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.


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.

Snow start to February


The last few days have been cold and brought snow. It doesn’t feel like the coming of spring, but according to legend bad weather on February 1st means that spring will be soon. This is because of the legend of the gaelic goddess the Cailleach who determines when winter will end. If winter is going to drag on, she needs to gather firewood on February 1st so makes the weather fair. If the weather is foul she doesn’t need any more wood so stays asleep. Hopefully the snow will mean spring will come soon.

This should have been a time for celebration and making plans for the future. Unfortunately I’ve been wiped out for the last couple of days and struggled to find enthusiasm and motivation. I stayed in for a few days had plenty of rest, a herbal cordial for lung complaints (which included mullein, elecampane, rosehips, thyme, ginger, plaintain and cinnamon) and lots of oranges. The result is that I seem to be on the mend and I haven’t ended up with a chest infection, which is a huge bonus for an asthmatic.

I had been sort of experimenting with some bullet journal ideas to challenge myself for the month. Some of which included recording my steps each day. I have done less steps since the start of February than I would do on a normal day, but now I’m starting to feel better I’ll be able to resume my lunchtime walks. Despite the slow start I am beginning to feel focused again.


Today I did have a result, I wasn’t up for a brisk walk so I wandered into a few shops including a charity shop which gives books away for free. Even though a free book would have been allowed on a no spend challenge, I didn’t feel like I wanted to take a book and add to my cluttered bookshelves at home. Next I wandered into The Works knowing that I have a £1.85 voucher to use before March, again there was nothing I particularly wanted so I left empty handed. Normally I would have bought some craft items but I didn’t want anything.

I really am starting to feel liberated by not spending anything. Life is less complicated. For a hoarder like me every purchase means there’s likely to be an item that ends up lying around because there isn’t any room for it to be stored in. I also struggle to use the bin so items like receipts and packaging get hoarded and add to clutter until I can get around to reusing, recycling or burning. I used to bring food packaging home from work to recycle. Now my bag is not full of clutter each day.

This feeling is something I want to try and hold on to so that if I start to struggle I can remember how good it feels to be liberated.

Five Frugal Ideas

Over the last month I have been trying out some new frugal habits. Here are five of my top things (in no particular order) that are pretty new habits to me and are definite keepers for my new frugal lifestyle.

1. Strict Budgeting

Whilst the concept of budgeting is not new to me – I’ve always set aside money into a separate account to cover bills, I’ve never really focused on what I am spending the remainder of my income on. This last month has made me realise just how much money I have been wasting on unnecessary items.

2. Saving fat and bones

Yes I have been saving fat from meals and using it for things like frying, roasties and Yorkshires. I’ve always saved bones from roast chickens but now I’m saving smaller quantities and adding it to a bag in the freezer for stock making.

3. Saving all bags

Before this month I only used to save carrier bags or paper bags for reuse, but now I am saving all sorts of food bags too such as the ones from rice, bread and apples. I try and fill these up with rubbish first before going onto carriers bags or proper bin bags.

4. Dehydrated peel powders

I have reduced my food waste considerably by using my dehydrator to make powders from the peel that would normally be thrown away. I’ve made orange peel powder and flakes for use as a flavouring and teas. I’ve also started dehydrating veg peelings to add to soups and stews etc. It is possible to save peelings in the freezer for stock making, but I never have enough room so dehydrating is the way forward.

5. Citrus vinegar for cleaning

I love the citrus peel vinegar, it’s a better cleaner than commercial cleaners, it smells pleasant and doesn’t upset my asthma. I’m a definite convert.

Just Survive January

Winter blues

I always find it a real struggle to keep going in January. I am permanently tired and when the alarm goes off I just keep snoozing it. I’ve also been hit by one of those annoying viruses where you aren’t ill enough to be off sick, but it wipes you out. This particular one has affected my hearing.

Having said that I am proud that I have almost made it to the end of the month without slipping into any of my bad spending habits. I am still well within the budgets and have achieved a surprising amount of things.

