Wibbly heap ahoy!

You were warned!

I think we did most of last weeks job list along with some of this weeks too. The garage and garden wall have been painted and I’ve contacted all the Zone three hosts. The kids have waterproof coats, thermals, decent boots and waterproof trousers. I have my years supply of contact lenses. The van is still at the garage and we’ve given notice to anyone who needs it about our impending departure.

Our plan is to start boxing the house up now, storing the boxes in our playroom and then moving them into storage the week before we go. Once we get the van back we will start filling it with stuff coming with us. On our final weekend we should just have beds, sofas and other too large to fit into a car left in the house. We have friends staying for our Bye Then party and then 2 full days left (we’ll have both finished work) to fully clean the house, hire a van to move the last heavy / large things into storage before locking the door behind us and dropping the keys off with the letting agent.

Lots of people are asking how we’re feeling now it is all so real and imminent and the answer is ‘excited and scared in about equal measures’.

Excited because this is something we so want to do and have been planning for months, it’s a relief it is finally here, it’s been quite a logistical event to pull off and I’m personally quite proud of making it all happen. What felt like a mammoth task ahead with lots of scary variables has indeed proved possible to get this far in. I’m excited to be on the brink of what I think will be a life changing event and catalyst for all sorts of things in the future of all four of us aswell as looking forward to the year for it’s own sake – spending time together, meeting some very interesting new people, living with less stuff, getting fitter and healthier, having an adventure and creating a story to tell for when we’re old and grey bouncing grandchildren on our knees.

Scared because there is of course so many different ways it could go wrong. Working phyically leaves many chances for injury or being incapacitated let alone just getting ill with colds or flu or other bugs. Scared because although we have a small contingency fund along with a tiny monthly income we will be living on very tight finances. If the house needed something expensive doing or the tenants left or failed to pay we’d be in trouble, if the van breaks down and can’t be fixed in one day we have nowhere to sleep that night. We might find ourselves staying with people we don’t like or have different expectations of each other. I know Ady is apprehensive about keeping the kids safe and happy in so many unknown locations. I’m nervous about food, whether we’ll like what’s offered and what happens if we don’t, how I’ll cope with the many, many dogs we are bound to encounter along the way!

So… boxes.

we are proud to announce…

our plans to the whole world 🙂

We have been waiting for everything to fall properly into place before the final stages of the adventure start and we ‘go public’. Today Ady has handed his notice in at work so the rest of the world can now know.

We have firmed up a date to be out of our house and for tenants to move in which gives us slightly longer than we first thought. This is great as it means everything comes together as per my originial plans. It does mean we will end our time in the house without TV, phone or internet as I’d already given notice for the earlier date but I quite like the transition happening in staggered steps.

Willow the van is at the garage, having an MOT and getting checked over to see what is happening with the batteries to make the vehicle battery not keep it’s charge. We’ve had the landlord gas safety check done and we have waterproof jackets on the way. I’ve ticked off most of this weeks job list, the chickens who left have done so and are happily installed in their new home, the rest are staying here as the tenants are keeping them on.

I anticipate life (and therefore this blog) to rather degenerate into a slightly wibbly heap for the next month as we frantically try and pack everything up, say our goodbyes, documenting as much as we can and heading off on our way.

Weeks rather than months….

Further developments to report!

Firstly, and most excitingly we seem to have tenants! There is still paperwork to be completed and final dates, signatures and checks to be done but it is all in hand.

This means today I am off to hand my notice in at work. They already know and have done for months about the plan and I had a provisional leaving date in the diary ages ago but I need to go and confirm it. A will wait until next week as he has a little annual leave to use up anyway which means he shouldn’t need to work his full notice so we’ll wait for everything to be fully finalised before he takes his letter in to work.

This gives us about 3 weeks left in our house to box everything up, clear out the last few things which need listing on ebay, taking to the tip or giving away on freecycle.

I’ve given notice to Sky tv, have lists of places to give notice to once we have a firm date, lists of people we need to try and cram a get together with before we go and a Bye Then party to plan with a large group of friends.

We need to sort out internet access for the van, a solar panel for the roof, waterproofs, thermals and decent work boots. I need to order in a years supply of contact lenses, decide whether a kindle is a worthy investment 😉 and confirm dates with the hosts we’ve already booked and send out the first email enquiry to the zone three hosts on our shortlist.

Let the countdown to craziness commence!

Days like these

Anyone who knows me in real life, or indeed has followed this blog for more than a short while will already know I am an optimist. I tend to always see the light at the end, rather than the gloom of a tunnel, the glass not only half full but another bottle or a tap handily placed to refill it again, every mistake or bad move as an ‘improvement opportunity’ or lesson to be learnt.

I know this tendancy can be annoying to others, I’m not 100% convinced it is healthy myself, it can certainly be on the short sighted side, but I’ve got this far in life with an airy wave of my hand and an ‘it’ll turn out okay…’ and thus far it seems to have done.

