Monday, 31 August 2015

The best things in life aren't things


It was the tea towels that did it.

I went to TKMaxx to browse, which is basically a euphemism for 'spend money I don't have on things I don't need'. I justify buying stuff in there because it's always a bargain, but surely it's only a bargain if it's something you need and at a cheaper price than usual?

So, I spent £6.99 on three new tea-towels.  We don't need more tea-towels, a quick check in a kitchen drawer tells me that we already have over twenty, so I have no idea why I bought them. But it got me thinking about why I am constantly buying more and more possessions when, really, there's very little I actually need.

On one hand I'm accumulating more things, and on the other hand I'm doing lots of reading about decluttering and minimalism.  I even bought a book about decluttering which I promptly lost; I eventually found it buried under a pile of paperwork on my desk. The irony isn't lost on me.

Last week I wrote about buying some pottery and books because they were such a bargain. This week I went back to the same shop and bought another jug that was too good not to buy.  I didn't actually need any of these things, and that's what I'm struggling with.  What am I doing buying so many unnecessary things?

When we moved into this house almost 4 years ago we seemed to have acres of space. It was, it is, the biggest house we've ever lived in yet since then we've I've managed to fill it with....stuff.  Our belongings have expanded to fill the space, and in fact some rooms are over-crowded. For some reason I'm stockpiling paintings, mirrors, cushions, multiple sets of bedding (at the last count we had at least 14 sets of bedding for just 4 beds), pottery, books, blankets, cushions, empty picture frames, and more cushions. Mostly piled in corners and taking up space because I don't know what to do with them, and giving me a constant, nagging feeling at the back of my mind. I know need to do something about them, but never do and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all to be honest.

The thing is, I'm on a bit of a countdown, because in just over a year I'll be looking to move to a (much smaller) house so the need to declutter is very real.  I've made some attempts to declutter recently but didn't get very far, mainly because I started in the wrong room, the study, which is a dumping ground for everything that doesn't have a home. I need to start in the other rooms first, so I'm going to tackle my bedroom first.

I should add that I don't want to live in an empty, sterile house with little or no belongings - I just want to simplify what we already have and stop buying more and more of the same things.

Apartment Therapy photo via Pinterest

It's going to be a real challenge, but it's got to be done. One thing's for sure: no more tea towels.

What about you, where do you stand on buying and keeping clutter?


These are the blogs I'm currently reading for inspiration:

Apartment Therapy has plenty of articles about small space living and minimalist design.

Just a little less written by Claire who documents her 'journey to a simpler life'.

Becoming Mimimalist tons of information and inspirational posts about minimalism here.

London Minimalists written by husband and wife, Frank and Michelle, who write very honestly about their need to declutter and live more simply.

The Minimalists a bit more hard core, but their post Someday struck a nerve with me.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

A week of firsts and lasts


We've had a lazy week. I'd taken the week off work and it was the last full week off school for Tall Daughter so we thought it was okay not to plan too much. Lazy mornings, late breakfasts/brunches, a bit of gardening, a friend over to stay, and plenty of walking with Alice, our greyhound.


It was also the week we decided to try vegetarianism for the first time, although as we're still eating fish perhaps that should be pescatarianism? Either way, we haven't missed meat at all (so far) and it's really made us think more carefully about what we're eating. We're going to give it a try for 6 weeks and see how it goes.



The Teenager's preparations for uni are going well, and in less than three weeks she'll be moving into student halls. In the meantime she's working as many hours as she can to build up a bit of spare cash, which will no doubt all be spent during freshers' week.

It's such an exciting time for her, and we're already trying to figure out how we'll cram all of her belongings into my (tiny) car when she moves to Sheffield. I'm dreading that day, for all sorts of reasons, but mainly because she'll never forgive me if I cry. She doesn't do crying, but as I do enough for both of us I think there'll be lots of air-gulping and eye-dabbing that day, but absolutely NO CRYING! I'm already nervous.

Alice the greyhound

This week we've also walked for miles with our greyhound Alice. We take her to the local nature reserve where she likes to hide in the long grass and wait for the rabbits to appear, then she chases them like crazy.  The rabbits stay fairly close to the fence and just nip through it when she gets too close, so she's never caught one, but it's fun to watch her running around.

Alice the greyhound
Can you spot Alice?

