october-recipe-book[Smug/saddo alert]  I am now the embarrassingly proud creator and owner of an A4 plastic-sleeve-folder (many of the plastic sleeves being original Woolworths, I’ll have you know) of recipes I most often use and like.  I even typed them out, over 40 of them.  And I found packets of unused index tabs so I’ve placed them in alphabetical order.  In fact, it’s been a gift that keeps on giving on more levels than expected.

I started this “sort my recipes out” project thinking it would largely entail literal cutting and pasting and hole punching of recipe clippings.  [I actually do feel a bit sad getting so excited and enthusiastic about this challenge]  That’s how it started and I found it tedious and, flicking through the recipes I had in the two folders I have been filling for years, I realised most recipes had never been used, I didn’t remember I had them and there was no logical way to file them that I would remember where they were.

My productivity levels dropped to non-existent by the middle of the month and I started thinking of ways to justify abandoning this challenge.  I didn’t have any enthusiasm for the files’ layout, the haphazard and inconsistent order and format, and knew I would look at the files no more than I had done previously.

Having failed to come up with more convincing reasons not to complete the challenge, I reluctantly started photocopying a couple of pages in a recipe book to reignite a semblance of progress.  However, the dark font on dark paper within a small, fat recipe book resulted in a copy, no exaggeration, that had a murky outline of part of my hand, a jaunty angle that cut off the measures required and anyway I could barely read the dark-on-dark page.  In an uncharacteristic bout of quick-thinking, I decided to type those particular recipes out.  I then thought about frequently used recipes from my vast cookery book collection and had a sudden epiphany that I could type out all my favourites.

It took me most of a Saturday on an unexpected roll and probably another day’s worth of “work” over a few days to choose them and type them out, but I now have my favourite recipes in that file, have used about five of them that I hadn’t used in a while and have put them in an order that makes sense to me, like “Fish” recipes together under “F” as opposed to being under “C” for cod or “S” for sea bass”, for example [inwardly I cringe at my smug OCDness here].  I have even started writing notes on them as I use them, eg my recent spaghetti carbonara prompted an advisory not to bother making it if there isn’t enough Parmesan and/or pancetta (bland, it transpires).  It turns out I have an inner organised self, though I can appreciate there is a fine line between being a bit anal and being organised.

As for November, I struggled to think what to do as I felt it was time for a month of treats and I seem to favour challenges.  I thought about making plans to meet up with friends I haven’t seen recently, but that didn’t feel appropriate for a challenge; I’ll do that anyway.  I thought about not shopping in supermarkets, but on 1st November, while still pondering what to do for the month, I bought some ingredients from a supermarket.  I then thought about the many things I do that annoy me …

I spend too much time walking while texting and emailing or looking at social media.  I hate that I do that, so I will refrain from reading or “typing” on my mobile while walking.  I will answer the phone if it rings but I will not make any calls unless I’m standing or sitting.  I will look at Google Maps if I need it but otherwise, beyond taking photos and looking at the time, I will not use my mobile phone while walking for the month of November.




Slightly organised photo floor-takeover

I have failed to complete my July photo challenge in time.  I’m on a bit of a roll though and hope to (sort of) finish two or three days late.

I took the photo to illustrate where I was in the photo-sorting process at the end of July.  Since then I have made use of an excess of A4 plastic wallets and small coloured stickers.  Most photos are now either in their correct year pile, awaiting confirmation from friends as to when they got married/when certain holidays were taken, or are in their “probably that year” pile. 

I have not felt inspired to sort them for albums or display, though a lot of my favourite holidays and experiences are already in albums and my digital photos are sort of dealt with by being in albums on my computer. 

I separated photos into 22 years, ending in 2014, which seems to have been the last year I printed a load of digital photos and used one of my film cameras.

Quite a few people who know I’ve been trying to sort photos have said that they want to do this but that they imagine it would take too long.  I have wanted to do this for years and ended up thinking that if I set myself a challenge within a month, I would stand a chance of completing it.  I also predicted I would feel nostalgic and melancholy, which I was kind of dreading.

