Tuesday, 21 December 2010

12 weeks to go...

All falling into place in 12 weeks we will already be installed in our first host's tent!

Yesterday I engaged a letting agent, choosing the one I had most clicked with when I had a couple round last week to talk to them about prices, what services they offer and so on. After much discussion we've decided to initially go with an agent and the charges seem reasonable.

The house is already up on their website and assuming a tenant is found by the end of January everything will fall nicely into place. If we don't find a tenant in time we will simply put back our plans until we do, if we find one who wants to move in early the plan is to move into our campervan or go and stay with my parents / friends, hand in our notice as planned and head off. There are benefits to the original plan timing falling into place but either of the other options also have potential upsides - if we let the house early we will have more cash in our contingency fund pot as we won't have bills to pay but will still be earning, if we let the house late there is the chance of Ady getting a work bonus which we agonised over leaving too early for when we first started talking about this plan. I'd rather it just went as planned and we head off in March but what will be, will be.

The other task to look at now is giving notice in various places - phone companies, getting gas and electric meters read and paying up, Sky tv and so on. I'm also looking at Zone 3 ready to have a list of places to contact just before we head off to book for September, October and November. Zone two has been very quick to fill with five yes replies already and no one saying no yet. We are already booked right into July so another 3 or 4 yes replied would have that zone fully booked.

We need to get Willow MOTd but we have got that provisionally booked in for late Feb and will confirm that once we have a tenant lined up and a definite leaving date.

Friday, 17 December 2010

We wish you a Merry Christmas...

I've had two Christmas cards this morning both wishing us a Merry Christmas and an adventurous new year :)

The night before last I posted to facebook with a status of 'Christmas Schmistmas'. Last night I ordered some bits off ebay just because everyone else I know is stressing about things not arriving in the post in time and I was sort of feeling left out.

So I got to thinking about Christmas generally, how I feel about it, the impact it has on me and everyone around me and so on. I shared some of my feelings with Ady and he insisted we watch The Good Life Christmas episode together to reinforce what I was saying :). I love that my reaction is to grab a book to back up an idea, his is to select a TV sitcom episode :)

I've had various types of Christmas over the years. Early Christmasses were just as magical as they should be for small children, with time off school, the promise of snow (never actually seen a White Christmas), the smell of the Christmas tree, really good Christmas specials and Christmassy cartoons on tv, the magic of still half believing in Father Christmas and that almost unbearable excitement of creeping into the lounge early on Christmas morning to see the floor filled with brightly wrapped presents.

As a young adult I loved Christmas, loved the work Christmas parties, the dressing up in party clothes, the festive spirit (hic) even if as a retail worker it was often a stressful and busy time with little in the way of days off. When Ady and I were first together we began building our own traditions and really threw ourselves into Christmas, taking the first week of December off work, making pilgrimages to shopping malls for Christmas shopping for each other and taking great delight in recreating the sort of Christmas we both we'd had as children.

The magic really began when we became parents ourselves of course. Dragon's first Christmas was a year my parents were abroad for Christmas so it was cosy, magical and incredibly indulgent to be enjoying our first family Christmas just the three of us. Star's first Christmas was equally magical as she was barely 2 weeks old and meeting everyone for the first time - grandparents, uncles, aunt and cousins, friends. Our first few Christmasses as parents were filled with excited Christmas shopping, late nights spent wrapping presents and ensuring the pile for each child was the same size, wondering if they would ever go to sleep so we could put gifts under the tree, putting glittery footprints from the hearth to the Christmas tree and coping with a day that started at 5am by getting stuck into the bucks fizz as early as possible!

Four years ago just before Christmas our lives changed quite dramatically and we had to seriously reconsider making Christmas happen by throwing money at it. Budgeting and buying throughout the year when we have the cash to do so, making, buying second hand and putting thought into gifts rather than money makes for a cheaper, less stressy, more meaningful Christmas. This year we are taking that principle even further. Dragon and Star will be getting gifts that are useful, that will delight them not just for a few moments on Christmas morning as wrapping it torn from them but in the weeks and months afterwards. We are not buying things that will take up space, fulfil no purpose, not earn their keep.

The last 3 years we have spent a week with friends in early December. This is a very special group of friends who get together five or six times a year for various celebrations and stay in touch online, or by phone pretty much daily. We hire a youth hostel, nominate a day to be 'Christmas' and set about celebrating together with this extended family what are fast becomming our own traditions. For me it captures everything that Christmas means to me. I don't have religious beliefs but do love the spirit of celebrating the turning of the year, being with those you love, singing together, creating decorations to brighten the dark of winter, making gifts with love and creativity and watching the recipients face as they open it, working together to create a feast, snowball fights with friends.

This year we will be buying as much food as we'll eat. True it might be slightly more luxurious and we might be home a little more than usual so we may have a slightly higher shopping bill but I don't want to be chucking stuff out at the end of January or having so many tins of quality street I am sick of the sight of it. This year everyone will be getting something that will enhance their lives past lunchtime. Our decorations are a real tree (we would have bought a potted one if we were not going away, as it is we have a real one given to us as a second) decorated with home made gingerbread biscuits, dried orange slices and home made baubles from last years recycled Christmas cards. We will have excesses it is true - we have bought wrapping paper, the lights adorning the house will be ticking our electricity meter round that bit quicker, we did send Christmas cards and there will be plastic under the tree for Dragon and Star, along with things with plugs.

If your Christmas is just another bullet point in your already overworked job list, transferring money you don't have in the first place from your credit card to amazon.co.uk, filling your fridge with food you won't eat, your bathroom with bubble bath you won't use, your house with more stuff you don't want and your children with an ever increasing portfolio of 'I wants' and plastic tat then I urge you to stop for a minute and reclaim what your Christmas is to you. Think back to the last time you felt some magic from December 25th and what it was about that memory you could recapture for yourself this year. For me it is wearing a bright white school shirt and shivering in a big church as part of the choir for a carol concert, the year I got the walkman I *really* wanted for Christmas, that blissful couple of hours walking home at the end of a bloody good New Years Eve in the early hours of a brand new year when every single person you meet becomes someone you exchange a smile or Happy New Year greeting with even though they are a stranger you would be suspicious of on a normal late night walk home. I've found elements of all of that for my Christmas this year, while giving my children the basis for their own Christmas memories and traditions.

Merry Christmas - find a way of actually making it merry, filled with love and wonder and festive magic.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Need to update

rather quickly on todays earlier post really. And I have some other updating stuff to do too.

First though, Operation House to Let. I had two letting agents round today. They both offer pretty similar service give or take a percent or two of the monthly fees. The first was a nice woman who did a fairly soft sell on me, said the house would be worth pretty much exactly per month what I had concluded would be market value, answered my questions about marketing and management competantly and clearly knew enough about the market to give me confidence they would do an adequate job.

The second was slightly different in that the representative had more charm, clearly had a fair degree of business nouce about him and actually concluded with me what the price might be before he actually looked all round the house. Sure there was smarm and typical estate agent-ness about him but he chucked in enough personal anecdotes, enough insight to convince me he *really* knew his stuff and several common sense tips. He also undercut the other agency and offered various options from guaranteed rent per month (vastly reduced per month but defnitely into your bank account) to arranging a tenant one off fee. We also have the option of a private rental agreement and a friend has recommended an online website for that so various options to explore in the next few days before making a decision and setting the final wheels in motion for that.

Hearteningly both agents saw no issue at all in finding a tenant by March 1st and indeed both felt our potential to be out of the house earlier if needs be might need to be exercised. Which is all nice and promising. Ady and I need to have a chat about it and see which option we're wanting to go for before setting the wheels in motion - both felt it would be worth getting the property on books before Christmas as it is the time of year when people are browsing although unlikely to have anything secured this side of 2011, which gives us all of January to find a tenant, or allows us to put back our first hosts and wait until we have tenants secured to give a months notice to work.

In other news we have all of zone one booked up now; March, April and May with a couple of small gaps I am hoping to slot some hosts who said yes in principle but to contact them again nearer the time into. I have contacted 14 potential hosts for zone two and already had four back with yes replies, I have contacted them again to set dates and assuming they are all okay with my suggested dates we already have all of June booked too.

With the exception of a few small items which still need ebaying but we'll wait until after the crazy Christmas period is over, the house is decluttered, redecorated and ready to pack up and vacate. The chickens are still to be rehomed but we have a permanent new home for 3 of the hens and potential chicken sitters for the remainder of the coop.