These long walks have been a good time to talk to Tall Daughter.  There are no distractions, so it's the perfect time to talk, and as she's about to begin her final year in school - her GCSE year - there's been a lot on her mind.  She's been feeling pressure to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life, because at her age (15) that's when people start to ask that question.  Teachers, well-meaning relatives and friends, strangers, all want to know "What do you want to do when you're older?" Why do we ask teenagers to make such massive decisions without much direction?

In my day we had careers' advice and such-like (not that is was much use) but she's had nothing like that. So, a lot of our walking time has been spent talking it through. We've made a bit of progress, no decisions yet, but there's still plenty of time.




Of course, it's also meant that this week we did our last ever school uniform shop. I don't think I'll miss it, school shoe shopping in particular is a special sort of hell, but even so it felt strange to think we'll never have to do that again.


I hope you've had a good week? What about you, are you dreading or looking forward to the start of school again?

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Reasons to be cheerful in August

It's been a good month so far, even though the weather has been a bit rubbish for what is supposed to be the peak of summer.  There's still a few days left so I'm hoping August will pull a few sunny days out of the hat before we say hello to September, fingers crossed anyway.

Anyway, here are my 3 reasons to be cheerful this month.

1.  Bargains

Who doesn't love a bargain? A new 'second-hand and collectables' shop opened near us recently and I went to have a look around and nabbed these.

The Ladybird books were a fantastic find - I have a little collection already, and a couple of them are duplicates of books I already have, but some of them are worth £5+, some a little more, so for 50p each I couldn't leave them in the shop.

Vintage Ladybird books

The blue and white pottery is Staffordshire Chefware rather than Cornishware, but for £2 a piece they had to come home with me.  The tiny green jug is Sylvac, which I know very little about but again was too cute to leave behind.

2. Uni prep

The Teenager is off to uni next month, and between now and then we have a ton of things to organise and buy. There is already a To-Do List as long as your arm, and my bank account has taken a severe bashing this week as she just couldn't wait to go out and buy most of the items on her 'Things I need for Uni' list, including those student essentials, a pizza cutter and bottle opener.  

Essential items for uni

Unfortunately, The Teenager has champagne tastes on a lemonade budget so most of the shopping has involved her choosing an expensive version of each item, and me popping a equally suitable but much cheaper version in the trolley. 

Her: "The problem with you mum is that you have no taste."  

Me: "And the problem with you, dear daughter, is that you have no money."

We visited three shops - Ikea, Asda and Wilkos - and managed to find everything on the list apart from a hot water bottle (she's going to Sheffield, it's going to be cold!) and a large sieve (suitable for rice and pasta). Our quest continues. 

3.  Week off

I've taken next week off work, which is just as well as I have plenty of things to do, including a couple of blogging projects. 

The Teenager is off to visit her boyfriend in Leeds for a few days, so I want to try and spend a couple of days with Tall Daughter, just the two of us, including a day trip somewhere.  I'll let her decide where we go.

Also, a friend is coming to visit from America. She's on a business trip to the UK and is popping over to see us for a couple of days. The last time she visited her only request was to visit Crosby Beach to see the Anthony Gormley installation.  This time she has asked if we can just relax and maybe take Alice for a couple of long walks. Looking forward to it.

How has your August been? 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

August review round-up - bizzybee, 7th Heaven and Hammamas

Bizzybee cleaning range
We were recently sent a bag of goodies from bizzybee who make a great range of cleaning materials, such as cloths, gloves and scourers.  I'll be honest and confess that it's a range I've been using for a while now, in particular their latex-free gloves which are great for people like me with allergies or sensitive skin.  Tall Daughter also has quite severe eczema and uses these gloves without a problem.

I try to use as few chemicals as possible at home, so their microfibre cloths are brilliant to have at hand. Not only are they kinder on the environment but you save tons of money on cleaning products and they work brilliantly. What's not to love about that?

The whole of the bizzybee range is colourful and cheerful and it really is top quality - I can vouch for that because their gloves last longer than any other brand I've used, and they are very reasonably priced.

I always like brands that go the extra mile, so even though I'm not a vegan I love that the gloves are vegan-friendly and the brand supports ethical events.  You can also learn more about the plight of the bumblebee (have you tried the sugar and water rescue trick yet?) and the work bizzybee do with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

7th Heaven pamper kit

7th Heaven are passionate about cruelty-free products made with natural ingredients, and they sent us a lovely pamper kit of face, foot and hair masks recently.  I say lovely, but I didn't get much of a look in to be honest.  As soon as I unpacked the kit, the girls descended and laid claim to most of the contents. The Teenager took all of the face masks, and Tall Daughter nabbed nearly all of the foot and hair masks.  I managed to hold onto one: The Manuka Honey Rescue Hair Masque which left my hair beautifully smooth and smelling wonderful.  The girls have enjoyed trying out the various products but the full extent of their reviews runs to 'they're great, can we have get some more?'

