The Fearse Family

Our adventure in Buying Nothing New for 2013 and beyond.

Do nothing.

On Tuesday I stayed in my pyjamas all day. I read my book until late. I did some sewing. I cooked raviolli from scratch. I dug into the deepest depths of our home and continued my decluttering journey.

Sometimes when it’s school holidays I catch up with all my other teaching friends and take Little Fearse on outings and run errands until suddenly I look around and the calendar is full, the holidays are waning and I’m exhausted. For the past year we have battled this by spending a week of my school hoildays at Phillip Island, but this wasn’t something we managed to organise these holidays. I almost fell into my old trap – by the end of the first official day of holidays (Monday) I’d already been off school for 6 days and I had already done so many things and I was already exhausted.

I’m not good at saying ‘no’ and I’m especially not good at remembering to schedule nothing for my own well being. I think it is a weakness in my character that I worry more about letting others down than I do about letting myself down. It doesn’t make a person selfless, it makes them a bit of a push over.

I loved my Tuesday. I felt really good at the end of my Tuesday. I felt like I could start organising new things to do on my holidays after my Tuesday. I recommend you schedule a Tuesday for yourself.

Mama xo

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Play time fun

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We’ve been having lots of fun together lately, Little Fearse, Big Poppa and I. Play has included; exploring nearby nature parks; dressing up; lots of crazy, unbalanced, creative towers; dressing like Dad; creating a zoo; bathing with rose petals gathered from the garden; cooking pancakes; learning about the fragility of eggs; designing our own ragdoll; deciding that actually, she needs a face; riding on things designed not for riding; sharing fun breakies (and playing musical chairs).

Little Fearse and I had an early Earth Hour with a candle lit bath last week. It was a really lovely way to spend an hour, playing ducks in the near dark. She is thoroughly enjoying her little tent, filling it with blankets and phones and toys – her own hideout. We are visiting the library every second week and falling in love with new stories each time. She loves turning surprising things in to drums and drums into surprising things.

Watching an almost 2 year old create and imagine and explore is such a joyous thing.

Mama xo

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The Minimalist Game

We started the Minimalist Game on the 1st. No joke. Leading up to April, knowing we were starting, I’d been eyeing off junk in every corner of the house. “This will be easy!”  I told myself. I was wrong. This is already hard and we’re only on day 3. Today I have laid my hands on dozens of things that prior to April beginning I was sure I could part with. Now they seem so much more valuable. Decluttering is hard!

While I did the 2-4-1 Challenge last year I made some pretty hard and fast rules. One of them was that anything that was not passed on to someone else didn’t count. I couldn’t count something I recycled or trashed. I still believe that if it ends up in the rubbish it doesn’t count, so that rule sticks. I am going to relax on the recycling rule for the month, as I can’t see myself removing 465 items out of the house in 30 days in any other way.

On day 1 I offered a craft book on our Buy Nothing site, which will hopefully be collected by a local Mum for her daughter to enjoy over the holidays. On day 2 I offered two children’s vinyls which are still looking for a home. On day 3 (today) I have so far recycled two old photo albums (photos rescued by an acid-free album) and am still hunting for my third item. You can join us in the challenge (we’d love you to) by posting your discards (or even just the really satisfying ones) on our Facebook page.

Mama xo

By the end of the month we hope our house will look a little like this…bridge_house_empty_sittingroom

(By the way, click through the link. The image comes from a super cute dolls house site…since dolls house restoration is our thing at the moment I was pretty stoked to find some more ideas.)

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Today was a happy little day.

We visited a new baby who had smiles and cuddles and a school fete full of cheerful souls and found a pirate tent for Little Fearse for $1. Little Fearse swung on swings and slid down slides and cuddled cousins. We saw itty bitty baby animals and classrooms full of clothes and Little Fearse drank from her first Primary School water fountain. We dressed up in silly masks and costumes and squealed in a photo booth. Today was a warm and happy little day.

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The hierarchy of the three Rs.

Today when I watched Waste Deep I was reminded again that many people are still unaware of the true function of the three R’s of sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The three Rs don’t just suggest three ways of being more sustainable. It is a hierarchical model for leading a greener existence.

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Often the first thing people who are trying to reduce their waste will notice is that their recycling bin is now much fuller than their rubbish bin. While this is a really great start, the reduction in waste starts with just that – reduction!

