Tag Archives: lifestyle

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

iconiconI wouldn’t normally buy a book about tidying up, but everywhere I’ve turned recently people seem to be gushing about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying or the KonMarie Method, so I thought that with a baby arriving this month it might be worth a read.

It’s a very short read but as for being a “simple, effective way to banishing clutter forever”? I’m not convinced. And that’s before you get to her claims that it helps her clients lose weight, improve their skin and transform their careers…

Firstly, I found her constant repetition of the phrase “putting your house in order” really disconcerting. I’m not sure whether that’s been translated literally from the original Japanese or poorly translated by someone who isn’t familiar with every day English, but whenever someone talks about putting their house in order in my experience, they are usually referring to putting their affairs in order before they die. So far, so bleak.

I disliked the fact that the KonMarie method focuses on throwing out anything that doesn’t “spark joy”. The author writes with pride about the hundreds of 45 litre rubbish bags her clients have thrown out, the never worn clothes that have gone to the bin and how her clients have learned to eagerly await the arrival of the bin men… it all sounded incredibly wasteful. While I appreciate the need for a good declutter now and again (we’ve taken a lot to the charity shop and put it on ebay while getting the house baby ready), nothing in the book seems to get recycled, just binned. And she has a real fixation with binning. It’s like a one woman crusade to promote landfill.

As a book lover, I think her attitude towards books was the worst for me. Not only does she encourage her clients to throw out any books they don’t truly or deeply love but she counsels people that they are burdening and oppressing their families by passing on the items that they no longer want to them. I can’t speak for all readers, but I love it when a friend or family member passes on a bag of books that I haven’t read to me. And she advises people to keep their bookshelves out of sight in wardrobes, where you should also store such items as wedding albums, souvenirs and mementoes… if you insist upon keeping these, she’d really rather you didn’t.

I admit, I’m probably not Kondo’s target reader, but I have to say, I struggled to understand the deep admiration that fills most of the writing you will read about her. Instead, I was left with a deep concern for her wellbeing. Kondo seems to eagerly reminisce about how she started reading her mother’s lifestyle magazines at the age of five, before taking up compulsively cleaning the family home every evening after school. Throwing away her parents’ and siblings’ possessions if she felt they weren’t in frequent enough use. She recounts one occasion on which she had a kind of breakdown on the bedroom floor at not being able to get her room clean enough for her liking and heard a disembodied voice talking to her… throughout the whole book it seems as though she uses a need to tidy as a way of avoiding living life in the outside world speaking very critically of her family (she admits towards the end of the book that her issues with tidying may relate to her relationship with her mother). And really, what kind of family sees the older brother allowing his little sister to declutter his bedroom? Just weird.

I got the impression that Kondo’s insistence upon treating objects as people, thanking them for their day’s service, unpacking your handbag to allow it to relax after a hard day, holding them to feel whether there is a “spark” between you suggests she’s more comfortable with things than real life. While Kondo’s ritual cleaning of her handbag into specially constructed drawer compartments every evening might be viewed as eccentric, her storage of dishes on the veranda throughout the day sounds unhygienic to me (pollution? wildlife?) and as for her suggestion that shampoo bottles need to be towel dried after each use to prevent them becoming slimy… I can’t imagine wanting to live with someone who allows their surrounding to exert such control over their everyday life and happiness. Life is too short.

So while lots of people have fallen under the spell of the KonMarie method, I politely decline to jump on the bandwagon, preferring to sit in one of my reading nooks with a good view of my heaving bookshelf, mantelpiece and walls which are covered in family photos because that sparks joy in me.