A final highlight today was the reaction of both letting agents when they asked where we were off to for the year on being told 'around the UK in the campervan on the driveway' which was met in both cases with a wistful 'oh, how exciting, wish I could do that' response. Whenever I have a little niggling doubt I picture how I'd be feeling if it were someone else doing this next year other than us...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The last big hurdle

I've got two letting agents coming round later this afternoon to look at the house. Renting out the house for the year has always been the last and biggest hurdle of the whole plan. It's totally out of our hands and needs to slot into place with very little room for manourvere on timescales or finances. We have an amount of money per monnth which we simply *must* clear in order to pay the mortgage and a couple of other bills / insurances, with any excess making our small monthly income to cover food, petrol, PAYG internet and anything else that crops up. We should have a contingency fund of our last months salaries for any emergencies - either for us or the van or for anything that needs attending to back here at home with the house but there is no real margin for error.

I am fairly relaxed about this as part of the whole adventure is living with as little as possible in the way of 'stuff' or expenses but we do need this most basic cost covered to enable us to leae the house behind and have it to come back to.

In terms of timing it is our intention to leave here at the beginning of March - I have already planned to hand my notice in mid January to leave mid February, Ady is intending handing his notice in at the end of January to leave at the end of February. Our first host is booked from the second week of March leaving us a week to either stay with my parents, or head off for a first week living in the van getting used to our new lives before staying at our first hosts. We do have room to bring things forward if we found a tenant for the house who wanted to come in before the beginning of March - we could leave the house early and we could either stay at my parents or a nearby campsite in the van and carry on working out our notice from there - we have had plenty of offers to stay with friends locally if needs be. If we don't find a tenant in time to leave for that date though we will have to put everything back by a month and leave for the beginning of April - not the end of the world as all our hosts are provisional bookings which need confirming nearer the time so we can shuffle things around but it would be nice to be sticking to our original plan really.

So the house is pretty much ready to go 'on the market'. It's been painted throughout, everything remaining will be used up, stored or brought with us when we go. So I've rung up two different letting agents, have them both coming over this afternoon to get an idea of their services, charges and what sort of price they expect us to make per month at which point we can take the last big step towards finding someone to live in our house and pay the bills while we go off wondering.

A part of me has been reluctant to take this final step and I think there are several reasons for that. It is the sealing of the whole deal in many ways, once we have someone due to actually move in here on a certain date everything else becomes more definite. It all gets very real.

It is also an area almost entirely outside of my control - everything else has been very much managed by me, this is out of my hands and as such makes me twitchy.

It's been so interesting that long before we actually start up the van and head off for our first host we are all already facing fears, taking on challenges and learning so much about ourselves.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Reading List - possible last in random series for a while

I've finished The Council of Dads: Family, Fatherhood, and Life Lessons to Leave My Daughters and it was excellent. Some really powerful messages in there about family, friendship, life, health and What It's All About.

I think sometimes books about people changing their life can be slightly tedious reading, there is a danger of the author coming across as smug, patronising or just too different to the reader that it all becomes irrelevant. I guess the reason all of the books I have been reading lately have been such enjoyable reads is that just now they are all incredibly relevant as I'm reading them at the beginning of a period of change, introspection and adventuring. All of that said though even if you are only after a bit of vicarious armchair adventuring through the pages of a good book I can heartily recommend all of the books I have mentioned in previous posts - now contained in a list on amazon which you can find here.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

House to let, two careful owners

We've just had a week away with friends - a now annual tradition for early December when we hire a whole youth hostel, fill it with friends and share an early Christmas together including carolling, secret santa gift exchanges, a nativty play at a nearby farm and full Christmas dinner with all the trimming for 60 people. There are not many things we will be able to fit into our lives next year as we roam but Christmas Camp 2011 will be organised at a location we can still attend.

The week before we went we spent the evenings stripping wallpaper around the house and moving things about ready to leave it for my Dad to redecorate everything. Dad is a decorator by trade and was here twice daily for chicken sitting duties and did a fantastic job of making all the walls magnolia and the paintwork and radiators bright white. It all looks very crisp and clean - and not like our house at all! We don't have anything left to get rid of but we do still seem to have quite a bit of stuff. There are a last few things to freecycle just before we leave, otherwise everything else is going into storage while we're away.

Christmas decorations have gone up and the whole house could now do with a spruce up tidy before I call in the letting agents. We're still in post-holiday recovery here with both Dragon and Star suffering a nasty cold and me ploughing through washing, writing Christmas cards and getting on with things such as getting my car MOTd so I've put off contacting agents until the end of the week and am planning to arrange visits on Monday or Tuesday next week with a view to giving one or more agent the go ahead to find tennants by the end of the week. A friend has also recommended a DIY website for house letting which I will look at in more detail alongside what the agents have to say / offer about their service and see how they all compare against each other in terms of security, likelihood of letting, potential price per month and so on.

We have taxed Willow the van, which we were not planning to do but decided was a good idea as it means we can use her if we want (and we still have a plan to try at least one night away in her before we head off for our year) and she is ready to go to the garage for an MOT before we go and a final checkover / a few small things we want done or fixed.

We need to make our short short list of Zone two hosts - North Wales. That is my main priority this side of Christmas, I'd like to have that more or less sorted by the end of the year so we have a clear six months of arrangements made.

So a tidy up, getting finding a tennant in progress and more lining up hosts to do - busy, busy, busy!

Moneyless Man and Council of Dads

I finished the The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living and thought it was an excellent read; inspiring, funny, touching and heartening. One of those books that make you want to contact the author and say 'I'd like to be your mate' :).
It had some great stuff about how we came to use money, made me wonder just why we do all accept that pieces of paper are worth anything at all and some excellent and thought provoking stuff about bartering and skillswap.

I've just started reading The Council of Dads: Family, Fatherhood, and Life Lessons to Leave My Daughters which I heard being talked about on the radio ages ago. I mentioned it to a friend who did go and read it and said it was good so I ordered a copy from the library and it's just turned up. I'm about half way through and although it isn't directly related to what we're about to do it does have plenty of thoughtful, life lesson stuff going on in it. It's making me really glad my children are already of an age to have clear memories of me to take forward (although I very much hope to be there reinforcing them), pleased that Dragon and Star have a really honest idea of who I am and what makes me tick and that in spending next year in such close quarters with each other that relationship will  be further strengthened, along with becomming closer to Ady.

My favourite message from the books so far is the 2% idea from his Dad. He takes an idea to his Dad when he is in his 20s, to do something he's never done before. His Dad offers the same advice he gave to his older brother a few years previously when he asked for advice about whether he should emigrate - take a year, give it a try. When you are 50 it will mean you spent 2% of your life trying something - if it worked, great. If it didn't, hey what's 2% ?! I like that.

I'm running out of books in my pile to read before we go, but then I'm running out of time to read them before we go anyway!

Monday, 22 November 2010

It's up and it's down

When we first started telling friends about going off on our Wondering Wanderers adventure we had a huge range of responses. Several friends asked if I would be blogging it (I have had a blog for some years and done various other blogs at different stages, about living a more frugal life, about Home Education, about moving towards a self -sufficient-ish lifestyle with our allotment, chicken keeping etc.). I said I would be and started to think about at what point to start a blog. I decided the 'story' of the WW adventure was a three parter really. The before, the during and the afterwards. I suspect they will have very different aspects, pace and plotlines in each part. I am also aware that this blog is being written by me and whilst I am writing an account about the adventures of all four of us it is very much in my voice. It has to be said I am very much the driving force behind the whole thing at this stage. The idea was hatched up by me and presented to the others, we have all had an equal voice in what we want but the logistics and facilitation are mostly being carried out by me. This is logical both as these are the skills I possess, I mostly enjoy being the one with the clipboard and I am the one who is around most to do these things with Ady working full time.

I've been reading a few books about adventure / experiments in life changing  pursuits - I think I've linked to them all before but the most relevant are: How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day, How I Lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day, No Impact Man: Saving the Planet One Family at a Time: Saving the World, One Family at a Time, The Tree House Diaries and I'm about a third of the way through The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic Living. All (except tree house diaries) are year long experiences just like ours is planned to be. All are life changing both in their own right for the year and for the longer term lifestyle, all have a massive leaning towards greener, lower impact, more sustainable lifestyles using less money and resources and more creativity and resourcefulness. Coming from different angles but all with very similar 'journeys'. A decision to do something radical, sometimes as a result of a sudden epiphany, sometimes a gradual realisation that a change is needed. A period of planning and preparation, the telling other people and dealing with their feelings and opinions, a bit of a reality check when the toughness and 'what the hell am I think?' -ness sets in - all this before you actually embark on the adventure in the first place!