Although I’m writing this before I’ve finished, it hasn’t gone at all how I expected.  I decided to sort them chronologically, which would have been fine had I heeded my mum’s advice to always label and date photos.  There then materialised some obvious groupings, eg I lived in Japan for two and a half years and the photos that aren’t in albums are nigh on impossible for me to date, so a “Japan years” plastic wallet (wallets) now exists.  Likewise for my time at university in Reading and then Mississippi and for the years I had a very sociable allotment.

I have thrown out hundreds of photos, mainly out of focus, of (uninteresting) location unknown and generally awful/repetitive ones.  I still have hundreds more though. 


Time-wise, I didn’t get going until almost half way through July, so in some respects it’s not surprising I didn’t finish.  I started in earnest by taking them all out of packets and piling them up.  I then spent a few days pondering the task of sorting them as impossible.  I wrote out a year on a piece of paper for the years I figured needed sorting, 22 of them, and started trying to sort them into piles within the years.  That was when I started emailing and texting a lot of friends to ask when they got married, had children, when we went on holiday, etc.  It’s been a very good month for catching up and reminiscing with a few people I hadn’t been in touch with for a few months or so.  I then sorted them into events or sort of clusters and wrote a sticker to go on the plastic bag for the event.  This hasn’t amounted to as much labelling as it might sound like occurred and was one of the easiest aspects of dealing with the chronology.

Surprisingly, I haven’t dwelled on certain pictures or the joys of my rose-tinted 20s, but I have found it interesting how large some piles are compared to others.   My largest piles of photos, a lot of which are travel photos, have actually been in my 30s. 

Another surprise is that, looking at friends more than me, a lot of them, the vast majority, look better now they’re older than when I first met them in their teens or early 20s.  Looking at them from a chronological perspective is really interesting.  I can see individual styles forming and it’s really unexpected and fascinating to see.  Pretty much all of us have gone up and down in weight too and it’s also interesting to see how much of a difference that makes to who looks best when.

To feel I have completed the challenge, albeit now late, I would like the rest of them to be in the labelled plastic wallets (eight years to go) and back in the dreaded huge white box that there is no way I can now abandon!  However, I don’t feel inclined to do anything with the photos and I feel more detached from these photos than I could have imagined possible before starting this.

Once I’ve thought more about my emerging controversial thoughts on photos, I think I probably will do something with a few of the photos; I just don’t know what yet.

For my August challenge, as I will have little or no work, I thought something suitably holiday-esque would be in order and, as I’ve been trying to read the same book for three months, I decided to read for at least 30 minutes every day in August.  It may not sound like a challenge but, now I have a shorter commute than from either Folkestone or Whitstable, when I read most mornings and evenings, I barely read now and I have never been good at reading at night time because I’m always sleepy and neither want nor need to read.  I am too good at using free time just sitting and staring into space so maybe this will get me using my sitting and staring time more productively.  Surely I can’t fail this month’s challenge?!

Before the tidy

The kitchen BEFORE (I would hope that’s obvious). Please humour me and observe the cupboards before and after as I am particularly impressed by their improvements, both aesthetically and practically

After the tidy

Still far too much stuff but that’s a whole other can of worms! Look at the cupboards, so much less messy. I am not a fan of clear cupboard doors, but if they weren’t clear, I fear they would never be tidied and ordered.

To some people, I will be opening myself up to ridicule by suggesting my “kitchen revamp” is worthy of being a blog post when all it appears to be is a much needed kitchen tidy.  It may also be noted that I am not remotely minimalist, though nor do I want to be.  But I would love a bigger kitchen/more storage space to enable a degree of minimalism where work surfaces are concerned.  Anyway, a blatant digression.

I have laboured under the belief that this has been a worthy project and the moving around of things and the tidying of food and stuff is a major achievement.  In my world, thinking of it as a project, complete with excessively loud old school club classics as my soundtrack, made it a far more enjoyable and significant endeavour.  Thus, tidying can be fun.  Sort of.

There is absolutely no need to go into detail about “how I created the look” because that would be embarrassing to me and outrageously patronising to you, but if this inspires just one person to feel enthusiastic about a big kitchen clean and tidy, our 10pm dinner (as a result of the carnage I created), three trips to the bins, the discovery of a large frozen spider in the shouldn’t-have-been-frozen bottom of the fridge and a lot of washing up will all have been worthwhile.

