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A room of one's own

I'm creating a Zen space for myself.

So, it's 2015. 

I wonder what the year will hold in store? Good things, one hopes, but much of it is out of one's own control.

Last year was a good year for us workwise: this year starts with unemployment. But on the bright side, perhaps less exhaustion from overwork to go with it. I will have to take back the gardening in-house this year as we can no longer afford to employ someone, the dogs are back on dechets, which will save us 80 euros a month, and I aim to put myself under a new-clothing embargo in the interests of economy.

Ideally I would spend nothing all year on clothing, but I think that's a tad unrealistic - but I'm hoping to manage the first three months without spending any money on clothes. Because the truth is that I have no clothing needs, only wants. 

Because I do not believe in resolutions, only in intentions, I will not commit to something like Project 333 (I'll blog more about this later), but I hope to stick to something similar myself, along with my other intentions for 2015: to lose weight, to gain fitness, to do more yoga, and to practice more zazen. 

In the interests of not spending money on clothes, I've spent the past couple of weeks diligently unsubscribing from five email feeds each day. It's remarkable now little crap is now coming into my inbox. Some of these firms, such as Finisterre and Lands' End, I did sign up for, but there were many that I did not - I've never bought a damn thing from Next, for instance, and yet there were their email offers, endlessly cluttering up my inbox. 

In the interests of doing more yoga and zazen, I've also stopped looking at the news, listed some Zen and simplicity blog favourites to read over breakfast, and clawed back a dedicated space for myself in the house. Our 'second' bedroom, which has in turns been a guest room, a sewing room and a winter bedroom, is now going to be 'my' room. Weeks of decluttering and discarding furniture (25 sacks of clothes and fabric so far, plus a double bed and a marble washstand) have resulted in a space large enough to accommodate a nice daybed for lounging and reading, plus a huge area to put down a yoga mat. Most of the rest of the room is empty and I am using the money gained by selling furniture to have another closet built in.  

Earlier in the year, we had closets built into one half of the room, which we exchanged for our vintage Karmann Ghia, which was rusting away in the garage. I think I got the better part of the deal, with floor-to-ceiling storage 60cm deep now running along the whole of one wall. Following Marie Kondo's advice, I also put a bookcase in the back of the hanging section, which freed up space on our landing as well as providing me with storage for sweaters, shoes, etc.   

The room is now starting to feel very Zen, and will be even more so by the summer, I hope. Here will be my singing bowl, my rune stones, my scented candles, my miniature Zen garden and my SAD lightboxes. Everything white and calm. And no-one allowed in except by appointment... 


Time for a bourse

The urge for a clothes swap is upon me.

Well, it's definitely autumn now, isn't it? The weather fell off a cliff yesterday, as if someone had thrown a switch. Not so much in temperatures as in rain, and the wind picking up. It's been a remarkably still summer, with almost nothing in the way of wind, and I'd forgotten how quickly it strips the heat out of the house. Plus there is that sound - the wind lashing in the trees, the crows the only birds to be heard. 

It means I'm gradually washing and putting away my summer linens - with some regret, I must admit - and that makes me think of a bourse, or clothes swap.

I haven't held a bourse since April, though there was one in July that I missed, due to ill health, and for most of us here the summer is very busy with visitors, running gites or animals to look after, so we have not seen each other much lately. But this change of season when you pack away your summer things and get out the heavier clothes is a good opportunity to reassess your wardrobe and your clothing needs, and it's a good excuse for a get-together too.

As aforementioned, I had already done an edit of my clothes for the coming autumn, and shoved a load of clothes (two thirds, at a guess) into an 'also ran' pile. So last night, I went through that pile and sorted it into keepers and chuckers. The stuff to chuck, it is galling to admit, is nearly all mistakes - things I tried that just didn't work like the floral shirts I bought last year, things I ordered that turned out to be the wrong shape or too bright a colour and which I lacked the energy to send back, or - a real problem for me - teeshirts that were fine for one or two wearings but which then shrank so much in length in the wash that they're no longer wearable.

Do all busty women have this problem with teeshirts? I have the Devil's own job getting them long enough to go over my boobs. Many times I buy a tee that seems fine, but once it loses a bit of elasticity in the wash, it ends up at my high hip, whence it proceeds to walk up to stomach level as soon as I move - not a look I am interested in. If they're long enough, they're usually too baggy - an issue I've found with Lands' End, where I like the quality but can't find a cut I like. I'm desperate for Finisterre to get back in their tees in charcoal and black for winter, as they are 27 inches long and quite clingy - perfect for my hourglass shape - and they actually stay put, though at £45 a pop, they are a serious investment.

Within an hour I'd bagged up 60 garments for the bourse and I haven't even started on the winter clothing yet. Here, I had intended to do the Euromayenne fair again, as I have three times in the past, but when I emailed to book a stall I was told rather snottily that I wouldn't be allowed to sell secondhand clothing. Frankly, I think that's a bit rich, given the general poverty of this area, where average wages are 12,000 euros a year, so I guess that means a whole load of photographing and sticking stuff on Ebay and trekking to the post office. But c'est comme ça. If my Aquascutum, Jaegar and Austin Reed aren't good enough, then bollocks to them. 

