Friday’s Frugal and Green Five

  1. I haven’t used the tumble-dryer all week, and have relied on hanging up the clothes on the airer to dry in the living room. It’s a big room, and full of junk, so it’s doesn’t have much aesthetic impact! Saved on energy, saved on money.
  2. I’ve been making a floor cushion this week, along the pattern of a meditation cushion or zafu. I’ve used fabric from the stash, and I’m stuffing it with all of the scrap material (and I mean scrap, so small it can’t even be used for patchwork) I’ve been hoarding this year, rather than buy the necessary firm stuffing. This has meant shredding the stuffing material down to fragments, which turns out is killer on the hands and has given me blisters, but it’s free and uses something that otherwise would go in the bin.
  3. The heating is not on yet. The house is comparatively warm, but there have been evenings of sitting under a blanket on the sofa, or breaking out the hot water bottle, as it is definitively winter now. But I’m cold-blooded so will wait until my partner starts to feel the cold.
  4. Still working through the cupboard store of dried beans and pulses. Without a pressure cooker or slow cooker making stuff with these is more work than I like to necessarily put into dinner on a regular basis, but it all needs eating. Why on earth did I buy 2kgs of split yellow peas?!
  5. Went food shopping today and found some of my favourite tinned soups for only 50p a can! Probably too excited by this, and yes tinned soups aren’t amazing, but if the default lunch is “some bread and something” then a tinned vegetable soup is a definite improvement. Substantial savings, which were probably lost to buying alchohol for this weekend’s Halloween parties… but buying spirits and mixers at the superstore is much  cheaper than buying something on impulse at the corner shop. I also managed to get all the vegetables, excluding the sweet potato, loose and without plastic packaging. Small victories.

I was going to add that I used the Meerkat Movies 2-for-1 voucher to go to the cinema this week… but my partner voted to see The Last Witchhunter and it was so absolutely dire that it definitely was only worth £8.40 for us both to see it (if that!) and I do not feel I saved any money!

As inspired by Katy Wolk-Stanley.

Friday’s Frugal and Green Five

Giving second hand things as gifts

It doesn’t always feel okay to give second hand things as gifts.

Hell, it rarely feels ‘okay’. It gives me an uncomfortable, squirmy kind of feeling. Embarrassment, as if it is ‘cheap’ and insufficient and miserly to give such gifts. Why is that, and have people always felt that way? Bele Masterman and Brooke McAlary suggested in a recent podcast that it wasn’t always this way, and that prior to the 1950s and the birth of modern consumerism (though that’s a discussion for another day!) people were much happier to give second hand gifts.

I think it’s likely low income people gave second hand gifts more frequently in the past, because they had little expectation of owning or giving ‘new’ things. In part that’s due to changes in perspective on consuming etc., that developed during the 20th century. But it’s also related to the drop in the relative cost of ‘consumer’ goods and the much lower living costs of the post-1950s western world. The substantial reduction in the price of clothes in the later half of the 20th century is a good example of this, both in terms of absolute value and proportion of income spent.

In the pre-1950s western world, people had to invest substantial parts of their household income just in shoes and clothes, let alone cooking pots and bedsteads. Consequently these everyday objects had substantial monetary value second-hand. You just have to look at the history of pawnbrokers, and the types of objects they lent money on – suits, baskets, crockery, curtains – to see this. But now new things are comparatively cheap, and easily obtainable, and this contributes substantially to second-hand things having so little value. Today in the UK we seem to be at the point where only charity shops (which in the UK do not pay the usual commercial taxes etc) can afford to trade in them. The lack of a market to sell second-hand objects, and the highly visible low prices of second-hand pieces has a knock on effect of our perception of them, contributing to us seeing second-hand things as worthless junk. The major exception to this is probably computer games and DVDs, for which specialist resale shops continue to survive. This is also, coincidentally, the one type of object I have consistently given as a second-hand gift – though even then, only to certain people.