What I am pleased with

  • Digging part of the allotment
  • Using the dehydrator to make powders and actually using them in foods
  • Entertaining friends using what was in the house and less than £10 on mixers and snacks
  • Creating some nice soups and slow-cooker meals
  • Sticking to the food I’ve taken to work and not purchasing snacks
  • Being a bit more sociable
  • Getting a couple of minor home repairs done
  • Giving away a couple of small items
  • Going for lots of lunchtime walks
  • Just surviving without going off sick or breaking my resolutions

I’ve decided that February is going to be find it and file it February. This means that I am going to try and get on top of my paper work, my planned projects and find some motivation and energy.

My one major project that I want completed by the end of February is that the paper clutter is no more. The boxes in my bedroom currently full of crap will be empty and moved so that I can try and keep on top of things for the rest of the year.

Other plans for the month are to

  • Dig over the rest of the allotment
  • Make up some herbal teas for work
  • Harvest some “weeds”
  • Create a list of cards and presents I will need to send this year and work out what can be hand made
  • Blog more
  • Replace a zip in a dress that has needed doing
  • Spend less time on Facebook and Pinterest
  • Start on one present or card

It will just start with picking up one piece of paper and dealing with it.

Day 16 – Some Positives Already

The year is disappearing at a rapid rate. I can’t believe I am already 16 days into my challenge. Although the last couple of weeks have flown by I am already starting to feel some positive health benefits from my challenge.

I have been sticking to my set budgets and haven’t spent anything on non essentials or take away food. One day I forgot my breakfast and rather than break my resolution I went without. I did have an empty rumble by lunchtime (which luckily I had remembered) but it was almost satisfying because it reminded me that I was sticking to my goal. I love the fact that my purse, handbag and pockets are not full of sweet wrappers and receipts and I don’t have shopping to put away when I get home.

So far we have been blessed with some reasonably mild weather for January so I have been making the most of it. Most lunchtimes I have left my handbag at work and just gone for a quick 30 min brisk walk. I’m lucky to have a choice of pleasant scenery. I’ve also managed to get on the allotment and one sixth is already dug over and cleared ready for rotovating.

Despite indulging in the odd leftover Christmas treat I have lost over 4 lbs in the first 2 weeks and my chronic indigestion has pretty much disappeared. The slow cooker is getting a lot more use and some of the meals have been delicious. Tonight’s slow-cooked dish was a cheap turkey thigh joint which just fell off the bone after 12 hours on low. Tasted much nicer than the Christmas turkey.

My mind feels clearer and more organised although there is still a long way to go. I wasn’t able to obtain a free diary this year and in the spirit of no spend. I’ve just put important dates in as private appointments in my electronic work calendar. It does mean I can’t access it outside of work but I am writing the week and month appointments on a piece of paper along with my ‘to-do’ list which I renew each week and it seems to be working.

I’m loving the homemade citrus vinegar cleaner and bicarbonate of soda, it’s far more effective than commercial kitchen cleaner and I can’t feel it affecting my breathing. I will eventually use it in the bathroom too, but am still working my way through all the existing cleaning products. I’ve switched to vinegar instead of rinse aid in the dishwasher. Seems OK. I have been using half the amount of washing liquid and replacing with bicarbonate for clothes washing. It didn’t seem to be as effective on lighter colours with stains. I will try pre-treating next time. It’s fine on the darker clothes. I’ve been substituting vinegar for fabric softener and again seems fine.

It’s also easier to say no to things that I don’t want to do!!! I have a ready made reason.

I don’t want to get too carried away with my enthusiasm because it is the start of the year and we had a lot of leftovers from Christmas so the budgets might not look so healthy further down the line, but I really am feeling so much better for it already!


Darning for stress-relief

I have been suffering from a lot of stress and anxiety this year and whilst I’m feeling a lot better now I am trying to ensure that I don’t end up back in a bad place. Part of my therapy is to spend more time doing things I enjoy and find relaxing.