Part of the reason our family buys nothing new is because we believe that all of the things we need in this world have already been made, purchased, in most cases used and have plenty of life left in them for a new life with us. If we are unable to buy something second hand we will usually not buy it at all. This means that we are instantly reducing our impact on the earth. Every new item that is purchased is created by using a variety of resources from production of initial materials and assembly of the product to packing, shipping and promotion. I’m not just talking about clothing and stuff here. I’m also talking about food. If we buy processed food (and try as I might not to, there is a whole pile of it in my pantry right now) there is often a hefty drain on resources before those items even hit the shelves.

So, what’s a better choice?

Reduce the processed food you buy and reduce the amount of food you buy overall. Really think about the type of packaging on your food – can it be composted or returned to nature? Is it plastic that can be recycled? Or is it foil or styrofoam that is much harder to dispose of? Think about this for all the stuff you buy.

Try and find a reuse for items, even recyclable ones, first. Glass jars have a bajillion uses. I give mine to my Dad for jams, sauces and pickles (and often get them back filled with goodies). I have a friend who offers her jars up in bulk lots for free on classified sites. Some people use them for storing collections (I can’t speak from experience because I do not have a large collection of vintage buttons sorted into colour lots in glass jars on my sewing shelves). You can use a glass jar for transporting soup, or as a vase. Tins, like jars, can also be used as a variety of receptacles. One of my favourite reuses for tins was seen in a cafe recently. They had used a variety of pretty tomato tins for utensils on the tables. I actually took a photo of this to share with you, but can I find it now? No, sir.

Glass and tin are two things that actually recycle well. They tend to retain their quality through recycling processes over and again . What’s really challenging and helpful is when you find ways to reuse plastic products, which reduce in quality every time they are recycled. I always try and find second, third and fourth uses for the least recyclable plastics, such as margarine and yoghurt containers. These are of such low quality by the time they’re produced, due to being made from a variety of recycled plastics melted together, that they can only really be recycled into plastic lumber which is in limited demand.

The final step in the three RRRs of sustainable practices, is recycle. This is certainly a better option than sending your goods to landfill. People often forget that recycling is a process which involves the use of transport and energy, as well as large amounts of other resources such as water. Recycling is what prevents much of our resources from going to landfill, but the recycling plant is the last step before landfill.

I’d love to see many more people putting many more steps between purchase and disposal. 

Mama xo

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The lies we tell ourselves about luck and happiness.

For many years BP and I led a kind of blessed life. A few years after meeting my Mum offered a tumble down house she owned, rent free, until its demolition paperwork came though. It seemed a shame for the house to be empty while they waited, especially as BP and I were separately paying rent in different houses. BP and I never intended to move in together having had less than fun experiences with former partners, but the opportunity was too good to waste. This three month experiment in living together extended into two years while the permits were way laid. Eventually the house (which was in very bad condition) was heritage listed and had to be sold rather than demolished. On the up side, BP and I found we quite enjoyed living together, despite our initial reservations.

Over those two years we saved a deposit for a house, travelled to New York twice, got engaged and were married.  Things were really great – BP’s music was doing really well, I scored my dream job. Shortly after buying our own home I got a permanent position at my job and then we discovered we were pregnant with Little Fearse. We had a beautiful second honeymoon in Thailand. I had a wonderful pregnancy, an easy birth and we found ourselves with a perfect bundle of joy.

There were times where things didn’t go according to plan. Two months after Little Fearse was born BP lost his job, but he found new work relatively easily and started on his current path of study. Going back to work with Little Fearse was 9 months old was hard for all of us and finding the balance between parenting and teaching was an initial struggle.  These minor setbacks didn’t impact on our overall happiness.  When Little Fearse was about 14 months old we became pregnant quickly and easily with our second baby. Things were really coming up Fearse.

Sometimes we felt untouchable. Mostly, though, I worried about when our luck would turn. When were the scales going to balance? What was going to strike us down? I couldn’t feel happy without also feeling a sense of doom. On a bad day it was like I was sabotaging my own happiness.

Since our miscarriage in September and our subsequent failure to conceive I have often found myself heading down a pathway of thoughts that is not at all healthy. Things are bad now because they have been so good before. We didn’t appreciate our happiness enough. It’s our turn to feel hurt and failure. Our luck has run out. Why should we have happiness when other’s don’t?

I have to keep reminding myself that life doesn’t work like that. Life isn’t fair. Some people go through their entire lives never experiencing any real disasters, other than the “ordinary” grievances we all have to endure eventually. Others experience much more pain, or ill health, or tragedy than they could possibly deserve.

