Start as you mend to go on

Last week we had the disappointment of having to replace something rather than mend it. Our ancient dvd player, which has been making strange noises for some time now, finally gave up the ghost. Mr Snail attempted to render first, and then second, aid, but the problem appeared to combine a mechanical issue and a software problem and it proved impossible to solve. As we have a large collection of dvds and no cable/satellite subscription, our dvd player gets a lot of use. So, we bit the bullet and bought a new one.

We were feeling a bit glum about this defeat, but then I reminded myself that in the past week I have done lots of successful mending and re-mending. The heel of one of my shoes came adrift and this was quickly reattached with Gorilla glue.

I darned a pile of holey socks over the weekend. Some of these have been repaired multiple times and in places there are darns over darns. I also took the opportunity to strengthen some patches that looked like they were wearing, but which did not have holes (yet).

And, finally I patched a hole in the pocket of a pair of Mr Snail’s jeans. I hate the fact that jeans of made of hard-wearing denim, but the pockets are often constructed some flimsy cotton, easily pierced by a key.

A sly repair – no one will know it’s there

And all this mending has made me realise that, despite making a new pair of slippers the other day, I just couldn’t bring myself to throw my old ones into the compost… so I’m going to do a big repair on those too. It is, however, going to take some work:

My very sorry old slippers

Have you mended anything recently? Or failed to mend something you would have liked to?

Plastic is news

Since I last wrote, I’ve been seeing a huge amount in the media about the evils of single-use plastics. It feels like, finally, the rest of the world is catching up with what many of us have known for ages. I’ve seen discussions about un-recyclable coffee cups, drinks bottles, straws, microbeads, microfibres, plastic bags, cotton buds, vegetables wrapped in plastic… the list goes on. I hope that if you’ve read my posts over the years, the issue will not come as a big surprise to you. Perhaps it’s something you have already taken action on – remember every piece of plastic we don’t use, is one less that could become pollution. Some bigger things are afoot, however, as this wave of public concern starts to penetrate the consciousness of politicians and makes retailers and manufacturers worry that sales will suffer. For example:

  • Here in the UK a ban on microbeads in cosmetics came into force earlier this month.
  • There is increasing pressure for a deposit scheme on plastic drinks bottles, and this is the recommendation of the UK government’s Environmental Audit Committee in a recent report.
  • The supermarket Iceland announced this week that they plan to eliminate plastic packaging from all their own-brand products within five years.

But it is important to remember that you don’t have to wait for someone else to take action or to make a difference. You can vote with your wallet and you can, as an individual, make a difference. It’s easy enough to find lists of simple changes to make – say no to plastic straws and disposable coffee cups, buy cotton buds with paper sticks, take your own shopping bags and so on. You might, however, think a bit more creatively.

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home made moisturiser

Cosmetics are particular culprit when it comes to over-packaging, but it is possible to cut down on this if you think about your purchases. It’s easy enough to buy soap in paper rather than plastic, for example. I always used to use shower gel because I found soap too harsh on my skin, but a little bit of experimenting and I’ve found lovely mild soaps that I use all the time now. Similarly, I’ve stopped buying liquid hand-wash and now just use bar soap – my favourite in the kitchen is one that has coffee grounds in it to act as a mild abrasive (what a great alternative to tiny bits of plastic). I also use solid shampoo now, which again comes plastic-free. These days I make my own moisturiser (and I also supply my sister with it) because I got so fed up with all the packaging and the difficulty in avoiding palm oil. The ingredients do come in small plastic bags, but the amount of single-use plastic involved is tiny compared to the lotions and potions I could buy in my local chemist (drug store). In addition, it’s fun to make and very easy (I started with a kit from Aromantic).

In fact, if you have time, making all sorts of things yourself can cut down on plastics. My homemade biscuits involve relatively little plastic packaging (cocoa container lid, golden syrup lid, organic chocolate chips bag) and absolutely no palm oil. My bread only encounters single-use plastic around the yeast and salt, and my leek and potato soup is plastic-packaging free. I know it takes time to shop for plastic-free ingredients and then to combine them into the food you want to eat, but it is such a worthwhile activity – healthier for you and for the planet.

 

Cocktail time

Mr Snail and I have a favourite pub where we go to for dinner and sometimes for breakfast. A few months ago, however, we were browsing the cocktails menu (like you do) and discovered one that we’d both really like to try. There were two problems, however. First it was breakfast time, so it was a bit early in the day. Second, the particular cocktail in question has got lots of crushed ice in it and really needs to be drunk through a straw. Neither of us want to be responsible for adding to the mountain of unrecyclable plastic of which drinking straws are one component.