Part of the feeling of stinginess associated with second-hand gifts may be related to their common origin in charity shops. I get a large proportion of my ‘stuff’ from charity shops, because they are cheap, and if you have the time to root through a dozen of them in an afternoon there’s a good chance you’ll come away with something great. But if I’m honest, they smell funny, they can be badly organised, and you often come into contact with other customers with less than top personal hygiene. It’s not exactly a classy or necessarily pleasurable shopping experience – though it’s my favourite type of shopping. If you associate second-hand objects with this, and with the notion of ‘charity’ which in the UK we have a track record of being too proud to be comfortable with, then it’s not surprising giving second-hand things as gifts becomes problematic.

And of course, there’s always a little voice saying “This book is only £8 new, why don’t you just buy your friend a new copy?” Untangling where that voice comes from, and why I listen to it, is pretty complex and to a certain extent probably different for each individual. Certainly for those of us who grew up not particularly rich, there’s hints of failure associated with feeling like we have to buy second-hand to afford something. To others it is probably alien to consider buying second-hand when you can easily afford to buy the same thing new. It’s simply a matter of why bother?

But we all know academically that buying second-hand has the potential to do good. Excluding any potential physical depredation of an object, second-hand things aren’t intrinsically worse than their newer versions. Why shouldn’t I save money and buy something second-hand? Other than things like kids clothes, which have a really active market on Facebook and localised networks and retain their value surprisingly well, most things can be found second-hand at a tenth of their original cost. Better than that, I’m not paying for a new thing to be made, so I’m saving resources and energy and donating to charity when I buy it. It’s also worth remembering that the thing I’m buying second-hand may well go to landfill if I don’t participate in providing a decent second-hand market for it.

Buying second-hand has such clear benefits when I think it through!

But as much as these logical justifications help, I’m still left with niggling feelings of guilt and doubt about giving second-hand things. I still know people that I daren’t give such things to, because I know they would look down on them if they knew, and it feels like looking down on my gift is looking down on me. I don’t want to give a gift that feels tarnished to someone because it isn’t new, I want to give a gift that they embrace wholeheartedly.Untying that link between the gifts I give, and my concept of myself, is a whole different thing, but the giving of second-hand things as gifts is a complex issue. It’s also one I haven’t quite managed to get my head to rule my heart on. However this month I’m going to try giving a couple of people second-hand things, and see how they react. Fingers-crossed! Maybe I can expand the practice over Christmas?

Do you give second-hand things as gifts? How has it gone?

Giving second hand things as gifts

Missing creative writing

Doing the PhD pretty much killed my desire to write.

I’ve always written. Ever since I was a small child, I’ve made up stories. My father encouraged me to write, probably from the age of eight or younger. I was in my teens when my mother brought home an old laptop from work – an amazing Windows 3.1 machine that I still have – and every summer holiday I used to sit inside and write all kinds of stories about battles and elves and brave young people swept up in maelstroms they couldn’t control.

Getting a job, doing a degree, getting more jobs and doing a masters degree never stopped me writing stories. No matter how much I was doing academically, I never stopped writing for pleasure. It’s worth saying here that I never wrote for anyone else, and I never considered pursuing writing as a career. I think my father’s example showed very clearly how unlikely that was to work, and I was always a very sensible child. I also never finished the tales I wrote, because I’d just write the bits that excited me, and once I’d worked out in my head how the rest of the story went I usually didn’t bother typing it up. But I wrote consistently, most weeks, for hours or more and just for the pleasure of creating.

I’m not sure whether it’s the volume of words I churned out during my PhD, or the actual PhD experience that put a stop to that. There were times when things were stressful during the PhD, but that used to turn me towards writing for pleasure, not away. I might have just been overwhelmed by the steady process of churning out hundreds of thousands of words. I do think my fiction writing suffered: my writing has become very dry, very mechanical since doing the PhD, and I think that likely relates to the necessity of hammering through fact after fact, data set after data set. But I what really killed fiction writing for me was that my ability to be creative was heavily damaged during the PhD process.