If life were truly like this the same kids wouldn’t show up to school every day tired from looking after their siblings all night because their parents can’t, or without food, or with bruises on their bodies. It’d be shared between all the children, like a roster – and those kids would have ‘lucky’ days where they had great food for lunch and a new iPad waiting for them when they got home.

I spend so much time touting the line to my students “life isn’t fair”, why have I allowed myself to believe that we are really ruled by some cosmic scales of justice? For most of us life is made of ups and downs. There are black spots, there are bright spots. There are times where life cruises with a few speed bumps.

The reality is, this blip in our lives is just that, a ‘blip’.

One day in the future I will have accepted that I am going to be the mother of just one, beautiful, perfect child. Or, I will find myself Mum to a chattering, chaotic hoard of kids. I will feel happy again. I hope at that time that I can truly feel my blessings and not be afraid of what comes next. I hope that I will be able to live in the moment of joy and no longer feel afraid of when my luck is going to turn. I will be happy without being afraid.

Mama xo

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Sentimental paper gifts: DIY Memorabilia Mini book


Minibooks edit

For Big Poppa’s 30th birthday this week I wanted to make him something special, which also reflected his new status as an “old man”. BP is affectionately thought of by many who know him as a grumpy old man. At the age of 24 he did start saying things like “I don’t understand young people any more”. Now that he’s officially tipped over into his 30s we have joked that he can now really start his decent into grumpy old man territory.

This project included finding a use for some of the paper memorabilia I’ve saved from our honeymoon in New York, as well as creating a mini book explaining the dice game Farkle. I found a gorgeous set of dice at the market in a little leather case. I couldn’t resist buying them for my-young-old man, but we’ve never played dice games, so I thought I’d better find a game we could enjoy. Farkle seems to be a popular and fun game we can play with just the two of us.

[I have also made a mini book comic about how we met for BP for our first wedding anniversary (paper) and last year I made a friend a mini book from a gorgeous old raggedy 70s picture book that was falling apart. The possibilities are endless really.]

Step 1 Minibook edit

1. You can use any paper of any size to make these books. If you want to use some paper from a special holiday or event, you can choose bits and pieces, like I did, and glue them on to a larger piece of paper. I glued these papers onto an A4 page. As well as the paper you will need scissors.
2. So here is my paper to start with (each side is different).

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3. Fold the page in half.

4. Fold the page in half again.

5. Fold the page in half a third time. By this stage you will need to apply quite a bit of pressure to get a good crease.

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6. Unfold your page to step 4.

7. With the fold towards you, cut up the middle crease to the centre of the page.

8. When you unfold your page it should look like this, with a slit up the centre of the middle four rectangles.

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9. Fold the page in half lengthways and open the slit out like a diamond.

10. Push the top and bottom points of the diamond together and press the pages into a booklet. This is where you might have to readjust your creases to ensure the pages are even.

11. Voila! Mini book.

I used the pages from a tiny note pad inside my booklet and hand wrote the information. You can do whatever you like inside yours – use photos, stickers, lined pages, sketch paper…be creative!

If you do make a mini book using these instructions I’d love to see it! Please leave a link in comments or pop a photo up on our Facebook page.

Happy birthday to my beautiful beardy man. xo

Mama xo

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Goal update.

Two months on, I thought it might be timely to give an update on the goals I set for our family in January. Here is a recap of the goals I set and a few points about our progress.

1. I would like to reduce the stuff in our house by 1000 more items by Jan 1st 2015.

  • We have removed 191 items from our house since January 1st.
  • On the flip side, we have allowed 55 items to enter our house since January 1st.
  • We can do much better here. In April we are going to play the Minimalists Game for a month. We’d love you to join us on our Facebook page by posting the items you remove.

2. I would like to further reduce the number of tubs in the storeroom by at least one 60 litre tub by Jan 1st 2015.

  • I have made no progress with this, but as I write I have asked BP to bring the tubs in from the storeroom for me to get a start.

3. I would like to maintain a clear dining room surface, permanently. (With the exception of times of high volumes of at home work, such as report writing time, when it doubles as my desk and some clutter is necessary.)

  • I am mostly doing really well with this. Each night I dedicate 10 minutes to putting away the things that have made their way onto the table during the day. I now use the table as desk, which adds a little to the confusion.
  • In general what I have learned from this is that routinely dedicating small amounts of time to difficult tasks can greatly reduce the stress they cause.

4. I would like to sell (or, failing that, donate) all of the items that I currently have set aside for eBay by June 30th this year.

