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Customising work spaces and looking after what you own

January, week 3 in The Simple Home

Thinking back on all the houses I've lived in as an adult, I've never walked into one that was exactly what I needed to work efficiently. I always want to make my work, especially the work that is repeated daily, to be as easy as it can be.  For that to happen, I've had to modify my work spaces. Modern houses in particular are set up with an emphasis on contemporary style and modern finishes and while older houses are more likely to have pantries, laundry rooms and a dedicated place for the ironing, they often lack storage and bench space.  We need to modify those larger spaces to support us in the work we do in our homes. This is something you'll do more than once. As you and your children grow older, needs change and so should your home.

Start by looking around your home in the areas when you spend the most time and do the majority of your housework.  For me, that is the kitchen, and my work room, but now we have Kerry and his family staying with us, it also includes a drop zone where they leave their bags, phones and keys, and a place where everyone can charge their devices. Hanno and I charge ours on our computers.

If you have children in the family, it's a good idea to have a drop zone near the front door where they leave their school bags, hats and shoes. If you give them a bench to sit on they can drop everything where it should be, empty their school bag - putting their lunch box and water bottle in the kitchen to be washed, and leave their jackets/hats hanging on a hook or hanger right where they'll find them again the following morning.  This will help with your morning routine too. If you don't have to join the search every morning to find shoes, hats or books, you'll save time and energy at the very time you need it most.

Here are some ideas for drop zones near the front door.  Remember, it doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to work. If all you have is a table or cupboard, make that work.

There are two extra spaces that will link in very well with the drop zone - a charging station and an admin area. Nowadays almost everyone has a mobile phone and often families will have more than one. There are also tablets and laptops that go with family members to school and work and all of them need to be recharged.  If possible, make room for a charging station near the drop zone and encourage everyone to hook into the system as soon as they come home. The benefit of this will be that everything will be charged by the following morning and all devices and phones will be ready and waiting to be picked up right at the front door.  It might even encourage some to leave their phone there and not take it to bed with them. Here are some ideas for charging stations on Pinterest. 

The other area is the home admin area. This is the place where you keep all your paper work - letters, school newsletters, permission slips, bills etc. It doesn't have to be near the drop zone, it can be in the lounge room, kitchen or home office.  Tell the children to put all school letters, newsletter and reports in this area and when you have time, you can sort through it.  All you need to collect and hold the information is either three-tier tray or a tray and three bulldog clips. Label them:
  • TO PAY: bills and invoices 
  • TO DO: letters to reply to, permissions slips for school, bookings and appointments to be made
  • TO FILE: paid bills, letters you've finished with but need to keep
Once this areas is set up, you can deal with it when you have the time but if everything is in this area, you won't lose the electricity bill or have to go looking for a school permission slip at 8am Monday morning.  Try to give this zone one hour a week to pay bills, reply to correspondence or emails and to file.

Here are some ideas for setting up a home admin area.  Again, this should be a simple exercise using things you already have at home.

It's also a great idea to group together those things that you use often for baking, making tea and coffee or drinks for the children.  If you do a lot of baking, arrange all your flour, vanilla, spices, choc chips, bicarb, icing sugar and toppings together in the cupboard. Move your tea, coffee, sugar, honey and a little jug of teaspoons closer to the kettle and cups.  Hanno put in a little shelf for me but it would also work by placing most things in a small basket.  If you have children home for an extended period of time for holidays, set up some glasses and an insulated flask or glass container with a tap. You can fill it in the morning and the children, depending on their ages, can help themselves during the day. It will save you stopping what you're doing to help them during the day.

Of course I can't write about every area in the home because of our collective vast differences. Some of us live alone and some have many children, and within each home we all focus on different things. But I hope you give this a bit of thought and use these ideas to customise your own home to suit how you work. If you sew or quilt, I hope you have space to house all your materials and have a sewing machine at the ready. If you're doing a lot of preserving, look for a cupboard to store your jars and equipment - keep it all together. Organise your laundry room so you can easily make up laundry liquid and soap. Just think of the work you repeat often and try to make it easier for yourself by organising your materials and equipment. You'll find that being organised with everything together will encourage you to do your work and it might also make it quicker when you start.