Today could be framed as a bad day really. My car, which has cost a bloody fortune to keep roadworthy and costs me about £15 a week just to have sat outside on the road in terms of insurance and road tax, isn’t running. It doesn’t like the damp and simply refuses to start. This is both annoying just because I don’t want to be shelling out money I could put to better use for something that’s not working anyway and it is inconvenient because if it was running we would have gone to a friend’s today. If it continues to not start I will have various things due to happen this week that I’ll have to cancel.

The tenant viewing didn’t happen either. 15 minutes after they were supposed to be here, after I’d spent the morning cleaning mirrors, fretting about creating that important first impression and refusing to let Dragon & Star get anything out to play with the agent knocked on the door to say it didn’t look like they were coming.  He came and had a look round the house anyway as he’d not been before. I don’t know why the potential tenant didn’t turn up, I guess it’s irrelevant really.

So days like these, days when everything feels rather out of my control and like it’s all stacked up against us are the ones when we have to really question what we’re doing. I think it is far harder to be responsible for the source of your stress yourself, when actually it is entirely within your reach to stop what’s going on and just decide not to do it after all.

As a Home Educator this is something I am already familiar with. We don’t often have bad hours let alone bad days, but they do come along every so often. Days when life would be so much simpler if Dragon and Star went to school, I went to work and we were just like everyone else. Those are the opportunities for us to challenge what we’re doing, question our lifestyle and re-evaluate whether it is still working for us. Thus far we have always concluded that yes, this is the right path for us and whilst the bad days would be for different reasons we’d still have times of stress and discord and wondering what it’s all about even if we did what everyone else does.

I don’t think there is much in life which isn’t worth sweating over a bit, gritting your teeth at times and getting through the tough bits to the stuff that makes it all worth it. At the moment I would liken our countdown to the first bit of a rollercoaster ride. We’re still in the queue at the moment, it’s been a long, long queue. To begin with we were just fed up to be at the wrong end of such a long wait – that was us back last summer, knowing what we wanted but with very little to do other than hanging around waiting and shuffling forward a little every so often. Now we’re near the front it’s starting to feel pretty scary. I can sense how scared we’ll be a few weeks down the line when we are strapped in and at the point of no return – that tough, uphill bit where every second feels like hours as you climb ever upwards. I can look further ahead to that hands in the air, wind in our hair, screaming for more, rush of adrenaline and crazy excitement as we realise how much we LOVE IT. Or we’ll hate it, realise it was a big mistake and come off shaking and happy it’s over. At the very least we’ll never look at rollercoasters again and wonder what we’re missing, whether it is something we should have tried.

So today I am appreciating the kids being able to choose a dvd to watch, a comfy sofa to sit on, I’ll appreciate a hot bubble bath later, a glass of wine with my dinner and a warm snuggly bed to sleep in tonight. These are things we won’t have in a few weeks time. I’m contenting myself that nothing really worth doing every comes easily and that these challenges and uncertainty and testing times will be what makes it all really rewarding when it all comes together.Which I am confident it will…. just hope it’s soon!

8 weeks to go

give or take as many weeks as it takes to find a tenant.

In order for everything to go perfectly as planned we need to have a firm tenant sorted by 20th January. Eek, that’s less than 3 weeks away. That allows both of us to hand our notice in at work and leave on the dates we planned, our Bye Then party to take place, a week in the van somewhere along the way between here and our first booked host from 7th March to fully leave one life behind before embarking on the next and everything to fall nicely into place finances wise.

Meanwhile I’m tying up lose ends on the little things, reducing mobile phone tariffs to bare minimums until contracts run out, checking notice periods on things like Sky TV, BT phoneline, internet provider and so on. My car will be put into storage while we’re gone so the insurance and tax needs to end on that. We need specialist landlord insurance for the house, permission from our mortgage company to let it out and we need to finely tune our finances for the year so that we balance between paying stuff in full in advance and keeping enough of a contingency fund to ensure we can cope if things go wrong along the way.

So we’re poised with phone numbers and addresses and websites all ready prepared for giving  notice as soon as a tenant is found, I’ve changed my car insurance to a rolling monthly arrangement and we’ve pretty much made final decisions on what is coming with us, what is going into storage and what still needs to go. I’ve done another load of ebaying and we still have some runs to the tip and some further ebaying to go. An unfortunate side effect of creating spaces in the house has been that they tend to get filled back up again so we are thinking about starting to box stuff up and allocating one room in our house to a box room from now, if only to give us that feeling of being about to move on.

My car had a very costly bill for getting through it’s MOT and having work done to it which has set us back a month in terms of getting stuff done that costs money but will hopefully be worth the sacrifce now when we come back and have a roadworthy vehicle to use or sell depending on what we do at the end of our year. This means that stockpiling contact lenses, buying waterproof boots and clothes and a solar panel for the van are all on hold for now.

It is suddenly odd that we are no longer saying ‘next year….’ when talking about our adventure, it is now ‘in 8 weeks…’ which brings it all so much closer. We are having wobbles – at the enormity of what we’re doing, at the fresh realisation of saying goodbye to things, comforts, friends, a certain calendar whilst at the same time trembling with excitement that it really is happening, that we will have such an amazingly different year in 2011 to that we had in 2010 – all the adventures, learning and new stories ahead of us poised to happen.

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.

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?

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.

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.