During the 'experiment' there seems to be all sorts of highs and lows, unexpected hard times, steep learning curves, kindess from strangers, unanticipated good points, maybe some rationalisation or changes to the original idea. Plenty of serendipity aswell as the universe dealing one rough turn after another at times. Expect the unexpected, seize the day, trust the process, take responsibility all seem to be important things to focus on here.

All of the authors end their time changed in many ways. Ready to return to some aspects of their former life, adamant there are other elements they will never return to. All have learnt so many new skills, ideas and changed their priorities, have different agendas to what they started out with and every single one feels richer for the experience - not least because they have sold books about it! ;)

So back to us and our ups and downs. We are still at the very outset but have already started along the path of our adventure. In many ways we were heading this way for quite a while in others this has come quite suddenly - I have another post in mind in the style of a roll of honour, people who directly or indirectly have a part to play in our planning to go off and do this, I will try and get that written soon. But already we have begun to think further than our initial brief and come to realise there will be more to this adventure than we first thought.

The WW adventure has come about because we have this long term dream of living a self sufficient, sustainable lifestyle. We want to grow our own crops, rear animals for their produce and meat, we want to live off grid, we want to learn about self builds. We think. Chucking everything we have in the air and risking it on what we think we want is a risk too far, so we're going off to learn first. Learn both if it is what we want to do and how to do it.

I had not anticipated how difficult some aspects of the planning and preparation were going to be. I was being very logical about it and had a list: find people to have us to stay and teach us, buy a van to travel in / sleep in when required, rent out our house to pay the mortgage. This meant clearing the house of most of our belongings - to raise money and to empty the house ready for rental. It meant preparing to give up our jobs. It meant realising we'd be living, the four of us, together most of the time, in a small space or sharing housespace and mealtimes with other people. People we've not even met yet.

So we're coming through some downs at the moment. This feels tough because it's all our own making - we could stop now and change our minds and end the things we are struggling with. It's also tough because I am naturally an optimist and inclined to see the best of things or find the way to put them right. But I want to document it. I want to have an honest and accurate account of what we're doing and how it's making us feel. I want to be able to say 'remember when we found it hard and were not sure whether we could make it?'.

Ady and I are coming to terms with what will be an ongoing shift - a change in the dynamic of the four of us. To this point we have all had fairly clearly defined roles - Ady has worked full time and I have been the one at home most of the time. The Home Educating of Dragon and Star, the remembering birthdays, organising holidays and day trips, doing the shopping and deciding what we'll have for dinner, ensuring cars are taxed, insurance is paid, we don't run out of toothpaste - all of these things have been my domain. Now we are realising that next year roles will get smudged. I will no longer be primary parent. Mopping up tears, ensuring teeth have been cleaned, laying down the law etc, all of which Ady can and does do but generally fall to me will no longer be solely my domain. In our lives next year it will be other people teaching all of us, other people calling 'tea time', Ady with the upper hand of more knowledge in some areas and me in others. The dynamics, relationships and intricacies between the fours of us as indivduals and a group will all shift, alter, morph and develop.

Dragon and Star are finding getting rid of things hard. I don't think many 8 and 10 year olds have faced the sorts of dilemmas and life changes they are dealing with now but I think most adults have. I think having your choices laid out before you and a very clear 'if you choose this then you can't have this'. Giving our children a voice, taking them seriously and talking things through with them is very much the way we parent, protecting them from harm whilst at the same time giving them the opportunity to make decisions. So we're talking this through, agreeing that yes it can be hard, suggesting that it will be worth it and reminding them to think about all of the things they want to achieve next year and are looking forward to. Children are pretty resiliant and whilst I'd never patronise them or underestimate the depth of their feelings it is amazing how quickly the angst of sorting out old felt tips can be forgotten and gotten over after a nights sleep and their favourite breakfast cereal when all enthusiasm for next year is renewed.

We're in rather a limbo period just now, with lots of the tough packing our live up stuff done or being done and none of the potential upside of this close enough to touch just yet. It's hard living in a house without furniture, it's taking more discipline than some of us are used to to keep everything tidy and not just spread back out again to use up the newly created space. It's hard to be in work knowing you won't be around to see the results of those planning meetings. I think staying committed to one life whilst already having a foot in the next is just a tough thing to sustain for more than a very brief period. It's unsettling, challenging and a rather harsh reality I'd not necessarily factored in as a possible down side to this whole adventure.

All that said, all of the above has served to illustrate some previously unrealised ups too. I see how much Dragon, Star and Ady have to gain from this increased time spent together. Last weekend Dragon was upset about a chest of drawers leaving the house. It was bought by my grandmother for us when he was born and has been a fixture in his bedroom ever since. It was ten years old, there were knobs missing, several of the drawers were broken. It had done it's time and frankly even if we weren't about to leave it was on borrowed time anyway. Dragon was very upset, he said it was precious, he'd had it a long time, he wanted to put it into storage. I explained that it was no longer any use, not worth putting into storage and that it had to go. We talked about how some decisions are hard ones to make but for the right reasons. I pride myself on being pretty good at talking stuff through with my children in a no nonsense, caring, talking them round and helping them realise things for themselves manner. But I was going round in circles. So Ady took over. He went upstairs with him and they talked about the positives next year will bring - time together, no more 'not now Dragon, I'm busy', no more 'I can't today I have to go to work'. They talked about how they are going to learn new skills together and had the amazing brainwave of taking all the fixtures and fittings off the drawer unit and putting them in a small bag - screws, knobs, hinges and drawer runners. Next year they have pledged one of the things they want to learn is how to use those fixtures to build their own drawer unit from scratch - a reminder of what Dragon let go and considered precious will live on in those hinges and knobs along with new skills and precious time spent with his Dad. I can see from this that there is plenty to gain from me not being the person trying to put it right, that putting it right isn't the answer, coming up with an even better alternative is.

I think that's what we have to learn from this stage. It *is* hard, there are huge changes afoot and far from trying to get back to normal what we need to be doing is readjusting to our new normal and be up for change, ready to adapt and be creative and flexible in our approach. I hope the lessons we are learning during this time will stand us in good stead of the wobbles along the way and that just as we are finding more downs than we first expected it is all relative and unanticipated highs will be there in the mix too.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Operation House Rent

Way back when we first started talking about the WW plan for next year we had several stumbling blocks to get past to make it all happen: firstly we needed people to actually want us to come and WWOOF for them, secondly we needed a campervan to transport us around the UK and to live out of when hosts can't accomdate all four of us or when we simply take some time out (it's our intention to have the odd week off here and there), thirdly we need to rent our house out in order to pay the mortgage and give us enough of a little income each month to cover petrol costs and any other things that crop up (food, clothing, emergency supplies of wine or chocolate, that sort of thing!).

We got the first three months worth of hosts booked fairly quickly. I am in the process of drawing up the short list for Zone two and composing an email to start booking the next three months but early signs were promising so if the good people of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are happy to have us, hopefully the lovely folk of North Wales will feel the same.

The campervan also fell into place pretty easily, sooner than expected and aside from needing a bit more work done to her and an MOT before we go Willow is ready to roll.

The house is the final hurdle. If we don't rent it out we can't pay the mortgage and if we can't pay the mortgage then we can't give up work. If we can't give up work we can't go. So it is pretty crucial. We have rented this house out before, five years ago for a 2.5 year period. It rented easily, had three sets of tenants in it and was a fairly straightforward operation. Timing is pretty tricky this time, no point in having it arranged too far in advance as that leave too much time for it to fall through, people are not necessarily looking for somewhere to live in 3 months time, they are looking for now and in order to make it attractive we need to remove our stamp on it and make it look more like it could be a potential tenants home. This means making everything clean, clutter-free and blank canvas-like. In short, magnolia!

So the house is all but clutter-cleared, the last few things will go this weekend. Then things which are staying will be boxed up and moved into the middle of each room and my Dad will come in with a paintbrush and a vat of emulsion and make it look fresh and ready for a new chapter in the biography of the house. I'm hoping to get two or three letting agents in to give me their idea of monthly rental prices and sell their services to me in terms of marketing, securing tenants, preparing contracts and making it a smooth and hassle free arrangement. Then one of them can start trying to get a tenant.

Ady needs to hand his notice in by the end of January to leave by the end of February to be off at our first hosts at the beginning of March. So we will have until the end of Jan to have a tenant signed up to take the house on before he hands his notice in. If we don't have one, he won't hand his notice in and we'll have to put plans on hold until we do have a tenant. We do have the option of moving out of here earlier than March as we can live in the van and have several options for parking it on people's land so we can still work in our jobs til the end of February before going off.

