Friday, 29 January 2010

Talking rubbish in the big wide world

This week has seen an interruption to my usual online witterings. I've spent most of my week away from the computer, talking rubbish elsewhere.

It's actually been a very exciting week, beginning with the opportunity on Tuesday to meet the Seven Suffolk Streets project team and the door-knockers, a team of volunteer master composters who are tasked with drumming up residents' support for the Waste Reduction Fortnight that's taking place in March. I'll be joining them soon, knocking on doors across different areas of Suffolk to talk rubbish with other folk who live in my county. So watch this space for further news.

Yesterday, I'd also been invited to speak at Inspire East's community champion event, which launched their community empowerment programme. It was a really inspiring event and as well as having the chance to promote the idea of reducing waste and the results of last year's Recycle Week challenge in Moreton Hall, I also had the opportunity to meet some fabulous people and explore the value of working with your local community to promote other sustainable ideas. If you live in the East of England and would like more support on how to empower people in your community to do more, I really recommend you visit the Inspire East website.

And on the subject of communities, tomorrow I'll be speaking at the Zero Waste Community event in Norwich about my Zero Waste challenge, as well as hosting a workshop on how to set up a Zero Waste household.

It looks like it will be a very exciting day, featuring Richard Anthony from the Zero Waste Alliance, San Diego, Jim Mclaughlin from the Community Recycling Network and Furniture Recycling Network, Maxine Narburgh, Director of the Bright Green Consultancy and member of Zero Waste Europe and Ralph Ryder from Communities Against Toxics.

The topics that will be covered include: Zero Waste Communities and Principles; An introduction to climate change Zero Waste and jobs; How to be a Zero Waste home and the Impact of Incineration in Communities. Workshops will include how to develop campaigns for zero waste within your community and how to run community reuse and recycling projects.

If you happen to live in the region and would like to attend the Norwich event, you can find the link to the original flyer here. It's an all day programme that runs from 9.30am to 4pm. The latest schedule has since been altered and my presentation has been slotted in at 12pm.

So I am afraid with all these to-ings and fro-ings, I've been far too busy gadding around the region or having my head down in preparing PowerPoint presentations that I've hardly had any time to work on my personal declutter challenge. So there's no major update on that today.

However, I did go through my jewellery box to select a whole host of things for my car boot collection. It only took me about 30 minutes and I was truly amazed at the surplus of jewellery I've been given, made or have bought over the last decade. This is only half of it and I couldn't help wondering how many other women have got collections like this, where most of their items go to waste without use.

Maybe if you've got half an hour to spare, you could go through yours too and donate the pieces that you no longer wear to charity or sell online. As well as eBay, there are other fabulous sites such as wicycle-it or even JumbleAid, which helps you support your favourite charity. Alternatively you could keep it in your local community with sites such as Freegle or Freecycle.

I knew I was a bit of a magpie but I now intend to be more careful about what I collect in future. At least with my passion for vintage jewellery, there'll be far fewer mass-manufactured adornments from wherever.

So I'll be back soon to catch up with all the lovely comments that you've kindly left, but for now, I've got to get my head back down to prepare for tomorrow.

While I'm away, if you haven't seen it yet - check out our very own Mrs Green's appearance on BBC news this week. It was excellent and very exciting. You can catch one of the broadcasts here:


Monday, 25 January 2010

The Rubbish Diet Challenge: Week 3, Waste Not Want Not

Welcome to Week 3 of The Rubbish Diet Challenge, where this week I am taking you into the kitchen to find out how much food gets thrown in your bin.

Managing food waste is one of the most important areas of waste reduction. Not only has it huge potential for slimming your bin, but by reducing what you throw away can save you money and provide environmental rewards too.

According to WRAP's LoveFoodHateWaste campaign if we all stop wasting food we could have eaten, the CO2 impact is the equivalent of taking 1 in 4 cars off the road. That's a startling statistic and when I first heard it, it really made my jaw drop in surprise.

So in Week 3, I will be revealing what type of food waster I was, in the hope that even the least careful of folk will see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. And I've included tricks for using up leftovers as well as advice about portions and ways of dealing with waste if you just can't simply eat any more.

And if you're a stranger to the kitchen with the exception of visiting the microwave, I hope to inspire you to grab your apron, or lab coat and start experimenting with food. There's so much more to being a rubbish cook, than simply being rubbish in the kitchen. You never know, you may even be tempted to have a go at making pasta or bread as an alternative way to cut down on packaging.

So if you're ready to crack on with Week 3 of the Rubbish Diet Challenge, find out what you're in for at:

Oh and I almost forgot, I did a spot of reminiscing today and if you didn't catch it at the time, here's one of the recordings I did for BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour a couple of years ago.


iPhone users
- there's an exciting new app available from, which will help you plan your meals from your phone with a recipe finder and portion planner. You can download it directly from the itunes store.


Friday, 22 January 2010

Decluttering: A space to eat

You won't believe it but what you're witnessing at this very point in time is a rare occurrence.

No, I don't mean the messy table! Oh No! The rare occurrence is that for once I am indeed speechless!

And as I write, I am experiencing nervous bouts of laughter and moments of shame as I introduce the state of my dining room to a whole bunch of strangers on the Internet, including online friends, recycling officers and academics from all across the world. Revealing this photo feels worse than showing how much rubbish we used to throw away. The only thing I find reassuring is that I might show at least one person that there is a glimmer of hope.

I took the photograph shown above last weekend before we started to declutter, but I have to be honest and say the dining room hasn't always looked like this.

Before Christmas, it looked like this:

Haha, I bet you didn't expect to see that did you?! Talk about an immovable force, but I promise I did at least tidy up before my sister and her family arrived for Christmas.

But my nervous laughter is now reaching decibels of immense proportions, especially as not even my best friend gets to see the house in such a condition. I make sure I shut the dining room door before I open the front door to her and all other visitors. So if she's reading this blog she'll soon get the shock of her life. And she'll now know why I haven't invited her and her husband - or indeed anyone else - to dinner for a long-long time.

People may think I'm being anti-social, but the truth is I've been too embarrassed to admit that since writing this blog I've been far too busy to keep on top of all domestic functions. However, I reckon there are hundreds and thousands of houses just like this across the country, also suffering from too much stuff, too much to do and insufficient space and time to do it all in.