Too much clutter (and a few lunch things needing to be washed up or put away)

Too much clutter (and a few lunch things needing to be washed up or put away)

I would like to point out that the before photos are with lunch stuff out and the emptied

Still lots of stuff out but definitely more work space and order

Still lots of stuff out but definitely more work space and order

dishwasher contents by the side of the hob, so it was never always that untidy.

As for the cupboards, the ugly opened plastic packaging of food is now behind the less messy boxes and storage containers I had.  I have used some of the things previously stored on top of the cupboards (eg the bread tin now has bread in it; how innovative) and I ruthlessly threw things out that were past their prime or which I was prepared to accept I would never use (puffed amaranth – what was I thinking when I decided that should feature in my diet?!).

All in all, an evening and morning well spent .  Though, annoyingly, I am now more aware than before that I have too much stuff for too small a kitchen for too many rare eventualities and, probably worst of all, my cooker needs cleaning and there is no joy to be had from cleaning cookers.  Or is there … (bollocks there is, it’s a horrid job, and that’s not even taking into account the heroically-ish achieved back strain resulting from my last attempt)

A reminder of how much stuff I have in the kitchen. But at least it looks better now. How long will the relative tidiness last, I wonder?!

Before, though I would like to point out the pans etc by the side of the sink are from the dishwasher, to be put away

Before, though I would like to point out the pans etc by the side of the sink are from the dishwasher, to be put away. I took the photo just ahead of starting and wanted it to look authentic

{29/11/2012}   A new toilet seat

I am staying in the flat I used to live in in Peckham.  For the past three and a half years I’ve on and off lived here, one of the two toilets has irritated me no end as the toilet seat moves around and a few times I’ve slid off it and ended up partially seated on the cold and often grubby toilet bowl.  Until Sunday, I had never bought a toilet seat before.  My life appears to be enhanced by the presence of a new and colourful toilet seat in that bathroom now.  I have also discovered that there are a lot of different kinds of toilet seats out there.

I never thought I’d get enthusiastic about toilet seats but here I am writing a post about them!  My quest began early last week when I first started saying here and had an early near-incident sliding on the toilet seat.  I tried to mend it, as indeed I have tried on many occasions before, but the fixture was well and truly broken.  Also, the seat itself was a little flimsy and unsatisfying.

I had a look in Sainsbury’s where, to my surprise, there was a toilet seat for sale, but it was white and £18 and this didn’t seem nice.  I realised I didn’t want a white toilet seat.  I looked in a few other supermarkets but they didn’t sell any.  I then went into one of my favourite shops, Kristal’s in Nunhead, a pharmacy that also sells pretty much everything.  I couldn’t see one but I asked and about two minutes later a very bright toilet seat was produced.  I recoiled when I saw it and rejected it, though it was better quality than the flimsy black plastic one that was currently hanging on for dear life.  It was a rather bright blue plastic with an underwater fish scene, lots of brightly coloured fish – £10.95.  Sorry, but I didn’t feel either Chris or I were bright tropical fish toilet seat kind of people.

I then tried online.  Oh my, there are so many different toilet seats.  I realise I don’t like novelty pictures, I didn’t want wood coloured wood, no white, no clear plastic, no water mark effects (I would end up wiping the toilet seat too often, thinking it was covered in dribble), no glitter … the list went on.  I couldn’t even find one I liked amidst all of them.

Then on Sunday, having failed to find a loo seat in a Tesco Extra, I detoured to Argos.  They had a whole page of wooden toilet seats (though not wood as I know it, but never mind) that were in bright colours.  I opted for a turquoisey blue seat, found it available and even discovered it was 25% off (£7.75 – more of a bargain than I expected).  I made my purchase and was surprised by how heavy it was.  I then, uncharacteristically (I am lazy, you see) set to putting it on the toilet as soon as I got home.  It fitted a treat, wasn’t complicated to fit and actually looks good.  I am now contemplating which colour to get for the other bathroom!  I never thought a toilet seat could change a bathroom so much.

{15/03/2012}   How grubby are you?