I have always enjoyed hand sewing even though I wouldn’t class myself as particularly neat. It’s relaxing and I enjoy making small objects as well as needlepoint. I stopped crafting earlier in the year because at the time uncompleted projects just seemed to add to my stress levels. I also struggle to see details in the dim light of the low wattage energy saving light bulbs. I literally had a “light bulb moment” and decided to invest in a daylight-bulb lamp. This has enabled me to start crafting again.

Several months ago I decided to throw out all the holey or torn socks and underwear. They got put into a bag and have just sat there waiting for me to do something with them. Bearing in mind that I am not going to be buying any new clothes next year I decided to to practice mending on the old socks. It didn’t matter if I messed up because the socks were going to be thrown anyway.

I have an old darning mushroom like this one which I inherited from my gran because it fascinated me. I have mended the odd toe hole but it has spent most of the last two decades sat in my sewing box. Most online instructions suggest using darning wool for socks, this is relatively expensive for large amounts of mending and a bit too thick for the thin socks I wear. I just got ordinary matching cotton and began darning. There are many online tutorials on how to darn by more experienced menders than myself so I won’t go into details.

Over the last few weeks I have repaired around 20 or so socks. I haven’t repaired socks that were uncomfortable or had loose elastic as that would be pointless. The socks with small holes are quite comfortable and the repairs are barely noticeable. I haven’t worn the ones yet that have more extensive repairs.

It is a mindful exercise which I have found really enjoyable. Not only does it help me concentrate on the present moment but I get a real sense of satisfaction when I am able to bring an item in use. I have expanded onto other items of underwear. I have learnt how to mend tiny holes that appear in t-shirt fabric and building up my confidence to be able to tackle some larger items.

I would recommend taking up clothes mending as a new hobby to anyone that likes hand sewing.

Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree…

Norway Spruce – Picea abies

Many evergreen tree species are used for midwinter celebrations and one of the most commonly used and classic “Christmas tree” is the Norway spruce Picea abies.

Some people use artificial spruce trees which are cheaper and easier in the long term but they are made from plastic which eventually wears out and ends up in landfill.

Many of the real trees are imported into UK from Poland or elsewhere in Europe. In order to get to the stores for November they are sometimes cut as early as October. They are then sprayed to stop the needles falling.

I buy my tree from a local grower who operates on a very small scale. The trees are not sprayed, he cuts them when you select your tree. Cutting down the trees does make room for the nearby trees to expand and no trees are wasted because he cuts to order. It seems that there are more local suppliers operating this way.

Obviously the most sustainable option is not to have a tree at all, but buying a local organic tree does help to ease my conscience a little. I do also use other bits of the tree after the festivities have ended.

To date I have never tried to make any edible products, but people do make spruce beer and liqueurs. The tips are full of vitamin C and used in teas. The tree has many medicinal properties and is used to treat a wide range of problems including respiratory ailments, muscular aches, nervousness, anti bacteria and gout. Most tea and beer recipes appear to be made from the young shoots in the spring. I have seen people making syrups and liqueurs Christmas tree trimmings but I would suggest that if the tree is to be used for medicinal purposes only the young shoots should be used. It goes without saying never use trees that have or may have been sprayed. Spruce should be avoided during pregnancy as can act as an abortificant. I might attempt to make a drinkable product this year or maybe in the future.

In addition the tree is a source of resin and turpentine which also has medicinal properties. I have not used the tree medicinally before but will be on the look out for a tree I can harvest from in the spring.

Each year I do save the branches from the tree. The needles have been used in amulet bags, vacuum cleaner scent pouches, incenses and seasonal pot pourri and once I made a wand from the top. Spruce has particular associations with purification, healing and protection. Some people might prefer not to use the tree for magical purposes in case it had already served its protective purposes and absorbed negative energy during the festive season, others think that it honours the tree and retains some magic from the season. Either way it’s very much down to the individual. An average sized tree provides an ample supply of needles and often there are lower branches to be trimmed in order to fit the tree into the stand. I tend to trim the branches into small twigs and leave in paper sacks to dry. After a few weeks the needles drop off into the sacks. The twigs can be tied into small bundles and used as fire starters. If there are lower branch trimmings they can also be used in a seasonal wreath.