And the problem I've had with our dining room is that is is actually not just a dining room. It's also a hobby room, Little T's craftroom, a homework room, a filing room and a "temporary" storage room. It's also where we permanently store odds and ends like cables and replacement bulbs in various cupboards and drawers.

So it really is a room that has multiple functions and is constantly in use by a very busy multi-tasking but time-poor family, trying to juggle too many balls at once.

If this all sounds similar, you'll recognise the signs of the clutter magnet that takes effect.

For example you'll be going great guns in keeping a clear space. Then momentarily, you'll take your eye off the ball and put something down on a table. And that's your first mistake, because what follows is the law of attraction. Out of nowhere, everybody else adds "their thing" next to "your thing" and before you know it, you're all taking it in turns like a game of buckaroo by stealth as the free space gets taken over by a multitude of clutterbug sins.

And have you noticed that things appear that you've never even seen before, making you wonder whether your neighbours have heard the rumour and have sneaked in with their bits of crap too? Then if you're clearing out another room, like the kitchen for instance and have nowhere else to dump the stuff that you're collecting for a car boot sale, the dining room table is often the easiest place to put it all.

No wonder Mr A despairs and threatens to throw all sorts of stuff in the rubbish bin. A sight like this can easily drive someone to chuck it all away, which used to happen frequently before I started the Zero Waste challenge. But I can assure you that there is no-one who stresses about this more than me and I know I have to become more efficient and organised on the home front to regain more control and therefore greater mental freedom.

So, on my latest decluttering mission, the first thing I did was grab a HUGE box to create a designated spot for all the items that we are going to sell at the car boot sale in the spring. Immediately, this cleared half the amount of stuff off the dining table.

The next job was to simply tidy all the other things away into their proper homes, including the Christmas fabric that I'd bought to replace paper for wrapping family Christmas presents.

That was the easy bit!

However I think the dining room is probably going to need a lot more work than we've had time to dedicate so far, especially when sorting out the drawers full of cables and leads. We just need to work out which items are still needed and take the remainder to the Household Waste Recycling Centre for recycling with all the other Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).

But in the meantime, our box of car booty is growing all the time and has expanded to include a plastic ugly bug, a redundant kitchen towel holder, a fabric bun holder, an over sized vodka bottle and several little ornaments. I've got a feeling that by the time I've finished, there will be a small number of old DVDs too as well as boxes of old beads that I've discovered in a cabinet drawer.

When I showed the photo of my dining room to Clare Baker of the ClutterClearing consultancy, she reassured me that I am nowhere near a clutterholic and that it would be easy to restore order. That was a real relief and it was simply a case of time and following the tips on her website to create categories for the items that we were decluttering.

With this in mind I also took the opportunity to sort the drawers of the Welsh dresser, separating things into stationery and craft items in one drawer, tableware linen in another and I've left the last drawer for personal mementos such as photos. Having done this will also be of benefit when I work on other rooms, as we now have a central storage point for transferring stuff.

I could go on, but I bet you can't wait to see the results of our efforts. I say "our" because it was indeed a team effort by me and Mr A, who is naturally more organised in this area than me. So without further ado, here it is:

Our dining room in all its glory......

And now it's all clear, I can now enjoy some of my favourite things, such as this funky plastic flower that I made at the Aldeburgh Food Festival, accompanied by one of the gorgeous felt flowers from Henry & Jayne.

But my favourite decluttered view of all is of the vintage tea-set that I picked up last summer for just £15.

I have found it's worth taking time out to appreciate these objects while I've got a good view and recognise this moment as one of the key incentives for keeping space clutter-free in future. It's almost impossible to enjoy lovely things when they're surrounded by other distractions such as a multi-pack of chopped tomatoes and a set of ice-lolly moulds that have lost their lids.

So if you want to come around for dinner, we've now got somewhere to eat, drink and be merry.

Now talking of incentives, another useful tip I picked up from Clare Baker this week was to make sure I reward myself for the efforts I've made to free up my space. So seeing as it's a Friday evening, I think it's going to have to be a nice glass of wine.

Yep, it's time to dig out the Chablis. Well, it is a special occasion of course. Not only was it my second blogaversary yesterday, but at last I can now get to the other end of the table to reach the wine glasses to celebrate and properly thank you for all the lovely comments that you sent.

And if you're a blogger sorting out your own clutter and are showing off the results on your own blog, I've added a Mr Linky to this blogpost so you can link up your efforts too.


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Two years old today and Mr A has the last word on the matter.

1 week's rubbish, circa January 2008

It's been so busy of late, the fact that this blog is two years old today almost passed me by. So do excuse me for a moment while I grab a now defunct party blower to celebrate and give it a WhoopeyTootToot!

Yes indeed. Two years old. Whoop whoop. Toot toot!

Who'd have thought it, eh!

It's no secret that when I typed up my first blog post on 21st January 2008, I only intended to write about my run-up to St Edmundsbury's zero waste challenge and document the big week itself.

Just eight weeks, that's all.

At the time I had no idea what the heck I was doing or what I'd got myself into. But when I discovered the urgency of it all, I found I had less time to dedicate to blogging about other stuff or making money from things like this...

...because of a new-found determination to reduce the burden of this:

From designing beautiful tiaras to designing out stinky old waste, now that's what I would call a tale of chalk and cheese!

But I can certainly say that despite there being more money in tiaras than there is in blogging about bin bags, I really haven't looked back...

...except for last night, when I sat down with my husband, aka Mr A. And while we reminisced I decided to ask him what he really thought about my rubbish blog and our personal measures to reduce our family's waste. For new readers who aren't familiar with my husband's reputation, perhaps I should say now that he is rather masterful in the sport of filling bin bags with whatever crap that gets in his way.

"Just like that!"

So it's fair to say that he took some warming up on the issue and when I asked if the reputation I've given him on this blog was appropriate, he just smiled and said that it was for me to judge because all he did was "follow my draconian rules".

Now now Mr A. More enthusiasm please! I'm the gentle love-of-your-life not some haughty Miss Whiplash! Although this paragraph is beginning to make me sound like the latter.

So with a little more patience, this is what I managed to tease out of the man who's had to put up with my rubbish reducing antics for two whole years. This is what he really thinks about life in the Almost Average Household...