How often do you clean your fridge? How often do you wash your sheets? How often do you vacuum? How often do you wash your pyjamas/bra/jeans? It would appear I am properly grubby if my brief internet research and friend questioning is anything to go by!
I clean my fridge about once every six months, a proper everything-out clean. I hate doing it and as it’s a cold environment, it never really occurred to me more frequent cleaning was necessary. I do give spillages etc a cursory wipe as and when they happen though. Apparently, once a week is good. Seriously? I have now got a lovely clean fridge. Maybe it’ll progress to being cleaned every two months now? Realistically, I might manage that.
Sheets. I am embarrassed to confess they get done every three to four weeks. Yikes. In my defence, I do usually shower before bed. The general consensus seems to be every week. I’m not going to detail why but you can imagine, dead skin, bed bugs, etc. I now have clean sheets and I might manage up to two weeks in future. A friend says she has a fortnightly cleaner who also does her sheets. My friend sleeps in one bed for one week and the spare bed for the other week!
Vacuum. Erm, when it looks grubby? My research seems largely consistent: if no children or pets, once a week. Otherwise, two to three times per week. Oh dear. I have a cat. Short haired and not outdoorsy though. Some sites say every day for “heavy traffic” areas but that once or twice a week is more realistic. According to Good Housekeeping, you should vacuum seven strokes over high traffic areas and three to four over lighter traffic areas. It turns out you can invest in a vacuum cleaner with dust sensor to aid this!
Pyjamas. I wash them pretty much every time I do a dark wash, so maybe weekly. General consensus is two to three nights of wear, a little more if you shower before bed (hurrah!), ie twice as often as sheets if you wash them weekly. Yikes again.
I have often wondered about bras as they are so close to your skin and sweaty bits. There is no consensus. Anything from every day (surely they wouldn’t last long?) to up to a month. I think I get maybe four wears.
Jeans appears to be very controversial. Some argue that they were designed for cowboys etc and like they’re going to regularly wash their jeans. One suggestion was wash new jeans after six months (blimey!) Then every three months. Apparently it takes c1800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to make a pair of jeans. There are a surprisingly large number of environmental sites saying that jeans shouldn’t be washed frequently. The United Nations Environment Programme says jeans should be worn at least three times. To preserve colour they should be washed cold and air dried. As for me, maybe five wears but I know I’ve worn them longer. Not sure about jeans now.
All in all, clothing wise I don’t feel too grubby but house wise, I found this rather distressing. I think I will endeavour to up the cleaning if nothing else!

     Day one of the childhood bedroom tidying day didn’t go as well as hoped.  The more I think about it, the less surprised I should be.  I was buoyed along by the belief that wanting to do something as much as I wanted to do that would immediately result in ruthless success.  So I learnt a lesson, that positive thinking does not always produce positive results, or at least not on a grand scale.

However, I don’t think it went as badly as I’m probably making it sound, for I did pretty much fill one black bin bag with miscellaneous rubbish and one with paper rubbish.  There is also a box and another bin bag that are slowly filling with charity shop fodder.  It goes awry where there are still things stored (albeit much reduced and neatly arranged) and that I brought home a large shopping bag (it could even be described as very large) of ooo-that’s-nice/useful/interesting stuff.

As for the glass apple pot pourri container, I have had and loved that since my French exchange student came to stay and gave that to me.  The only reason I have not had it with me all these years since moving out is because I don’t like pot pourri and it seemed an unnecessary ornament, particularly because of its fragile nature.  I will not get rid of it.  I will use it and love it.  I can see the irony though, it kind of sums up why I am not doing well at getting rid of stuff.  Getting rid of it will not make me feel better and it will not make me ruthless, I shall use it as a reminder that I have a lot to learn in terms of sorting stuff.

As for other things I kept, there are some cups and saucers with playing cards on them (I should maybe sell them as they are niche and kind of cool).  There are also some bowls, one of which has my name on it.  There is a possibility that people reading this are just shouting, “Charity” at the screen.  Well I hear you.  I see a lot of possibility for a round two.

What do I do with what is probably undesirable silver jewellery?  And money?  I have so many coins and notes from everywhere I’ve been and probably all the currencies I have there are invalid, though I can see it might be worth keeping hold of the Greek drachmas (ahem!).  Then there’s stuff … now writing it makes it seem obvious that it should go to charity.  It just didn’t seem that obvious yesterday.

