Shopping smarter, the BBC way.

There was an interesting program on the BBC last night. It wasn’t completely original, I saw something similar last year but I am intrigued by the message it is giving out at prime time and the assumption that there is sufficient interest in the subject. It was titled, ‘Shop well for less’, but I don’t think that title tells the whole story of what it was about.

The basic premise, if you didn’t see it, or can’t be bothered catching it here, was to take a family that shop really badly and consequently overspend, throw in a bathroom project in their house that has been unfinished for years because they are short of cash and show them how much they could save by shopping smarter. I’m not here to comment on the detailed content or quality of the program but I am very interested in what it had to say.

I suppose there are several ways of viewing this kind of show; you could see it as a useful educational tool that explains the value of shopping more thoughtfully and questioning not just how much you buy but also what brands and whether or not you are getting value for money. On the other hand, you could view it as an anti-consumerism message and thus part of a small historic movement that has always questioned the whole concept of acquiring stuff simply because we can.

On a different level again you could say the program was encouraging us to fight back against the fierce onslaught of the advertising industry. There was an element of blind testing revealing that top brands aren’t always the best value and neither is price an indicator of quality in all cases. To the producer’s credit they also acknowledged that sometimes paying more for quality works out cheaper in the long run.

The biggest unanswered question that it left in my mind though, was would such a program have any impact? I doubt it myself. The program lasted an hour and during that time it appealed to people to think before buying and to question the claims of advertisers. In the same period, on a multitude of commercial channels, tens if not hundreds of hours of advertisements were broadcast. Millions of sales e-mails were dispatched and in the same time thousands of minds were dreaming up new ways of convincing us to buy things that we may, or may not, need. Then there are the magazines we read, the bill boards that assault our senses every day and the mountains of junk mail that pile up behind our doors. All this verses a one hour TV program; it’s hardly a fair competition is it?

I do believe there might be a glimmer of hope in all this though. The fact that it isn’t the first program of its kind is encouraging, but more important still, is the time that it was broadcast and its position on a major channel like BBC1. The cynic in me believes that its main appeal might be in its voyeuristic intrusion into another family’s life so that we can all enjoy gasping with incredulity at the stupidity of the mum and dad that go out to buy winter coats for their boys and come home with bedding and clothes for themselves and the children but not the coats that they went for. Having said that, it was pretty hard hitting when it came to advertising and there were some strong messages about buying what we actually need rather than what the marketing gurus tell us we need. It’s not going to bring about the death of consumerism or drag the advertising industry to its knees overnight but it’s an encouraging step towards questioning the whole crazy business of what we buy and why we do it. There are plenty of examples of consumers winning victories over suppliers and turning the tables on who is in control of what we buy. In the 1970’s the large UK breweries were determined to phase out unprofitable and unpredictable real ale in favour of cheap-to-produce and stable keg beers. The Campaign for Real Ale was formed to combat this move and by people power alone they reversed the strategy of the suppliers completely. It is now almost impossible to find a pub in the UK that doesn’t serve real ale. Admittedly what we are talking about here is different; this isn’t just a suggestion that people should choose to buy a different product but that they actually refrain from buying a lot of things completely. That’s a much bigger ask, I agree.

Most people I talk to understand that unrestrained consumption, by an ever increasing population, on a planet of finite resources doesn’t add up. I am hoping that a program like this, being broadcast on a mainstream channel and at prime time is an indicator that challenging thoughtless consumerism isn’t quite as off the wall as it used to be. It’s only a very faint glimmer of hope but it’s better than total darkness.

Buy one get one free. If only that was an option

Buy one planet, get one free. If only that was an option

 

I don’t know what I was thinking of …..

I’ve been attempting daily meditation. Like most of the good habits I try to form this one is sporadic to say the least. I first tried a couple of years ago and worked my way up from five to fifteen minutes over the course of about a month. Then I stopped. A few weeks ago I tried again and this time I just jumped straight in at the fifteen minute point like a fearless black belt meditator. Then I stopped again. Today I started yet again and since it’s still today and I may meditate tomorrow I suppose technically I can say I am meditating again. Well at least until I stop.