"I suppose it hasn't been that difficult to deal with the waste we create and it has made me think about what I buy. These days I hardly ever go shopping to the supermarket because I can't pick up anything without the thought police reminding me about packaging waste."

"And it's great to see how well things are working, whether it means me refusing new bags at the shops or seeing the success of home-composting."

Well so far so good! But with my hands almost over my ears, I thought I'd enquire about his key frustrations too....

"Well, I find it really annoying that things destined for the black bin are snaffled away and relocated to a corner of the house in a way that resembles a mini waste-transfer-station, and that they are then left to hang around on a long-term promise of being taken off to a charity shop".

Ouch! I suppose I really do need to get myself more organised.

"AND there are certain rules of the recycling industry that are hard to understand, e.g. why Weetabix wrappers end up in the black bin when other plastic film can be recycled at the Bury St Edmunds recycling centre."

I agree and well spotted. I'd forgotten about those - and indeed Weetabix will be getting back to me later to tell me what they're made of...........So is that all?

"No, there's having to put up with that plastic bag hanger on the wall, which I think is ugly and PLEASE don't get me started on having to wash up butter wrappers."

Oh dear, slightly going a bit pear-shaped there. Perhaps I have gone a step too far, but you've seen those bulging bags of plastic film that we had beforehand. So that bin has been a huge help.

But surely it's not all hassle on the domestic front?

"I have to admit the wooden toothbrushes were great and so are the washing balls that have replaced the constant need for laundry powder."

Phew, that's music to my ears and a surprise too. So anything else to say on the matter Mr A?

"Well all I can say is, who would have known that a blog could become a full-time occupation eh! And I would NEVER have guessed that family holidays would feature sightseeing visits to recycling centres!"

Now I could swear there was a smile when he mentioned the bit about the holidays. Could it be sarcasm? I suppose I'll ask him later.

But seriously, if it wasn't for the support of my husband, I could never have kept this blog going for so long. And he has had to put up with my determination in rescuing all sorts of things from the bin, such as old wooden toilet seats, unwanted slippers and cans of shaving foam. And the times I've stamped my foot crying "It's not rubbish it's a resource" is really nobody's business.

However, don't ever think that it's me who wears the trousers around here. Having given up tiara-making for writing about waste, I am now under very strict instructions to finally sort out my old bead-kit and I have also been told to buck up my ideas about rehoming my clutter too before it is too late.

So Mr A really does have the last word around this neck of the woods, honestly.

Well, that is until I remind him of the small matter, that since I took over the management of our waste, he's never had to put the rubbish bin out in all that time! Not once, in two whole years - it's me who's had to wheel it out, but then half-a-dozen times is hardly a hardship.

That's blimmin' good service is it not and surely it's worth the odd hassle? I ask him and he most definitely agrees.

So all's well that ends well and here's a toast to many more rubbish reducing adventures to come. Thank you to everyone who has been following the blog, to old friends and new. Even if you feel that the rest of your household isn't quite on your wavelength, I hope this reassures you that they can come round in time.

So to celebrate, I'm turning my attention back to decluttering. If you can, please come back tomorrow to see how I've got on!

What's that Mr A...? I'd better take it all off to the charity shop before you get back from work, or you might just chuck it in the bin?


At least you get to see what I'm up against! Actually, I'm saving it up for a boot sale!

Well there's no time for arguing about it now - I've got to get on and it's time for a sing-song as I go.

"Happy birthday dear blog, Happy birthday dear blog, Happy birthday dear blo-og, Happy birthday dear blog!"



Whoop whoop. Toot toot!

Oh and I nearly's a photo of our latest week's rubbish, all dressed for the occasion.


Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bags of bags in bags and even more bags!

Geez, being a trolley pulling reusable bag carrying veteran, I'd forgotten how many plastic bags could potentially come with a weekly shop.

But look! Here's my latest shopping that arrived home today from the supermarket! And just look at those bags. There are blimmin' lots of them!

But as you can probably guess, it wasn't me doing the shopping today. This isn't how my shopping looks when I normally bring it through the door. For the first time in absolutely yonks I'd ordered my groceries online, thanks to my car being immobile and needing an urgent mega top-up of stuff. I would have normally gone on the bus, but I've also been too busy of late to make regular trips into town.

Ordering online may have been convenient but it meant there was no escape from the plazzie bag and its many friends, which is utterly ironic because only ten minutes before the delivery van arrived, I'd got a call from BBC Three Counties Radio to appear on the JVS show later to discuss the topic of carrier bags. Timing is everything, wouldn't you say!

A few years ago I wouldn't have given this picture a second thought, but these days I look at the amount of plastic and think, what a potential waste! And there were even more bags than you see here, but I'd quickly unpacked them and gave them back to the driver along with a bag full of plastic packaging I'd been collecting for recycling.

At least these bags are in good hands. It's not quite the end of their life just yet. Many people would just throw them in the bin, where they would take decades to break down in landfill, not to mention those that get blown away and harm wildlife. However these will be reused as bin bags for all the plastic film packaging that I'll collect over the year and each month will be recycled together with the contents. I guess they'll probably come back as plastic lumber or something similar!

But plastic bags aren't the only problem when it comes to the amount of rubbish that gets generated by shopping. There's so much other rubbish that a trip to the supermarket can create too. So if you'd like to find out more about what else you can do to reduce waste, be sure to check out my latest guide for Week 2 of The Rubbish Diet challenge, which was published online just yesterday.

And if you really need some extra help with remembering to take your reusable bags to the shops, take a look at the YouTube video below featuring Dave Chameides from 365 Days of Trash. Email subscribers can find the link directly to the video here.

More advice is also available in Dave's article, that accompanies his video, entitled Plastic Bags: Stop being part of the problem.

And the good news is, after this tiny blip in usual proceedings, I will be back to the shops next week with more reusable bags than you can shake a stick at!
Thanks to Stephanie of @Facing_South on Twitter for sharing the link to Dave Chameides' article. And if you're interested in further discussons on plastic bags, listen into BBC Three Counties Radio today (19th Jan) between 1-2pm where JVS will be discussing this very topic on his show.