As for the stuff I brought here, a few more kitchen things ranging from wooden bowls (I will, I will, I will use them) to delightfully large shot glasses (already used them!).  Kind of ok.  I found lots of hideous writing paper, which I can and will use.  There are more books, quite a few (maybe a further 20 to add to an already large collection) of which are from my Beat Generation obsession years (there are even old US magazines with Beat writers’ articles etc), including my dissertation on Jack Kerouac and Henry David Thoreau.  There are also a few folders of memory box type things, but really not many.

Photos and books are a new issue.  I will address them another day perhaps.  However, I realise I am still kind of enjoying this process and maybe I do need to do the big sort first, then go through it all again.  I may just get there, wherever that is, in the end.

Today is day one of what will be many days sorting through my relatively preserved childhood bedroom. As I’ve always rented there’s not been any pressure on me to sort my stuff. But today it’s not about retrieval, it’s about rehoming (charity or bin, hopefully not in an ahhhh-but-I-used-to-love-that pile).

Part of me is dreading it because I’ve been enjoying reminiscing of late in a phew-glad-I’ve-moved-on kind of way and I don’t want to revert to melancholy or nostalgia. But I am largely looking forward to it. I realise that I don’t think I’ve ever felt ready to do it. I’ve certainly gone through cupboards etc either looking for something specific or out of curiosity but never felt a need like I do now to actually address the stuff. I suppose if I’d had to for any reason, I would’ve done, though I fear if I’d moved somewhere with an attic, it could’ve just been transferred from my old room and attic (the attic is for another time and that will take ages) to my attic.

I am not entirely sure what cupboards and drawers have in them. I do know that I’ve been in all those places before and not felt there are things I want or, worryingly, things that can be chucked/given to charity. My mum has occasionally suggested a few freed up drawers etc might be nice. My freeing up has been distressingly minimal. I must be ruthless, I must, I must.

I know there are a lot of books, some of which are out of date politics books from my studies. What do you do with books like that? There is also my video collection, cassettes … these are things I struggle with because they all work but they are maybe too out of date to be used and I doubt charity shops even want them. I suspect some people reading this might already be shouting, “Bin! Bin!” and I guess herein lies my problem: I am not a ruthless sorter of stuff for I am a hoarder.

For someone who moves house as much as I do I have a lot of stuff. Really, a lot. As I’ve moved, my homes have got bigger and bigger (hence moving out of London!) and as of three moves ago I have started on furniture. Most of my stuff is put away, ie in cupboards, drawers, currently an attic and utility room. But it is there. For my last few moves I have had quite significant sort outs (by my standards). I also had an extraordinarily therapeutic clothing sort out whereby I tried almost everything on and got rid of clothes that didn’t fit or, the challenging one, suit me (I’ve since replenished my wardrobe with a few others that don’t suit me!). That felt amazing. I did the same with my bathroom and got rid of old stuff. I discovered I have a bit of a ooo-that-looks-nice-I’ll-try-that approach to buying bathroom things so I still have a lot of things in my bathroom (five shower gels on the go for example) but they are at least now all usable and used.

I am also a dabbler when it comes to hobby type things. Unfortunately I discovered that I like making books and kind of decoupage. For this, I have a staggering amount of paper and “resources”. There are things there that I just can’t throw out. Likewise, a bad move, I went through a phase of going to auctions with a view to getting things I wanted and paying for them by eBaying other things. Did I eBay? Did I ****! Well, I did about four bursts of eBay selling (in fact I think one of my initial blogs, maybe two years ago, on this site was about auctions) but I didn’t enjoy it and took it too personally when two people claimed not to have received their stuff.

So really I need to do a car boot fair, but two summers have gone past and I haven’t done it. Maybe probably definitely I should start preparing for a summer of boot fairs.

However, all this is true and it is something I worry about, but I do feel that having stuff is part of who I am. I have got rid of a few things and while I now have a lot of stuff, I pretty much know what it is I have and that it’s been kept because I made a decision to keep it. I neither want to be minimalist nor am I capable of being so. Sometimes I feel society makes you think you have too much stuff if it won’t all fit in a transit van. Yes, there is a lot of stuff I have that could probably be dealt with at a car boot fair for example. But there is a limit and my limit is just different to perhaps most people. But I can see that it could overcome you and your home and consequently your self. For me it will probably always be a struggle to keep it under control though. But for now, ruthless hat is kind of on!

et cetera