimnea).

I now just need to work on the sewing items which is probably the equivalent of four or five bin liners full scattered across numerous boxes and bags in the house.

My ten top tips

  • Research recycling in your area
  • Create a home for items that are currently homeless
  • Once you have created a home tidy things away
  • Decide what your limits are going to be for each type of item
  • Store items next to other similar items so you don’t have to go to five locations to complete one project
  • Make friends with people who need your surplus items
  • Find out if any charities are collecting your items
  • See if you your items are selling on ebay. If you see a value in something other people might too
  • When you have decided upon a craft project assemble all the items you need then find a suitable container to house them in until the project is completed. You will be more inclined to spend odd spare time on the project if you don’t have to go hunting for bits

Time management with lists

Creating a weekly to-do list

I’ve started experimenting with my to-do list/diary.

At the end of each week I print off a copy of the following week from Outlook. It shows work and personal appointments. I also have print outs of months to a page.

I review my master to do list and realistically decide what will be achieved that week. I then draw a line across. On the top half I add tasks for a specific day and on the bottom half I add the weekly tasks.

Anything that crops up outside of week I can note on the relevant page and then tick off when I have added it to Outlook.

I use the back of the calendar to note things like shopping lists.

Categories

I have coloured pencils which I used to shade in categories which vary from week to week. This week I have a category for needing daylight so I know what I need to do at the weekend. There might be a colour for kitchen or one for online. These categories help me be more efficient. I make a little key up at the bottom of the page.

Allocating time

I then take different coloured pencils and draw outline boxes around the task according to how long I think the task will take e.g. <5 min, <15min, <30min, <60min, <4 hours.

I then add up all the time I have allocated and divide by 7 to give an appropriate guide for each day. If there’s more than 3-4 hours a day, there’s a good chance not all of the tasks will be achieved so I need to decide what is going to be the lowest priority.

Breaking down tasks

Any of the big tasks e.g. 1 or more hours I look to see if I would be more motivated to break the task into smaller chunks and space across the week. Typical things I often put off are boring tasks such as ironing or filling. I only ever seem motivated to do ironing when I am avoiding even worse tasks. I tell myself just iron 5 items a day. Why five? I’ve tried lots of numbers and five seems to be roughly my boredom threshold.

Using the lists

I like to mix things up so I alternate things. One day I might decide to focus on tasks of the same colour category, the next day I might create a little cycle e.g.

  1. A 30min task,
  2. A small chunk of a big task
  3. A 15 min task,
  4. A small chunk of a different big task
  5. A five minute task

I then repeat the cycle until I’ve either completed one of the big tasks or I’m bored.

I’m the sort of person that feels satisfied by crossing off lists so the smaller I can break down a task the more I get to cross off. It is also easier to persuade myself to do six five minute tasks than one 30 minute task.

I also add absolutely everything onto the list because I am more likely to do it if it’s on my list, partly because I get to cross it off and partly because I am so focused on the list I forget to do anything that isn’t on it. Sometimes I even add a reward onto the list.

It has to be said that I enjoy creating pretty lists a lot more than I enjoy doing the actual tasks, but the buzz I get from shading out the boxes when a task has been completed is immense. I colour it in black in so by the end of the week if I can only see black and white on the page I am happy.