Every step of the way we have been so lucky so far, our own planning has paid off and things have fallen into place. I am keeping my fingers firmly crossed that the same good fortune follows us for this next big part of the master plan.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Back to my roots

I've been thinking about my grandmothers today.

Two women, very different people, a whole generation apart age-wise with the only common factor being that one's son married the other one's daughter. I've been wondering how my life compares to theirs, how much of either or both of them is in me, both my nature and nurture. I carry their genes and am the product of their offspring both in physical make up and in upbringing, values and ideas.

My Dad's mother, Beatrice has been dead for about 25 years. I have only wispy, photo-based memories of her. I only knew her as an old woman, infact as she was into her 40s by the time she had my Dad, her only child, he only knew her as a middle aged woman too. Beatrice was English but married a Welshman and moved to North Wales to live with her husband and his mother, a woman who only ever spoke Welsh to her (a language she never understood) and made her life difficult. My Dad was born just before WW2 and lived his early years in a tiny Welsh village that had yet to see electricity. Beatrice raised her son in a house with one room upstairs and one room downstairs. The cooking, washing, heating, drying clothes was all done over the open fire, the toilet was outside. Christmas presents were home made wooden toys, clothes were home made, hand me downs, donated by the church charity. Milk and butter were from the farm cow down the lane, eggs from the chickens in the back yard, veg from the garden grown yourself, the bulk of the meat was rabbits or pigeons trapped or shot by her husband or chickens that had stopped laying eggs.

My Dad was her priority, she took on the only credit she ever had to buy a piano for him to learn to play on, she stayed in North Wales until my grandfather died and then followed my Dad down to Sussex where he had moved at 21. She died, aged 91 having lived through two wars, seen electricity, the telephone, television, man land on the moon and indoor toilets all happen during her lifetime. My knowledge of her is limited to the dim memories of her giving me polo mints and the only time I ever saw my Dad cry on the day she died. My Dad speaks of her with love, affection, admiration and she is clearly his role model as a parent. If I had a time machine and could go visiting someone from the past she is the person I would choose. I'd ask her about my Dad as a small  boy, about the huge sacrifice she made moving to Wales and whether it was out of a grand passionate love for my grandfather, desperation to have a child or some other reason. I'd love to know what she thinks of me, of Dragon and Star her great-grandchildren, of the world today and of our plans to head back towards some of the lifestyle she lived.

My maternal grandmother, Margaret was just 19 when she had my mum and 21 when she had my uncle. She married a man about ten years older than her (my grandfather) and their marriage ended when my Mum was 21. She was evacuated to Cornwall during the war and spent much of her childhood apart from parents and siblings.

Margaret has been an incredibly successful businesswoman. She is a florist and has owned several flower shops, done floral arrangements for all sorts of organisations and occassions, had a deserved reputation in business circles and been chairperson of chamber of commerces and other such organisations. She is 82 now and although not in perfect health is able bodied, lives alone and independantly, still drives and works as a volunteer for charities, attends church and has an active, busy life. She is computer literate and online having always kept abreast of technology as a business owner and then carried on learning after she retired, going to college to learn about computers and getting herself a pc. She has travelled the world on cruises and aeroplanes and kept up with a rapidly changing and progressing world.

Two very different women, two very long and full lives, two very similarly minded offspring in my parents though. My parents are very materialistic, they have worked hard, both had their own businesses and spent time earning money to accumulate nice things around themselves. I know both their mothers are / were proud of them for their big house, nice cars, nice holidays.

I wonder whether there are elements of these women driving me? Is there a spirit entrepreneur and seeing what people might need along with an ability to keep abreast of progress there in me from Margaret? Am I channelling Beatrice in deciding enough is as good as a feast and what matters in life is love, family and simply providing?

In the 70 odd years since my Dad was born our planet has undergone huge changes and leaps forward. In our society we have gone from rations, struggling to have enough and spending time on simply providing for our basic needs to having more than we can ever dream of all laid before us to try our hardest to use up. We don't need to conserve, preserve, fret about waste, save up til we can afford to pay now instead of later. We don't need to harness energy from the elements (sun, water, wind) to power our TV sets, laptops, X boxes, chop wood to burn to to heat us twice (once in the chopping, again in the burning), grow vegetables, hunt animals, make clothes, bake cakes.... you can do the whole lot, online, from Tesco, delivered packaged to your door.

I wonder what Beatrice would have made of that? I can picture her, walking the aisles of Tescos, utterly bewildered at the whole business, dazzled the bright lights burning up electricity while she looks in wonder at exotic fruits flown in from all around the world, rails and rails of clothes, shiny plastic toys, a huge selection of equipment with plugs all designed to mop up the free time she will now have on her hands in the name of entertainment now the simple tasks required to meet basic needs are all done for her. Would she be delighted? Would she be amused or confused? How would she feel about being able to send email instead of writing a letter, walking to the post office for a stamp? Would she miss stopping for a chat in the village or talking over the fence to a neighbour while digging up potatoes when she could poke people on facebook or see what was trending on twitter? Would pulling a packet of biscuits and jar of jam from a home delivery of supermarket shopping give the same feeling as tipping a cake out to cool from the oven or serving up a slice of home made bread with home made jam?

Beatrice didn't need a gym to keep fit, she washed clothes by hand, chopped firewood, kneaded bread, walked carrying shopping. She didn't need social networking, she had friends up and down the street, she didn't need Ikea for storage solutions, she had as much stuff as she needed and space for it all, she didn't need Tesco to deliver her shopping, her food grew in the garden, ran in the fields, swam in the stream, was sold in the local shop or farm.

Progress is mostly good, inventions are amazing, saving time a wonderful thing. But I think we need to consider the true cost of our pre-packaged, home delivery life. I have this sneaking suspicion that our lives may be more convenient, easier but maybe slightly poorer and less rewarding as a result. When was the last time you were proud of something you had done? When was the last time you fell into bed and slept the peaceful sleep of the truly tired having used your body for what it's designed for? Are hours of your time spent travelling to work, hours more spent in unwinding from the stress of that work? Is your life being sucked away in mindless pursuits? If today were your last what has been your legacy? Will your grandchildren one day think of you and wonder what you'd have thought of their life and just what life and you leaving behind for them anyway?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

If you try hard enough

I've often been heard preaching that 'if you try hard enough you can do anything'. This has disbelieving looks from people telling me 'you can't fly' or 'not anything'. I guess that does need qualifying a bit, you can't seem to cheat death for example. The thing with death of course is that it is inevitable. My Dad (who is known for words of wisdom every so often) says death is the only thing in life which is certain. And he's right. From birth we are hurtling towards our ultimate demise, some way sooner than others of course and we never know just how long we have left. But I do believe that we can have most of the things we want in life, just not all of them because in getting one, you are choosing not to have another. I honestly believe for example that if I tried hard enough this time next year I could have £1000000 in my bank account. I could work three jobs, deal in drugs, have a go at prostitution, the list of seedy and illegal money making pursuits goes on. But I choose not to, the consequences and compromises are too great. By the same token I could have maybe not a million pounds but certainly a lot more money than I do now by dedicating all my time to making money. But I won't, because there are other things more important to me - spending time with Ady, Dragon and Star, curling up on the sofa with a book, walking along the beach, sitting chatting with friends over a cup of tea, baking a cake, blogging... all pursuits which make me no cash at all but feed my soul, make me happy, will be the snapshot postcards that flash through my mind when I look back over my life.

Choices. Several people have said they wish they could do something I am doing before. 'I'd like to Home Educate but I can't afford to give up work'. Well you could, you could have less money for holidays, new clothes, you could move to a smaller house in a different area, you could bypass climbing the career ladder.

'I wish I could go travelling'. You can, sell your house, rent it out to pay the mortgage, find a way of working as you go to cover the costs.

What I'm saying is there are always trade off. For every decision and outcome there is an opposite and equal compromise or alternative choice you didn't make. Then there is the cosy, easy option of not doing anything at all. It's about finding the path you want to be walking and then maybe realising in order to walk it you need to clear some brambles first, get some stouter boots and a decent map so you know exactly where it's leading you.

Our plans for next year are involving compromise, tough decisions and moments when we question what the hell we are thinking. There are the worries we have no control over but can insure ourselves again as far as possible, these include: the van could break down and need expensive repair work - we have breakdown cover and will have a small contingency fund. We could find ourselves arriving at a maniac host who intends locking us all in their cellar - we will have an arrangement with someone who knows our planned movements and contact details and will check in with them at least once a week, there is the concern of just what we're going to do at the end of the year - will we move back into our house? If so how will we pay the bills? - I've no idea on that one but I doubt anyone is secure enough to 100% guarantee they will be able to pay their bills  a year from now, so probably not worth worrying about for now.