  • I am making progress with this. I have listed 17 items and so far sold 7.

5. I would like to read 5 books on my to-read shelves by 1st Jan 2015.

  • I have read two books from the to-read shelves, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (which, strictly speaking, I listened to on audio book travelling to and from work) and NW by Zadie Smith.
  • I am currently reading a third book, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver.
  • I may have pitched this goal a little low, but at least it’s achievable!

I love that these goals are keeping me on track. I would highly recommend setting your own goals if you want to achieve great or small things in simplifying your life this year.

Mama xo

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Mama Fearse’s Top Tips for Toy Culling

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[A friend asked me last year if I could create a useful  “decluttering tips” printable document. I think maybe she was joking, since I’m definitely far from expert in this domain. I decided to give it a go, anyway. The following entry will be available for download in .pdf format if you’re interested in filing it, sharing it, sticking it up in your kids bedrooms  or…using it as loo paper?* Click here to download.]

For us, it’s that post Christmas, pre-birthday time of year again. Time to hunt through the ever growing pile of toys for things that we no longer want in our home. Toy culling can be complex. I don’t recommend you do it without your child, as it can create trust issues. I do recommend you do it regularly and, if your child is old enough, encourage them to see it as an opportunity to share some of their material wealth with those who don’t have as much. Here is all the other stuff I recommend…

1.       Forget where it came from. Great grandma brought it back from her trip to Peru, but it’s ugly, and no one ever plays with it. Sound familiar? Try not to get sentimental about where the toy came from, especially if it was a gift. No gift giver is doing so to burden you. If it is not played with, for whatever reason, and no one really loves it…donate it.

2.       Limit plastic. I suggest you put all your child’s toys into piles of plastic and non-plastic, and then reduce the plastic pile first. Why? Some plastics, such as PVC, can be hazardous to our health. Often plastic is treated with chemicals to give them different properties. These chemicals can cause interruptions to hormones, or in the worst cases can be carcinogenic. Do you want your young child chewing and sucking on potentially dangerous plastics? I know that if I can avoid it, I will. Keep in mind that some non-plastic toys may also be painted with toxic paints. I’m not suggesting you go overboard with the anxieties, but being aware of what your child’s toys are made of and where they come from is a good start.

3.       Refuse to purchase brand new toys. If you have ever been into a charity store (I hope you have) you will have seen piles and piles of toys begging for a new home. One of my local stores bags them up in garbage bin sized lots to sell, knowing that selling them individually will take a life time. Many charities will not accept large toys or soft toys anymore because it takes so long to move them. Have you ever noticed how often brightly coloured, cheap, plastic, rubbishy toys adorn hard rubbish heaps? I haven’t been to my local tip shop yet, but I can imagine how many plastic toys end up there, or worse, in land fill. I struggle to think of a good reason to purchase first hand toys when there is a world of abandoned second hand toys out there waiting for a new child.

4.       Only keep what you can fit. Settle on the type of storage you want for your child’s room or your play corner. Don’t add to this – ever. If the storage you’ve chosen over flows it is time to move on some of the toys. The more storage you have the more stuff you have. It’s a simple equation.

5.       One in, one out. This theory will seem easy at first, but as you pare down to a less daunting amount of toys it will get harder. If you commit to the one in, one out philosophy really commit to it. Even at Christmas time or birthdays.

6.       Put some toys away for special occasions. I like doing this with Little Fearse’s cars. She has small collection of her own cars that she plays with often. She was also gifted a larger collection of second hand cars from some of my ex-students. I like to bring these out when her cousins come around as it means all the kids can play cars together and the items become “valuable” to the children as they are not always readily available. When the guests leave, the cars go away again. It reduces every day toy clutter and gives the kids a thrill when they’re allowed to play with them.

7.       Get rid of toys that are not age appropriate. This rule really only applies to families that don’t plan to expand, or families that can easily lend their toys for younger children in bulk to another family. If this is not possible store baby toys outside the house where they won’t accidentally come back into the rotation.

8.       Get rid of doubles. Being a Sesame Street family we often go through Little Fearse’s toys to discover that somehow, somewhere she has managed to double up on the number of Cookie Monster’s she has. Or, being musically minded, we notice that she now has three drums, but only uses one. This is an easy cull – get rid of those doubles! Look for them all the time. It’s almost like they multiply while we’re asleep.**

9.       Reduce “sets” to a manageable amount. Lots of toys come in sets. There is no good reason why they have to have all the set to play with all the time. If there are six pieces of fruit in the wooden fruit set, put away three. If the tea set is for five, put away three settings until a friend comes over.