Our desire for cocktails isn’t constant and so it was only after new year that I remembered. A little bit of a search and I found a small company on etsy selling these lovely things, complete with carrying bag and cleaning brush:

They are now residing in my handbag, ready for use. We just need to a sunny day, so we can stroll down and enjoy our drinks… plastic-free and without the need to drive afterwards!

Going to extremes… or not

I keep coming across articles on the internet about people who have pared their life down to the bare essentials… like Rob Greenfield who only has 111 possessions (you can check them out here). Now I’m all for cutting down on waste and not buying unnecessary ‘stuff’, but I simply wouldn’t be happy with so little. What about creativity? What about owning equipment to make things or repair things? What about tools for cultivating the land? Living a nomadic life with no roots (metaphorically and literally … I love my plants), no money and no ‘safe’ place is just not something that I would want to contemplate seriously. I suspect it isn’t something that would work for many people and, indeed, the earth could support a much smaller population if we all foraged for all our food. I’m not saying that any of those things are ‘bad’, but just unrealistic given our starting point.

So, where do we find a balance? How much stuff should we have? Should we all follow the advice of Marie Kondo and only have possessions that ‘spark joy in our life’? I have to confess that I worry about decluttering simply for the sake of it… particularly where in a fit of enthusiasm for a tidy house, all the unwanted items end up in landfill. My desire for fewer possessions is balanced by my desire to be kind to the planet. An item may not spark joy in me, but if I know that it will be useful in the future, then I’m not going to throw it out.

So, my approach to reducing clutter in out home is currently based around the following:

Not adding to what we already have. This means being a member of the library rather than buying paperback books; not buying more craft supplies when I have plenty to keep me amused; making use of existing electronics (mobile phone, e-reader, pc etc) rather than being seduced into buying the latest model.

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it looked like this in 2012…it’s still working but more repaired!

Repairing. Making use of the materials/equipment that we have to repair things that wear out or break. Mr Snail’s collection of electronic components comes in very handy for repairing… this doesn’t reduce what we have much, but it justifies keeping some ‘stuff’ around. I refer you to the much repaired radio.

 

Being generous. When a friend mentions that they need something that I own but don’t really have a use for or a particular reason to keep, I give it to them. I’ve even started giving away things simply because a friend likes them.

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refreshed and ready to be sold

Finding new homes. This is slightly different to the last one because the driving force is that I no longer want an item rather than someone else expressing a desire for it. I feel guilty about sending anything to landfill, but selling something on, donating something to charity or offering an item for free (e.g. via Freecycle) feels like a positive action.

 

Composting. I have discovered the joys of converting unwanted paper into compost. This means that piles of old lecture notes, financial statements, old magazines and official letters are now part of the foundation for our vegetable crops! Composting also extends to natural fabrics that have reached the end of the useful/repairable life, along with worn out wooden items (bamboo toothbrushes, wood and bristle scrubbing brushes, broken wooden skewers etc), although sometimes we burn wooden items (for fuel, not simply to dispose of them).

and as a last resort…

Recycling. But it’s much better to find ways to repair/reuse/repurpose/rehome before you get to this stage.

And more than anything else, not to be seduced into thinking that buying new ‘stuff’ will make me happy.

So I’m slowly clearing and sorting and selling and sharing… I’m never going to be down to 111 possessions, but I am going to have found new homes or new uses for lots of the ‘stuff’ in my house, and I’m going to love making and repairing and creating with what I do have.

About that ‘yarn diet’

As you may have gathered, I am on a ‘yarn diet’. This means that over the next few months (at least until the end of the year) I am not going to buy any more yarn. This may sound like imposing unnecessary suffering on myself, but the intention is to encourage me to enjoy the beautiful yarn I already have rather than leaving it languishing in various drawers and cupboards, unappreciated. Many crafters have the habit of accumulating lots of materials (whatever their preference). I do this and, whilst it’s fun to have stuff available to use when inspired, it feels very wasteful to have loads of untouched yarn, plus it does take up a lot of space.

In general I buy yarn for particular projects, but sometimes I never get round to starting them, and by the time I am ready, I have had a change of heart (or even shape!) and so I need to find an alternative. I’m also a bit over-enthusiastic about sock yarn and have ended up with rather a lot of the stuff… more than I need for sock making. As I don’t want to build up an enormous collection of shawls, I have been wondering what else I might do with the sock yarn and inspiration arrived on Saturday. One of the organisers of the 60MT get-together was wearing a beautiful short-sleeved, asymmetrical top, clearly knitted in 4-ply. I asked her about the pattern and now I’ve bought a copy and will use some of my yarn to make Sugar Maple.