I have absolutely no idea what I am doing of course. I’ve read a few articles about it and listened to the odd practitioner on the radio over the years so I know a little of the theory of meditation but it’s not like learning to do something tangible like juggling. (I’ve lost count of the number of times I have embarked on a routine of ten minutes juggling every day but that never lasts either). The thing with juggling, unlike meditation, is that it’s fairly easy to know if you are doing it right or not. Generally speaking if the balls are in the air then you are juggling, if they are on the floor then you’re not. It’s quite straight forward. With meditation it’s just not that clear-cut is it? Most of the time I don’t actually know if I am meditating or not.

This is me juggling

This is me not juggling

As far as I understand it you are supposed to think of nothing, or not think at all, you see I’m already confused. Some say you should concentrate on your breathing, others say to focus on how you feel and your location in the room (mindfulness meditation). Forgive me, but that sounds a bit like thinking to me. And isn’t not thinking, sleeping anyway?

My own technique is to focus on my slow breathing and if a thought pops into my head to try and let it pop out again just as quickly. Sometimes I end up thinking about thoughts that are about to pop into my head and how I can keep them out and at some point in every session I think about how much longer there is to go before I can start thinking again. In other words, I have a long way to go before I achieve fifteen minutes of uninterrupted nirvana. I usually meditate with my eyes shut and one thing that I have noticed is that the colour behind my eyelids is like a slowly moving lava field that is repeatedly obscured by a darker colour that washes in like the tide over a sandy shore. It’s very calming and pleasant but I do sometimes wonder if it’s a product of my age and it’s actually just a hangover from being brought up in the era of the lava lamp.

It’s not a complete disaster. I do feel very relaxed at the end of a session and there is usually a moment, generally in the final five minutes I estimate, when I drift off somewhere. I suddenly become aware that I have no recollection of the previous moments, a bit like when you are driving and you realise to your horror that you can’t recall the last couple of miles. I’m pretty sure that I haven’t fallen asleep , (during the meditation I mean, not the driving) because I haven’t dribbled or fallen off the chair or anything so maybe I have actually meditated. It’s also impossible to know if these moments last for a second or two or a few minutes. Presumably, if I was a really good meditator they would last for fifteen minutes. All joking aside though, those few moments when I seem to get it right make me think that there probably is something worthwhile in this business and I really should persevere. I once read that twenty minutes effective meditation is as valuable as a good night’s sleep. Or did I dream that?

I am going to keep trying because if nothing else I have never heard of anybody saying that they meditate every day and it’s a waste of time. On the contrary all practitioners seem to agree that it benefits them in lots of ways and serious science seems to concur.

From lowering blood pressure to improving memory and slowing the ageing process, meditation has been credited with endless physical and mental paybacks. Studies using MRI scans have confirmed that a mere eight weeks of regular meditation will bring about real changes to the brain reducing processes associated with stress and boosting those responsible for concentration and decision making. About the only thing that it doesn’t seem to help with in my case, is the ability to form regular good habits; like meditating every day for example, or juggling. Something to ponder perhaps; when I’m not meditating.

Right; I’m off to sit in a darkened room to not think about lava lamps for quarter of an hour.

It’s all a question of balance.

I have a job!

It’s such a great feeling after another depressing period of weekly visits to the Job Centre and mindless applications for jobs I really didn’t want. Being unemployed is like being adrift in a boat without an engine or a rudder. I feel out of control even though I am actively looking for work and the whole job seeking and benefit claiming experience fills me with despair. There comes a point when getting any job at all would be a huge relief so the fact that I have found one that I actually want to do is a massive bonus. But what makes me happiest of all is my working week.

I’m going to be working in a stunning outdoor setting, surrounded by wildlife and talking to like-minded people about a charity that I really believe in.

Not a bad place to work

Not a bad place to work

The job itself is exactly what I was looking for but even better, I will be working three shifts per week, just what I wanted. I think this is what is meant by a plan coming together.

