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Archive for the ‘Frugal Living’ Category

Living Well on Less

Money is a funny old thing.

20 years ago, a friend said to me “I don’t know how you guys survive on what you make, that wouldn’t even cover our grocery bill”. I laughed then, and I still look back on it now with wry humour, because I’m happily retired at 55, while my friend is still working long, hard hours.

You see, I figured out years ago that living on less is much, much easier than trying to make more.

And I have an acute understanding of how the maths works. If I mend this tea towel for the fourth time; if I teach my eyes to celebrate the repairs rather than see them as a mark of impoverishment – then my $2 tea towel will last for years, and I won’t need to earn $3 to replace it.

Multiply that by the 20 tea towels I have in the drawer, and that’s $60 I don’t have to earn. Or $240, if like some people I know, I’d replaced all my tea towels as soon as they developed holes.  Multiply that, in turn, by every facet of our lives, and you can see why the mindset is worth cultivating.

Please let me know if you’re interested in reading more posts about frugal living. I’ve written a lot about it in the past, but it seems like a good time to revisit and reassess our approach.

A box of rescued broder cotton from The Sewing Basket. The perfect thread for darning tea towels!

A wise man once said “ to be rich is to have money, to be wealthy is to have time”. And I am so enjoying having time. ♥

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I’ve been reading a lot about food waste recently.

It’s one of the biggest environmental threats facing our planet at the moment, with overflowing landfills releasing tonnes of methane as perfectly good edibles are discarded and left to decompose. Ronni Kahn is the founder of OzHarvest, and her recently released autobiography is both a wonderful read and an eye-opener. Did you know that the average Australian household throws away $3,800 of groceries per year (one in every five bags)? Almost half the fruit and veg produced are wasted, yet one in nine people, nearly 800 million of them, don’t have enough to eat…


As a family, we’re trying to do our little bit. We’ve been making a concerted effort to finish our leftovers, and all our leavings and other food waste is, as much as possible, fed to our backyard menagerie of chickens, worms and soldier fly larvae. I’ll try to write a separate post on what we’ve found works and doesn’t work, but until our council is able to offer us food waste collection, we’ll continue to process as much of it as we can here to keep it out of landfill.

These soldier fly larvae are an integral part of our backyard food recycling system!

After watching David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet, both Pete and Small Man declared that we needed to eat less animal products (not easy for a house of meat lovers, but we’re determined to try). Last week, instead of our usual chicken curry, we made this vegan version instead and it was delicious…

In keeping with our goal of reducing food waste, we picked up some of the vegetables for the curry from the AddiRoad Food Pantry. You might recall that I’ve written about them before, and that we recently made and donated over 150 masks to them…

Now, I’ve always been hesitant to shop there, believing that if I could afford to pay retail prices, then I shouldn’t compete with those that couldn’t. But when we dropped off our last batch of masks, Food Pantry Manager Damien encouraged us to do so. He explained that their main goal was preventing food waste, and also that when customers paid the asking place, it put them in a better position to give food vouchers to those in need.

The shop is set up on a points system, with each point charged at 50c. All items have a number written on them indicating how many points they’re worth. If you spend $5, you also get a free loaf of day old bread, one or two frozen dinners, and a bag of rescued fruit and veg which might otherwise have gone to landfill. Everything will be past its best before date, but still perfectly fine to eat, and by purchasing from them, you’ll be supporting their ongoing efforts to fight food waste.

Here are some photos I took of the shop…

And here’s what we picked up on our first visit…

If you still have qualms about taking food away from those who might need it more, then try my approach.

I go to the pantry just before it closes, so as to not compete with anyone who needs access to the service more than I do. Then I add $10 to my purchase price as a donation. It’s a win all around: I pay less, I help fight food waste, I don’t take away from anyone else, and I’ve donated enough to provide a box of food to a family in need.

Of course, if you’re not in the area and can’t shop there in person, you can still support AddiRoad by donating directly through their website. The organisation’s hashtag is #WeAreStrongerTogether, and I really do think that says it all! ♥

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Affordable Art

It always makes me smile when we visit our friends. Most of them have large, expensive pieces of art on their walls, sparsely hung to suit their stylish interiors.

We, on the other hand, have a mad clutter of bits and pieces hotch-potched onto every available wall. Sure, we have a few larger pieces, like this limited edition John Olsen lithograph that I picked up from Reverse Garbage for $2…

But mostly our walls are packed with family photos, framed postcards by artists we admire, and homemade projects. Every piece has a story and every piece is treasured. And here’s what I’ve come to realise over the years – art doesn’t have to be expensive. It just has to bring you happiness! Sitting on a wall and seen daily, it can not only lift the spirits, but also serve as a gentle connection to the people who created it.

Pete’s beloved cousin Sarah passed away in 2011. Twenty years ago, she and I traded a stack of homemade blankets for two animation cells from her short film Small Treasures, which hang in our hallway to this day. They make me smile whenever I stop to look at them…

. . . . .

Here’s a simple craft project to add more art to your life…collect all the dodgy advertising magnets that end up in your letterbox…

Stick them onto the back of postcards or photos with double-sided tape. I used magnetic sheets that I found from Reverse Garbage for mine, but I’ve used fridge magnets in the past and they work just as well…

Voila! Instant fridge art! These gorgeous postcards from my friend Han Cao cost just US$4 each, but they bring me cheer every time I open the fridge…

Of course, there’s always room on the fridge for Grayson Perry…

I took this photo of Chuck Close’s self-portrait when we visited San Francisco MOMA in 2016. It’s been on the fridge ever since, a happy reminder of a wonderful day…

Also, don’t pay a fortune for new frames! We’ve discovered that our local Salvation Army stores sells used ones for very little – these two cost us just $5 each. It was the work of minutes to display a few more of Han’s postcards in a stylish and very sustainable way…

Finally, my favourite work of hers (at the moment) is Sisters, perfectly showcased in this $1 rescued frame that I picked up. It’s hanging by the door to our living room, and always invites conversation…

. . . . .