I have to admit I don’t have a clear concept in mind, when I say “ability to be creative”. I think I am trying to express the feeling I have when my mind is full of ideas, full of stories, full of the desire to create things that I believe have aesthetic or similar value. That desire to create or make rather than to analyse, or learn, or examine. It certainly became very diminished during the PhD. I was still creating, largely costume, but in a limited and mechanical way that simply attempted to achieve the minimum necessary. I didn’t take joy in the process, I just wanted to make the object for use.

As I reflect on it, I suspect it wasn’t the PhD exactly that damaged my creativity, though pressure, stress, and large amounts of academic writing did probably reduce my ability to write creatively to some extent. I think it was the way I felt during the latter parts of the PhD that really did the damage. At times I felt anxious, very self-critical, found it difficult to establish and retain confidence in the things I was producing, and experienced periods of low emotion and motivation and overall sadness. Being in that place, feeling those things, crushed almost everything else, and it’s not a surprise that included my desire and ability to create.

I also think writing, good writing, requires knowing who you are. Or at least being willing to explore who you are and what interests you, what perspectives you bring, what your assumptions and desires are. I’m coming to the impression that during the PhD I distorted my self, to fit within what I perceived was the role I should be filling. Conditions of worth certainly played a part there, as well as an underlying desire to fit in. I think I had assumed that the PhD would represent a time in which I would finally fit in, that my strong desire and motivation for learning and enjoyment of analysis and critique would finally be normal because everyone else would be the same. Why else would they be doing a PhD? Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and I still felt like the odd nerd who didn’t connect with anyone else. Part of the time I tried to fit in, the rest of the time I felt frustrated and alienated, and I suspect that I was rarely, genuinely, myself. I don’t think I found my niche, and I think I spent a lot of time assuming that was my fault, or just being perplexed by the whole thing.

It’s not the adversity that was problematic, I think it’s the fact that it lead me to be quite self destructive (on a purely internal, mental level), and to loose faith in my internal barometer. It’s difficult to be more than paralysed when you doubt your own judgement, not only on what is good, but what is worth even spending time on. I think I often thought or worried that what I was doing was stupid, worthless, a waste of time, bad for my career, of uncertain purpose, foolish, etc either by other people’s measurements or by what I perceived were other people’s measurements. Because that clashed with what I did actually, really, want to be doing I had to tell myself I was wrong, and I had to learn not to trust that internal direction. I never overcame it entirely, which I think lead to spending a lot of time conflicted or uncertain; paralysed.

As I continue my convalescence, I’m slowly recognising these things.  I think I’m starting to reestablish trust in my internal barometer, and confidence that what I want to do is worth doing. This month I spent most of a whole day writing, in a single splurge that caught me a bit unawares. It’s one of the things that prompted this post.

Has anyone else experienced losing their creativity under similar conditions? I’d be interested to hear other peoples experiences.



Missing creative writing

Friday’s Frugal and Green Five

Katy Wolk-Stanley, who blogs at The Non-Consumer Advocate has an oft repeated format, where she posts Five Frugal Things. I really enjoy reading her posts, and have probably read her whole archive now. Initially I wasn’t that fond of the frugal list, but as a long-time reader I’m really getting into them. I think they are a little impenetrable on their own, but after a while you have the context to see them as part of her life, little snap shots of what’s going on. I find them fascinating now, and I’ve been making similar lists in my head for some time.

The Five Frugal Things are lists about things she has done, and choices she has made, which contribute to saving money. As these often involve mending things, avoiding buying new things, or making do with what she has, they are often good for the environment as well. I think they are quite inspirational, in a low-level, every-day kinda way. Unsurprisingly, I’ve wanted to add my own lists here, but I’m going to make the focus more explicitly on environmentally friendly things, as well as frugal things. Saving money is important to me, as is reducing the amount of new things I buy, but probably because I’m concerned about the overall environmental impact of consumption and materialism. I hope you enjoy these little glimpses into my own life.