I think these are something fun for teenage girls to do at a sleepover - just buy a selection and let them try them out on each other, which means they will have to put their phones and tablets down and talk to each other! Well, it's worth a try anyway.

Hammamas cotton towel

I might be the last person to have discovered Turkish cotton towels but I'm glad I finally did.  We were sent one of the 100% cotton towels from Hammamas to try out, and we are complete converts!

If like me you're late to the Hammamas party, they are more lightweight and compact than conventional terry towels which means they take up less space in your suitcase or gym bag. They're also super absorbent and quick drying, and because they look so stylish they can also double up as a beach sarong.  Hey, if it's good enough for the gorgeous Simon Baker...

At £25.00 they're certainly pricier than your average terry towel but I can see definite advantages to using them, particularly for holidays.  We tend to take UK cottage holidays and by the time we've packed enough towels for 4 people there's not much room left for anything else in the car boot, but by packing these cotton towels it will free up space for other holiday essentials. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Teenager's A Level results day, and a road trip to Sheffield

A Level results day came and went on Thursday last week, and after months of studying and revision, the Teenager finally got her results.  She did really well, but unfortunately missed out on her first choice of university.  She was pretty devastated to be honest, and it was hard to see her so upset.  All of her plans, her hopes and dreams, seemed to be shattered.  It was, in her words, the worst day ever.

But, after looking at her options and deciding to go through the clearing system (during which we were helped by tweets from unis with spaces on the subject she wanted to study) by the end of the day she had a choice of offers - and after much deliberation and discussion she finally chose Sheffield Hallam.  It's a good uni, and the course she will be taking has received an award for being one of the best in the country.  The only thing she wasn't sure about was Sheffield, as she'd never been, so we decided to go to the uni's Open Day yesterday, and have a good look around the city while we were there.

We were really impressed. After spending the day there, we got the feel for a lively and safe city, not too big to be overwhelming, and small enough to be friendly and everyone we met said it was a great place to be a student.

So I was pretty chuffed when at the end of the day she said it probably suited her better than her first choice, Leeds, and she couldn't wait to get started.  After all of the disappointment and upset on results day, it was a massive relief to hear that. It's funny how these things often turn out to be for the best isn't it?

The Teenager is very excited, and says she's not nervous at all, but then she's always been a very confident girl and loves a challenge. I suppose going to uni is the biggest one yet for her, but I expect her to face it the way she faces every challenge - with guts and determination.

At the moment we're all swept up in a wave of planning, list-writing and thinking ahead. There's a lot to organise before she goes (bank account, meningitis jab, student finance, etc.) and tomorrow we're making a trip to Ikea for the Big Shop of essential items, so it's going to be pretty hectic for the next few weeks.  By the way, did you know a fancy dress outfit was an essential item for freshers' week? No, neither did I.

I'm not sure how I feel about it all to be honest.  My focus has been on her, and how she has been feeling about such a big life change, so I was a little taken by surprise when someone asked how I felt about her flying the nest and I tried to answer but the words got stuck in my throat and I felt tears pricking my eyes. Thankfully I held it together - The Teenager would not have been impressed ("Don't be cheesy Mum!"). Perish the thought.

And it will be okay, although it'll be really weird without her at home. For one thing, who's going to make all the noise, and need lifts here, there and everywhere, and leave bags and shoes all over the house, and ask 'What's for tea?' Oh, hang on, I have another teenager to take over that role, panic over.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The post-holiday blues


It's been a funny old week.

Since coming home from holiday last week I've had a very severe case of the post-holiday blues.

I felt like I'd fallen back to earth with a bump, a huge bump, which meant I soon started looking at property prices in Devon (expensive) and dreaming of moving there permanently.  I don't normally feel like that after a holiday, but I loved Devon so much and could really imagine myself living there.

I decided to talk to the girls about it, and see if I could talk them 'round to the idea.

The Teenager was enthusiastic, and as she is hoping (fingers crossed) to start uni in September said she doesn't mind where 'home' is. 'Do it', she said, 'do it before you're too old'. I think she was trying to be encouraging.