There are the more pressing, more tough because they are direct choices we have made and actually if we just chose to stop the whole plan right now we wouldn't have to deal with angst though. And they are the hard ones. This week I've found myself waking each morning in my nice soft warm bed and wondering why I'd give up that basic and enjoyed pleasure. I've held a sobbing Star who didn't want to get rid of her collection of soft toys that needed putting in the loft. I've had long talks with Dragon who didn't want to get rid of bedroom furniture bought when he was born. At every point we talk about whether we are all four happy to continue. I never want Dragon and Star to remember all the tough choices they have made in the months leading up to our adventure as forced on them, made for them by someone else and out of their control. We remind each other of the reasons we are doing this, the upsides of every step and the reversability of it all if we change our minds along the way.

I think its really important to enjoy, not endure, to remember why we're doing this and keep tallying the tough bits now against the potentially amazing bits to come, to appreciate we are making trade offs and for every thing we let go of now and find difficult we will replace it with someone better, richer, more precious along the way.

It seems wholly appropriate to link to a book I've read, witten by someone I admire enormously. I think we should all chase our dreams, once we've worked out what they are and whether we *really* want them and are prepared to walk that bramble-filled path to get to them. If you are at that stage right now, this might just be the book to galvanise you towards it.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Job List

Things still to do before we go away and the house gets magnolia-ised.


  • I'm thinking we will leave the empty bookcase in situ, assuming the tenants don't object. There is one large box-ful of books to go to my parents. 
  • There are rather a lot of coats on the coat rails along the wall which need going through. Some will be coming with us, some will be going. A job to do

  • Not a lot actually. All it contains is: 2 sofas which are staying, a table and chairs which are staying, a rug which is staying, a TV unit with selected dvds which are staying, TV, video, dvd player etc which are staying. The furniture will go over to my parents for storage, the dvds etc will be boxed up and go over there too. There are pictures on the wall which will come down and go over there too. The room just needs everything moving into the centre and taking off the wall ready for Dad to come in.
  • I have already cleared all the crockery etc we won't be keeping. Some of the remaining pots and pans will be coming with us, the rest will go into storage. Approximately 2 boxes worth of stuff to pack up just before we leave. Food will obviously all be eaten! There isn't much decorating to do in the kitchen, maybe a bit of cleaning but we can do that the day before we get letting agents in.
The Playroom aka the holding bay!
  • The cupboard under the stairs needs attention. It was emptied completely but currently contains camping stuff such as a tent. The camping stuff we are keeping needs to go into storage (I think it will fit in our loft which we will be storing stuff in), the rest needs selling. A Job to do
  • The units now contain things we are keeping including photo albums which could be boxed up, my sewing machine and some fabric which needs either using up or selling or putting into boxes for storage, a few games and puzzles we are keeping which could be boxed up for storage and then the units dismantle and put away for storage. The walls need clearing of pictures and posters. A job to do
The Bathroom
  • Has been cleared of all but things we will be using up before we go. It is ready to be repainted.
Star's Bedroom
  • Rather more to do in here :) Her wardrobe needs a final cull - some of the stuff is to come with us on holiday to be given to smaller friends before the wardrobe itself is dismantled and gotten rid of. A job to do
  • Star's bookcase has a couple of boxes full of books which need to be boxed up to keep and the bookcase gotten rid of. A job to do
  • Star's bed is full of cuddly toys which she wants to keep. A box needs to be got ready to store them in and I think they will fit in the loft. She has several boxes of toys which will also go into the loft. A job to do
  • In summary this room needs some furniture clearing and disposing of, some toys and clothes still to leave the house, some toys and clothes to go into boxes so that all remaining is the bed and boxes of toys and clothes ready for repainting the room.
Dragon's Room
  • Needs all but the identical treatment to Star's room above. Wardrobe, bookcase and drawer units need clearing into boxes and furniture needs to go. Soft toys and toys, books and clothes being kept need putting into boxes so that all left is bed and boxes ready for decoration. A job to do
Our bedroom and en suite bathroom
  • have been cleared already with only stuff being kept and ready to be boxed up left. It's ready for redecorating already.
We have two weekends left before we go away in which to achieve this - one weekend for the playroom and hall and one for the kids rooms. Dad will come and decorate and we can invite some letting agents in to view the house and start marketing it to tenants. We still have the garden and garage to totally clear but that can be done during December and January and won't prevent people looking round the house.

The liberation of letting go

We're beginning to see an end in sight to the declutter. We stood yesterday in the playroom which has become the sort of holding bay for stuff we've sorted out as needing to leave the house before it actually does so. It veers between very empty and very full and has spent the last week or so incredibly cluttered as I have a large amount of clothing waiting to be collected by a friend. She is doing a Nearly New sale of clothes and gifts to raise money for her disabled daughter. She takes a percentage of what you sell and passes the rest on to you - you set prices for your stuff. Very similar to the NCT Nearly New Sales I have bought kids clothes from over the years. I also have the remainder of the books from the Open House Books Sale we did. We discussed how we'd not really thought our house was that cluttered to begin with but it has been fairly epic emptying it ready to head off. Of course our combined ages in this house total 100 years (how very tidy, hadn't realised that before :) ) so that's a lot of years worth of living and acquiring stuff.

A few new readers seem to have appeared lured by the promise of Extreme Decluttering Tips so whilst people who have been reading from the beginning may well now be bored with How Nic's House Got Emptied I'll do a bit of a round up as we are very close to the end of that phase now so it's a good time to do it.

I've always done at least one big clear out a year, mostly of clothes - my own if I have not worn them since the last clear out a year before and the kids if they are outgrown / worn out. I have used various methods of clearing clothes over the years - passing them on to smaller friends and relatives for the kids clothes, selling on ebay (I got more for my maternity clothes that saw me through both pregnancies than I paid for them when I came to ebay them), passing them on to charity shops and I also went through a phase of making rag rugs so cut up lots of clothing to do that (although technically that didn't mean they left the house they were in smaller, useful incarnations).

We've cleared toys fairly regularly too, mainly to make room for more toys it has to be said but better they leave than form the base layer of plastic in a sort of archaelogical landfill inside our home. They have mostly left by the same method - ebay for resale if worth it, donation to family, friends or charity shop or indeed freecycle. Board books and early picture books have gone the same way, we simply don't have a big enough house to home all of the stuff a family of four collects and as we had Dragon and Star just two years apart and knew we were done with babies after them we were able to decide each phase was over once Star reached it and get rid of toddler jigsaws, lift the flap books, stacking cup and shape sorters as we went.

But we still had a heck of a lot of stuff to get rid of once we started needing to clear the house. Storage is expensive and whilst my parents have kindly offered to take some of our stuff and we will have room in our loft for a few boxes so the few bits of furniture and things we can't part with will be kept stuff has really had to justify it's position not to be shipped out.

That meant going through our house a room at a time and making decisions on everything as to whether we could bring it with us, justify storing it or whether it had to go. Furniture, books, clothes, toys, cds, films, kitchen contents, appliances. Everything.

We'll be extreme living proof of the sorts of statistics you hear on Trinny and Susannah about how we spent 90% of our time wearing just 10% of our clothes (or something) so we'll be doing Capsule Wardrobe in a serious fashion. Any clothes the kids won't wear next year won't fit them by the time we get home. Ady and I have kept a suit for funerals, one for job interviews and a small box full of clothes between us (containing mostly Ady's collection of vintage Pompey tops and my wedding dress) and the rest has gone to the clothes bank or is awaiting collection for the nearly new sale. The kids clothes are all packed up ready to be passed on to smaller friends.

Cds and films were next to be scrutinised. A small selection of each will be kept but we had more music and more films than we could watch or listen to back to back with two being played at once for the cumulative totals of the rest of our natural lives. Precious music had already made it onto MP3 players so the cds went on ebay, collection only. It's not like we can't download any tune we want at some future point. Videos went on freecycle, after nobody wanted them on ebay. They are now part of an entertainment library at a local youth club. DVDs did sell on ebay, the smaller collection will be going into storage.