A couple of my old furs, I have in mind to send to the costume museum at Bath as they are good examples of their day, with the 1930s techniques of fur stranding etc. And the rest, into the bourse they go.  

Meanwhile, my closets are looking, if not empty, at least not packed to the gills any more, and everything suddenly goes with everything else, which can't be bad.  


A new room

We're revamping the house again.

fjell bed

Well, it's 3.00am and I can't sleep, so I might as well blog... 

We are carrying on with our declutter-fest. Having disposed of 100 items of clothing recently, I just decided to keep going, and then I hit on another bright idea.

We live in a three-storey house, because the attic is converted. But it's glacially cold up there, including our bedroom. It's a lovely room, with a cathedral ceiling and full of light, with its huge Velux window and casement looking out across the garden and orchard. Waking up in the summer months is a great experience, but it's a terrible struggle to keep it warm in winter.

Two years ago, it was 8 degrees, and this winter we managed to get it up to 13 or so degrees, but it cost a fortune in electricity (plug-in radiator, because we can't run the central heating for more than a couple of hours a day, being oil-fired and very expensive), and 13 degrees is still cold enough to wake you up with a cold face.

Then, recently, I hit on a bright idea. On the first floor, right above the living room, is my sewing room. It's long since ceased to be the room where I actually sew and become a repository for junk: fabrics, out of season clothing, my kimono collection and assorted storage (bedding, towels, old diaries, photos, etc) and furniture that's migrated from elsewhere in the house.

However, it's a relatively warm room as it has the chimney for the woodburner running through it and also benefits from the heat that builds up in the room below during the course of an evening. It used to be our guest room but we rejected it as a permanent bedroom for ourselves because it's so dark, lit only by one deep-silled window facing west and a tiny arrow-slit window to the south. 

But, in winter, it suddenly occured to me, this is not an issue, because you go to bed in the dark and you get up in the dark anyway. There's nothing to stop us having a winter bedroom and a summer bedroom. 

As often, when I mentioned it to the DH, it turned out he'd been thinking along similar lines (this often happens - probably a sign we should get married...).

I don't know why we'd never thought of this before. It gives us a ready-made spare bedroom for the occasional visitor and there's plenty of storage under (and on) each bed for items such as spare duvets, which do seem to take up a ridiculous amount of space. Clothing for each season can be stored in the relevant room and we'll just migrate in spring and autumn. 

Of course, the room will still have to do double-duty for sewing, but that is fairly easy, I think, as there is a deep alcove lined in shelving that can be curtained off fairly readily, and we have decided to hire a carpenter friend to build a storage wall on one side to make better use of the difficult space that goes around the spine beam and the sloping chimneypiece.

I have the above bed in mind for this room - the Fjell from Ikea - in order to keep the profile neat and not have dust bunnies under the bed. That, a couple of nightstands and a chair to sit on should suffice and since we want to move two of the four chairs out of our dining room anyway, in order to free up space, that kills another two birds with one stone.

So, this past couple of days I have set to and started chucking out, listing furniture for sale and getting rid of my old massage couch, which I haven't used in years.

It is a good feeling, decluttering and lightening up. You find an enormous amount of crap you've kept for reasons you can't fathom, and a lot of badly used storage (I had a bunch of empty shoe boxes, for instance). I've already filled two rubbish sacks with charity and chuckouts and have decided to start using up some of the sewing stash for quilts to sell on Etsy. 

Right, back to bed... 


Busy doing something

Today I have mostly... been a scrubber

Ouf. Off to bed in a minute after a fun Bank Holiday. Some people, doubtless, went to the coast, given that it was 27 degrees and blazing sunshine, but here the DH was working, so I felt morally obliged to do something useful about the place. 

We have been decluttering recently - something we always seem to feel the need to do in spring. The DH has been clearing out his studio (aka: junk room full of computer bits and whatnot), while I have been chucking out clothes. I bunged over 100 items in the latest bourse, and at the end of the bourse, took three binliners of clothing round to a friend's, whose daughter is knocking off work after having her baby and could do with a new wardrobe for free.  

Meanwhile, the DH has been screaming for more space in the living room, as he is sick of manoeuvring around furniture all the time (why, for heaven's sake, do we have a dining table that seats six, and four dining chairs, when we eat on our laps?), and I too am getting tired of what we own - furniture that is too heavy and cumbersome. I fancy, for instance, replacing our Queen Anne high-back dining chairs with indoor-outdoor stackable bistro-style chairs, so we can also use them in the garden.

Anyway, here's what I got done today:

* After chi kung (about which, the DH is being good as gold) and breakfast (an apple, as today is a fast day), I did some work, then had a bath.  

* We had a nice hour-long walk before lunch and then I had a rubbish stock-cube-soup and another apple.  

* I did three loads of washing and got it all dried outside in the sunshine.   

* Then I did the plastics recycling - two bin bags full. This is just a couple of weeks-worth, given that we don't have potable water so we drink 24 bottles of mineral water a week.  