Monday, 18 January 2010

The Rubbish Diet Challenge: Week 2, Retail Therapy

My favourite fruit & veg stall at Bury St Edmunds Market.
I can't believe I never used to shop there before.

Welcome back to the Rubbish Diet Challenge, where this week it's time to hit the shops with a good dose of retail therapy.

However, this is a retail experience with a difference, introducing a range of steps that will help you find ways to reduce rubbish before it gets anywhere near your kitchen bins.

So having worked out your local recycling options in Week 1, the tasks in Week 2 will challenge you to become more familiar with the choices you have in the shops and make you aware of the pitfalls of packaging.

You'll learn the key principles to shopping with waste in mind, find out what those recycling symbols on packaging really mean and discover how to avoid tempting offers that will just end up in your bin.

So if you are ready to find out why you should ignore this symbol and discover which ones you should look out for instead, then it's time to see what challenges are instore for you at Week 2 of The Rubbish Diet Challenge, which you can find at

And if you want to know what else to expect in the forthcoming weeks, check out the sidebar, which has a list of everything that's coming up.

As usual, it would be great to hear about any progress you're making, so please don't hesitate to let me know how you're getting on and if you've got any questions, please feel free to drop me an email, or leave a comment below.


Bloggers for Haiti

I interrupt my usual ramblings to raise awareness of the Bloggers for Haiti fundraising page, which is responding to the Haiti earthquake by raising money to send Shelterboxes to help those affected by the disaster.

The fundraiser was started by blogger EnglishMum and several of her blogging friends. You can find more about the fundraising initiative at her latest post here:

You might have already seen the shelterboxes highlighted on the news last week. They are distributed by UK based clarity Shelterbox, which responds very quickly to international disasters. And as I am sat in my very comfortable house, I can't help but be moved to tears when I think how much these boxes can help those who have lost their homes and who are not only fighting for survival but also overcoming the loss of loved ones. If you've ever been a student of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, there's no time like the present to realise how shelter is a luxury in itself.

So thank you for reading. If you are able to donate, it would be great if you could pop over to the justgiving page and if you have a blog and would like to do something to support those affected by Haiti, please consider blogging about it too.


Sunday, 17 January 2010

Getting personal: Happiness and Highlights

I've received two tags in the last couple of week, one from Alybean at Life's Laundry a high-five meme to reveal my top five highlights of 2009 and the other from Sooz, at The Last Biscuit, awarding me the Happy 101 award for listing the 10 things that make me happy.

I am normally rubbish at memes. I often forget to do them or wonder where I'll squeeze them in and before you know it something more pressing comes along. However, I've had an exhausting time of it lately and as both of these offer an opportunity to reflect on positive things I thought I'd give them a go. You get the opportunity to see what makes me tick and I get a chance to avoid decluttering.

So to start the ball rolling, I'm giving a big High-Five to the following events of 2009, in no particular order of importance.

1. My 5-year-old bin saboteur finally understood what the compost bin was for.

For two years I've tried to explain why banana skins can't go in the recycling bin, to which the reply would come "They can Mummy, look!" Finally he gets it. Hoorah.

2. Doing a bin round to raise money for Comic Relief

It was a proper shift too, not just a couple of hours. I donned a pair of steel toe-capped boots and a hi-vis vest and spent seven hours with the lads from the local council. Thanks again to all who donated. We raised over £200. You can read more and see the videos in the blogpost On the bins for Comic Relief.

3. Drinking champagne at awards ceremonies

2009 blessed me with reaching the final at two awards ceremonies. The first was the MediaGuardian's Awards for Innovation, where I came joint runner up in the Independent Media category. The second was the CIWM awards for environmental excellence where I also came joint runner up in the category of Recycling Champion. Despite not winning, they were great events and I got a chance to meet some inspirational people and see some novel toilets too. But the real highlight was my own awards ceremony in March where I gathered a fabulous group of people together to drink virtual champagne and celebrate their own achievements and the influence they've had on me.

4. Getting Chickens

What can I say! Brilliant pets, and good eggs all round! The boys love 'em and even my 8-year-old will now try to pick them up. You can find out all about them in this blogpost aptly named Cluck, Cluck, Cluck.

5. Meeting Tony Juniper

I had a chance to meet leading environmentalist and author Tony Juniper last year. He even did a video for The Rubbish Diet blog, explaining why we need to reduce rubbish. You can see it at the end of my own ramblings in the blogpost: It's not just how, it's also about why, or take the short-cut and find it in the sidebar.


Being a positive spirited being, it's hard to come up with a short-list, as most things make me happy but here goes.

1. My Children
When I notice they've grown an extra inch, or they've done something new I get a warm fuzzy feeling that carries me through the day. And I love it when they make me laugh and when we indulge in huggles - our very own word for hugs and cuddles.

2. My husband.
The fact that he puts up with my blogging makes me happy. He used to bring me flowers but nowadays I'm happy if he just remembers not to bring home any more carrier bags. I'm a firm believer that romance isn't dead, we're just recycling it to make it last longer.

3. Seeing my sister.
I love visiting my sister and her family in Switzerland. I also love it when they come to us. We've not lived near each other for 23 years and I miss her, so I am always happy when I'm with her. I may be the eldest, but she's the one who teaches me the most important lessons.

4. Being with friends.
I love the laughter and support, and catching up with old friends who I haven't seen in a while. I enjoy growing older together and sharing our observations on how things have changed and what we can look forward to in the future.

5. Being inspired.
It doesn't matter who it is or what they are doing, but if they're inspirational, I'm hooked.

6. Making people laugh and smile.
I love making other people laugh or smile. I buy random hot-chocolates for Big Issue sellers, give complements to bored looking staff on the London Underground and I love making grumpy waitresses smile. And if I've ever made you chuckle on this blog, that makes me happier still.

7. New challenges.
I love stretching myself with new adventures and whenever I succeed, I lenjoy the happy feeling that comes with it and the relief of overcoming the self-doubt and fear. If I don't succeed, then there's always wine.

8. Watching the robin in my garden.
That always makes me happy, and can break a bad or a sad mood.

9. Tweeting from the bath
I love it that nobody on Twitter knows that I might just be sending my updates from the bath. Having a bath makes me happy and so does seeing what people are up to on Twitter, because I'm a real nosey parker at heart.