Books! I work at the local library and recently spent some time working out how many years worth of reading material there was just in our small branch. I worked out the avergae word count per book, the average reading speed and the average number of books per shelf. Did the maths and calculated how many lifetimes worth of reading you could get for free from your local library. We were not that far behind with our own book collection here! A couple of shelves were mostly ex library books or other kids reference / non fiction, gathered in the early days of our Home Ed career back when I cherished this notion Dragon and Star would request 'Mama, do tell me more of the pyramids in Egypt?' at which point I would gather a selection of relevant books from our in-house library, we'd read together, create sugar cube pyramids, dress with tea towels on our heads for the day, stick The Bangles Walk Like An Egyptian on and make lapbooks complete with hieroglyphics. The thing is Dragon and Star aren't that sort of Home Ed kids, I'm not that sort of Home Ed mama, we don't have enough sugar cubes, we've sold The Bangles Greatest Hits and we could just google anyway.

I also have a fair few books of my own, some biographies and autobiographies, a selection of fiction and a few other titles. The kids also had some childrens fiction on their bookcases (we have a ceiling height 7 shelf book case in our hall and the kids both have a 3 shelf bookcase in their rooms - all were full, along with a shelf of cook books in the kitchen). We were ruthless in our going through the shelves keeping only the books we simply couldn't bear to part with. For me that was a couple of parenting / home ed handbooks (Alfie Kohn, Sandra Dodd, David Edwards), dictionaries and thesaurus, a shelf of a few educational books, some Ladybird books and a shelf of books we will be taking with us - Collins books of nature, wildlife, trees, plants, food for free that sort of thing. Dragon has saved mostly fiction, Star mostly non-fiction from their shelves.

Books are tricky to get rid of really, heavy for posting so not great for ebay or amazon marketplace, bulky to lug back and forth to car boot sales but hard to see going for nothing. So I came up with the idea of an Open House Book Sale day, stuck it up on local home ed email lists and as a facebook event for friends and got in a supply of tea and biscuits, displayed the books on the table and in sorted out into themed crates and opened the doors. We had 6 or 7 visitors and it was a really nice day of chatting to friends about our adventure, seeing the books go off to new homes where they will be used and appreciated and watching the pot for collecting money filling up. I do still have loads of books left and have had some interesting suggestions for ideas on what to do with them including donating some to the local doctors and dentists waiting room (I know we have appreciated kids books in both over the years when waiting a long time for appointments), setting some free in the Bookcrossing scheme, giving some of the adult titles to residential homes, hostels, giving educational ones to schools, home ed groups with premises etc. All excellent ideas and some have been taken for those purposes, the rest are now on ebay as a big wholesale lot, with a couple of bids already from second hand bookshops, being sold as collection only.

Toys and general 'stuff' went through various processes - if we thought it was individually worth something it went on ebay. We have ebayed perfume, mobile phones, decent toys, small electrical appliances, branded clothing and raised several £100s. I confess to not liking ebay. The process of photographing, listing etc is time consuming and boring, the disappointment when something goes for 99p, the worrying that you have ripped someone off when it goes for way more than you expected, the trek to the post office with wrapped up items. But it is an effective way of getting rid of stuff and making money. Stuff not worth ebaying made it to the carboot sale pile. We did two car boot sales and made a decent amount of cash at each - we priced low and sold hard and it was an enjoyable few hours touting our wares in a field. We got rid of clothes, shoes, toys, more electrical stuff. Anything that didn't sell was donated to a charity shop on the way home.

Freecycle has been another route for getting rid of stuff. I love freecycle, we've done well from it over the years and it's nice to give stuff back. Toys have gone to grateful new homes, furniture we no longer need has gone to sit in someone else's home and it's saving landfill from our rubbish.

So decluttering stuff - easy to find new homes for pretty much anything once you have made the decision to remove it from your life: sell it, give it, donate it.

But I guess that's not the hard bit is it really? Time consuming, means for a time you end up with more mess than when you started as everything is strewn about the place awaiting decisions but the tough bit is actually making the decision to let stuff go in the first place. To accept that you don't need to hang onto it 'just in case', that there may one day come a moment when you slap your forehead and ask 'why did I get rid of X? It would be worth £500 now / would be perfect to have in this very situation' but it's a small chance and probably worth the risk.

I read something the other day about too much choice preventing us from actually making a decision and I think that's true. Faced with a jam packed wardrobe of clothes, most of which you have never worn it's really tricky to think which item to wear, faced with a solid wall of books it's very hard to select just one title to pull off the shelf to read. Who does that layer thing? That mental segregation or even physical dividing of stuff - the clothes you wear all the time and usually choose something for today from that often don't even make it back into the wardrobe but move just between the dirty washing, the clean washing and the on your back? Who has a full bookcase but generally selects books to read from the pile beside the bed which is a pre-selected 'read next' pile of newer books or library books or ones a friend has given with a 'you MUST read this' recommendation. So maybe accept that actually you don't need all the unworn clothes in the wardrobe, the unread books on the shelf and unused lotions and potions in your bathroom, sauces and spices in your kitchen and let them go.

I've let some interesting things go during this process. One was the box of cards we were given when we had Dragon and then Star. I also had folded up helium balloons in the box along with the hospital wrist band for Dragon (Star was born at home). A big box that has moved with us twice, never been opened to look at and if we were not doing this declutter and questioning every single thing we keep would probably have remained in the loft and moved with us if we changed address again. We looked at every card, racked our brains in some cases to recall some of the people the cards were from and then put them in the recycling bin. Did that make you shudder? Realistically they mean nothing, they were good wishes to us for our new babies who are now strapping young children. The good wishes came true, we now have years worth of memories and photos and times spent with those babies. If we stash those cards away again all we are doing is leaving those babies with a legacy of one day having to clear those cards away themselves; dustier, more curled at the edges and with even less chance of anyone knowing who they were from in the first place.

When we bought our house 17 years ago it was on the market as the owner had died. Mr and Mrs Rowe were the only previous owners, buying the house new when it was built in 1950 or so. They had no children and listening to our neighbours accounts of the elderly couple they were nice people, happy together living here until Mrs Rowe died a few years before Mr Rowe and he grew gradually more reclusive and less able-bodied. I think he eventually lived pretty much in one room. The house was cheap, run down and needing lots of work and being sold by a neice and two nephews with proceeds going three ways. The house was cleared by a clearance company and when we first viewed it the contents were still here, ready marked with destinations 'Sell', 'Skip' etc. The image of a brown suitcase, laid open on what is now my lounge floor still haunts me. It was marked 'skip' and contained some sepia photographs of the young Mr and Mrs Rowe along with the something blue garter I assume she wore on their wedding day. I don't know why they didn't have children or anything else about them but I know all of their collected stuff was one day picked over by someone and consigned, probably without any emotion, to it's next destination. I don't want to burden Dragon and Star with piles of stuff to make harsh decisions over one day after I'm gone, I'd rather read those baby cards one last time, smile at the remembering of those crazy early days of new parenthood, wishing people would stop sending flowers as the doorbell invariably rang and woke a baby I had just lulled to sleep or enjoying recalling how others shared our joy at the birth of our babies. Not cold or unemotional, but not needing pieces of cardboard locked in the attic either.

I'm not necessarily advocating a life without possessions (although that would be an interesting concept). Even in the van we will have the need for useful things, precious things and pretty things. For each of us these conjur up different ideas. For me precious things are not always valuable and valuable things are not always precious. I recently sold a small pile of jewellry I have had for years. I don't wear much - wedding and eternity ring, a ring of my grandmothers that my Dad gave me at the same time as my wedding ring (which was also hers), a watch from Niagara Falls that Ady bought me when we visited when I was pregnant with Dragon. I have a locket my parents bought me for Christmas when I was 16, a gold bracelet they bought me for my 21st birthday and a necklace Ady bought me for our first Christmas together (all of the ones I don't wear need repairing). I also had various necklaces, rings and other gold that meant nothing to me, I didn't like and never wore. Selling it paid for the service on the van. I will keep the few bits that do mean something to me but they are small enough to fit into my purse - one day I might get them repaired to wear again or I might do as a friend recently told me her mother had done with a heap of gold she had that she didn't like but had sentimental value and have it melted down and made into something I will wear all the time instead. Other precious possessions of mine include a giant wooden clock which hangs on my lounge wall and Ady bought me for my 21st birthday. That will be kept (I don't think we could hang it in the van!) and will again grace the wall of any other lounge I live in and probably one day hang in Dragon or Star's lounge I hope. I do have photo albums and framed pictures I love and we will keep those to again hang up, place on shelves when we settle into a house again. They are defining, personal things that make where I live my home. They are on display and I see them every day, I would miss them from my life if they were not there. Anything that does not fit into this category fails to be precious in my opinion and then unless it is useful it doesn't justify it's place.