An important part of simple life is to look after what you already own. This will allow you to have a fully equiped home and it will save you money if you don't have to constantly replace items of clothing, soft furnishings or appliances.  I think it's sensible to buy the best quality you can afford and then look after it.  It's far better to buy something that you know will last, and pay a bit more for it, than to have to replace it over and over again. We're all trying to cut back on the junk we get rid of and this is a good way of doing that.

With your clothing and soft furnishings, set up a small sewing kit for yourself with scissors, cottons/threads, an unpicker, a few buttons and snap fasteners and keep it in a basket near the seat you relax in. Whenever you come across something that needs mending - a button, a hem repair, a rip or whatever, put it in the basket and you'll be ready to do those repairs while you're watching TV or listening to music.

Your appliances need to be clean and dust-free all the time so make up a routine where you clean one major appliance a month. If you have a fridge, washing machine, dish washer, air conditioner/fans etc., those major appliances can be on a monthly list to be checked and cleaned. When you finish the list, you start again. Keep in mind that the warranty will be void if you take anything apart but you can certainly give everything a good clean and in the case of your fridge, washing machine and dish washer, give them a good vacuuming around the sides and top and if you can get in behind the appliances, all over the back as well.

Starting today in Queensland and followed by the other states in the next couple of weeks, students will return to school after the long summer holiday. Most will return with new books, stationery, equipment, shoes, backpacks and uniforms. Don't forget to tag and name everything you can. It can be a great expense, and frustrating, to replace what you've already bought.  And on the subject of expense, one last suggestion, make a list of outdoor things that need to be on a regular maintenance checklist. I'm thinking of the guttering on the roof, the roof itself, solar panels, mower, garden equipment, pool, pool filter, fences, hot water system, garage, shed, chook house and outdoor furniture. Some of it will need to be cleaned during the year, all of it will need to be checked to make sure it's in good working order.  And again, make a list of what you have and divide it up month by month so you have one or two things a month on the list.

I know that some of you will feel a bit overwhelmed after reading this, but like everything else, a small steps approach will help.  If you can't do everything you need to do, do what you can and feel proud that you did it. The next time, maybe you'll do all of it but even if you don't, it should never give you a reason to feel guilty. Please remember, this is not a competition. It's just a way of caring for what you own and getting your house in order so the work you do later in the year will be easier and faster.  So be kind to yourself, do as much as you can and be happy with that.

Knitting and being inspired by other bloggers

It's heart warming to see knitters around the world clicking away on their projects and taking a photo  or two so we can enjoy their work from so far afield.  In the past week, I've enjoyed Alicia at Posie get Cosy who always produces such fine work, Annette at My Rose Valley with her beautiful, soft crochet and I love what Tonya at Plain and Joyful Living says about how we choose to spend whatever money we have. It's a diverse and interesting group we have online and I am very thankful that these women, and many others, choose to share their lives and their craft work with us. I'm motivated to pick up my needles when I see their work and I admire the steady stream of garments they produce. I'm working on my annual gifts list so I'm knitting too although soon I'll try my hand at crochet, again.  

Currently I'm working on a shell pink jacket for a new born, the daughter of my editor on Down to Earth and The Simple Home books. I'm using Blue Sky Organic Cotton Worsted in 10 ply that has been sent to me by one of my sponsors, Salahan at Ecoyarns. It's chunky yarn, very soft, lovely to handle, easy to knit and it comes in a range of beautiful colours.  In the photo above I've just finished the collar of this top down jacket and will, later today, transfer onto long circular needles.  When you check the knitting links above, have a look at Salahan's blog as well. She is a spectacular knitter, she's based much closed to home in Canberra, and she's extremely generous with her knowledge. If you're looking for good quality yarn or needles, check out the Ecoyarns catalogue too.

This is a 5 ply organic cotton which I'm using to make a very soft face cloth.

My other knitting project is a very fine face cloth for an old friend, made with Japanese organic cotton that I've had on hand for a while.  I'll be using the same cotton to crochet around the top of a lamp skirt I'll start making next week.  The lamp skirt is for an old lamp shade I have here, it's not a gift, but I'm pleased to have made a good start on my gift list.  How are you going with yours?