I know that not everybody is in a position to work just three days a week, so I do appreciate how lucky I am, but on the other hand this is just what Gill and I have been working so hard to achieve over the last few years and now we are finally where we want to be; both working less than half of each week and both doing something that we enjoy and that we believe is worthwhile.

You hear a lot of talk about getting the work, life balance right these days but I don’t think it’s that simple in reality. We are not just trying to balance work days and leisure days; we are also considering finances, work patterns, time together and time for ourselves. It’s more complex than a simple balancing act and scales just don’t represent the problem. It’s really about getting the mix right rather than a simple balancing act and right now I think we are as close as we can get to success. No doubt circumstances out of our control will be along to spoil the party sooner or later but then that’s the challenge. To add another element into the mix, stir it all up and find a new solution that works is half the fun but for now we are happy to make the most of the steady state that we find ourselves in.

This steady state is precisely what we need right now. It’s a bit like the shelter of a port after the thrill of a challenging voyage. It’s exactly what I feel we need to contemplate where we have been over the last few years and to consider what comes next. It’s ironic that having worked so hard to get to this safe harbour, it turns out to be the perfect place from which to plan an escape.

Perhaps there is a balance in all this after all. On the one side of the scales, the heavy side, we have our current position of stability; steady work, financial security and a permanent home. The empty pan is where the next adventure will be incubated. Conversations, memories, maps and stories will all be added to the scales until a tipping point is reached and a new idea will be born. We have no idea what, or when, that will be but we just feel that it is inevitable. I think we are both happy to sit back and relish a bit of constancy for now and to take some time to relax, to take stock and maybe to dream a little.

Gill’s new coat

By way of an attempt to explain the philosophy of our chosen lifestyle I offer you, Gill’s new coat.

Ta daa!

Ta daa!

There are many aspects to what we are trying to achieve with our simple way of life, but one of the components of it is cutting out waste. By that I mean not just wasteful packaging or throwing food away because we fell for that unbelievable value deal in the supermarket, but questioning everything we do and everything we buy and asking ourselves if we are being wasteful. Cutting out short term immediate waste by using less paper towels or switching off lights that aren’t required is obvious and just requires a little bit of willpower and a change in habits. What I call long term waste that takes years to manifest itself is harder to identify but Gill’s new coat is a good example of how we are trying to combat it.

She has had a variety of waterproof coats over the years and we used to go for what I would call reasonable quality at a reasonable price; maybe around £40. They usually last a couple of years before their waterproof qualities are gone and they stop being functional or components like zippers fail. Her new coat cost at least five times more than we are used to paying but per year it should work out cheaper. It is made by a really interesting company who genuinely don’t seem to want you to replace your coat every two or three years. The coat has a lifetime guarantee against faulty materials and workmanship (well workwomanship actually) and when it does wear out they will take it back as a deposit on a new one, promising to either find it a new home or using whatever they can from it to recycle into new materials. I have been following the growth of this company for years and recently I have seen more and more of their products both in the hills and on the high street so word seems to be spreading. They make some great gear but they are also making a real difference too. They are called Paramo and it’s worth looking them up and reading a bit about their philosophy as well as their products. 

P1030589

Owners of Paramo waterproof jackets often talk in terms of tens of years of life and of sending them back to the manufacturer for new zips to be fitted or damage to be repaired to extend their life even further. I know Paramo is not alone in this attitude to manufacturing and longevity but they are quite rare and I find it very refreshing. Of course it flies in the face of the whole materialism based infrastructure that our economy relies on but they are concrete proof that there really is an alternative way of doing things. So long as you can get used to the idea of wearing the same coat for ten or even twenty years it makes absolute sense. I can almost hear cries of alarm at such an idea but isn’t that exactly where we have gone wrong. We have fostered the idea of buying stuff for the pleasure of buying it, rather than to fulfil a need. We seem to have completely distorted the reason for shopping and turned possessions into a class A drug that will give us a short fix but will always leave us craving more. Gill’s new coat is all about the long term satisfaction that remains long after the buzz of the purchase is over.