For images of a client’s room before and after the KonMarie method see this Guardian article. Personally I think the before image looks more interesting… the after is like a room in a nursing home…

Tea Party Planting: Alice in Wonderland style floral arrangements

As the world and his wife know by now, I’ve got a big thing about Alice in Wonderland, so it may not come as a big surprise to learn that my eye has been caught by flowers planted in oversized tea pots or giant cups and saucers like the ones from Marks and Spencer and Interflora below.

iconShopping in a junk/antiques shop in Huntingdon this weekend (I prefer the term junk shop, they still existed in my youth… now everything is vintage or antique, I grumble and digress) I found this giant tea-pot which I think will be perfect for planting something up in- I’m torn between an English Ivy/miniature rose combo or a more practical herb garden. It came with a plate to stand it on, but unfortunately that didn’t survive my boyfriend knocking them both off the table, though the tea-pot has which is impressive.

Tea pot planterFor more inspiring tea party decor, check out my friend Laura’s blog post about her trip to the Peace in the Park festival in Oxfordshire which paid tribute to the county’s Lewis Carroll connection.

Rose Petal Biscuits #SundaySnack

rose biscuits rose flavoured cookiesI made these rose petal biscuits for midsummer’s evening last week using the crystallised rose petals that I made at the same time because I thought they had a very Midsummer Nights Dream vibe- I could easily believe that they are fairy food. They are really pretty and perfect for a fairy themed or romantic look, though you could just as easily leave the rose petals off or use another decoration.

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 225g salted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon rosewater
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Decorations

 

Method

Cream together the butter and sugar using an electric whisk then mix in the other wet ingredients.

Once these are fairly smoothly combined, stir in the flour and baking powder until everything is evenly stirred in.

This dough is quite tricky to handle, especially if you’re making it on a warm day as I was. The easiest way to manage it is to shape it into a sausage and chill in the fridge or freezer until it’s fairly solid and then cut thin slices (about 3mm thick) from the sausage which will bake into the biscuits shown. If you want to use a biscuit cutter for a heart shape or similar, I would chill the dough until solid, roll out to 3mm thick between sheets of greaseproof paper and then freeze that before cutting the shapes out. This dough makes a lovely biscuit but is very difficult to handle.

Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes in an oven which has been preheated to 190°C until they are a light golden colour, then allow to cool on a cooling rack or fresh greaseproof paper.

When the biscuits are completely cool, beat the egg white with the water or rosewater (this depends on your individual preference, I find that the additional rosewater in the icing makes the biscuits a bit too perfumey, but if you like them strong add it to the icing in place of the water) before using an electric whisk to mix in the icing sugar so that it has a light, fluffy texture. Add in food colour very gradually until you’re happy with your shade. Then spread on the cool biscuits and sprinkle with crystallised rose petals.

As the icing contains uncooked egg whites, be careful feeding to people with weakened immune systems and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Crystallised Rose Petals

crystallised rose petals

This weekend I spent a lot of time hanging out in my garden, chilling out with my guinea pigs, weeding the borders and checking out how my crops were coming along. I decided to make some rose petal biscuits to celebrate midsummer, and thought that crystallised rose petals would make a lovely decoration. If you’re an organic gardener, they are really easy to rustle up. All you need is a rose, some greaseproof paper, an egg, a paint brush and some caster sugar.crystalised roses step by step

 

 

Pick your rose, and gently pull off the petals, abandoning any that are torn or spotted.

 

 

 

 

 

Gently paint each petal with some lightly beaten egg white, I add a tablespoon of water to my egg whites for a thinner and a finer glaze.

 

 

 

 

 

Gently sprinkle caster sugar all over the rose petal, shake off the excess and then lay on a sheet of greaseproof paper to dry for a few hours.

 

 

 

 

Lavender and Honey Candles

Lavender and honey candles

I’d really been enjoying the sunshine, being out in the garden with the smell of blossom and the buzzing of the bees as the days got warmer… and then the summer disappeared leaving me with rain and gloom. Since Jon is in Cambridge this weekend and the rain had me stuck in the house, it seemed the perfect opportunity to try making some tea cup candles and bring the feeling of summer indoors using beeswax and lavender essential oil for that summery feel.

These were really easy and turned out really well- all you need is beeswax, essential oil, wicks, tea cups and an old saucepan. The wicks, oil and wax pellets were relatively cheap online and the tea cups were a steal in local charity shops. The blue cup and saucer came to 40p earlier today and the pink tea cup and saucer were £1.50. I even got a new saucepan for £1.95 to melt my wax so that my pans didn’t get damaged.