Despite the diet, some new yarn has come my way, but I did not buy it. At the event on Saturday, we had a ‘secret Santa’… everyone brought a ball of yarn wrapped up and they all went in a big box, before each person selected a different package to take away. So, I gave a ball of mottled sock yarn (which I entirely failed to photograph), but came home with two balls (yes, there were two balls in the parcel I picked) of Rowan Lima, an interesting aran yarn that looks like it has been crocheted into a chain already:

The two balls add up to the same weight as the donated ball (and, in fact, contain similar colours), so I have made no net gain, and, indeed, a loss, if I consider length of yarn rather than weight. I really am beginning to think like someone on a diet! Not sure what I’m going to use this yarn for – it’s very soft, so maybe a cowl.

As well as working on various existing projects, I’m also trying to restock my etsy shop a bit, as I’ve sold quite a few of the bird roosts. The train journeys over the weekend were split between sock-knitting and bird roost crochet, and I’ve now got several roosts ready to felt:

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three done, one in progress

So, the stash is slowly being used and I’m not feeling deprived because I can’t shop for yarn… it’s a good result so far.

Hug a mug

We are currently in the middle of Plastic-free July – an event aimed at getting people to cut down on single-use plastics. Things like straws and plastic shopping bags are relatively easy to give up for most people (I don’t tend to use either now), but some things are less obvious. For example, disposable coffee cups: with their plastic lids and plastic-coated cardboard that’s generally not recycled or, indeed, recyclable, and often can’t be composted. The answer, of course, is simple – get a reusable cup and ask the coffee shop to put your drink in that.

One of the problems with the re-usable (and disposable) versions is that many of them don’t have handles. Last year, I crocheted a cover with a thin handle for my (very elderly and well-used) cup, so that I had some way of keeping a hold of it:

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cup holder in use (on a train)

When my friend Katie saw this, she asked if I could make her one too. I liked mine, but I decided that it could be improved upon, so I bought a KeepCup and started to experiment. In the end I came up with a cover that has two handles, so that you can easily hold on to your cup, and also give your mug a hug:

This cup and cover is with its new owner now and I’ve had good feedback. Now, isn’t that so much nicer than a cardboard cup that you simply throw away?

Running Hot and Cold

We have just had to replace our 17-year-old washing machine. I won’t go into the details of its demise, but it has gone to be recycled – a service that we decided to pay for to ensure that it actually happened. So, we have had to buy a new one…

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hot and cold

After some research, we chose to buy an Ebac, the only company whose washing machines are made in the UK. The choice was relatively straightforward as they seemed to have the best ethical rating that we could find and we are trying very hard to buy British whenever we can. However, the big choice was between ‘single fill’ and ‘dual fill’. (“Oh,” I hear you saying “what an exciting life you do lead, dear Snail.”) For those of you not au fait with washing machines, the difference is whether all the water comes into the machine cold (single fill) or whether you connect to both your hot and cold supplies so that not all the water heating is done in the machine (dual fill). For us, it initially seemed like a no-brainer: our water is heated overnight using cheap electricity (known as Economy 7), so let’s use the cheap hot water to do our washing. Yes?

 

And then we started reading up on the subject and it appeared that it may not be worth it. Modern washing machines, you see, use relatively little water and tend to wash at relatively low temperatures. So, most of the limited amount of water that is required by the machine from the hot source is supplied by the water already sitting in the pipe (i.e. cool). So the argument goes that you mostly fill the machine with cooled water whilst replacing it with hot water in your pipes, which then cools down and wastes energy. Hmmm.

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the new machine

However, we needed to think about our own domestic situation. Because we live in a bungalow, and because of the way that our plumbing is arranged, our hot water tank is actually less than 1m away from our washing machine… ok, there’s a bit more pipe than that because it goes down and then up, but there’s no more than 2.5m of pipe, including the connector pipes. So, the water runs hot very quickly through to the washing machine. And, therefore, our final decision was to buy a dual fill machine. So far, it seems to have been the right choice- the machine is taking in a significant proportion of hot water, based on the temperature of the pipe, and this means that the machine itself should be using less energy than with single fill. Combining this, when possible, with only washing on days when it’s sunny and the solar panels are working, should be the best option both financially and environmentally.

 

It’s all too easy to read advice on the web and make what appears to be an informed decision. However, a bit of thinking is also good too… the internet cannot replace common sense!

Mendiferous

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All soles

I had a dilemma this week – my crochet slippers developed some holes and I had the choice of finally giving up on them or mending them. A while back, Kate sent me some sheepskin slipper soles that are no use to her in tropical Australia and I plan to use these to make myself some brand new spiffy slippers at some point, but looking at my old slippers, I decided that there was still a bit of life in them and mending would be worthwhile. I did briefly toy with the idea of using the new soles to mend the old slippers, but actually the new pieces do not coincide entirely where the old ones are worn and, anyway, I have some ideas for the new ones… when I eventually get round to them.