P1030585

I sometimes feel like I am banging a lonely tambourine with this kind of post but then to my delight I saw a link today to an article saying almost exactly what I am thinking. If you are interested in buying less often by buying quality I can heartily recommend this post. I can’t vouch for the web site ‘buymeonceas I haven’t tried it myself and I’m not convinced by everything they are recommending but as a concept I think they are absolutely spot on.

“Less is more” – Robert Browning

 

Bird feeder news – a feathery ménage à trois.

Well I was planning to bring you some stunning photos of the ever-widening range of birds that have been visiting the feeders lately. Sadly, like most plans, this one hasn’t really gone the way it was supposed to and it’s been a very frustrating weekend.

To be fair we are probably getting a bit over excited about the two new species that have turned up lately because that still only brings our total tally to less than ten but it is progress of sorts I suppose. We can now boast fifty percent of the resident British tit family which I admit does sound slightly disturbing when taken out of context but in practice means that coal tits have joined the other varieties of blue, great and long-tailed. That only leaves willow, marsh, crested and bearded to give us the full set but as they have fairly specialized habitats we aren’t holding our breath. The crested and bearded ones are probably just blue tits in disguise anyway. The other new addition is a dunnock. This small brown/grey bird is often mistaken for a sparrow and even has the common name hedge sparrow but it isn’t actually related to them at all. It hasn’t made it to the feeding station yet but has been singing it’s heart out on top of the hedge behind the house. What it lacks in spectacular plumage it makes up for with a song to melt your heart.

The elusive long tailed tit

The elusive long-tailed tits

And talking of blue tits, it’s been like watching a feathery version of East Enders over the last fortnight. It’s hard to tell the ladies from the gents in the blue tit world so I have no idea whether we are talking gay, bi or heterosexual but for a while we were definitely witnessing a ménage à trois as three of the little blighters pushed in front of each other to check out our neighbour’s nesting box. After a fair bit of argy-bargy and some serious sulking it seems to have settled down into something that has all the hallmarks of a beautiful romance. One of the pair spends most of its time in the box while the other one, when it isn’t perched high on top of the hedge gloating over the loser that didn’t quite cut it, visits its mate with flowers and the occasional bottle of wine.

The winner

The victorious suitor

Well I may have imagined the flowers and wine but it definitely visits and we are sure it won’t be long now before it stays the night; if you know what I mean.

Loser

The sad loser

So, we have all this entertaining activity going on and I thought it would be nice to try to get a few better photos for you. (Those of you whose minds just turned to lurid sex scenes from the nest box well shame on you.) I have tried sitting in the bedroom partially obscured by the curtains waiting patiently with the camera, but it hasn’t been very successful and most of the time I just feel like a sneaky press photographer at a private garden party. So I have turned to technology.

We bought a reasonable quality compact digital camera in preparation for our trip around Britain and two years later I’m still trying to work out how to use it. Amongst other things I recalled from my initial exploration is that it is supposed to be possible to link it up to our Nexus tablet computer and operate it remotely. This sounded like the perfect set up for candid bird photography, so out came the manual and in just a matter of hours, well OK days, I had it cracked. With the camera mounted on a railing opposite the feeders I can now sit discretely in the lounge or bedroom monitoring activity on the tablet and taking photos of our unsuspecting visitors.

Remotely controlled camera

Remotely controlled camera

Armchair wildlife photography

Armchair wildlife photography

It’s absolutely brilliant and all I have to do is sit with my finger over the shutter icon and pounce whenever something comes into shot. In theory I should have got a whole collection of stunning action shots and close-ups to show you by now. But I haven’t. The first reason for this is the fact that the birds that have visited have tended to do so just as I have been taking a sip from a scalding hot drink or while I have been unavoidably detained in the loo. The second is that there haven’t been any birds.

