1

It’s up and it’s down

When we first started telling friends about going off on our Wondering Wanderers adventure we had a huge range of responses. Several friends asked if I would be blogging it (I have had a blog for some years and done various other blogs at different stages, about living a more frugal life, about Home Education, about moving towards a self -sufficient-ish lifestyle with our allotment, chicken keeping etc.). I said I would be and started to think about at what point to start a blog. I decided the ‘story’ of the WW adventure was a three parter really. The before, the during and the afterwards. I suspect they will have very different aspects, pace and plotlines in each part. I am also aware that this blog is being written by me and whilst I am writing an account about the adventures of all four of us it is very much in my voice. It has to be said I am very much the driving force behind the whole thing at this stage. The idea was hatched up by me and presented to the others, we have all had an equal voice in what we want but the logistics and facilitation are mostly being carried out by me. This is logical both as these are the skills I possess, I mostly enjoy being the one with the clipboard and I am the one who is around most to do these things with Ady working full time.

I’ve been reading a few books about adventure / experiments in life changing  pursuits – I think I’ve linked to them all before but the most relevant are: How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day, How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day, No Impact Man: Saving the Planet One Family at a Time: Saving the World, One Family at a Time, The Tree House Diaries and I’m about a third of the way through The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living. All (except tree house diaries) are year long experiences just like ours is planned to be. All are life changing both in their own right for the year and for the longer term lifestyle, all have a massive leaning towards greener, lower impact, more sustainable lifestyles using less money and resources and more creativity and resourcefulness. Coming from different angles but all with very similar ‘journeys’. A decision to do something radical, sometimes as a result of a sudden epiphany, sometimes a gradual realisation that a change is needed. A period of planning and preparation, the telling other people and dealing with their feelings and opinions, a bit of a reality check when the toughness and ‘what the hell am I think?’ -ness sets in – all this before you actually embark on the adventure in the first place!

During the ‘experiment’ there seems to be all sorts of highs and lows, unexpected hard times, steep learning curves, kindess from strangers, unanticipated good points, maybe some rationalisation or changes to the original idea. Plenty of serendipity aswell as the universe dealing one rough turn after another at times. Expect the unexpected, seize the day, trust the process, take responsibility all seem to be important things to focus on here.

All of the authors end their time changed in many ways. Ready to return to some aspects of their former life, adamant there are other elements they will never return to. All have learnt so many new skills, ideas and changed their priorities, have different agendas to what they started out with and every single one feels richer for the experience – not least because they have sold books about it! 😉

So back to us and our ups and downs. We are still at the very outset but have already started along the path of our adventure. In many ways we were heading this way for quite a while in others this has come quite suddenly – I have another post in mind in the style of a roll of honour, people who directly or indirectly have a part to play in our planning to go off and do this, I will try and get that written soon. But already we have begun to think further than our initial brief and come to realise there will be more to this adventure than we first thought.

The WW adventure has come about because we have this long term dream of living a self sufficient, sustainable lifestyle. We want to grow our own crops, rear animals for their produce and meat, we want to live off grid, we want to learn about self builds. We think. Chucking everything we have in the air and risking it on what we think we want is a risk too far, so we’re going off to learn first. Learn both if it is what we want to do and how to do it.

I had not anticipated how difficult some aspects of the planning and preparation were going to be. I was being very logical about it and had a list: find people to have us to stay and teach us, buy a van to travel in / sleep in when required, rent out our house to pay the mortgage. This meant clearing the house of most of our belongings – to raise money and to empty the house ready for rental. It meant preparing to give up our jobs. It meant realising we’d be living, the four of us, together most of the time, in a small space or sharing housespace and mealtimes with other people. People we’ve not even met yet.

So we’re coming through some downs at the moment. This feels tough because it’s all our own making – we could stop now and change our minds and end the things we are struggling with. It’s also tough because I am naturally an optimist and inclined to see the best of things or find the way to put them right. But I want to document it. I want to have an honest and accurate account of what we’re doing and how it’s making us feel. I want to be able to say ‘remember when we found it hard and were not sure whether we could make it?’.

Ady and I are coming to terms with what will be an ongoing shift – a change in the dynamic of the four of us. To this point we have all had fairly clearly defined roles – Ady has worked full time and I have been the one at home most of the time. The Home Educating of Dragon and Star, the remembering birthdays, organising holidays and day trips, doing the shopping and deciding what we’ll have for dinner, ensuring cars are taxed, insurance is paid, we don’t run out of toothpaste – all of these things have been my domain. Now we are realising that next year roles will get smudged. I will no longer be primary parent. Mopping up tears, ensuring teeth have been cleaned, laying down the law etc, all of which Ady can and does do but generally fall to me will no longer be solely my domain. In our lives next year it will be other people teaching all of us, other people calling ‘tea time’, Ady with the upper hand of more knowledge in some areas and me in others. The dynamics, relationships and intricacies between the fours of us as indivduals and a group will all shift, alter, morph and develop.