10. Your comments!
Your comments always make me happy, unless you're a spammer of course or you write something horrible. So if you want to make me happy, you know what to do.

So that's it. Thanks to Alybean and Sooz for giving me the opportunity to stop and pause a while.

Of course the next action would be to tag others. However, instead of doing that, I invite you to take part too, whether you're a blogger or not. So even if you haven't got a blog, feel free to share your highlights and happy moments in the comments below.


Friday, 15 January 2010

SPACE: the final frontier

I apologise for the photo. Messy eh!

Yep. I'd agree and it's got my heart rate up even looking at it. So, just imagine what it's been like living with it. Indeed the scene that you witness here is what used to be my plastic film storage area, which until quite recently resided in a haphazard manner behind our kitchen door.

Since I discovered I could take plastic film packaging, such as rice bags and pasta bags, for recycling at our local HWRC I've simply kept stuffing them into bags upon bags until I was next passing. But because I don't pass very often, my storage space got rather unwieldy.

So when a company called simplehuman invited me to road-test their recycling bins, I most definitely bit off their hand. Although I would have loved to have got my hands on a set of these lovely bins, I had to admit that I was already sorted in that area, so instead I opted for this little baby to help me with the clutter shown in the photo above.

The aim was to attach it to the inside of our kitchen cabinet, so it could stay out of sight but due to the design of the panelled doors, it wouldn't fit, so I had to wait until I conjured up the enthusiasm to tackle the area behind the kitchen door, so we could attach it to the wall.

And look, here are the results. It's like a sight for sore eyes. Simple, but very effective. All I need to do now is bundle each full bag into my car boot, ready to take to the HWRC, in an attempt to keep this area clear.

But it's not just my recycling area that's been given the decluttering treatment this month. In fact, the rest of the kitchen has been the target of heavy action too. And it is the first step to tackling the whole house, as well as my car and the kids' garden shed.

It almost brings me to tears when I say I've hit crisis point, but that's the truth of the matter. I have been so busy during the last couple of years, that I've not had chance to attend to the stuff that's hanging about and it's got so bad I've even managed to lose my new reading glasses, not to mention a book that I bought a few years ago about the benefits of decluttering. Oh the irony!

However, since recognising the problem I have worked hard to stop new things coming into the house, by reducing the amount of presents we get and by buying less, but we've still got piles of unsorted crap everywhere due to my lack of time and inclination to deal with it. Throw in a "waste-not want-not" approach for good measure and the result you get are feelings of stress and disorganisation, with a good dose of lethargy, inadequacy and numbness to boot!

Clare Baker from the ClutterClearing consultancy describes the process of managing clutter as a conveyor belt and highlights the problem of things coming onto the Clutter Conveyor Belt faster than they are coming off.

I can relate to this issue, especially with the problem zones that exist in our home. For example, with the number of toys that the children get from friends and family, the kids find it even harder to release older toys that they still love to make room for new ones they get. That's why we now encourage people to choose smaller things such as books or lego that can easily fit into their small bedrooms. Vouchers for the cinema or local attractions also work well.

But there are other areas too. For example when I cleared the kitchen cupboards the other week, I discovered so many glass jars I could have screamed. The irony is that when I started my zero waste challenge, I promised I would NEVER EVER EVER start collecting jam jars. For starters we just don't have the space (point proven). Secondly I am hardly a domestic goddess who makes chutney or jam, and finally I get frustrated that there are very few flat-bottomed jars that can balance a bloody tea-light in position. But having hooked onto the idea of "reuse" being better than "recycling", I gave into my natural inclination as a horder. In fairness, some have come in useful for food storage, loose coins and home-made Christmas presents, but the message here is to KNOW YOUR LIMITS! And once you've got enough of what you need, it's OKAY to let go of the surplus.

So the kitchen has been my starting point on my mission to declutter the house. I needed to start somewhere and this felt the most important place in the house. When my kitchen is cluttered, I feel less inclined to cook and I certainly don't want to spend any more time there than I have to. As a result, I snack more and pick up bad habits such as skipping lunch and letting chores pile up.

Of course, my aim is to get through this process without throwing things into landfill, which is a really good job, not just because of my zero waste philosophy but Clare Baker, who founded the decluttering consultancy, also used to work for WRAP, so she's the kind of person who would also discourage things being skipped just for the sake of extra space.

No doubt there will be items that I will give away on Freecycle, or drop into a charity shop, but my ultimate aim is to collect unwanted things in a box and commit to selling them off at a carboot sale in March, to celebrate Suffolk's Waste Reduction Fortnight.

Just from doing the kitchen alone I've already uncovered the following items:

1 Hand-levered heavy-weight citrus press, replaced by a juicing machine
1 Small glass juice press
Several mugs
2 Plastic egg trays, that came with the fridge.
4 espresso cups, which haven't been used in the 6 years we've lived here.
1 toddler's wash&wipe dining mat
1 party nibbles dish
1 water filter jug, which we can no longer be bothered to use
1 small wooded cutting board
1 vegetable julienne peeler, which is too fiddly.

The challenge now is to store it all away somewhere, before I have the urge to just take it to the charity shop.

So do you want to see some before-and-after-shots of how I got on during my first attempt at decluttering? If you're a nosey-parker like me, I bet you'll want to.

The Kitchen Worktop: Before

Easy-peasy! This lot just needed tidying away into the cupboard!


The cupboard

It won't look much to you, but it's really is a big difference to me. I cleared out quite a few things that were no longer used, including rusty old baking trays, which I took to the HWRC metals recycling. The empty jars went to the bottle bank and some of the containers have now been released for Mr A's packed lunches.

Before / After

The Kitchen Table

Having cleared out the cupboard, I created extra storage space to finally shift some clutter off this table. The broom and mop, you see to the right now fit behind the kitchen door. The kids' drawings that are balancing on top of the shelf have been recycled or inserted into their artwork folders. And the teddy-bear which had taken up residence on the kitchen table, has finally been sent to his room. So at last there is somewhere to eat our breakfast!

Before / After

It will come as no surprise that the day I did this, I felt I had more energy. And it is no coincidence that as a result, Mr A now also gets regular packed lunches to take to work, which means he's no longer nipping off to the shops to buy pre-packaged stuff. It was hard work though. It took most of the day to sort out, but was worth it.