I have never spent such a lot of time actually bird watching, albeit remotely, and I have learned something about bird behaviour which is fascinating. It seems that, just like humans, birds go away for the weekend. Well ours certainly seem to. Either that or they have found somewhere where they can watch the rugby through somebody else’s window with a ready supply of crisps and beer and no sleazy photographers to bother them. Our garden has been like the aftermath of bird apocalypse all weekend. At one point I resorted to taking candid photographs of a neighbour as he rooted through next door’s recycling bin, looking for an old copy of the local paper. He said there was an advert in it that he wanted to look at which struck me as a dubious explanation but who am I to pry. Or speculate.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that the few shots that I did get were quite disappointing apart from the very blurry one of our super-fast robin as he made yet another commando raid on the sunflower hearts. Fortunately he appeared moments after I had put my tea down otherwise I may well have been typing this from my hospital bed and nursing a red breast of my own. Such are the trials of a dedicated wildlife photographer I suppose. Don’t worry, I’ll keep trying.

That's a robin. Honestly

That’s a robin. Honestly

Why don’t we wear things out any more?

There is something about the way things change over a long period of time that is immensely satisfying; particularly if you, or a loved one, bring about those changes.

I was in my early twenties when my Nana died and I wasn’t very interested when the family were sorting through her belongings. There was one item though that I recall with great nostalgia and I wish it was in my ‘junk room’ right now so that I might stumble on it from time to time. It wasn’t a valuable thing, or precious in the way that a piece of jewellery or an antique is and as far as I know, nobody thought to hang on to it. Despite its apparent worthless status though, I deeply regret that I’ll never get the chance to hold it in my hand and run my fingers around the memories that it held. The object in question was a large metal spoon. A dessert spoon to be precise which in itself wasn’t that special but what made this particular spoon unique was the way in which it had been altered over time. Nana used to use it to beat cake mixture in her favourite china mixing bowl. She always used that same spoon and bowl during the creation of what must have been thousands of cakes and she had managed to wear away a fair proportion of the spoon so that it had become oddly asymmetric in shape. A totally unique piece of cutlery that belonged to, and represented my Nana as intensely as any inanimate object could possibly do. We used to joke about the fact that we had actually eaten part of the spoon in her cakes.

Nana’s son, my Dad, was a joiner and amongst the tools that I inherited from him is a very special chisel. It also holds in its form the story of his working life and an attitude to things that has been sadly lost. He probably used that chisel for over fifty years, painstakingly sharpening it at the end of the working day before returning it to its protective canvas sheath. Little by little with each successive sharpening the blade of the chisel has been ground away until only a short stub remains. Unlike the steel that has been lost on the grinding wheel and the sharpening stone, the memories of his craftsmanship are firmly embedded in what remains of the blade. It is possible of course that he broke it at some point and I am getting over nostalgic about these things but even if he did break it, the fact that he re-ground and re-sharpened it so that it could be used again tells the same tale.

I think there is something very special about objects like the chisel and the spoon. They speak of a time when the things we owned held much more value and nothing was discarded unless it was well and truly worn out or broken beyond repair. It’s hard to pin point just when things changed; when it became normal to buy a new replacement for something long before it has reached the end of its useful life. My Dad taught me how to sharpen a saw. It’s a time-consuming and tedious process so I do understand why working builders might not want to do it but the first cut after the sharpening is satisfying like no other. Contractor’s saws are now sold in multi-packs because it is assumed that they will be used until blunt and then thrown in the skip to join everything else in the landfill site. Each saw has less value than the time it would take to re-sharpen it. It’s not just the fact that the things we buy now are not designed to last as long, or that their lovely wooden handles have been replaced with plastic ones. What we have lost is the unique relationship that can be fostered between a person and an object if they spend enough time in each other’s company. There is something really beautiful in the way in which the wooden handle of a spade changes to match the hand of the gardener that digs with it season after season. The patina and sheen of the wood reflects the callouses that it, in turn, created. Or the subtle change in the shape of a knife’s blade that has been sharpened a thousand times before carving the Sunday joint. The changing shape of the handle or the blade reflects the changing lives of those that use them in a way that words or photos could never do. They capture time. When I was working on the canals last year I pointed out to many people the deep grooves on the cornerstones of bridges that have been worn by the ropes as the horses pulled the barges through. Running your finger through those grooves is about as close as you can get to time travel.