Dragon and Star are finding getting rid of things hard. I don’t think many 8 and 10 year olds have faced the sorts of dilemmas and life changes they are dealing with now but I think most adults have. I think having your choices laid out before you and a very clear ‘if you choose this then you can’t have this’. Giving our children a voice, taking them seriously and talking things through with them is very much the way we parent, protecting them from harm whilst at the same time giving them the opportunity to make decisions. So we’re talking this through, agreeing that yes it can be hard, suggesting that it will be worth it and reminding them to think about all of the things they want to achieve next year and are looking forward to. Children are pretty resiliant and whilst I’d never patronise them or underestimate the depth of their feelings it is amazing how quickly the angst of sorting out old felt tips can be forgotten and gotten over after a nights sleep and their favourite breakfast cereal when all enthusiasm for next year is renewed.

We’re in rather a limbo period just now, with lots of the tough packing our live up stuff done or being done and none of the potential upside of this close enough to touch just yet. It’s hard living in a house without furniture, it’s taking more discipline than some of us are used to to keep everything tidy and not just spread back out again to use up the newly created space. It’s hard to be in work knowing you won’t be around to see the results of those planning meetings. I think staying committed to one life whilst already having a foot in the next is just a tough thing to sustain for more than a very brief period. It’s unsettling, challenging and a rather harsh reality I’d not necessarily factored in as a possible down side to this whole adventure.

All that said, all of the above has served to illustrate some previously unrealised ups too. I see how much Dragon, Star and Ady have to gain from this increased time spent together. Last weekend Dragon was upset about a chest of drawers leaving the house. It was bought by my grandmother for us when he was born and has been a fixture in his bedroom ever since. It was ten years old, there were knobs missing, several of the drawers were broken. It had done it’s time and frankly even if we weren’t about to leave it was on borrowed time anyway. Dragon was very upset, he said it was precious, he’d had it a long time, he wanted to put it into storage. I explained that it was no longer any use, not worth putting into storage and that it had to go. We talked about how some decisions are hard ones to make but for the right reasons. I pride myself on being pretty good at talking stuff through with my children in a no nonsense, caring, talking them round and helping them realise things for themselves manner. But I was going round in circles. So Ady took over. He went upstairs with him and they talked about the positives next year will bring – time together, no more ‘not now Dragon, I’m busy’, no more ‘I can’t today I have to go to work’. They talked about how they are going to learn new skills together and had the amazing brainwave of taking all the fixtures and fittings off the drawer unit and putting them in a small bag – screws, knobs, hinges and drawer runners. Next year they have pledged one of the things they want to learn is how to use those fixtures to build their own drawer unit from scratch – a reminder of what Dragon let go and considered precious will live on in those hinges and knobs along with new skills and precious time spent with his Dad. I can see from this that there is plenty to gain from me not being the person trying to put it right, that putting it right isn’t the answer, coming up with an even better alternative is.

I think that’s what we have to learn from this stage. It *is* hard, there are huge changes afoot and far from trying to get back to normal what we need to be doing is readjusting to our new normal and be up for change, ready to adapt and be creative and flexible in our approach. I hope the lessons we are learning during this time will stand us in good stead of the wobbles along the way and that just as we are finding more downs than we first expected it is all relative and unanticipated highs will be there in the mix too.

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Operation House Rent

Way back when we first started talking about the WW plan for next year we had several stumbling blocks to get past to make it all happen: firstly we needed people to actually want us to come and WWOOF for them, secondly we needed a campervan to transport us around the UK and to live out of when hosts can’t accomdate all four of us or when we simply take some time out (it’s our intention to have the odd week off here and there), thirdly we need to rent our house out in order to pay the mortgage and give us enough of a little income each month to cover petrol costs and any other things that crop up (food, clothing, emergency supplies of wine or chocolate, that sort of thing!).

We got the first three months worth of hosts booked fairly quickly. I am in the process of drawing up the short list for Zone two and composing an email to start booking the next three months but early signs were promising so if the good people of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are happy to have us, hopefully the lovely folk of North Wales will feel the same.

The campervan also fell into place pretty easily, sooner than expected and aside from needing a bit more work done to her and an MOT before we go Willow is ready to roll.

The house is the final hurdle. If we don’t rent it out we can’t pay the mortgage and if we can’t pay the mortgage then we can’t give up work. If we can’t give up work we can’t go. So it is pretty crucial. We have rented this house out before, five years ago for a 2.5 year period. It rented easily, had three sets of tenants in it and was a fairly straightforward operation. Timing is pretty tricky this time, no point in having it arranged too far in advance as that leave too much time for it to fall through, people are not necessarily looking for somewhere to live in 3 months time, they are looking for now and in order to make it attractive we need to remove our stamp on it and make it look more like it could be a potential tenants home. This means making everything clean, clutter-free and blank canvas-like. In short, magnolia!

So the house is all but clutter-cleared, the last few things will go this weekend. Then things which are staying will be boxed up and moved into the middle of each room and my Dad will come in with a paintbrush and a vat of emulsion and make it look fresh and ready for a new chapter in the biography of the house. I’m hoping to get two or three letting agents in to give me their idea of monthly rental prices and sell their services to me in terms of marketing, securing tenants, preparing contracts and making it a smooth and hassle free arrangement. Then one of them can start trying to get a tenant.