If you're not a year-round knitter, now with summer (or winter) slipping by quickly, it's a good time to plan future projects and start collecting your patterns, yarn and needles. If you've already decided what you'll knit or crochet, I'd love to know what you have planned.

Weekend reading

I took advantage of the Aldi special on cucumbers this week and bought 10 continental cucumbers for 79 cents each. It's good to stock up on bread and butter cucumbers when you can. They're one of the easiest pickles you can make.  All you need are the ingredients below, a few sterilised jars and lids and a bit of time.

I used a mandolin to cut the cucumbers and for this amount I placed them in two large bowls. Cover with salt and make sure most of the slices have some salt on them. It drains the juice from the cucumbers so it doesn't dilute the vinegar solution that will preserve them in the jars. Let them sit for about 4 hours, then wash the salt off under a tap and drain the cucumbers in a colander.  Pack the slices into your sterilised jars and cover with the following preserving liquid.

You'll have to judge how much of this you make according to how many jars you need to fill.  I used:
  • 3 ½ cups good quality white vinegar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds 
  • 1 tablespoon celery seeds
  • ½ tablespoon cracked pepper
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • dill and chilli pieces are optional but they add flavour to the mix
Place everything except the dill and chilli into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stir to dissolve the sugar and simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour the hot liquid into the jars, making sure you cover the slices completely.  If you're adding dill and chilli, add it while you're loading the jars. Put on the lids, wash the jar under the tap to remove any liquid, turn the jars upside down to sit on the lid for an hour or so then turn them back again and allow to sit on the kitchen bench overnight.  These will keep in the fridge for six months. You can start eating them the following day but the flavour gets better if they sit for a while.

It's been wonderful seeing the interest in The Simple Home series I started a couple of weeks ago. I love the sharing and encouragement that's happening in the comments. Don't forget to come back on Monday when we'll tackle customising your work spaces and looking after what you own.  

I hope you have a great weekend. Take advantage of any spare time you have to put your feet up and look after yourself.

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Food shopping, organising recipes and menu plans

January, week 2 in The Simple Home

This is another of those topics where there will be vast differences in the way all of us do things. I know people who shop everyday for their fresh food, I know others who, like Hanno and I, shop weekly and grow some of their food. I know quite a few people who grow most of what they eat and just buy beans, pulses, dried food and occasional fish or dairy. All of us are living simple, all of us organise our food in a different way.  I wonder what you do.

It's easy enough to wander down supermarket aisles and put products into a trolley. But to shop well and to get value for money, the food shopping we all do should be part of a plan that has been thought through. Hopefully, this week you'll be able to do that. Think about how you intend to shop, cook and store food. Our moderns times have given us a lot of choices. It's your job as a homekeeper to work out which choices work for you.

Most of our food conversations will take place in March.  This is to set us up with good habits and techniques until then, so it's mainly thinking about how we organise our food shopping, getting value for money, buying as much seasonal and local food as we can and involving children in the family food choices. Recipes and how to cook will come later.

One thing to note early here is that there is one thing that we should all be doing - involving the family in our food choices. It's the best opportunity you'll have to discuss budgets, food prices and nutrition with your children and a really good way to teach them about home-cooked food. Getting the family on board with the food choices will mean they'll be more likely to eat what's put on the table every day. And having your children grow up with a good idea of what food costs, where is comes from, how to store and cook it, will be a great help to them when they leave home and already have a good understanding of how to feed themselves and how much it costs.

When planning your food, think about:
  • Nutrition
  • Your recipes
  • Your budget
  • Where to shop - markets or supermarkets
  • How much time you have to cook
  • Supplimentary food from your back yard, freezer or bartering
This is lemon curd/lemon butter made with our backyard lemons and eggs. 
Home preserves - these save money because you buy the ingredients when fruit and vegetables are in season, at their peak and cheaper, and you get a much better product than the supermarket version.  For those of you near an Aldi, they have cucumbers for 79 cents each until tomorrow, Tuesday.  I'll be buying a dozen for bread and butter cucumbers, click here for my recipe.