During the next week, I'll be focusing on the dining room, which is a constant source of frustration thanks to the number of uses it has. It really is a clutter magnet in more ways than one and I'm already getting stressed at the thought of it.

If you want to join me in this crusade, you'll find some excellent tips over at The site has got lots of free information, including videos to motivate you along. That's the strategy I'm following for the moment, because I can't afford a consultation, but if I get stuck, I might just need one!

And if you've got any decluttering experiences of your own, please share your wisdom as I'd love to know how you got on. In fact, I need all the help I can get.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Blimey! Even my own mother doesn't recognise me

Caricature - with a very good likeness -
drawn by the lovely Steve Hearn at Drawn4U

It occurred to me last night that there is something that I haven't done for months, which is utterly bizarre because it's been an ingrained part of my character since I was old enough to receive pocket money.

Don't worry, I'm not going to come out of the closet with news of secret poker games at the age of 9, or sneaking away from Mr A to pop into the bookies. It's nothing like that.

What I'm talking about is knee-jerk shopping. You know, the urge to rush off and buy stuff just to make you feel better.

I wouldn't go as far as saying I was a total shopaholic, but I have spent the last three decades hitting the shops whenever I've been bored, upset, dissatisfied with life, working too hard or frustrated at not being able to do something. Whenever I felt I deserved a break, I'd go off and buy new treats...and I'm not referring to the odd chocolate bar, I mean much bigger goodies like gadgets, household furnishings and expensive clothes. And many purchasing mistakes were made too, not least the result of a hefty credit-card bill.

Well I don't know what happened, but I've gradually realised I don't react that way anymore.

I hadn't particularly noticed the change until I started thinking about the last couple of months, where there have been a number of very stressful incidents that would have previously led me on a shopping frenzy. Even online shopping from the comfort of my own chair would have given me the same dose of adrenalin as visiting the shopping mall.

I can't confess to being a total non-consumer. The juicer and breadmaker that I bought recently can testify to that, but for once they were actually planned purchases that I made sure I really needed, not impulse buys. And when I set them up, I noticed that I wasn't brimming with the usual contagious buzz of acquiring something new.

Equally when Mr A arrived home before Christmas with a brand-spanking new set of dapper clothes, I didn't feel the urge to rush out to the shops because I was felt hard-done by and that it was my turn - yes that tit-for-tat shopping was once a bad habit of mine.

And then there was the rainy day back in Autumn, when I was tucked up at home and Mr A rang from an electrical store to ask how I felt about bringing home a brand new eco-TV, which we could hang on the wall and free up some extra space and connect up to the Internet. I reckon a year ago, I would have bitten his hand off with excitement at the prospect of some new technology but on that occasion, I stopped him in his tracks and appealed for him to come home empty-handed.

I've never liked our TV but it's only 6 years old and still works, so I found it hard to justify getting rid of it even on something like Freecycle. And tempting as it is to trade it in via one of the in-store "take-back" schemes, the thought of breaking it up for parts when it is in full-working order gives me a shudder.

Blimmin' 'eck! What's happened to me eh?

Is it middle age? Have we had enough years of accumulating stuff that we've got most things we now need?

And does this happen to everyone over 40 or is it that I'm simply more aware of how much energy and waste results from constantly buying new things?

It could be a combination of them all. I'd like to know because I no longer even feel the urge to keep up with the Jones...I lost that some time ago but it's definitely a turnup for the books if ever I've seen one.

So no wonder my mother recently said she no longer recognises me!

And I know what she means, I hardly recognise myself and it feels strange, in a good way of course, but still bizarre all the same.

One thing's for sure, I've saved a fortune on clothes and the other usual suspects and not buying that flashy TV has kept £1000 in our pockets. Of course I'll probably crack one day, but not for a long time yet, well not until digital TV coverage is in the bag and cheaper eco-technology too.

Is this a sign of the times perhaps or is it just little old me? I'd love to know if anyone else has experienced something similar and perhaps I'll no longer feel as strange as I currently do.


Monday, 11 January 2010

The Rubbish Diet Challenge Week 1: Starting with the basics

A simple recycling system: a couple of bins and some hooks

So, for everyone who's resolved to slim their bins this year, I hope you've weighed your rubbish and have now got your sleeves rolled up ready to kick off with the first week of your Rubbish Diet Challenge.

This week is all about easing yourself in gently. After all Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was your rubbish, so I'll be getting you to flex your muscles by tackling some basic ideas to get you started. It's a warm-up if you like for the weekly challenges that lie ahead.

This week's mini challenges are really simple and I hope that by addressing these now, they will create a foundation to make things easier for you further down the line, by gradually changing habits and introducing small changes. So to kick-start your Rubbish Diet, I will be asking you to especially think about:
  • Simple ways to reduce waste.
  • Saying no to junk mail.
  • Finding out exactly what can be recycled in your area.
  • Setting up or improving your recycling system at home.
And even though the advice given is mainly for UK residents, there are also some hints and tips for readers from the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

All this and much more can be found in the webpage The Rubbish Diet WEEK 1: Starting with the Basics at:

And if you've missed the introduction with advice about weighing-in and ways to rethink rubbish, you can catch it all here at

As you aim to slim your bin, remember you're not alone. There are plenty of folk who have done something similar and this week's guide includes a list of blogs by other people who have taken on their own independent challenges in the past. You may find it useful to visit them regularly and scour old blogposts for extra help. And be sure to use the relevant links in the Rubbish Diet sidebar too.

So I hope you enjoy your tasks and don't forget to "weigh-in" at the end of the week so you can measure your progress. I'd love to know how you get on and if you want to publicise your achievements on this blog, let me know, by emailing me at karen[at]therubbishdiet[dot]co[dot]uk.

In the meantime, if you need even more inspiration this week, especially relating to setting up a recycling system at home, check out this BBC report where Mrs Green from - aka Rachelle Strauss - demonstrates her recycling system. It makes me very grateful for my council's commingled recycling service, where I can put most of my stuff in one big recycling bin. More videos like this can be found at the MyZeroWaste website.

So happy slimming and remember to come back next week, where I'll be helping you out with your shopping.