Ady needs to hand his notice in by the end of January to leave by the end of February to be off at our first hosts at the beginning of March. So we will have until the end of Jan to have a tenant signed up to take the house on before he hands his notice in. If we don’t have one, he won’t hand his notice in and we’ll have to put plans on hold until we do have a tenant. We do have the option of moving out of here earlier than March as we can live in the van and have several options for parking it on people’s land so we can still work in our jobs til the end of February before going off.

Every step of the way we have been so lucky so far, our own planning has paid off and things have fallen into place. I am keeping my fingers firmly crossed that the same good fortune follows us for this next big part of the master plan.

0

Back to my roots

I’ve been thinking about my grandmothers today.

Two women, very different people, a whole generation apart age-wise with the only common factor being that one’s son married the other one’s daughter. I’ve been wondering how my life compares to theirs, how much of either or both of them is in me, both my nature and nurture. I carry their genes and am the product of their offspring both in physical make up and in upbringing, values and ideas.

My Dad’s mother, Beatrice has been dead for about 25 years. I have only wispy, photo-based memories of her. I only knew her as an old woman, infact as she was into her 40s by the time she had my Dad, her only child, he only knew her as a middle aged woman too. Beatrice was English but married a Welshman and moved to North Wales to live with her husband and his mother, a woman who only ever spoke Welsh to her (a language she never understood) and made her life difficult. My Dad was born just before WW2 and lived his early years in a tiny Welsh village that had yet to see electricity. Beatrice raised her son in a house with one room upstairs and one room downstairs. The cooking, washing, heating, drying clothes was all done over the open fire, the toilet was outside. Christmas presents were home made wooden toys, clothes were home made, hand me downs, donated by the church charity. Milk and butter were from the farm cow down the lane, eggs from the chickens in the back yard, veg from the garden grown yourself, the bulk of the meat was rabbits or pigeons trapped or shot by her husband or chickens that had stopped laying eggs.

My Dad was her priority, she took on the only credit she ever had to buy a piano for him to learn to play on, she stayed in North Wales until my grandfather died and then followed my Dad down to Sussex where he had moved at 21. She died, aged 91 having lived through two wars, seen electricity, the telephone, television, man land on the moon and indoor toilets all happen during her lifetime. My knowledge of her is limited to the dim memories of her giving me polo mints and the only time I ever saw my Dad cry on the day she died. My Dad speaks of her with love, affection, admiration and she is clearly his role model as a parent. If I had a time machine and could go visiting someone from the past she is the person I would choose. I’d ask her about my Dad as a small  boy, about the huge sacrifice she made moving to Wales and whether it was out of a grand passionate love for my grandfather, desperation to have a child or some other reason. I’d love to know what she thinks of me, of Dragon and Star her great-grandchildren, of the world today and of our plans to head back towards some of the lifestyle she lived.

My maternal grandmother, Margaret was just 19 when she had my mum and 21 when she had my uncle. She married a man about ten years older than her (my grandfather) and their marriage ended when my Mum was 21. She was evacuated to Cornwall during the war and spent much of her childhood apart from parents and siblings.

Margaret has been an incredibly successful businesswoman. She is a florist and has owned several flower shops, done floral arrangements for all sorts of organisations and occassions, had a deserved reputation in business circles and been chairperson of chamber of commerces and other such organisations. She is 82 now and although not in perfect health is able bodied, lives alone and independantly, still drives and works as a volunteer for charities, attends church and has an active, busy life. She is computer literate and online having always kept abreast of technology as a business owner and then carried on learning after she retired, going to college to learn about computers and getting herself a pc. She has travelled the world on cruises and aeroplanes and kept up with a rapidly changing and progressing world.

Two very different women, two very long and full lives, two very similarly minded offspring in my parents though. My parents are very materialistic, they have worked hard, both had their own businesses and spent time earning money to accumulate nice things around themselves. I know both their mothers are / were proud of them for their big house, nice cars, nice holidays.

I wonder whether there are elements of these women driving me? Is there a spirit entrepreneur and seeing what people might need along with an ability to keep abreast of progress there in me from Margaret? Am I channelling Beatrice in deciding enough is as good as a feast and what matters in life is love, family and simply providing?

In the 70 odd years since my Dad was born our planet has undergone huge changes and leaps forward. In our society we have gone from rations, struggling to have enough and spending time on simply providing for our basic needs to having more than we can ever dream of all laid before us to try our hardest to use up. We don’t need to conserve, preserve, fret about waste, save up til we can afford to pay now instead of later. We don’t need to harness energy from the elements (sun, water, wind) to power our TV sets, laptops, X boxes, chop wood to burn to to heat us twice (once in the chopping, again in the burning), grow vegetables, hunt animals, make clothes, bake cakes…. you can do the whole lot, online, from Tesco, delivered packaged to your door.