Look out for those grooves

Look out for those grooves

It’s a shame that we don’t seem to wear things out anymore; we just get bored with them now and throw them away. It’s easy to justify it on the grounds that the thing didn’t cost much in the first place and a new one is so cheap it’s not worth the effort of maintaining or repairing it. It’s a shame because soon there won’t be any worn down handles to run our hands over while we contemplate the life of a previous owner no longer with us. So much less of what we use will get passed on. There will be less to make the bridge from one generation to another, fewer memories preserved forever in shapes. It’s ironic that you can’t buy these things; you have to make them from the things you buy and it takes years, maybe even a whole lifetime. I sometimes wonder how old my Nana would have had to get to wear away the rest of the spoon.

Ouch! That’s half a decent bicycle.

This is really an update of this earlier post about our gas supply saga. Read that first if you want the whole picture.

I am nervously awaiting an e-mail from our gas supplier in reply to my notification that they have been charging us 2.83 times more than they should for our gas. That’s a big multiplier when you apply it to a year’s supply of fuel. About £560 worth in fact. Ouch! That’s half a decent bicycle for goodness sake.

The reason I am waiting nervously is because when we moved house before Christmas we took the bold decision to go with the cheapest gas supplier we could find despite the fear of becoming entangled in some kind of ‘consumer tells of million pound gas bill nightmare’ story in the Daily Mail. Up until now we have enjoyed a perfectly satisfactory and very efficient e-mail relationship with the new people but what I dread now is an e-mail along the lines of: Thank you for pointing out the problem with your gas meter. We have arranged for an engineer to remove the unit immediately for safety reasons. Please arrange to heat your home by some other means for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately you are responsible for the cost of removing the meter …… etc. etc.

I’m posting this so that you can have a laugh at our gas supply/meter replacement horror experience but there is actually a serious point behind it which I maintain justifies my spreadsheet obsession. Here’s the story: (I’ll try and keep it brief)

We bought our 26 year old park home knowing that the old boiler and gas fire belonged in a museum of pyrotechnics and we would have to fork out for a new one. So before we moved in the plumber took out the old gas fire and back boiler and fitted a shiny new combi boiler. But he couldn’t get it to work. After much head scratching he and his mate concluded that the old gas meter might be faulty. The meter sits in a box buried in the ground outside the van which isn’t unusual on this park but the very high water table also means that it sits under water at times of heavy rain. Which I would imagine is quite unusual and probably isn’t a good thing. Anyway, National Grid kindly fitted a brand new gas meter which still lives under water most of the time but who am I to argue. It seems to work OK so maybe it’s a dual purpose domestic/submarine model.

The boiler now works fine, we are lolling around our park home in scantily clad bliss and everything is lovely until we get a bill from British Gas (the old supplier) for £900 for two days gas supply! That story is covered here if you want more background. Having sorted that out, we settle into cosy domestic heaven once again until we get the first bill from our new supplier and it’s three times more than expected.

I now go into spreadsheet design mania and start to monitor our consumption. It involves a slightly complex formula that converts units used into kwh and ultimately pounds and pence and we are even more horrified. We appear to be monopolising the North Sea gas supply! After two weeks of analysis, worry, shivering and looking like Scott of the Antarctic whilst watching Countdown we had another look at the figures this morning.

Ready for a relaxed evening in front of the TV

Ready for a relaxed evening in front of the TV

Gill very bravely suggested that perhaps I might have a teeny weeny error in my formula. I didn’t even flinch. I just smiled at her through my mortally offended pride and began to do some checks.  Finally, after studying our bills from our old house and the new ones from the new supplier we spotted the problem. It wasn’t so much an error in the formula, (phew) but rather a combination of errors on everybody’s part. It seemed that our new gas meter is metric, our new gas supplier thinks it is imperial and that tiny little detail represents an annual bill inflated by over £560!