In The Simple Home I suggest you write a set of summer menu plans/winter menu plans that you can use in these early months of the year. We will address this topic in greater depth again in March but we need to eat now, so let's get some plans happening. You can either do plans for eight weeks, or create a four/two week plan that you repeat. You may already have your menu plans up and running, or be one of the many people who do it a different way.  Menu planning can be done in a number of ways, here is a post I did on the subject.  If you're new to this, try it for a few weeks, modify the process to suit yourself and see how you go. Again, if you do have good ideas to share with us, go ahead and write it up in the comments so newcomers see that there are many ways to do this. Don't forget to plan for leftovers and easy days when you just re-heat something home cooked in the fridge or freezer.

Once you've got all that sorted out, the main part of this week will be about collecting and organising your recipes.  I have about 20 recipes that I cook over and over again, with occasional new recipes thrown in and a set of recipes for celebrations and baking. When I try a new dish, if we all like it, that stays in the month's rotation.

I have been using the app Paprika for a few years now. I have it on my computer and it is the best recipe organiser I've seen.  Version 3 has just been released and it sells for around AU $8. It organises your recipes, allows you to search the internet and save recipes, has a good set of timers, helps with menu planning and gives you printable shopping lists and a calendar with your monthly menus. You can sync it to your phone or ipad and it's available for Apple and Android. There are more details here.  If you need some help sorting thorough your recipes and having a place to store them, Paprika might be what you're looking for. I have no association with this company.

This is part of the meat section in my Paprika. I have version 2.

Creating a set of recipes that you're happy with is a great help in the kitchen. Try to include ideas that are thrifty, nutritious, easy to prepare and something you know the family will eat.  Remember to include work and school lunches and drinks because that will save a lot of money. Do you have good food containers that will keep lunches fresh and looking good until they're eaten?  That can mean the difference between food being eaten or not. Think about where you'll get your food from too.  Can you barter anything? Do you have a good local butcher, baker, green grocer, fish market or local farmers' market? This is the time to work out a strategy that will help you later in the year to provide the best value for money food you can.  I'm not saying to buy only cheap food, I'm emphasising value for money, local and in season. There's a big difference. Think now about how you can substitute other foods for meat and fish, which both cost a lot of money.  Find a few recipes for vegetarian meals, or meals that use less meat. Many of us eat too much meat and you can cut down on it without giving it up completely.  And regarding fish, we live in an area with a lot of fishing boats but the fish we bought for many years is now $50 a kilo and I'm not prepared to pay that much for it.  So we've cut out fresh local fish and I buy the occasional bag of Norwegian salmon and tinned red salmon from Aldi. I refuse fish from Thailand and most places in Asia. Yes, I know Norway and Alaska are a long way from here but we either eat that fish or none and I don't want to give up fish completely.

Sunday lunch - Aldi frozen salmon with homemade potato and garden salad. 

Take a bit of time and think carefully about how you shop. Can you make it easier, quicker or cheaper?  Set up some good habits now and improve on them them as you go on. If you can, it will make a big difference over the course of a year because food shopping is something you'll do forever.

Good luck with this. The work you do this week has the potential to make your job as a family food provider much easier during the year.  I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of good ideas here. Share how you organise yourself with the food you grow and buy and tell us if you have any little tricks that help you put great food on the table.  🍏🍎🍏

Weekend reading

I send warm wishes to my friends in California where deadly mudslides have cause such heartache.  Indeed, wherever you are in the world, if you're experiencing bad weather, I feel for you. Last week it was 47.6C in New South Wales, near where my sister lives. It hit the people living there badly but the wildlife suffered too with many bats dead and koalas needing help and water.  If you're living around the Penrith area, or any other place with hot weather last week, I hope you're okay and getting back to normal.  I fear we're only just seeing the first of what climate change will do.

Thanks to everyone who wrote about their own experiences with organising on Monday and Wednesday. It helps all of us when we share our own stories and know we're part of a community.  The second instalment of The Simple Home will be waiting for you on Monday. 

Thanks for your visits this week. Oh, and welcome to all the newbies who turned up to help us discover the ins and outs of organising our homes.  Have a good weekend.  💗

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