Monday, 5 March 2012

Spring cleaning

There's something about the whispers of oncoming spring that makes you just want to Get Up and Do Something.  Winter is a time for bunking in, staying warm, eating hearty foods, huddling and hot water bottles, everything slowing down in a subconscious effort to preserve heat and energy, regardless of how good your central heating might be.  But even if it's still chilly you know spring is coming.  The world around you is stretching itself, ready to burst back into life and you can smell it. I'm not kidding, you can smell the day that one season becomes another.  Try it sometime.  I'm not the only one to have noticed this, so I'm going to defer to Mr Badger and Mr Mole at this point:

`Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.  It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor [...] and bolted out of the house without even eating to put on his coat. [...]  It all seemed too good to be true. Hither and thither through the meadows he rambled busily, along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting--everything happy, and progressive, and occupied.  Chapter 1, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
'...once the year has really turned, and the nights are shorter, and halfway through them one rouses and feels fidgety and wanting to be up and doing by sunrise, if not before--you know!----'  Mr Badger, Chapter 4.
Illustration by E.H. Shepard

The other thing that spring is good for is giving you a good kick up the behind.  In winter everything slows down, and it's often hard to keep up with the good intentions you had during the lighter months when you weren't so tempted to bundle it all up under thick jumpers.  It hit me yesterday that I've become a bit lax in some areas over the cold months, and now that the sun is coming back I want to pick up the slack.  That in turn got me thinking about the changes I've already started making over my life in the past year...

Things I've been doing

Most of last year was dominated by a need to have less Stuff.  Not that there's anything wrong with having Stuff, but it does tend to take over your life if you let it - you always need to know where it is, if it's ok, you need the money to get hold of it and keep it, and shifting it when you move houses once a year is a chore and a half.  For several months I experienced what I can only describe as a longing to live a simpler life somehow, and I read an article about a woman who, after the death of her husband, thought through what her life should look like next and decided that she wanted to be a bit more light-weight so she could take herself wherever she needed to be.  She could fit everything she owned into one car.  Last time I had to it took me three or four loads.  As part of my de-cluttering I've had to accept that there are some things that do take up space but are just part of who I am and what I do (my computer and scanner, my books - although I even gave some of them up, keeping only my core favourites), and now that I'm living away from home I also need my own kitchen gear, but that's just part of it all.  The point isn't to become a hitch-hiking hermit, but to learn how to hold all my possessions lightly, to understand that objects come and go and are of little importance, and to be happy having enough, rather than always going after more.

The Toiletries:  Girls in particular suffer from an overabundance of toiletries.  Most of mine were gifts but because they weren't my habitual brands they got left to one side.  I've been watching the pennies too, and suddenly it seemed absurd that I kept buying new toiletries when I had a whole shelf of them back home that I wasn't using.  So I started using them up, banning myself from buying new bottles if there was an alternative right in front of me.  It's taken me over a year and some products (like moisturising creams, and perfumes which I'm now using as deoderant) take longer to use up - partly because my housemates caught on to what I was doing and offered me their unwanted toiletries too, including about a dozen razor blades!  Score!  But it's been really satisfying and I've saved a tonne of money.  I'm considering alternatives to shop-bought shampoos too, but more on that another time.

The Wardrobe:  Clothes.  You think you need more of them when you already have loads, and yet whenever something special happens there's nothing to wear.  Again I was struck by the amount of superfluous Stuff in my wardrobe that I never wear or that doesn't even fit any more.  Why do I even have these?  So I broke out the sewing kit, the ones that could be adjusted were, and the rest went to the charity shop and hopefully to good homes.  As for acquiring clothes, I now now find that I wear everything in my wardrobe so it's rare I need anything new.   I also have a very generous housemate who, after her own wardrobe culling sessions, offers her old items around and most of what I like fits me or can be made to fit quite easily.  When I do shop it's for a particular item and even that feels a little strange now (I finally replaced the raincoat I've been wearing since high school, and got very excited at the idea that I'd just spent disposable income from the money I had worked for on something completely new!)