* I took five bin bags of rubbish to the poubelles.  

* Then I started emptying our disgusting, full, white trash trailer and took another five bin bags to the poubelles. No more, because I ran out of bin liners. 

* Then I valeted the car, because the rubbish had leaked ick all over the boot and because we also need to take it to the garage to ask about a part-exchange. We have a lovely Citroen C5 estate, but it is way too big for our needs and I fancy downsizing to something like a C3 or a Clio. It's got to be a French car, in order to get parts and servicing, so sadly a Nissan Micra, a Kia or a VW are all out. 

* Then I cleaned out the Dust Buster, because it was full of car crap, mostly sand from Brittany.  

* Then I had a rest and a cup of rooibos, especially as I fell a couple of weeks ago and have a twisted ankle, bruised ribs and a bruised sternum, so am feeling a bit dire generally.

* Then I did some gardening - mostly just tidying up as I did a ton of dead-heading, pruning and planting at the weekend.  

* Then I did some work for an hour or two, and then went down to the ponds to read for a bit in the sun, but I couldn't concentrate, so I raked out algae instead.

* Then we came back up and had dinner (salad with bresaola and another fucking apple).

* Then I swept up the living room, packed up a bin liner of clothes for Emmaus, filled the car with boxes of books/old computer etc for charity, cleared the dining table of all the accumulated junk it's acquired while we've been decluttering, covered my wing chairs in freshly dyed clean sheets (I've gone for turquoise...) and moved all the furniture we're getting rid of into the dining-room half of the living room. Presto, tons more space. 

And now it appears to be night.  Oh la, another day bites the dust. But I did at least get to spend a lot of it outside today, and even inside, the doors and windows were wide open, with that amazing summer feel - birds singing, willows blowing. My ministrations mean that the car is beautifully clean (next stop, the car wash) and we now have uninterrupted space from the front French doors right across the room to the window opposite, which overlooks the hillside. This, I think, is the crucial view in the room and keeping it clear makes the place feel huge. 

A good day's work, then, so I can feel virtuous, and back to my desk tomorrow. And, thankfully, eating again...



Tidying up

Doing several 10-minute tidies per day is helping me keep things in better order.

The DH was away in England recently and while he was gone, I made some valiant efforts to get the house somewhat tidier. 

We are both messy people, and living with a dog and five cats doesn't help. With him, it's robot parts, bits of computer equipment and books. With me, it's clothes, hobbies like beading, and more books.

Add to that the fact that our surfaces are covered in mud on a daily basis, courtesty of our cat Rockwell, who sleeps on the living room buffet and drinks from the kitchen taps; the fact that at least one of the cats will be sick each day, and on a bad day there can be 6-7 lots of vomit to clean up; litter trays for the 18-year-olds (three of them); woodburners and the general filth of country life and it's quite a potent cocktail.

I lugged eight sacks of rubbish, eight sacks of recyling and seven sacks of charity stuff to the various depots over the course of the week, set up a 'station' for shredding paper; cleared a proper space in the office to work on my beading, and generally got the place looking pristine.  

I then decided to practise some better daily habits.

* Bring breakfast in on a tray so that I can carry it away easily afterwards and clear the crockery into the dishwasher.

* Plump the sofa cushions after breakfast.

* Keep the kitchen island unit clear (of catfood, crockery, stuff that hasn't been put away yet...) 

* Dry the bath after using it and hang the bathmat over the side so the floor is clear.

* After getting dressed, make the bed (which has been airing since we got up and by now has a sleeping cat on it).

* Keep all surfaces clear, especially the pine buffet that divides up our living room, and the coffee table (remotes are allowed).

* Vacuum the hearth, where there is always an ash spill.

* Spend 10 minutes tidying up after breakfast, lunch and dinner, to stop the mess from building up during the course of the day. When you work from home and cook all your meals from scratch, things can get pretty chaotic.

So far, it is working well. Walking into a clean, neat room whichever room it is, is raising my spirits, and - like exercise - doing housework in small tranches doesn't feel too burdensome - important when it takes an hour to vacuum our 70sqm living room. 



Wardrobe planning

Find out the clothes that are really working for you - and discard the rest.

Which clothes in your wardrobe are you actually wearing? According to professional wardrobe organisers, the answer is surprisingly few - about 20 per cent. The remaining 80 per cent of our clothes hang there untouched.

The ten per cent solution

I have decided to get rid of 10 per cent of everything I own.

Conquering clutter

Space and light should be the mantra.

According to Terence Conran at least...

Easy ways to reduce your fashion footprint

Check out this video for how to throw away your clothes sensibly

Even ditching your clothes has an environmental impact...

In one door and out the other

This year it seems I will make more from selling my clothes than I spend buying new ones.

This year I find I have bought almost nothing new to wear, and got rid of some old favourites.

What ARE you wearing? Part 2

Culling your useless clothes can be a satisfying experience - here's how to do it.

In Part 1 of this article I looked at how to work out which clothes you're actually wearing. Your clothes have now had a month to prove their usefulness and it should be pretty apparent which ones you're NOT wearing, so we'll now look at these.