Friday, 8 January 2010

A Winter Carnival: Wrapping up Christmas

A Winter Scene: Sutton Hoo, nr Woodbridge in Suffolk

Ho, ho, ho! Well Christmas is now done and dusted, Twelfth Night has come and gone and Britain is now covered in a blanket of snow. It's a good job we've had to take down the decorations. At least it's been one way of keeping warm during this wintry spell.

But forget about the weather. Today I am asking how did you get on with your rubbish...or perhaps I should say....your festive resources over what is the most wasteful time of the year?

Did you recycle them, or bung them in the bin? Of course, I know you wouldn't have done the latter. Maybe you've kept a few things for re-use? After all, there are lots of free things that enter your home during Christmas, including ribbons, cards, paper and boxes and so much can be done with them before you even think about recycling.

This carnival celebrates a range of fabulous posts from some lovely bloggers, showing what they've been all getting up to, with ideas ten-a-penny. And the photo you see below is my own contribution. It's a fishtank that I made with my creative 5-year-old on Boxing Day, from an empty Christmas Cracker box, featuring bits of fir tree, sweetie wrappers, old fabrics and some crepe paper he'd got as a present.

But that's enough from me. Here's over to some of the gorgeous bloggers who have been busy with their imagination over the festive period:

The fabulous Mrs Green over at MyZeroWaste has a whole host of tips on how to recycle your festive bits & bobs. Visit How to recycle your Christmas for lots of inspiration.


And if you have other thoughts in mind, here are some more excellent ideas from MyZeroWaste, about reusing for greeting cards, even for things as simple as notecards.


never fails to make me giggle, especially this time with her post Wrapping paper: reindeers can't cross their legs. It really is a lovely story.


I love this idea from Cathy at NurtureStore who reveals how she's used Christmas cards to make a Jigsaw and Memory Game. What a great idea to keep kids entertained when out and about in restaurants or around at friends. Free and simple!


And last but not least, here's another creative idea for reusing cards from Jude at Artful Adventures. I'm sure you'll be impressed with how she makes some gorgeous cards from old greetings cards. Check out her ideas in her post Creative ways to recycle Christmas cards.


I'll most definitely be keeping my favourite cards for re-use next year. As well as making new cards and games, it will save me from the drastic action I took this Christmas, which was to cut up some 2009 cards for reusing as some emergency tags. Cheeky I know, but eh ho!

So thanks to everyone who contributed to this Carnival. I apologise for it being late. With schools closed due to the snow, the children kept me too busy to blog. However, I'd like to wish you all a Happy New Year, and if anyone is interested in some other practical tips, check out this post which I published last week: Packing your Christmas Away with the R-Word.

For the reasons stated above I have postponed my decluttering posts until next week, but do come back on Monday when I will be kicking off Week 1 of the 2010 Rubbish Diet Challenge.

Monday, 4 January 2010

2010: Looking Backwards & Forwards and Onwards & Upwards

It's been two years since I made a tiny new year's resolution to smarten up my domestic landscape and stated unassumingly that I intended to reduce the amount of waste we sent to landfill.

With a memory like a fish, I needed a system to remember my reusable bags, I wanted to cook more and find a way to stop my husband from throwing so much crap in the bin including holey socks and unused presents. In short, I think I needed a miracle.

"It's decluttering" he'd say.

Witnessing unworn slippers being chucked away, my defence was limited to gurning and with an imaginary kick up the backside and a slap around his head with a wet fish, I would just slope off and leave him to it. Who was I to argue? After all it was me who topped up the rest of the rubbish with food waste and my lazy ways. And that was our life!

Then in January 2008 up popped St Emundsbury Borough Council with its Zero Waste project, offering a helping hand. It's almost as though they'd heard my plea for sanity. And I can't thank them enough, because two years later I've now thrown away in one year what I would have done in just one wheelie bin's worth of rubbish.

And by shopping more carefully, using up leftovers and switching to reusable products, we've also saved around £2500, a £1000 of which has been by reducing food waste. I was never really frugal, but when I look at these figures, I can't help rubbing my hands and shouting "LOADSAMONEY" despite it bringing a shudder down my spine with memories of that obnoxious Harry Enfield character from the eighties!

It really has been an amazing couple of years and back then I had no idea how important this thing would become. And having succeeded in reducing my own rubbish, I've enjoyed challenging others along the way too.

Take last year. I had a great time with my friends over at British Mummy Bloggers, helping to inspire them to take part in WRAP's Recycle Week, which was a fabulous success thanks to all the bloggers involved who helped spread the word. Even James Hazell and Sal from BBC Radio Suffolk were up for a laugh with their rubbish too, with lots of on-air fun and frolics. Although James didn't quite give it his full oomph, Sally managed to get to zero waste.

And do you remember Ruby, Jo and Mrs Green, the original "Recyclettes" from 2008? In each case, all I did was get them to do a bin audit and offered some initial suggestions, then left them to their own devices.

While Ruby and Jo successfully managed to slim their bins by 50%, Mrs Green went onto achieve rubbish reducing levels of immense proportions. With environmental concerns at the heart of her ambitions, she even set up her own website at MyZeroWaste and worked hard to move from a full bin load and several side-bags each week to just one small bin in the last year! And for 2010, Mrs Green aka Rachelle Strauss is aiming for total Zero Waste.

Now that will be amazing to follow. I on the other hand, have long since found my comfortable weight and I daren't even try to slim our own rubbish beyond our monthly carrier bag's worth. With my husband's very settled habits it could make me a prime candidate for divorce. And I am not sure who would file for it first.

But for 2010 I will be supporting that hubby of mine in his urge to declutter. After stopping him in his tracks for two whole years, I the Queen of Clutter have finally signed up to some top tips from and will be going head-to-head with he who rules: the King of Declutter himself. If you've ever watched Kramer vs Kramer, you'll get a sense of what life will be like in the Almost Average household, only this will be about rubbish, or the intended lack of it. We've already had cross words over what should be binned or recycled, so for the next three months you can expect war.

So what else can you expect from The Rubbish Diet this season?

On a calmer note, I will be getting away from the blog a lot more, still talking rubbish of course. With more speaking engagements on the horizon and a few collaborations in the pipeline, I'll be hoping to get people revealing their rubbish in the most unlikeliest of places, including having a nosey behind the scenes at one of London's most prestigious hotels to show that a luxurious lifestyle doesn't have to create waste.