So look around, walk yourself around your home and see what falls into the categories of precious, pretty or useful. The rest is just stuff. Letting stuff go is A Good Thing, it frees up space, lets go of the guilt of not using those things, can raise money, give you a good feeling to know it is now being used elsewhere. Dance in the open spaces it leaves in your home, rejoice in the lack of things creating and capturing dust, spend the money you make on something that *isn't* stuff, something freeing, something to celebrate releasing yourself from the shackles of stuff.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Counting Down

It's November already! The first of a brand new month and we'll only have 3 more first of a brand new months before we'll be loading up and heading off.. We are well over halfway through our 'planning period' of 9 months from when we first came up with the idea and made the decision to do it. We have our first three months worth of hosts booked, the van to do it in, most of the house cleared and solid plans for the rest.

By the next first of a new month - December - we will be sitting in a de-wondering wanderers'ed house as my Dad will be coming in at the end of this month to magnolia-ise everything. Belongings will be catergorised clearly into boxes marked 'keep til the bitter end then get rid of', 'bring along for the ride' or 'stick in the loft'. Most will be minimised and hidden as we'll be playing that marketing game of making the house look like a spacious blank canvas for potential tennants to view.

By the first of the next month - January - we will be taking down Christmas decorations but not putting them away for the folllowing year. We will be eating food from the kitchen cupboards but not replacing it all with large amounts or bulk buys, we'll be running supplies out and reducing the cupboards we use.We'll be giving notice on contracts for phones, for broadband, stopping subscriptions and cancelling direct debits.

By the first of the last month - February we'll be working out our notice in our jobs, we'll be throwing away clothes rather than washing them, we'll be savouring last baths in our lovely big bath, last sleeps in our lovely soft beds, last hugs with our lovely friends.

Our lives have been shrinking since we made the decision to go on our Wandering Wonderers adventure. Shrinking to small enough to fit in a van. We are shedding more than just belongings and turning them into more than just cash. We are infecting more than just the four of us with our wondering and our wandering. People tell me I am inspiring them to declutter, to question the 'stuff' they thought they couldn't do without, that I am challenging them to look closer at their dreams and to wonder whether they would wander, helping them to ask themselves whether they are happy with what they have and where they are going. I've lost count of the number of people who have told me with a whimsical look in their eye about how they'd 'love to do something like that...'

I feel a bit like we're in a sink with the plug pulled out at the moment - the level of stuff in our lives is getting smaller and smaller and smaller as we are sucked towards the plughole. I'm looking forward to being sucked through and finding ourselves out bobbing in the middle of an enormous ocean and seeing where the tide washes us up in a year.

Playing chicken.

Once upon a time every chicken we have scratching around in our garden was inside an egg, inside their mother. Their world exploded into being when their egg hatched, it grew huge, 20 or 30 times bigger inside the incubator or tucked under their mother hen inside the chicken shed. Then they discovered the outside, the penned off area they live within in our garden. For most of our chickens this is plenty enough. They scratch around in the dirt each day, waiting for us to come and feed them, let them out each morning and put them away each night. They are kept safe, fed and have no greater issues than the pecking order within their little community. They mate, lay eggs, raise chicks, sometimes dig up the odd juicy worm and are more than content clucking about. Every so often we get an Adventurous Hen. They realise if they flap their wings a bit harder and get a run up they can scale that fence. Most of them look at the world beyond the fence and hop back down again. There are foxes, other birds who might not hurt them but are different to them - eat different things, live in different ways, make different noises. There is no safe shed to be put away in at night, no certain grain being tossed to them each morning. Okay so the other chickens might piss them off sometimes, they might yearn for a higher place in the pecking order but it's what they know, where they aer safe. The odd chicken doesn't come back. The lure of the wider world has called them away. I don't know what becomes of them. We don't find feathers to show evidence of foxes making off with them, they don't send postcards or keep a blog.

At the moment we're in that holding bay on the top of the fence. We don't have much room for stuff, we can't take the shed and the supply of grain and all the other chickens with us. We don't really know what is on the other side, whether our wings will carry us all the way we want to go, whether we'll find juicy worms to keep us going, whether the language and ideas and lifetsyle of all the other birds will suit us.But in the immortal words of those chickens who have gone before us ' what the cluck, let's go and find out for ourselves...'

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Reading List - second in a series of random book related posts when I think of it

I've been reading books and researching other books and ordering books from the library all relevant to what we're planning. Here's the latest clutch:
I listed this in the last post but hadn't actually read it then. I have now and it's ace. I really enjoyed reading it for various reasons. Primarily because it is really well written. John is a great writer; engaging, interesting, self-deprecating and amusing. But of course it is also highly relevant content-wise as it gives an account of a year's experiement to live off the land, hunting, fishing and foraging. John has a stock of honey and not a lot else and makes his flour from ground chestnuts, his coffee from acorns, his beer from nettles, his wine from elderflowers and elderberries, feasts on rabbit, pigeon, fish and green collected from the ground and the hedgerows. It is interspersed with anecdotes, autobiographical bits and insights into John's wife and children and their take on his year of living wild. I really enjoyed it, learnt stuff and have insisted Ady read it next.

Having finished that I have just started the next book in the pile and have been immediately sucked in. Not only is Nick's adventure a local one based in my home county of Sussex it is also frank, refreshingly honest, has plenty of beer and wine and staying up late chatting with mates it is also exciting, educational (with plenty of how-to guides, step by step pictures, recipes, photos and information about what he has foraged and loads more) and another of those books you read where you actually care about the person writing. I'll do a full review once I've finished it but so far, so good.

In the to-read pile I have the following, obviously no recommendations yet other than the fact I deemed them interesting enough at first glance to get them ordered.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

You can't take it with you....

which will be the case for pretty much everything we own next year but unlike the usual use of that warning we will be able to take some of it. A little bit. A teeny, tiny amount.

Which has us looking at the space in the van and trying to work out what is essential and has to have room found for it, what is desireable and would be nice to fit in if possible and whether there is space for one frivilous item each (not the life size papier mache dalek though!)

There are the things we need to stockpile and take with us, things we potentially could buy along the way, little touches that might make the tough times that bit easier.

I think, in the same way we manage when camping that being super organised and keeping everything tidy and put away is the best way to cope with a very small space. Dedicating cupboards and cubby holes to certain things will likely be essential both in making sure everything fits, keeping the van a safe place to be while on the move and knowing where things are when you need them.