If you’d like to read more about framing postcards, have a look at the Charley Harper post I wrote a few years ago. Wishing you all a fun and creative day!

ch5

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I am VERY excited to tell you about these!

As you know, we’ve been on a long quest to live more sustainably. We’ve managed to find alternatives to almost all the disposable items in our kitchen – crocheted dishcloths in place of paper towels and chux wipes, beeswax wraps have replaced cling film and plastic bags, cloth napkins have eliminated our daily use of paper serviettes.

But the one area where I was stuck was finding a sustainable alternative to potscrubbers. The crocheted ones I’d made didn’t pass muster – the cotton ones lacked the necessary abrasive texture, and the acrylic ones shed microplastics into the waterways. For the past couple of years, I’ve been properly stumped.

Then I started experimenting with the hessian that lovely Pauline at The Sewing Basket gave me to play with. Success! Not only do our new potscrubbers work well, they’re also washable and completely biodegradable! Here’s how I make them…

Start with a square or rectangle of hessian (burlap). The size isn’t really important, but my most recent ones are made with a 30cm (12″) square. Make sure the hessian is made from jute – some manufacturers now use synthetic fibres. You can test this by carefully burning a strand – if it completely burns away without leaving a hard bead, then it should be fine…

Fold two of the edges in to meet at the middle. Crease by running your thumb on the folded edges…

Now fold the other two edges into the middle. This process encases all the raw edges, which ensures the hessian won’t fray or come apart in the washing machine…

Finally, fold the whole thing in half again and pin. This results in eight layers of hessian…

You now have two options. The easiest way to make these is to machine around the outside edges with a zig zag stitch. I like to stitch a couple of lines through the middle of the scrubber as well to hold all the layers together. I used cotton thread from The Sewing Basket rather than polyester, firstly to ensure that the end result was completely biodegradble, but more importantly to keep any potential microplastics out of the waterways…

Using a sewing machine makes this a very quick project…

The finished scrubbers hold up well in the washing machine, particularly if you wash them in a lingerie bag. I don’t put them in the dryer though…

I was pretty happy with these, but my engineer husband thought we could do better – he was concerned that sewing cotton still takes a very long time to breakdown. He wanted a scrubber which we could use and wash repeatedly, then put into the worm farm at the end of its life. So I unraveled long strands of jute from the remaining hessian…

…and used double strands of it to handstitch the scrubbers together. I started with a row of running stitches near the fold to hold the layers together…

…then whipstitched around the edges to finish…

The final potscrubbers will now biodegrade quickly when we’re ready to throw them out…

The handstitched ones have held up well in the wash too – I didn’t want to put this post up until I’d washed them a couple of times…

These are great for scrubbing pots, but they need to be laundered regularly, so it’s worth having a few on hand. Also, it’s best not to leave them sitting in water. They probably won’t have a long working life, but I’m okay with that – I’m just so happy to have a sustainable option! ♥

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I’ve tried several patterns for face masks over the past few months, but the one I wrote about in April continues to be a winner at our house.

Here’s the YouTube tutorial by Keiko Olsson again, and a rough draft of the pattern that I sketched from her instructions…

Today I figured out that I could make the mask from a t-shirt! By ironing interfacing onto the lining piece, I ended up with a three-layered mask, as currently recommended.

I started with an old tee that someone donated on swap day

I cut the pattern pieces from the front and back at the same time…

Iron-on interfacing was applied to the wrong side of the lining…

I then followed the tutorial pretty closely up to the sewing of the casing…

Instead of turning the casing over twice, I just folded it over once and stitched it down. There were two reasons for doing this – firstly, knit fabrics don’t fray, so there was no need to fold under the raw edge. Secondly, I needed a slightly wider casing to fit ties rather than elastic…

After stitching down the pleats, I added a small diagonal seam in the middle of the bottom of the mask, sewing with right side folded in half on itself. You can see it at the top of the photo below. This contours the mask just a little so that it tucks in under the chin…

To make the ties, first cut the hem off the t-shirt, then cut a 4cm (1½”) strip straight across the body. Turn it inside out and cut off the seams…

Now give each strip a good tug and the edges will curl inwards to form a long cord…

With a large wool needle, feed each tie through one of the side casings. This bit can be a bit fiddly and you might need to improvise…

We find the ties work far better than elastic (which we all found very hard on our ears), and allow the mask to be worn in a number of ways. My personal preference is to tie one set high on the top of my head and the other behind my neck. Additionally, hat elastic is almost impossible to buy at the moment, so being able to make ties on the spot is a bonus.

My stitching was a bit wonky but the knit fabric is very forgiving…

Lastly, don’t throw away your scraps! Cut them into usable pieces, then stash them in the laundry for polishing shoes or dusting…

These upcycled t-shirt masks tick all the sustainability boxes, but they are in no way surgical grade or guaranteed to protect against COVID19. They might, however, help prevent the wearer from spreading the disease unknowingly. According to the information provided by the Department of Health in Victoria, face masks should ideally be made with a water resistant external layer. We’ve been experimenting with  outerwear scraps with some success, but have found masks made with completely waterproof fabric to be impossible to breathe through.

Have you been sewing face masks? Please feel free to list any patterns you’ve found useful in the comments below for discussion and comparison. ♥

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