The DIY:  I've been trying to make things myself, to use up resources I hoard (which is easily done when you're an artsy type.  I have a whole big box just full of different coloured papers).  So rather than spend money on cards that are generic/expensive I've been making them myself.  I've also got into baking a lot, mainly desserts.  Fresh food just tastes better, and it can work out cheaper and healthier since I'm finding that if I bake a pudding I'm a lot more precious with it than if I'd bought it - I eat less of it because I put the time into it, and that means it lasts longer.  I tried making shortbread for the first time today - lovely stuff!

The Other Bits:  Same as above really, I'm just trying to cut down on the amount of possessions I have that I don't need or want, so I've been giving things away and passing them on.  It's tempting to just accumulate things, but after a point they aren't useful or meaningful any more, so why hang onto them?  If nothing else, it's a lot easier to find things than it used to be, and even in my small bedroom everything seems a bit more manageable.

Things to work on

The Activity:  This is one of the areas I've been slacking off in over the winter (although overall I've been out on more walks than I have in previous winters) but now it's easier to be outside without masses of layers on I want to pick this back up.  I've got the bicycle out again several times this week, as Loughborough's the kind of town that's a little too big to walk right across but a little too small for driving to be really worth it and as long as you can feel your fingers on the brakes you can cycle.  There's a sense of achievement whenever you get somewhere, even when you're a bit hot and sweaty.

The other thing I'd like to do, which I've only tried twice, is stairs.  At the moment I'm working as a receptionist, which is boring but fine.  The problem I'm having is that spring is making me twitchy and I've realised that having to sit down for eight hours a day, bar trips to the photocopier, is making me very sedentary.  I've said before that I don't need to be an athlete, but I do want to be active, so I spontaneously decided to spent the last 15mins of my lunch hour going up and down the three flights at the back of our office building as quick as I could.  It started as a jog and ended as a trudge, and my calves were feeling it the next day but it wasn't too arduous so I did it again the following lunchtime.  I plan to keep it up and see what it does for me.  If nothing else it got rid of the twitchiness.

The Waste:  Leicestershire is fantastic for the amount of materials the council recycles, and the recent introduction of a second wheelie bin for recycling has cut out a lot of trips to the bottle bank for me, so that's been pretty good.  I've switched to paper lunch bags to cut down on my use of clingfilm and foil too, but the other side to this is making sure I use products that are environmentally friendly - it turns out that foaming liquids, such as shampoo and washing up liquid, as well as things you'd expect like bleach, can have really harmful effects if they get into the water system.  However there are a lot of products out there which are fully biodegradable, some of which have become well known enough to be stocked in local supermarkets, such as Ecover.  Sometimes these products might be a little more expensive, but I figure that's the price you pay for not killing the ground you stand on.  I'm also making an effort to choose more Fairtrade alternatives - again, they're more expensive but I tend to think of it as that being the real price of those items, rather than the ones I've learned to expect where corners are cut in terms of employee wages.  I could do more though.

The Food:  Trialling switching to wholemeal on my carbs, but not for the calories (sorry Emily).  Y'know how they make white bread white?  Bleach!  White flour, used in white bread and pasta and hot cross buns and everything else that I love, is only white because they 'refine' the white stuff in a process that involves bleaching it.  No not your standard kitchen or toilet bleach, but I still find it very unnerving.  I've been sidling away from white bread for a while, into half-n-half and then multigrain, but this week I bought a big brown loaf.  It's a bit drier and coarser than what I'm used to, but while I'm adjusting some lemon curd will fix that right up :)

The Timekeeping:  This has always been a big deal for me, I've never been a great time-keeper on a day-to-day basis, although I can manage it for special occasions and one-offs.  A lot of this is connected to my ability to stay awake until 3am with no adverse affects on my productivity, no if I ever had work to finish I'd just stay up and do it, then get my eight hours.  This works fine when you're a student... but not so fine when you're an employee who needs to be out of the house by 8am latest regardless of how much sleep you got.  I need to be stricter on myself and be in bed with the lights off by midnight at the latest.  Even if I hold it down for the week I'll break pattern, stay up late on one Friday and that's me in bed for half the day on Saturday.  The weekend is too short to stay abed.  There's things to do, adventures to go on; I must learn to get up!

Wow, with all this stuff to work on it's going to be a big year!

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