This week’s Frugal and Green Five:

  1. We remembered to take the tetrapaks to the recycling point at the supermarket, and recycled the plastic bag they were in. Our doorstep recycling collection is pretty pathetic around here, so we’ve been washing, squashing and bagging our tetrapaks, and taking them to the supermarket recycling points, for a while. It’s a small thing, but it does help reduce the rubbish.
  2. I’m painting a banner at the moment, and I’ve managed to get everything I need from my stash of fabric. The c.8 year old fabric paints even seem to be usable, so no need to spend any money on new things, and the project does something useful with fabric that’s just been sitting in storage for who-knows-how-long.
  3. I’ve been making a bunch of meals from scratch this week, in order to start putting a dent in our rather large storage box of dried beans and pulses. I suspect it’s going to take a long time to clear it all out, but it’s frugal and healthy, and somehow not as hard as I remember it being, which has been a welcome relief.
  4. We went to see The Martian at the cinema this week, and not only used the ‘2-for-1 tickets every week’ offer I got from switching the car insurance using Compare the Market, but went in the early afternoon so got an additional discount. Two adult tickets for c.£8.50 actually makes going to the cinema not feel like a massive expense!
  5. We dropped off a large bin bag full of clothing and assorted stuff at a local charity shop, and remembered to leave a gift-aid form with it. This week my partner had an impressive clear out of old unwanted clothes, and it’s really nice knowing that not only will they find another home, but that a charity will make a few pounds off them.

Any suggestions of better things to do with this stuff, or better ways to save money on these things?

Take a look at Katy Wolk-Stanley’s most recent Five Frugal Things for some more inspiration, particularly if you’re US-based.

Friday’s Frugal and Green Five

In convalescence

I realised yesterday that I’m a recovering PhD student. The easiest way of describing how that feels is to say that it has some similarities to coming out of a bad relationship. You’re left with attitudes, behaviors and habits that don’t make sense to the average person. You’re left with a pretty thoroughly warped and erratic sense of self worth. You’re left with an aversion to forming a similar relationship that’s so strong you can’t even look at it straight on.

The last on that list is a particularly kicker – it’s taken me months to understand why I can’t face applying for research positions, why I can barely make myself look at job listings and why I feel physically sick when I read job specifications. I’m so gun-shy of entering a similar environment to the PhD that I can’t even face looking for a job in the specialty I trained in for close on ten years.

I feel I should say here that my experience as a PhD student was not bad compared to many others. My supervisor was good, in their own way, my department was not a terrible place, I wasn’t bullied or picked on. Only once did my work get published without me as an author on the article, and even then my name was mentioned, so that’s not so bad in the scheme of things.

My PhD experience was not really bad, and other students’ experiences, even within my department, have been worse. You can read horror stories across the web, but from what I’ve seen the average experience tends to be one of being generally left with limited supervisory contact and sometimes actively ignored, with all the reduced outcomes you can imagine from that.

But it’s been a few months since I finished, and I’ve realised that although my PhD experience was honestly average to good, it has still had a profound impact on my attitudes to myself and my work. I’m only just beginning to unpick and recognise these attitudes, and only because at the moment I have the time and space to do so. If I had jumped into a research post straight out of my PhD I don’t think I’d have the mental space or safety to do that, and I think I’d be pretty darn miserable as a result. I wouldn’t know why I have such a bruised and inconstant confidence in my own abilities, almost constant anxiety related to my work, high levels of self-criticism with regards to anything I do in front of other people, and a complete lack of passion for my speciality. I’d probably just be trying to ignore it all, or just assuming there was something wrong with me, instead of having the opportunity to realise that these are all things that have developed as result of the PhD experience.

So right now I’m in convalescence. I’m hoping with a bit of self-care, a bit of rest, and a reintroduction to a normal working environment I’ll be able to rebalance my perspective and regain that spark that drove my research a few years back. Being able to enjoy writing again, even something like this blog, is part of that.

I’m going to concentrate on the small things for a while, and let the big things move at their own pace.

In convalescence