 

tea cup candles step by step

 

 

1)      Measure out your wax, I found that to fill a tea cup I needed about two cups full of pellets.

2)      Set up a double boiler so that the wax doesn’t burn and allow your beeswax to melt slowly.

3)      Dip your wicks in the melted wax to coat them along the length, I used pennies to weight mine and ensure they were straight.

4)      When your wick is securely in place, take your wax off the heat (I added my lavender oil at this stage) give it a stir and pour into the cups.

5)      If your candle has dipped or cracked, add a little more melted wax to level it off before trimming your wick to a safe length.

6)      Hey presto, your candle is ready for lighting.

 

 

 

I am more than a little smug about these. I’ve really been enjoying lying on the sofa as they flicker in the corner. They’d be great presents or decorations at a tea party.

Sometimes people do nice things…

bookcase parrotI bought the parrot in this picture from Etsy in October, and the postman tried to deliver him when I was in hospital having my operation. My boyfriend wasn’t allowed to collect him from the post office and by the time I was out of hospital and able to get to the post office, he’d been send back to the seller Susanna. Susanna got in touch with me to tell me he’d come back to her, and when she heard about my operation she told me that she hoped I was feeling better and sent him back to me, so he is now making me happy by brightening up my bookshelf.

I just thought I would share how nice Susanna (who runs this website according to her Etsy profile) had been to me to remind everyone that sometimes people do really nice things.

Seville Orange Marmalade (complete with literary influences…)

Seville orange marmaladeOranges are not the only fruit, unless you’re making marmalade in which case, sorry Jeanette, but they pretty much are. I know that you can technically add tangerine, ginger, grapefruit and whatnot, but for me, the Seville orange reigns supreme because of its distinctive, tangy marmalade taste, though not before sugar has been added. I don’t know if you’ve ever accidentally eaten a  bit of Seville orange thinking it was something other than a bitter cooking orange, but if you have you’ll understand the quote from Much Ado About Nothing:

The count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor
well; but civil count, civil as an orange, and
something of that jealous complexion.

If you want to make your own marmalade, and eat your sandwiches as Paddington Bear, intended, it’s pretty easy following this handy how to make marmalade guide from the BBC. Geeky literary quotes about Seville oranges and marmalade on the label are optional, but great fun.

Baby Blanket Boom!

This week I finally got around to finishing my granny square baby blanket for my niece Amelie who was born on January 2nd. I am quite pleased with the crab stitch edging as it’s the first time I’ve used this stitch and like all my crochet knowledge was picked up from Youtube videos.

Amelie's blanket, made using lots of granny squares

Amelie’s blanket, made using lots of granny squares

This wasn’t nearly as late as the baby blanket I made for my nephew Joe who was born in July but got his blanket in October or November… just in time for it to get really cold.The blankets are all based around the idea of the granny square, Amelie’s as 30 granny squares joined and bordered (hint, use a square number to avoid same coloured squares touching) and Joe’s as a giant granny square with little squares around the border.

Joe's blanket, one large granny square with a mini granny square border

Joe’s blanket, one large granny square with a mini granny square border

His mother Laura, who blogs at HelloMisterMagpie kindly got me the Mollie Makes Crochet book for my birthday, so I will hopefully have lots of new ideas for crochet soon, maybe moving onto a more complex pentagon shape!

My Top 5 Bookish Tumblrs

031020103131.jpgThere are so many inspiring book blogs out there, but I find that the Tumblr pages tend to get a little overlooked compared to their wordy companions. Here are my five favourite book related tumblr pages which I like to check for smiles and inspiration.

1. Bookshelf Porn

Bookshelf Porn is not such an overlooked tumblr since anyone who is into books or interior design will be familiar with their page, if not through tumblr itself then through the multitude of shares on Facebook, pinterest, etc. The most famous and the best for a very good reason.