There's the little blighter

There’s the little blighter

While I have been writing this I have had a reply from Andrew at our current supplier and it would appear that champagne might be in order. With the least possible fanfare he simply said, “Sorry, we have the record of your meter wrong. We’ll sort it out and amend your statement.” Or words to that effect. The Daily Mail are going to be bitterly disappointed. No drama, no fuss, just a simple, common sense solution. I am so relieved and more than a little flabbergasted. In fact I am so pleased that I am happy to announce that the supplier in question is Zog Energy and I would tentatively suggest you might want to check them out. (Other utility suppliers are available.)

So, what have we learnt from all this?

1.       Gas meters work under water

2.       New boilers really are very efficient if you give them enough gas to burn

3.       Plywood houses are quite cheap to heat

4.       British Gas wouldn’t be my first choice to organise a brewery based knees-up

5.       Zog Energy might be though and I would definitely go to the party

6.       And SPREADSHEETS ARE WONDERFUL!!!!

Pour me another pina colada darling and don’t spare the ice.

Do you have a junk room?

Do you have a junk room? Or an attic, box room, garage or spare shed: whatever form it takes I mean somewhere that you can chuck all that stuff that won’t fit anywhere else. Or maybe you rent storage space to hold the possessions that don’t fit into your regular home anymore. Apparently the latter trend is growing rapidly and 11% of self-storage is used by people who are de-cluttering. That’s not de-cluttering. That’s moving your clutter somewhere else.

I’ve spoken to lots of people who have boxes in their attic that they put there the last time they moved house and they have never opened them since. (Me included at times) Even more intriguing is if you asked them to list the contents of those boxes they would struggle.

I wonder how many people have gone through the process of packing the contents of their house prior to a move without using the phrase; “I can’t believe how much stuff we have.” I’d love to hear from you if you are one of those rare individuals.

So, you might think that since Gill and I have gone to extremes to reduce what we own to the bare minimum we wouldn’t suffer from these problems but you would be wrong. Even though we don’t now have an attic, a spare room or a garage we have still managed to squirrel away about ten boxes of stuff that we haven’t opened in the two months since we moved into our park home. I am beginning to wonder if anybody is truly immune from this need to hang on to things no matter what.

My own weaknesses are bits of old bikes, off cuts of timber and knackered Ordnance Survey maps held together by brittle yellowing Sellotape. The idea of throwing a map away is such an anathema to me that I even have more than one copy of some maps and I still hang on to them. When we cleared my Dad’s shed out we found old tobacco tins full of broken and rusting screws. Maybe its genetic. As I type I am looking at a leather clock that used to belong to my Mum and Dad. It sits proudly on our mantelpiece and you know what? I don’t even like it!

When we went cycle touring for a few months we whittled our belongings down to just what would fit onto the bikes. We put a lot of time and effort into it until we felt confident that we weren’t taking anything that was superfluous to our needs. We more or less got it right too, but then we did something really strange.

I'm sure I've got a spare spoon in there somewhere

I’m sure I’ve got a spare spoon in there somewhere

While we were on the road we actually began to accumulate stuff. We bought a three pack of plastic Sporks because they were on offer, (combination spoon and fork that are supposedly unbreakable) and a five pack of toothbrushes despite that fact that I only needed one toothbrush to clean the chains on the bikes. We ‘forgot’ about food that we had bought and stored in the bottom of the panniers and I even carried a ‘handy’ sheet of polythene that somebody gave me even though it was ten times bigger than what I needed. Well you never know when it might come in useful do you? In other words, even when cycle-touring, and with such limited storage capacity, we still weren’t immune to the twin problems of ‘acquiring stuff’ and ‘hanging on to stuff’.

Maybe it’s all a matter of space. After all, how many people do you know with an empty garage that they put the car in each night? If I am right and the only way to avoid hanging on to stuff that you don’t really need is to limit your storage space then that would suggest that our 35’ x 12’ home is too big! Maybe a narrow boat is the only answer. I would miss my shed though.

I looked up the definition of Junk on Oxforddictionaries.com. It told me that is was “Old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value”. When you put it like that it seems a strange thing to dedicate a room to doesn’t it?

Then again, there is another definition of the word junk. It also means: Worthless writing. Hmmm?

 

 

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