This is the third mend of my old faithfuls and each time I have used a different colour to make the repair obvious. First they had new crochet soles, then I added some crochet reinforcement to the sides, and now finally I’ve done some darning:

The original yarn was a mix of sock wool and some 100% wool chunky, but all the blue mends, including the latest three patches of darning, have been made using Axminster rug wool. The original company that I got the Axminster wool from went out of business, but I’m delighted to say that a new supplier, Airedale Yarns, has popped up. I haven’t ordered from them yet, but I can highly recommend Axminster wool for making slippers – it lasts so much longer than any other yarn I’ve tried for the job.

So, my slippers live to be worn another day. I’m pondering whether there will come a point when there is nothing left visible of the original slippers… or , indeed, whether they will eventually become unsalvageable.

Do you have items that are mended repeatedly? And when do you decide to give up on them?

Coming around again

It has recently been announced that there is a plan to relaunch the old Nokia 3310 mobile phone. Back in the noughties these were one of the most common types of phone to see around… and they were good. They were small, the call quality was good and the battery lasted ages. In those days mobile access to the internet was not even a distant dream.

I wonder what happened to all those old 3310s – are they lurking in drawers? Are they in landfill? Were they recycled?

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Still in use after all these years

I never owned one myself, but my dad did pass on a 3410 that he got free, but couldn’t use because it was too small… and I can tell you what happened to that: I still use it. It has never had its battery replaced and it is still going strong. I don’t need a smart phone – I work from home where I have perfectly good internet access and I have a mobile phone to make phone calls when I’m away from home. I also have a laptop that is fine for longer trips away.

 

The constant demand for ever more complex gadgets means that we regard much technology as disposable, and this encourages the production of goods that are not made to last… after all, what’s the point?  I am reminded of this from The Restart Project:

2017-02-25-1Worth remembering next time you are tempted by the latest new bit of technology.

Out of my life

As the year draws to a close I have been reviewing some of the changes that I’ve made in my life over the past 12 months. Every year I try to do things to make my life that bit more sustainable, and this past year has been no exception:

  • I’ve given up liquid shampoo and shower gel in order to reduce transport of water and to cut out a bit of plastic packaging. I did come across some previously unnoticed shampoo in the bathroom the other day which I am using up, but once that’s done with there will be no more. I’m now only buying bars of soap/shampoo packed in cardboard/paper.
  • In goes the second one

    Our own container at the take-away

    I’ve started saying ‘no’ to lots of packaging – taking our own containers to the butchers and the take-away, for example, means a few less plastic bags and a bit less aluminium foil in the world.We also take our own fabric bags and repeatedly reused plastic bags to the greengrocer’s to put our veggies in. Plastic carrier bags have not been part of our life for many years.

  • We are now buying all our milk direct from a local farm. This means much lower energy inputs (transportation, processing) and no plastic cartons, as we take our own churn. In addition, we are keeping money in the local economy and the milk is delicious and great for making cheese, yoghurt and extracting the cream.
  • I’ve invested in a steam juicer, so we have another way of processing all the apples we tend to get given in the autumn. Making our own juice means repeated re-use of the bottles (cutting down on packaging), reducing transportation of processed juice and thus fewer food miles and knowing exactly what’s in the juice we are drinking.
  • I’ve given up fly paper – it may seem like a small thing, but it’s nice to feel that the fly control in the limery is being achieved by plants rather than a manufactured product.
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    home-made brass cleaner

    I’m now making my own deodorant – it’s more effective than the ‘green’ stuff I was buying before, plus there’s relatively little packaging and it’s made from very simple ingredients.

  • I’ve started making more of my own cleaning products: re-usable cleaning wipes, window cleaner, brass cleaner. All of these rely on limited ingredients and I now have supplies of alcohol, white vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and essential oils to make what I need when I need it.
  • I’ve increased the amount of mending that I’m doing. Darning, patching and sticking things together with Sugru are amongst my most common types of mending.

I’m not sure that’s everything for 2016, but it seems like some good steps forward. My next challenge is a bit more daunting: excluding palm oil from my life. I think that all our toiletries and household cleaning products are palm oil free, and I cook most of our food from scratch, so there’s none in that, but I do have a problem: my weakness for biscuits. I do like a chocolate digestive biscuit with a cuppa and sadly I have found that McVities, who make my favourite type, use palm oil. So, I have to find a brand I like that’s ethical, make my own, or give them up entirely. I’m now checking all the other products we use that may contain palm oil, just in case…

 

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