10.   Be creative. After our first visit to the zoo we made kangaroo and koala puppets using pictures from a magazine and pop sticks. Little Fearse loved playing with them for about a week, and when she was done the pop sticks and magazine pictures could be added to the craft box (or recycled if damaged). Little Fearse is endlessly curious about koalas at the moment and every time I see a stuffed toy koala I’m tempted to buy it for her, but I know the phase will pass and the puppet is enough to encourage koala inspired role playing.

11.   Store “like” toys together. This will help you keep an eye out for doubles as well as recognising when your child has enough of that type of toy. It also means that toys are more likely to be played with and less likely to be forgotten. When Little Fearse’s cousins wanted to play shop on a recent visit we were easily able to locate all of her wooden and woollen food because it was stored together.

12.   Battery operated? Gone! I know that I don’t need to explain this. I guess sometimes battery operated toys are fun, but generally they’re noisy, annoying , over stimulating and require very little use of the imagination. Battery operated toys are fun killers. And that’s not even mentioning the ecological impact of replacing batteries all the time. Even rechargeable batteries have their own impact that is worth avoiding.

13.   Be critical. Spend some time observing how your child plays and get rid of things that don’t suit their needs. Sometimes it is (painfully) something you have bought them because you thought they’d love it (and they don’t). Sometimes it just doesn’t peak their interest. If it is neglected pass it on to someone who will use it.

14.   Display toys. Toys that can’t be seen or can’t be found might as well have already been culled. If you think some toys have great potential but aren’t being used display them prominently in your child’s play space. Change these every now and again (but not too regularly).

15.   Join a toy library. Often toy libraries work on a member volunteers basis – for every hour you volunteer you get a certain number of loans for the year. This means toy libraries are not only a great parent resource but also a wonderful way to expand and contribute to your community. Toy libraries, like any other library, are a brilliant way to reduce the number of toys you own. It is also a great way to ‘trial’ toys you think your children might like. You may use the toy library to borrow out larger toys that you don’t want to store when your child has out grown them. One person I know even borrows out a slip’n’slide for hot weekends! Talk about a money and sanity saver.

Your turn – have you got any great toy culling tips to share? Leave them in the comments.

Happy culling! (Not something I say every day..)

Mama xo

*Please don’t do that, it will probably block your toilet.

** They don’t. You are letting them into your home. Always remember that toys don’t happen to you, you let them happen.

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Believe in what you buy.

Buy something new. I don’t mind. It’s not my choice, it doesn’t impact on my decisions. That’s the great thing about our BNN project – we buy nothing new. It’s pretty cut and dry, it doesn’t have too many grey areas, we can live by that. It doesn’t mean we feel judgemental towards anyone else for their consuming decision making. What it does mean is that we get to show others that buying nothing new is possible, and it also might give people an opportunity to think about their consumption habits in a conscious way. I think, mostly, the buy / sell process is automatic for most people now. We never really thought about it before our first year began. We had started to buy fair trade coffee and avoid products with palm oil. We were becoming more aware of where our food came from. We knew a little about the unethical production of Nikes. We avoided Nestle. If it was a well-publicised boycott, we knew about it. Otherwise, we were a bit mindless when it came to our spending. We also didn’t realise that there were alternatives to consuming.

The thing about becoming a conscious consumer is that it doesn’t mean you have to stop consuming.  For us it means buying second hand or not at all. For others it may mean buying fair trade, or from stores that provide something back to communities who need it (think Oxfam shops). For some people it may mean buying locally, or supporting small business. For some people it is about buying Australian (or American or Mexican or wherever you happen to be based) made. For some it is about avoiding purchases that may inadvertently support labour camps or that encourage criminally low wages and the exploitation of children. Some may splurge on high quality household goods, knowing they will (probably) never have to replace them. Some will buy branded clothing that can then be passed on at a fraction of the price to people like us who buy nothing new.

The point I’m making, is that buying nothing new is one way. It’s our way, and we like it. We will probably do it forever.

Either way, I think it’s important that we think about what we’re buying, whether we need it and where is has come from. Don’t just be a cog in the wheel of someone else’s design. Make your own wheel, or become a part of something you believe in. Contribute your hard earned dollars to something that matters.

Well, that’s my 2 cents. It’s about all I have spare…

Mama xoxo

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