2. Epigraphic

I am a bit of an epigraph obsessive, I really appreciate a well-chosen one but found during my A-levels that others don’t find them as interesting (the epigraph in question was the Sufi proverb in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale). I was delighted to come across Epigraphic a really cool tumblr page which collects pictures or quotations of epigraphs from a wide variety of books. I’ve even added a few books to my to read list as a result of their epigraphs being shown on this page.

3. The Art Of Google Books

The Art of Google Books was a recent find after I read a piece about it on the New Yorker. Collecting scanning errors and quirks that have occurred during the mass appropriation of content for the Google Books programme, it also includes marginalia, tea stains and other evidence of previous readers which will be lost if books go entirely digital.

4. Pretty Books

Pretty Books is edited by an individual and I think it’s all the nicer for it, as you really get a sense of Stacey’s individual tastes and style from the consistently gorgeous images she selects. I envy her aesthetic flair.

5. Ideal Bookshelf

I came across Ideal Bookshelf through Bookshelf Porn which just goes to show the lovely stuff you can find while reading other people’s blogs. The artist creates portraits of people which show them as the books that have shaped their lives and personality, rather than the nose and eyes that genetics have assigned them. I think it’s a lovely idea and am so tempted to get my own.

 

Save Money on Books – Tips for Cheaper Reads

Untitled design
Let’s face it, books aren’t cheap and they can really hit your pocket if you buy a lot of them. A few years ago I posted some eco-cheap tips about how you could read more, spend less and save the world but given the current financial climate and some extra tips I’ve learned in the three years I’ve been blogging since I decided this didn’t go far enough. So if you consider books to be luxuries rather than essentials, here are my top money-saving tips for you.

 Borrow and Swap

1. Libraries

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- making use of your public, school or university library is probably the easiest way to get hold of the books you want for free. Sign up for a library card and you can rent a selection of books (and DVDs, and CDs) for weeks at a time, just make sure that you renew or return by the due date to avoid fines. My local library has a great community of readers around it and hosts storytelling, author talks and reading groups so it can work wonders for your social life as well. Bonus point of libraries- authors receive a royalty for books loaned through libraries, so even if you aren’t able to support your favourite author by buying their books, you are still supporting them by reading them.

 

2. Set Up a Swap Table

At work we have a swap table where you can leave your books when you’ve finished reading them and pick up a new book in exchange. This doesn’t even need to be limited to books. Our table is fairly book dominated because of the nature of the publishing industry, but I’ve also seen CDs, DVDs, cake and in the summer a glut of allotment fruit and vegetables. It has all the benefits of swapping with a friend of family member but with much greater variety, and you can spring clean your bookshelves and know that your unloved paperbacks are going to a good home.

 

3. Ask a friend for their book

If you see a friend reading an interesting looking book, don’t be afraid to ask to borrow it. It’s always nice to see what you’re friends think of a book that you’ve loved (or hated) and it will help you bond over a shared interest. I love lending my friends my books as I know they always pass on something exciting in return.

 

4. Book Mooch

If you aren’t able to set up a swap table in work and your friends aren’t big readers, then there are great websites like BookMooch that allow you to swap with readers all over the world for the cost of postage. Though you do have to be patient while you wait for the book you want to appear, there is an immense sense of satisfaction in hunting down that little gem. It is especially good for classics such as The Great Gatsby or set study texts and you can decide where you’re willing to send the books, though you do get more points if you’re willing to agree to international swaps.

 

Beg

5. Make the most of wishlists for Christmas and Birthdays

If you’re a reader on a budget and you aren’t making use of some kind of wishlist for birthdays and Christmas then you need to start, pronto. My boyfriend always asks for a wishlist for my birthday and Christmas (they’re exactly a fortnight apart and he panics) so I always stick a few books on my list and he’ll pick a selection of them. You still get a surprise because you don’t know what you’re getting, and they have reduced pressure. There are tools for this on Amazon, Play etc. but I find it just as easy to send a polite email or text when someone asks what I would like to receive.