Tall Daughter didn't feel the same. I spent the next few days trying, fruitlessly, to convince her that we should move to Devon. but she's 15 and due to begin her GCSEs in September, plus she doesn't want to leave her friends or her paternal grandparents who live nearby.

All completely reasonable reasons for her wanting to stay put, and I really do understand that.....but, but, my yearning to move away from the north-west and find a better quality of life elsewhere is so strong and has been getting stronger ever since Dad passed away five years ago. I should have moved then, that was the right time to do it, but I hesitated and the moment passed, and now I feel a bit trapped.

My head tells me that now is not a good time to move, but my heart has been telling me for quite a while that we should move, somewhere near the coast maybe, somewhere more rural, or even just anywhere away from here.

I don't know what to do, and my head has been full of 'should we, shouldn't we' all week.

And then, amidst all my property searches on Rightmove and Googling 'the best place to live in Devon' and 'top colleges in Devon', an email arrived from an old friend, who I hadn't heard from in a couple of years. Turns out in that time he has met someone, fallen in love, married her and moved lock, stock and barrel to France. It was a curious feeling of jealousy and delight I felt for him, if I'm honest, but it was his insistence that I should follow my heart that confused me even more. "You know, sometimes, you've just got to go for it" was exactly what I did and didn't want to hear.

So now I'm even more conflicted than ever, which is helpful.

Since then, I've spoken to two other people who decided to uproot their families and move location: one family from London to the countryside, and the other family from Italy to - guess where? - Devon and I'm hoping to persuade them to share their stories on here.

Have you ever moved to a different part of the country, or even a different country? Are you glad you did it?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Choosing a holiday for teenagers, and why I'm in love with Devon

Teignmouth beach

Last week we holidayed in beautiful Devon.  We stayed at the Finlake holiday park in Chudleigh near Newton Abbot, which lies between Dartmoor and the stunning coastline and is the ideal base for touring north Devon.

I chose Finlake primarily because I was taking three teenagers with me (my own two, and the Teenager's boyfriend) so it was vital there would be plenty of activities to keep them busy.  It had also been recommended to me by Kate who had stayed there previously and thought the facilities would be ideal for us.

As it turned out, it was a good choice and the teenagers took full advantage of the two pools - indoor and outdoor with a huge water slide - as well as archery, water-walking, and fencing lessons.  There were plenty of other things to keep them busy, such as a tennis court, outdoor table-tennis tables, golf, horse riding and numerous other activities.  There was a charge for most of them (although the pools, gym, and table tennis and quite a few others were free) but they all seemed good value for money and were all well organised and supervised by the very friendly staff.

Teenagers in Devon

There was also a health and beauty salon where Tall Daughter treated herself to a manicure, and I had a wonderful (and long overdue) back and shoulder massage. Bliss!

Our accommodation was one of their 'VIP' timber holiday homes, which is basically a static caravan clad in timber. If that sounds sniffy it's not meant to be because it was well designed and kitted out with everything you might need, plus I paid extra for an outdoor hot-tub which I think we got our money's worth out of..  The living space in particular was very comfortable although the bedrooms were a bit of a tight squeeze, especially with three teens sharing two rooms. One small quibble was that although towels were included in the price, when we arrived we found 4 bath towels and only two hand towels, which I thought was a bit of a stretch for four people, but a quick phone call to reception resulted in one of the housekeeping team bringing over extra hand towels pretty much straightaway.

Holiday in Devon

So, the teenagers thoroughly enjoyed their holiday, and so did I, but I wasn't expecting to fall completely and totally in love with Devon. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful part of the country - the views of the beautiful rugged coastline and rolling hills are truly breathtaking, and I loved the villages and market towns we visited and passed through.

During our week there we decided to visit a different place each day, and although we visited some pleasant beaches (Teignmouth, Preston Sands, Paignton) we didn't find one to equal our favourite Welsh beach, Porth Oer, but considering we only saw a small part of the county and there are dozens of beaches in Devon I'm sure there is one somewhere, we just didn't find it.

I'm embarrassed to admit that it was my first ever visit to the Devon (but not my last) which means I have a lot of catching up to do. We will definitely be returning, definitely, and in the meantime I'm dreaming of living there permanently. One day, perhaps.

Have you holidayed in Devon?  Do you have a favourite beach?