I wonder what Beatrice would have made of that? I can picture her, walking the aisles of Tescos, utterly bewildered at the whole business, dazzled the bright lights burning up electricity while she looks in wonder at exotic fruits flown in from all around the world, rails and rails of clothes, shiny plastic toys, a huge selection of equipment with plugs all designed to mop up the free time she will now have on her hands in the name of entertainment now the simple tasks required to meet basic needs are all done for her. Would she be delighted? Would she be amused or confused? How would she feel about being able to send email instead of writing a letter, walking to the post office for a stamp? Would she miss stopping for a chat in the village or talking over the fence to a neighbour while digging up potatoes when she could poke people on facebook or see what was trending on twitter? Would pulling a packet of biscuits and jar of jam from a home delivery of supermarket shopping give the same feeling as tipping a cake out to cool from the oven or serving up a slice of home made bread with home made jam?

Beatrice didn’t need a gym to keep fit, she washed clothes by hand, chopped firewood, kneaded bread, walked carrying shopping. She didn’t need social networking, she had friends up and down the street, she didn’t need Ikea for storage solutions, she had as much stuff as she needed and space for it all, she didn’t need Tesco to deliver her shopping, her food grew in the garden, ran in the fields, swam in the stream, was sold in the local shop or farm.

Progress is mostly good, inventions are amazing, saving time a wonderful thing. But I think we need to consider the true cost of our pre-packaged, home delivery life. I have this sneaking suspicion that our lives may be more convenient, easier but maybe slightly poorer and less rewarding as a result. When was the last time you were proud of something you had done? When was the last time you fell into bed and slept the peaceful sleep of the truly tired having used your body for what it’s designed for? Are hours of your time spent travelling to work, hours more spent in unwinding from the stress of that work? Is your life being sucked away in mindless pursuits? If today were your last what has been your legacy? Will your grandchildren one day think of you and wonder what you’d have thought of their life and just what life and you leaving behind for them anyway?

2

If you try hard enough

I’ve often been heard preaching that ‘if you try hard enough you can do anything’. This has disbelieving looks from people telling me ‘you can’t fly’ or ‘not anything‘. I guess that does need qualifying a bit, you can’t seem to cheat death for example. The thing with death of course is that it is inevitable. My Dad (who is known for words of wisdom every so often) says death is the only thing in life which is certain. And he’s right. From birth we are hurtling towards our ultimate demise, some way sooner than others of course and we never know just how long we have left. But I do believe that we can have most of the things we want in life, just not all of them because in getting one, you are choosing not to have another. I honestly believe for example that if I tried hard enough this time next year I could have £1000000 in my bank account. I could work three jobs, deal in drugs, have a go at prostitution, the list of seedy and illegal money making pursuits goes on. But I choose not to, the consequences and compromises are too great. By the same token I could have maybe not a million pounds but certainly a lot more money than I do now by dedicating all my time to making money. But I won’t, because there are other things more important to me – spending time with Ady, Dragon and Star, curling up on the sofa with a book, walking along the beach, sitting chatting with friends over a cup of tea, baking a cake, blogging… all pursuits which make me no cash at all but feed my soul, make me happy, will be the snapshot postcards that flash through my mind when I look back over my life.

Choices. Several people have said they wish they could do something I am doing before. ‘I’d like to Home Educate but I can’t afford to give up work’. Well you could, you could have less money for holidays, new clothes, you could move to a smaller house in a different area, you could bypass climbing the career ladder.

‘I wish I could go travelling’. You can, sell your house, rent it out to pay the mortgage, find a way of working as you go to cover the costs.

What I’m saying is there are always trade off. For every decision and outcome there is an opposite and equal compromise or alternative choice you didn’t make. Then there is the cosy, easy option of not doing anything at all. It’s about finding the path you want to be walking and then maybe realising in order to walk it you need to clear some brambles first, get some stouter boots and a decent map so you know exactly where it’s leading you.

Our plans for next year are involving compromise, tough decisions and moments when we question what the hell we are thinking. There are the worries we have no control over but can insure ourselves again as far as possible, these include: the van could break down and need expensive repair work – we have breakdown cover and will have a small contingency fund. We could find ourselves arriving at a maniac host who intends locking us all in their cellar – we will have an arrangement with someone who knows our planned movements and contact details and will check in with them at least once a week, there is the concern of just what we’re going to do at the end of the year – will we move back into our house? If so how will we pay the bills? – I’ve no idea on that one but I doubt anyone is secure enough to 100% guarantee they will be able to pay their bills  a year from now, so probably not worth worrying about for now.

There are the more pressing, more tough because they are direct choices we have made and actually if we just chose to stop the whole plan right now we wouldn’t have to deal with angst though. And they are the hard ones. This week I’ve found myself waking each morning in my nice soft warm bed and wondering why I’d give up that basic and enjoyed pleasure. I’ve held a sobbing Star who didn’t want to get rid of her collection of soft toys that needed putting in the loft. I’ve had long talks with Dragon who didn’t want to get rid of bedroom furniture bought when he was born. At every point we talk about whether we are all four happy to continue. I never want Dragon and Star to remember all the tough choices they have made in the months leading up to our adventure as forced on them, made for them by someone else and out of their control. We remind each other of the reasons we are doing this, the upsides of every step and the reversability of it all if we change our minds along the way.

I think its really important to enjoy, not endure, to remember why we’re doing this and keep tallying the tough bits now against the potentially amazing bits to come, to appreciate we are making trade offs and for every thing we let go of now and find difficult we will replace it with someone better, richer, more precious along the way.

