Si' has been returning home of late with a spring in his step and a happy smile on his face. Given that he does a rather stressful job this is not what I'm used to. Perhaps he has found a new love and I should be worried. He has and I'm not! In the autumn, when we had finally made the decision to downshift, we invested in a new chainsaw. I think I've already mentioned that we are planning to install a woodburning stove this year and the cost of running it can be kept to a minimum if we can source our own timber and cut it up ourselves. Where Si' works, they had to have some big trees felled, as they were leaning at dangerous angles over adjoining property. Naturally, you would expect to incur cost for having professionals in to take the trees down safely but it was going to cost yet more to have them sawn up and removed. So Si' is saving his employers some cash and getting us some free wood into the bargain. I don't wish to sound like a government health warning here, but if you are thinking of using a chainsaw yourself, and you've never used one before, do get yourself booked onto a proper course first. Si' used to manage woodland on contract in a previous life and took a course himself when he was starting out. Luckily, the new chainsaw came with all the necessary protective gear as a free gift but normally you would have to factor this in on top of the cost of the chainsaw itself. It goes without saying that if you want to cut up wood on land other than your own , you should seek the permission of the landowner first. They might be glad to let you have the wood from their fallen tree for nothing if you are willing to cut it up and take it away.
One of the things we are discovering about our newly downshifted state, is that lack of cash forces you to come up with all sorts of ways to cut costs and that many of these are also greener and more healthy for us. The wood that Si' is cutting only costs us for the fuel it takes to cut it up. He is already travelling to work anyway so fetching it does not necessitate extra travel. He gets good exercise splitting the logs, loading them up and unloading them at the other end and psychologically he feels better for both the exercise and the fact that he has a nice stack of wood drying for next winter. The three R's originally stood, as we all know, for reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic but they have gained an additional meaning in the more envirinmentally-conscious present day: reduce, re-use and recycle.
One of the first things we did after deciding to downshift was to cut up our credit cards. Actually, that's not quite true, as we have each retained one each for direst emergencies but we did clear our balances and have stopped using them as a source of everyday funding. Four months on, I now wonder what I used to buy with them. I think it was probably all the little treats and extras that go with being constantly busy, purchased to make ourselves feel better. I certainly don't miss them, what they bought me, or the nagging doubt in the back of my mind that it would all have to be paid for some time. Also, I think remembering to make the payments on time is an additional stress in itself. Now I think very carefully about what I buy and, more often than not, conclude that I really can live without the set of pink-handled spatulas I spotted in the shops last week! Cutting our own wood to burn next winter also reduces our dependence on the big energy suppliers and their sudden hefty price increases and buying our fruit and veg from the market cuts our supermarket bill. Growing our own fruit and veg saves us yet more.
Whatever I'm doing now, my mind is constantly working to find other uses for things that are 'leftover' from other things; in essence, the by-products of what we buy. If I can save money at the same time then so much the better. I have a lot of both jam and pickle jars, mostly donated by friends and relatives, which I use when making my own preserves and I've also started saving glass bottles, from sauces and juice, with a view to making my own this year. Plastic bottles are washed and cut in half for mini-cloches for the allotment; newspapers are saved for composting or for that ultimate in re-cycled handicrafts, papier mache. Old plastic 3-litre plant pots are lined up ready to start my dahlia tubers into growth and I've decided to hang on to my seed and bulb catalogues when I've finished with them as a source of brightly-coloured decoupage material. Si' brings home wooden pallets from paper deliveries at work, for building compost containers, and the peel from our fruit and veg, excess cardboard and old egg boxes make up the compostable contents of his labours. I suppose the ultimate in re-using are my shopping basket and 'bags for life', like the lovely pink one from IKEA, above.The basket was a gift and I think I paid about 50p for the bag, which is extremely strong and gets used for carrying picnics and stuff to our little caravan, as well as for shopping. Library books, too, are re-used by each person who borrows them. The following tips are two I've incorporated into my own routine. Toothbrushes, after being given a thorough soaking, can be used for cleaning limescale off taps in conjuction with some salt and vinegar. I tend to wrap strips of kitchen roll, soaked in vinegar, round the taps for a few minutes first if the scale has really built up, and use the toothbrush to scrub off what's left. It might be a good idea to test this on an inconspicuous area first, though it's always worked fine for me. Lemon skins are useful for deodorizing chopping boards after cutting up foods like fish or garlic. I suppose, ultimately, we are only limited by our imaginations in what we choose to re-use!
When I was growing up in the early seventies, I can remember the 'rag and bone' man coming round every so often to collect up pieces of old junk that nobody wanted any more. Although it was his way of making a living, I suppose he was an early form of recycler. You don't tend to see rag and bone men nowadays but recycling on a large scale has become the norm which most people, either by their own willingness or through local council arrangements for domestic waste collection, participate in. When I've finished chitting my potatoes in the cardboard egg tray shown above, it will become a valuable constituent of my compost heap. Likewise, all receipts with bank details on, or those pre-approved credit card application forms that drop through the letter box with irritating frequency, are shredded to try and prevent identity fraud. They, too, end up in the compost heap. I've been quite pleased, of late, to discover that our local council now recycles cardboard drink cartons. We drink quite a lot of juices and now feel we can do so with a clearer conscience. In the autumn, I was horrified to see leaves being swept up in municipal areas, like parks and cemeteries, and sent direct to landfill in plastic binbags. I collected quite a lot myself, before they could reach them, and have a big container (made from the aforementioned wooden pallets) in which they are left to rot down to make my future potting compost. Another saving! Both those who donate to, and those who buy from, charity shops are doing their bit for recycling; even nearly new items can be had for a fraction of the original purchase price. It's only relatively recently that I've come to realise the value of my mother's line of business. She deals in secondhand and vintage items, has done so for thirty years, and effectively makes her living finding new homes for pre-loved goods. Car boot sales, salvage yards and auction houses (for old, rather than new goods) all extend the life of items that, in many cases, would have ended up in landfill.
My own excuse for the clutter that fills our attic is that it's all waiting to be 'reduced' through 're-use' or 'recycling.' It think it sounds very worthy but it hasn't, as yet, managed to capture my attention. What I need is the motivation of some warmer weather and an imminent car boot sale to recycle some cash!