6. Ask for national book tokens or gift vouchers for your favourite bookshops

If you’re not sure what books you want when a big occasion is coming up, you could also ask very nicely for book tokens. I often give these to readers (my father especially) for Christmas with a stocking filler because I know he’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of a book, but I’m never sure that he hasn’t already read the book I’m picking out for him.

Buy or Acquire (for a fraction of list price)

7. Charity Shops

As well as clothes that don’t suit or fit me, I take books that I’ve read to my local charity shop to make room for replacements on my shelves. I have pretty regular clear outs (because my boyfriend complains that the house is overrun with books) and not only do I get the exercise benefits of lugging along some pretty weighty tomes on the way there, but I invariably end up finding something I haven’t read but want to. My local charity shops sell paperbacks for about 30p and hardbacks for 50p-£1 so I sometimes end up coming away with more than I’ve left.

8. Second Hand Bookshops

As with Charity Shops, second hand bookshops are a great place to search for hidden gems surrounded by likeminded people, but be warned, this can become addictive, especially if you start scouring places like Hay-on-Wye for beautiful antique books. This happened to me when I started collecting Wuthering Heights books. It may end up costing you more than you save!

9. Green Metropolis

If you are searching for a particular book but want to avoid Amazon (for whatever reason, now’s not the time for a soapbox) then Green Metropolis is a great site which allows people to sell their old books for a flat fee of £3.75 and at least 5p from each sale goes to The Woodland Trust so it boosts your eco-credentials at the same time. Green Metropolis also lets you list your old books for sale, and while you’re not going to make a huge profit when the cost of postage is deducted, you can earn a few pennies towards a new book or to cash in for real world money.

 

10. Sign up for the Newsletter

If you sign up for newsletters from your favourite publishers, they will not only send you information about new releases, but very often special offers and whopping discounts. One of my favourites is the Penguin newsletter which pretty much offers a 25% off discount code every month which I can use to treat myself or buy something nice for other readers in my life.

 

11. Make friends with your local bookshop

My local bookshop runs a loyalty scheme where I get my card stamped for every ten pounds I spend. Once I fill up my card, I get to pick a new book for free. It is addictive and I do have dreams of one day owning a gold loyalty card. It’s not just indie bookshops who do this (though obviously, it’s good to support them if you can) high street chains like Waterstones have a points based reward system which lets you spend points instead of pennies.

 

12. Electronic versions

If a book is out of copyright (usually 70 years after the death of the author, but it varies depending on international law and publishing history) then you can often find it LEGALLY free through websites like Bibliomania or Google Books. If you want to buy an eBook version of an out of copyright book, then these can often be found for nothing or next to nothing through major online bookshops, though please remember you should only do this with books that are out of copyright.

 

13. Special Occasions

Keep an eye out for special events in the reading character, like world book day or world book night. School children will be given tokens for a free book on world book day, and publishers give away millions of adult’s books for free as part of World Book Night. You can even sign up to spread the joy and hand out copies of your favourite books.

Win

14. National Book Token Competitions

Remember the National Book Tokens I was talking about earlier? Well they often run competitions in which you can win tokens to buy whatever book you fancy. Sign up to their newsletter and details will be emailed to you whenever they run a competition.

 

15. Blog Giveaways

If you follow book blogs, you’ll see that many reviewers will offer giveaways of books they’ve reviewed if they have been given an extra copy by the publisher. I sometimes run such giveaways myself and I occasionally buy books to giveaway for the occasional competition. You’ve got a better chance of winning if you know about the competitions, so keep reading those blogs!

 

16. Publisher Giveaways

As with the discounts, if you follow publishers on twitter or subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll get to hear about the competitions they are running to promote their new releases and will be in with a better chance of winning.

 

17. Foyle’s Book Game

If you’re really clever, you might be able to win the Foyle’s book game run by the London bookshop from their Twitter account each Friday, but competition is fierce and the real reward is a well-crafted book  pun.

 

Is there anything I’ve missed? What are your tips for saving money on books?

 

 

Image adapted from original by @Doug88888 under the terms of the Creative Commons License