It seems wholly appropriate to link to a book I’ve read, witten by someone I admire enormously. I think we should all chase our dreams, once we’ve worked out what they are and whether we *really* want them and are prepared to walk that bramble-filled path to get to them. If you are at that stage right now, this might just be the book to galvanise you towards it.

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Job List

Things still to do before we go away and the house gets magnolia-ised.

Hall

  • I’m thinking we will leave the empty bookcase in situ, assuming the tenants don’t object. There is one large box-ful of books to go to my parents. 
  • There are rather a lot of coats on the coat rails along the wall which need going through. Some will be coming with us, some will be going. A job to do

Lounge

  • Not a lot actually. All it contains is: 2 sofas which are staying, a table and chairs which are staying, a rug which is staying, a TV unit with selected dvds which are staying, TV, video, dvd player etc which are staying. The furniture will go over to my parents for storage, the dvds etc will be boxed up and go over there too. There are pictures on the wall which will come down and go over there too. The room just needs everything moving into the centre and taking off the wall ready for Dad to come in.

Kitchen

  • I have already cleared all the crockery etc we won’t be keeping. Some of the remaining pots and pans will be coming with us, the rest will go into storage. Approximately 2 boxes worth of stuff to pack up just before we leave. Food will obviously all be eaten! There isn’t much decorating to do in the kitchen, maybe a bit of cleaning but we can do that the day before we get letting agents in.

The Playroom aka the holding bay!

  • The cupboard under the stairs needs attention. It was emptied completely but currently contains camping stuff such as a tent. The camping stuff we are keeping needs to go into storage (I think it will fit in our loft which we will be storing stuff in), the rest needs selling. A Job to do
  • The units now contain things we are keeping including photo albums which could be boxed up, my sewing machine and some fabric which needs either using up or selling or putting into boxes for storage, a few games and puzzles we are keeping which could be boxed up for storage and then the units dismantle and put away for storage. The walls need clearing of pictures and posters. A job to do

The Bathroom

  • Has been cleared of all but things we will be using up before we go. It is ready to be repainted.

Star’s Bedroom

  • Rather more to do in here :) Her wardrobe needs a final cull – some of the stuff is to come with us on holiday to be given to smaller friends before the wardrobe itself is dismantled and gotten rid of. A job to do
  • Star’s bookcase has a couple of boxes full of books which need to be boxed up to keep and the bookcase gotten rid of. A job to do
  • Star’s bed is full of cuddly toys which she wants to keep. A box needs to be got ready to store them in and I think they will fit in the loft. She has several boxes of toys which will also go into the loft. A job to do
  • In summary this room needs some furniture clearing and disposing of, some toys and clothes still to leave the house, some toys and clothes to go into boxes so that all remaining is the bed and boxes of toys and clothes ready for repainting the room.

Dragon’s Room

  • Needs all but the identical treatment to Star’s room above. Wardrobe, bookcase and drawer units need clearing into boxes and furniture needs to go. Soft toys and toys, books and clothes being kept need putting into boxes so that all left is bed and boxes ready for decoration. A job to do

Our bedroom and en suite bathroom

  • have been cleared already with only stuff being kept and ready to be boxed up left. It’s ready for redecorating already.

We have two weekends left before we go away in which to achieve this – one weekend for the playroom and hall and one for the kids rooms. Dad will come and decorate and we can invite some letting agents in to view the house and start marketing it to tenants. We still have the garden and garage to totally clear but that can be done during December and January and won’t prevent people looking round the house.

1

The liberation of letting go

We’re beginning to see an end in sight to the declutter. We stood yesterday in the playroom which has become the sort of holding bay for stuff we’ve sorted out as needing to leave the house before it actually does so. It veers between very empty and very full and has spent the last week or so incredibly cluttered as I have a large amount of clothing waiting to be collected by a friend. She is doing a Nearly New sale of clothes and gifts to raise money for her disabled daughter. She takes a percentage of what you sell and passes the rest on to you – you set prices for your stuff. Very similar to the NCT Nearly New Sales I have bought kids clothes from over the years. I also have the remainder of the books from the Open House Books Sale we did. We discussed how we’d not really thought our house was that cluttered to begin with but it has been fairly epic emptying it ready to head off. Of course our combined ages in this house total 100 years (how very tidy, hadn’t realised that before :) ) so that’s a lot of years worth of living and acquiring stuff.

A few new readers seem to have appeared lured by the promise of Extreme Decluttering Tips so whilst people who have been reading from the beginning may well now be bored with How Nic’s House Got Emptied I’ll do a bit of a round up as we are very close to the end of that phase now so it’s a good time to do it.

I’ve always done at least one big clear out a year, mostly of clothes – my own if I have not worn them since the last clear out a year before and the kids if they are outgrown / worn out. I have used various methods of clearing clothes over the years – passing them on to smaller friends and relatives for the kids clothes, selling on ebay (I got more for my maternity clothes that saw me through both pregnancies than I paid for them when I came to ebay them), passing them on to charity shops and I also went through a phase of making rag rugs so cut up lots of clothing to do that (although technically that didn’t mean they left the house they were in smaller, useful incarnations).