And of course the exciting Seven Suffolk Streets waste reduction project is going to be a huge focus for this spring, with Suffolk County Council encouraging my whole street - and six others around the county - to reduce our rubbish by half in March.

But my priority over the next few months is to do what I love doing most and that's to help even more people slim their blimmin' bins AND have a giggle while they're doing so. Whether it's to save money, make life more convenient, learn more skills or become greener, I'll be lending a hand to help folk kickstart this year with a lighter load and enjoy cost benefits too.

So if this sounds like a challenge that appeals to you or your friends, then make sure you pop by each week for a whole load of tips that could help you slim your bin in just eight weeks. Yep, eight weeks! That's how long it took me and you'll be amazed how easy it can be to knock things off your Rubbish list. But what's needed are small, gradual steps, not to attempt everything at once. This is a gentle diet, not a full-blown crash diet!

But as with all diets, you'll need to do a weigh-in first, so click below for my online guide to conducting your very own waste audit. There are some words on Rethinking Rubbish too, which may just keep you motivated should you happen to get the wobbles.

Here it is. You'll find everything you need at

Please feel free to share extra tips in the comments below and once you've sorted out your rubbish, pop by next Monday for the beginning of Week 1, where I will be sure to ease you in gently.

And the great news is we've got one volunteer already, Pippa from A Mother's Ramblings, who's challenged herself to take up a Zero Waste Week in March. So if you have a mo, do pop over to her blog to offer your support.

You know, I have a feeling this will be a very exciting new year.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Packing your Christmas away with the R-Word

Recycle your cards with the Woodland Trust.

It's the 1st of January, the beginning of New Year's Day and and the start of a whole new decade. And if you're anything like me, you'll be packing away all your decorations and other Christmas gubbins before the day is out.

So as you can see, with lots to do today, I won't have much time to spend on this blog, so I'm attempting to deliver this blog post in the style of Gordon Ramsay and The F-Word, fast and at breakneck speed but without the swearing.

So off we go! Let's kick off with the New Year's Day special of The R-Word, helping you get rid of your Christmas stuff without creating much waste. Don't clear up your Christmas without checking these tips.

Christmas Cards:

a) Great for gift-tags and thank you cards . Grab scissors, cut and keep for reuse!

b) Recycle rest in your bin

c) Or go to the shops: WH Smith, T.K. Maxx, or M&S. Find The Woodland Trust recycling box. Drop cards through hole! The charity earns recycling credits for all cards collected.

c) Go to computer. Type Vote for where trees should be planted.

Wrapping Paper

a) Good condition? Keep. Store. Reuse.

b) Plain brown paper? Scrunch. Compost.

c) Recycle rest! But check for shiny bits and recycling advice. Some council bins won't like it!

d) In Suffolk? Foiled paper's okay in household recycling bins.

Christmas Trees:

First hug tree

a) Hugs you back? It's real. Bung in car and take it for shredding. HWRC or local collection sites. Alternatively chop, slice and put in garden waste bin.

b) Tree collapses in half or pokes you in the eye with half-naked metal branch? It's fake. Grab scissors, duck tape and mend. Alternatively, bung in car. Drive to HWRC. Find metal recycling in.

Broken Christmas Lights!

a) Get new fuse. Unscrew. Replace.

b) Switch on.

c) No glimmer. Lights. Boogered

Few stores now sell replacement bulbs! Experienced this? Oh yes. Me too!

d) HWRC. Recycle with WEEE!

e) Next Christmas. Shops. Buy LEDs. Or check Freecycle's offered ads.

Broken toys.


a) It's a new toy? Grab bag. Shops. Return!

b) Old plastic toy? Grab scissors, duck tape & mend.

c) Impossible to mend and too dangerous to use? Bin

d) If it's electronic: Grab screwdriver. Unscrew. Rescue Batteries. HWRC. Recycle old toy with WEEE.

Gift Cards

Let them rest until they're ready to be used. Hit the high street. Use card then keep. Top up with extra cash. Treat a friend!

New Year's Resolutions

Don't recycle old ones. Try something new instead.

Here's a few for you to wrap your head around:

1. Take bin. Look at rubbish. Reduce by 50%. Recycle. Compost.
2. Check fridge. Find old food. Chop. Cook. Eat.
3. Need ideas. Check
4. Recycle bottles. But wait. Check hangover first. If head's too heavy. Let it rest until tomorrow. Then do it!
5. Grab a carton. Rinse with water. Jump. Flatten. Find carton recycling bin. Drop it in!
6. Grab an old bag. Go shopping. Buy loose!
7. Want kitchen towel? Give it up. Look for cleaning cloths. Buy instead!
8. Forget old habits. Consider alternatives. Think resuable.
9 . Become a groupie. A recycling groupie. Get computer. Visit Type in your postcode. Then recycle. Live in Suffolk? Go to too!
10. Live elsewhere? Ring your council!

And that's it! Job Done! Relax.

Grab bottle, pour drink and celebrate.

Well I hope you've enjoyed the posts this week. They have been put together to support the daily recycling slot at BBC Radio Suffolk, where I've been discussing festive rubbish with Rob Dunger each morning.

If you've missed them and want to catch up. Here's a summary, with relevant links.

28th December: There are more ways than one to avoid food waste
: Top tips about using up leftovers and other ways of reducing the waste that you throw in the bins.

29th December: Making the most of that unwanted present: How to pass things on in a guilt-free way.

30th December: Avoiding Rubbish at the Sales...and using the sales to avoid rubbish.

31st December: Happy New Year
- It's party time: Celebrating recycling with ideas for coping with the aftermath of the party.

And if you want to find out what celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay actually does with his leftovers then check out this old article from the Noughties archives.

So Happy New Year everyone and happy bin slimming too!


Latest News: Thanks to a great idea by the lovely blogger Nixdminx, I will be publishing a carnival on the 7th January highlighting actions that other people have taken to reduce their waste this Christmas. So if you've got a blogpost about anything to do withChristmas recycling, using up leftovers or ideas that you've had for next year, then send me the link as I would love to promote your post. Drop an email to karen(at)therubbishdiet(dot)co(dot)uk or send a direct message to @therubbishdiet on Twitter.


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