The wood can be seasoned and used as firewood or even as a “yule log” for the following year. This year I plan to saw the branches into sections and attempt to use as discs for pyrography. I bought a cheap tool a while ago and haven’t got round to trying it yet. I might make some rustic tree decorations.

I also intend to experiment with infusions and vinegars in cleaning products given its anti-bacterial properties and its similarity to pine which is a common fragrance for commercial disinfectant products and pine needles are used in homemade cleaning products.

I will create further posts once I start to experiment.

Further reading / sources

Fixing a broken zip

Today’s big achievement was that this wonderful post appeared on my Pinterest feed

I remembered a coat that hadn’t been worn for a few years because the zipper was stuck halfway and I hadn’t got around to replacing it. I followed the advice on the YouTube video and within minutes the zip was repaired.

For an added precaution I rubbed the zipper with a wax crayon to help it slide up and down easier. Another tip I read somewhere.

Frugal tip

I keep some cheap wax crayons, coloured pencils and a couple of colouring books at home in case people drop by with kids and wax crayons seem to have several other uses around the home.

Frugal Celery Soup

How I reclaimed my Sunday

Having lain in bed until well past 2pm this afternoon with a packet of custard creams and a bad case of feline paralysis (where I was unable to move due to two cats lying on me), I decided enough was enough. Laziness is not conducive to a frugal lifestyle.

I spent the last hour of sunlight picking the remaining green tomatoes from my greenhouse to ripen indoors and I started to pull up the withered plants.

I then went indoors and decided to tackle the two buckets of vegetables I picked from the allotment yesterday: beetroot, carrots, parsnips, leeks, kale, red cabbage, chard, celeriac and celery. There were several feeble looking heads of celery which were already going limp. I’d picked them in case the weather turned as last year I lost my entire crop to frost. I decided on celery soup. My home grown celery is quite far removed from supermarket celery; the stems are much thinner and tougher and full of mud and little creatures. I painstakingly scrubbed the celery using the leafy bits, I also slowly washed all the mud from the two tiny celeriac and chopped up the bits that we don’t normally see (the long, straggly roots and the celery-like, leafy tops). All this took the best part of an hour. I also chopped up the leafy green bits from half a dozen leeks, a couple of shallots, four garlic cloves and a red onion. I sautéed the onions and leeks in a bit of oil for a few mins then added the celery and wilted for a bit. Meanwhile I scrubbed and peeled some of the last few potatoes from the summer (about 1lb). I added these to the pan along with some Italian seasoning and four stock cubes dissolved in about 3 and a half pints of water, simmered for about 40mins, then cooled for a bit before blending. It actually tasted OK. I was worried it might be a bit bitter due to the large quantity of leaf in it but it was a good consistency and quite edible. It made 8 good sized portions for the freezer.

I also managed two loads of washing, cooked a roast, did the washing up, prepped breakfast and lunch for tomorrow and scrubbed all of the allotment veg. I know the veg keeps slowly slightly better in its muddy state but I don’t have a nice cool outhouse to keep it in so I prefer to get the mess over in one hit. I find washed kale, spinach and chard along with any decent beetroot tops keep really well in a lidded plastic container in the fridge. The other veg I keep in the salad tray. In my attempt at frugality I have lined the salad tray with an old tea towel and used an old tea towel to dry the veg, both instead of using paper towels. I only picked enough for a week anyway and there should be enough for some more soup although I don’t know where I’ll find room in the freezer for it.

My other frugal project of the day was to start off a jar with citrus peel and white vinegar. This will be diluted 50:50 with water and used in a spray bottle as a multi-purpose cleaner.

All in all I am quite pleased with what I have achieved considering I spent half the day in bed.