We’ve cleared toys fairly regularly too, mainly to make room for more toys it has to be said but better they leave than form the base layer of plastic in a sort of archaelogical landfill inside our home. They have mostly left by the same method – ebay for resale if worth it, donation to family, friends or charity shop or indeed freecycle. Board books and early picture books have gone the same way, we simply don’t have a big enough house to home all of the stuff a family of four collects and as we had Dragon and Star just two years apart and knew we were done with babies after them we were able to decide each phase was over once Star reached it and get rid of toddler jigsaws, lift the flap books, stacking cup and shape sorters as we went.

But we still had a heck of a lot of stuff to get rid of once we started needing to clear the house. Storage is expensive and whilst my parents have kindly offered to take some of our stuff and we will have room in our loft for a few boxes so the few bits of furniture and things we can’t part with will be kept stuff has really had to justify it’s position not to be shipped out.

That meant going through our house a room at a time and making decisions on everything as to whether we could bring it with us, justify storing it or whether it had to go. Furniture, books, clothes, toys, cds, films, kitchen contents, appliances. Everything.
 

We’ll be extreme living proof of the sorts of statistics you hear on Trinny and Susannah about how we spent 90% of our time wearing just 10% of our clothes (or something) so we’ll be doing Capsule Wardrobe in a serious fashion. Any clothes the kids won’t wear next year won’t fit them by the time we get home. Ady and I have kept a suit for funerals, one for job interviews and a small box full of clothes between us (containing mostly Ady’s collection of vintage Pompey tops and my wedding dress) and the rest has gone to the clothes bank or is awaiting collection for the nearly new sale. The kids clothes are all packed up ready to be passed on to smaller friends.

Cds and films were next to be scrutinised. A small selection of each will be kept but we had more music and more films than we could watch or listen to back to back with two being played at once for the cumulative totals of the rest of our natural lives. Precious music had already made it onto MP3 players so the cds went on ebay, collection only. It’s not like we can’t download any tune we want at some future point. Videos went on freecycle, after nobody wanted them on ebay. They are now part of an entertainment library at a local youth club. DVDs did sell on ebay, the smaller collection will be going into storage.

Books! I work at the local library and recently spent some time working out how many years worth of reading material there was just in our small branch. I worked out the avergae word count per book, the average reading speed and the average number of books per shelf. Did the maths and calculated how many lifetimes worth of reading you could get for free from your local library. We were not that far behind with our own book collection here! A couple of shelves were mostly ex library books or other kids reference / non fiction, gathered in the early days of our Home Ed career back when I cherished this notion Dragon and Star would request ‘Mama, do tell me more of the pyramids in Egypt?’ at which point I would gather a selection of relevant books from our in-house library, we’d read together, create sugar cube pyramids, dress with tea towels on our heads for the day, stick The Bangles Walk Like An Egyptian on and make lapbooks complete with hieroglyphics. The thing is Dragon and Star aren’t that sort of Home Ed kids, I’m not that sort of Home Ed mama, we don’t have enough sugar cubes, we’ve sold The Bangles Greatest Hits and we could just google anyway.

I also have a fair few books of my own, some biographies and autobiographies, a selection of fiction and a few other titles. The kids also had some childrens fiction on their bookcases (we have a ceiling height 7 shelf book case in our hall and the kids both have a 3 shelf bookcase in their rooms – all were full, along with a shelf of cook books in the kitchen). We were ruthless in our going through the shelves keeping only the books we simply couldn’t bear to part with. For me that was a couple of parenting / home ed handbooks (Alfie Kohn, Sandra Dodd, David Edwards), dictionaries and thesaurus, a shelf of a few educational books, some Ladybird books and a shelf of books we will be taking with us – Collins books of nature, wildlife, trees, plants, food for free that sort of thing. Dragon has saved mostly fiction, Star mostly non-fiction from their shelves.

Books are tricky to get rid of really, heavy for posting so not great for ebay or amazon marketplace, bulky to lug back and forth to car boot sales but hard to see going for nothing. So I came up with the idea of an Open House Book Sale day, stuck it up on local home ed email lists and as a facebook event for friends and got in a supply of tea and biscuits, displayed the books on the table and in sorted out into themed crates and opened the doors. We had 6 or 7 visitors and it was a really nice day of chatting to friends about our adventure, seeing the books go off to new homes where they will be used and appreciated and watching the pot for collecting money filling up. I do still have loads of books left and have had some interesting suggestions for ideas on what to do with them including donating some to the local doctors and dentists waiting room (I know we have appreciated kids books in both over the years when waiting a long time for appointments), setting some free in the Bookcrossing scheme, giving some of the adult titles to residential homes, hostels, giving educational ones to schools, home ed groups with premises etc. All excellent ideas and some have been taken for those purposes, the rest are now on ebay as a big wholesale lot, with a couple of bids already from second hand bookshops, being sold as collection only.

Toys and general ‘stuff’ went through various processes – if we thought it was individually worth something it went on ebay. We have ebayed perfume, mobile phones, decent toys, small electrical appliances, branded clothing and raised several £100s. I confess to not liking ebay. The process of photographing, listing etc is time consuming and boring, the disappointment when something goes for 99p, the worrying that you have ripped someone off when it goes for way more than you expected, the trek to the post office with wrapped up items. But it is an effective way of getting rid of stuff and making money. Stuff not worth ebaying made it to the carboot sale pile. We did two car boot sales and made a decent amount of cash at each – we priced low and sold hard and it was an enjoyable few hours touting our wares in a field. We got rid of clothes, shoes, toys, more electrical stuff. Anything that didn’t sell was donated to a charity shop on the way home.

Freecycle has been another route for getting rid of stuff. I love freecycle, we’ve done well from it over the years and it’s nice to give stuff back. Toys have gone to grateful new homes, furniture we no longer need has gone to sit in someone else’s home and it’s saving landfill from our rubbish.

So decluttering stuff – easy to find new homes for pretty much anything once you have made the decision to remove it from your life: sell it, give it, donate it.

But I guess that’s not the hard bit is it really? Time consuming, means for a time you end up with more mess than when you started as everything is strewn about the place awaiting decisions but the tough bit is actually making the decision to let stuff go in the first place. To accept that you don’t need to hang onto it ‘just in case’, that there may one day come a moment when you slap your forehead and ask ‘why did I get rid of X? It would be worth £500 now / would be perfect to have in this very situation’ but it’s a small chance and probably worth the risk.

I read something the other day about too much choice preventing us from actually making a decision and I think that’s true. Faced with a jam packed wardrobe of clothes, most of which you have never worn it’s really tricky to think which item to wear, faced with a solid wall of books it’s very hard to select just one title to pull off the shelf to read. Who does that layer thing? That mental segregation or even physical dividing of stuff – the clothes you wear all the time and usually choose something for today from that often don’t even make it back into the wardrobe but move just between the dirty washing, the clean washing and the on your back? Who has a full bookcase but generally selects books to read from the pile beside the bed which is a pre-selected ‘read next’ pile of newer books or library books or ones a friend has given with a ‘you MUST read this’ recommendation. So maybe accept that actually you don’t need all the unworn clothes in the wardrobe, the unread books on the shelf and unused lotions and potions in your bathroom, sauces and spices in your kitchen and let them go.

I’ve let some interesting things go during this process. One was the box of cards we were given when we had Dragon and then Star. I also had folded up helium balloons in the box along with the hospital wrist band for Dragon (Star was born at home). A big box that has moved with us twice, never been opened to look at and if we were not doing this declutter and questioning every single thing we keep would probably have remained in the loft and moved with us if we changed address again. We looked at every card, racked our brains in some cases to recall some of the people the cards were from and then put them in the recycling bin. Did that make you shudder? Realistically they mean nothing, they were good wishes to us for our new babies who are now strapping young children. The good wishes came true, we now have years worth of memories and photos and times spent with those babies. If we stash those cards away again all we are doing is leaving those babies with a legacy of one day having to clear those cards away themselves; dustier, more curled at the edges and with even less chance of anyone knowing who they were from in the first place.

When we bought our house 17 years ago it was on the market as the owner had died. Mr and Mrs Rowe were the only previous owners, buying the house new when it was built in 1950 or so. They had no children and listening to our neighbours accounts of the elderly couple they were nice people, happy together living here until Mrs Rowe died a few years before Mr Rowe and he grew gradually more reclusive and less able-bodied. I think he eventually lived pretty much in one room. The house was cheap, run down and needing lots of work and being sold by a neice and two nephews with proceeds going three ways. The house was cleared by a clearance company and when we first viewed it the contents were still here, ready marked with destinations ‘Sell’, ‘Skip’ etc. The image of a brown suitcase, laid open on what is now my lounge floor still haunts me. It was marked ‘skip’ and contained some sepia photographs of the young Mr and Mrs Rowe along with the something blue garter I assume she wore on their wedding day. I don’t know why they didn’t have children or anything else about them but I know all of their collected stuff was one day picked over by someone and consigned, probably without any emotion, to it’s next destination. I don’t want to burden Dragon and Star with piles of stuff to make harsh decisions over one day after I’m gone, I’d rather read those baby cards one last time, smile at the remembering of those crazy early days of new parenthood, wishing people would stop sending flowers as the doorbell invariably rang and woke a baby I had just lulled to sleep or enjoying recalling how others shared our joy at the birth of our babies. Not cold or unemotional, but not needing pieces of cardboard locked in the attic either.

I’m not necessarily advocating a life without possessions (although that would be an interesting concept). Even in the van we will have the need for useful things, precious things and pretty things. For each of us these conjur up different ideas. For me precious things are not always valuable and valuable things are not always precious. I recently sold a small pile of jewellry I have had for years. I don’t wear much – wedding and eternity ring, a ring of my grandmothers that my Dad gave me at the same time as my wedding ring (which was also hers), a watch from Niagara Falls that Ady bought me when we visited when I was pregnant with Dragon. I have a locket my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 16, a gold bracelet they bought me for my 21st birthday and a necklace Ady bought me for our first Christmas together (all of the ones I don’t wear need repairing). I also had various necklaces, rings and other gold that meant nothing to me, I didn’t like and never wore. Selling it paid for the service on the van. I will keep the few bits that do mean something to me but they are small enough to fit into my purse – one day I might get them repaired to wear again or I might do as a friend recently told me her mother had done with a heap of gold she had that she didn’t like but had sentimental value and have it melted down and made into something I will wear all the time instead. Other precious possessions of mine include a giant wooden clock which hangs on my lounge wall and Ady bought me for my 21st birthday. That will be kept (I don’t think we could hang it in the van!) and will again grace the wall of any other lounge I live in and probably one day hang in Dragon or Star’s lounge I hope. I do have photo albums and framed pictures I love and we will keep those to again hang up, place on shelves when we settle into a house again. They are defining, personal things that make where I live my home. They are on display and I see them every day, I would miss them from my life if they were not there. Anything that does not fit into this category fails to be precious in my opinion and then unless it is useful it doesn’t justify it’s place.

So look around, walk yourself around your home and see what falls into the categories of precious, pretty or useful. The rest is just stuff. Letting stuff go is A Good Thing, it frees up space, lets go of the guilt of not using those things, can raise money, give you a good feeling to know it is now being used elsewhere. Dance in the open spaces it leaves in your home, rejoice in the lack of things creating and capturing dust, spend the money you make on something that *isn’t* stuff, something freeing, something to celebrate releasing yourself from the shackles of stuff.

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Counting Down

It’s November already! The first of a brand new month and we’ll only have 3 more first of a brand new months before we’ll be loading up and heading off.. We are well over halfway through our ‘planning period’ of 9 months from when we first came up with the idea and made the decision to do it. We have our first three months worth of hosts booked, the van to do it in, most of the house cleared and solid plans for the rest.

By the next first of a new month – December – we will be sitting in a de-wondering wanderers’ed house as my Dad will be coming in at the end of this month to magnolia-ise everything. Belongings will be catergorised clearly into boxes marked ‘keep til the bitter end then get rid of’, ‘bring along for the ride’ or ‘stick in the loft’. Most will be minimised and hidden as we’ll be playing that marketing game of making the house look like a spacious blank canvas for potential tennants to view.

By the first of the next month – January – we will be taking down Christmas decorations but not putting them away for the folllowing year. We will be eating food from the kitchen cupboards but not replacing it all with large amounts or bulk buys, we’ll be running supplies out and reducing the cupboards we use.We’ll be giving notice on contracts for phones, for broadband, stopping subscriptions and cancelling direct debits.

By the first of the last month – February we’ll be working out our notice in our jobs, we’ll be throwing away clothes rather than washing them, we’ll be savouring last baths in our lovely big bath, last sleeps in our lovely soft beds, last hugs with our lovely friends.

Our lives have been shrinking since we made the decision to go on our Wandering Wonderers adventure. Shrinking to small enough to fit in a van. We are shedding more than just belongings and turning them into more than just cash. We are infecting more than just the four of us with our wondering and our wandering. People tell me I am inspiring them to declutter, to question the ‘stuff’ they thought they couldn’t do without, that I am challenging them to look closer at their dreams and to wonder whether they would wander, helping them to ask themselves whether they are happy with what they have and where they are going. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me with a whimsical look in their eye about how they’d ‘love to do something like that…’

I feel a bit like we’re in a sink with the plug pulled out at the moment – the level of stuff in our lives is getting smaller and smaller and smaller as we are sucked towards the plughole. I’m looking forward to being sucked through and finding ourselves out bobbing in the middle of an enormous ocean and seeing where the tide washes us up in a year.

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Playing chicken.

Once upon a time every chicken we have scratching around in our garden was inside an egg, inside their mother. Their world exploded into being when their egg hatched, it grew huge, 20 or 30 times bigger inside the incubator or tucked under their mother hen inside the chicken shed. Then they discovered the outside, the penned off area they live within in our garden. For most of our chickens this is plenty enough. They scratch around in the dirt each day, waiting for us to come and feed them, let them out each morning and put them away each night. They are kept safe, fed and have no greater issues than the pecking order within their little community. They mate, lay eggs, raise chicks, sometimes dig up the odd juicy worm and are more than content clucking about. Every so often we get an Adventurous Hen. They realise if they flap their wings a bit harder and get a run up they can scale that fence. Most of them look at the world beyond the fence and hop back down again. There are foxes, other birds who might not hurt them but are different to them – eat different things, live in different ways, make different noises. There is no safe shed to be put away in at night, no certain grain being tossed to them each morning. Okay so the other chickens might piss them off sometimes, they might yearn for a higher place in the pecking order but it’s what they know, where they aer safe. The odd chicken doesn’t come back. The lure of the wider world has called them away. I don’t know what becomes of them. We don’t find feathers to show evidence of foxes making off with them, they don’t send postcards or keep a blog.

At the moment we’re in that holding bay on the top of the fence. We don’t have much room for stuff, we can’t take the shed and the supply of grain and all the other chickens with us. We don’t really know what is on the other side, whether our wings will carry us all the way we want to go, whether we’ll find juicy worms to keep us going, whether the language and ideas and lifetsyle of all the other birds will suit us.But in the immortal words of those chickens who have gone before us ‘ what the cluck, let’s go and find out for ourselves…’