Our planned basic essential kit is:
  • First Aid Kit - plasters, bandages, eye wash, painkillers, travel sickness pills, cold & flu remedy, medical wipes, anti-histimine, sun cream, antiseptic cream.
  • Toiletries - this is a tricky one, clearly we won't have room for a years supply of loo rolls, we won't need perfume and aftershave but we will want razors, deodrant, toothpaste. I wear contact lenses (daily disposable ones) and even if vanity didn't prevent me from giving them up for the year in favour of glasses I'd need to buy new glasses, which cost about the same as a years supply of lenses and run the risk of getting broken or lost or just being a nusiance for manual working. So some things we will stock up on if space allows, I will get my mail order for a years worth of lenses and we will stash toothbrushes and maybe several bottles of shower gel to get us going and see whether these are things we need to keep stocks of or can be used at hosts houses and therefore not needed.
  • Food. We will work out a weeks worth of basic food rations in tins and packets to keep on board the van and replace if we have to dip into them. It is part of the deal that hosts feed us but some seem to think this means a main meal only plus we will have times when we are not working, or travelling from one host to another or a host might not work out leaving us without food until we travel to the next one. There is a double cupboard under the sink which I intend filling with pasta, rice, noodles, tinned beans, fish and meat, bags of flour, bottles of oil, packets of yeast, salt, sugar, herbs and spices. We'll keep cartons of long life milk and supplies like biscuits and chocolate for the bad days :). I'd hope milk, butter, eggs and fresh supplies like fruit and veg could be gotten hold of either from hosts or locally and we are planning on learning about foraging and wild food collecting including shooting and fishing. We have a couple of small fishing rods.
  • Clothing. I am expecting to be able to make use of a hosts washing machine at least once during a weeks stay, assuming they have one of course ;). If not we will either hand wash (so a couple of bottles of travel wash will be in the basic kit along with a washing line to string between the two front windows of the cab and some clothes pegs to hang out stuff to dry inside the van with the heater on) or find a laundrette. So on that basis I'm reckoning on a weeks worth of clothes each - that's pants, socks and t shirts clean each day, 3 pairs of jeans and 3 fleeces or jumpers each. Wow that looks really scary written down! We will each have a shelf in the tall wardrobe section of the van to keep clothes on. We'll probably go with two sets of bedtime clothing each (pjs or similar) and have additional warm stuff such as thick socks, gloves, hats. We'll need shoes / boots and wellies each along with a set of waterproofs and at least one big, warm, waterproof coat each. The wellies will live in an outside storage section in the van where the gas bottles are stowed. I have a fancy welly bag that came with mine and intend making one each for the others so they can be put away muddy and not cover everything else. This will be great for using up some waterproof fabric I have in a stash I need to get rid of :). Ady, Dragon and I have decent boots, Star still needs to get some before we go. We all have plenty of jeans, t shirts, jumpers and fleeces but decent coats and waterproofs are among the things we need to look out for.
  • Kitchen equipment. We have no shortage of this currently, with a very well stocked kitchen and a full set of camping kitchen stuff but I think I will want to be drinking from proper mugs and glasses and not eating off plastic plates so we will bring with us just four of everything - mugs, glasses, plates, bowls, knives, forks and spoons. There is a cutlery tray in the cupboard under the sink which will take the above along with sharp knives, scissors, tin opener, bottle opener /corkscrew, a few other cooking utensils and the plates and bowls. One of the upper cupboards in the van has an insert for putting mugs, cups and glasses into so they don't rattle about while you're driving so that is already dedicated to that use. We only have two gas rings on the hob so two pans is all we'll need. We have a large one which also has a colander that fits inside it so that will be one and a smaller one also with lid can come along too. The van came with kettle and toaster so those will come with us and inside the oven we will stash as many roasting trays and baking sheets as we can fit from our kitchen at home. 
  • Other essentials. We have a very small library of books we're intending bringing along. Our River Cottage diary, a selection of Collins Gem books about the natural world. Star has some treasured books which she'll be bringing (mostly about animals), Dragon is bringing his best books too. It's my plan to gather new books to read from charity shops as required and then give them back to charity shops along the way when finished with. We will be bringing a netbook, several cameras, mobile phones, walkie talkies and associated chargers. We have a portable dvd player, MP3 player all of which indivdually are tiny but collectively will take up space.
  • Dragon and Star have a small cubby hole at the back of their bunk which they can use for anything they want to bring along. Dragon intends bringing: DS and PSP (gaming consoles and games), knife for whittling, one or two selected cuddly toys, art materials. Star is bringing: DS, some cuddly toys, art materials and a little box of assorted 'treasures'. They both have rucksacks with 'essential stuff' such as penknives, fire steels, lighting materials, first aid bits and are bringing those along to reload as we go.
  • Space-wise we have the cubby hole outside the van where the gas bottles live which we intend putting wellies in, the large wardrobe cupboard which we'll shelve for our clothes, the kitchen cupboard and oven for all the food and kitchen equipment, six cupboards one of which will be for cups and mugs, four of which will be declared 'one each' for whatever we personally want to bring and one I think for first aid, toiletries, cosmetics etc. The shower can be used for stashing things in when not in use, probably towels, coats etc. There are some pegs for hanging more coats on the back of the shower door or we may have various bags hung there for keeping things in. Bedding will live on the kids bunk when not being used - we'll take pillows, sleeping bags, space fleece blankets which will get moved around the van over the course of the day. The cab can also be used as a storage 'room' when parked up and we'll get a screen to block it off from the outside so you can sit in there or store stuff in there. There is plenty of space in the cab generally so things like shoes and maybe waterproofs can be stashed there all the time behind the seats. 
Which leads me to the list of stuff we want to get that I am starting to work on. There is waterproofs, coats, work boots, a solar charger and anything else that we think of along the way which would be space saving, make life easier or just be a nice touch.

Thinking inside the box

Contrary to popular advice telling us to think outside the box, we're currently doing the very opposite!

We're coming to the end of ebay-able belongings and as the car boot sale season has ended we are needing to think of other ways to clear boxes of stuff. We have just five weeks before it is my ambition to reach a state of everything left in the house either being stored or coming with us.

We have several bags of outgrown childrens clothes; these will be coming with us to a group holiday with friends where there will be several smaller children to pass them on to. My own wardrobe is next on my list of things to tackle - I have a work wardrobe which I can pare right down to sufficient clothes for my last couple of months (I only work two days a week so don't need too many 'costume changes') and the time has probably come to question whether I ever intend wearing business suits again and if not those can go. My wardrobe for next year will be very much jeans, t shirts, fleeces and jumpers so everything else can go in the 'to go' box. I'll keep my wedding dress, a black suit for funerals to put in storage and everything else can go. A friend who is fundraising for her disabled daughter is about to do a Nearly New Clothing Sale with a cut of what you sell going to her funds and the rest to you. Love that idea for selling my clothes, getting some cash and supporting a worthy cause too :).

Ady  needs to do the same exercise but he has rather fewer clothes... ;)

We should then be left with a last few clothes to get rid of at the very end, probably a charity shop will benefit there and our very basic working wardrobe for the year.

We have already culled music, dvds, videos to the level which will be going into storage for the year, simply a matter of boxing those up just before we go, along with TV, video, DVD player, telephone and the other few electrical bits and pieces we'll be keeping but not taking with us.

Furniture wise we don't have a lot to begin with; a couple of sofas, a table and chairs, four beds and a few bookcases along with some dresser tops we were given by friends and love far too much to get rid of. Our bedroom has built in wardrobes, all of the rest of our furniture is very much at the end of it's useful life anyway, kids wardrobes with missing knobs and wonky doors, chest of drawers with drawer bottoms that fall into the drawers below. These will go in the next couple of weeks either chopped up for firewood or taken to the tip.

Toys and books play a large part in the house still looking quite full. The toys have been more or less reduced to the level of stuff being kept. We have loft voids in our house where boxed up toys can be kept and by the time we go away I'd like to have a finite amount of boxes filled with toys that we know will fit there. Books have been a tricky thing to get rid of; I've had some listed on amazon marketplace, some on ebay, taken some to car boot sales and not really had much success in either unloading them or raising money. I've come up with the idea of a Book Sale Open House here next week when people can come by for a cup of tea and chat and browse the large selection of books available at flat rate prices of 50p each or 3 for £1. I'm hoping to end that day with some extra funds, fewer books and lots of cups to wash up! Anything left after that will probably be gracing the shelves of the local charity shop.

Which leaves us with a few boxes of things like bedding, kitchen stuff like crockery and cutlery, pots and pans. Probably only a box or two and worth storing as costly to start again with. We have things like breadmakers, sewing machine, microwave, slow cooker all of which are also worth keeping. We are likely going to have a room in my parents house where we can store stuff. A layer of furniture with a layer of boxes on top is what I am picturing - kind of scary how it can all be reduced to one room in one house and at the same time I also wonder whether I will really want those appliances with plugs and the kids will miss those toys made of plastic when we've done without them for a whole year.

Our to-do list for November is as follows:
  • Clear the garage. This is labour intensive and  boring and dirty. It contains a washing machine which we are hoping to part exchange for a new cooker, two small chest freezers which we'll try and reduce to one and then none and either freecycle or sell just before we leave. And a whole host of other crap all of which just needs loading into the back of a car and taking to the tip! A couple of days work on dry days preferably not weekends when the tip will be busy.
  • Clear the wardrobes of clothes - the kids have been cleared into stuff they will wear until we go and stuff we'll take with us. They can now go in boxes and the actual wardrobes can be chopped up and got rid of. Our drawers need the same process as does our wardrobe, with stuff for the Nearly New Sale labelling and pricing ready to hand over to my friend.
  • Books need to be gone - hopefully by route of the Open House Book Sale, if not freecycle / charity shop.
  • Get toys boxed up so we know how many boxes we have and they can be kept tidy and ready to store away.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Reasons to be cheerful...

2010 has been a bit of a landmark year. For a long time Bad Stuff has been something of an abstract concept really. I've never been bereaved, never had what I consider to be anything awful happen to me or mine. I am aware that 'anything awful' is rather an abstract concept and that what I am able to brush off and put down to experience may be what fells someone else, that said I have always felt able to take full responsibility for pretty much everything that has come my way. Own it, deal with it, move on from it.

But this year there have been events happening to people I love which I have felt utterly unable to claim responsibility for, explain away, prevent or make better. This year I have seen friends lose parents, siblings and children. I've seen people come to terms with fatal illness, try to package up their life and tidy up lose ends in the same way as we are doing in preparation for heading off on an adventure for a year, except that they are quite literally packing up a life to put it away forever. I have witnessed people coming to terms with truths so sad, so unfair, so far from what they expected their life to be, create new normals and deal with realisations that everything they thought to be the case was infact wrong. I have stood, hand clapped over my mouth in horror as if watching in slow motion as dramas unfold, lifes are forever altered and in a moment nothing is ever the same again.

These experiences make me cry, make me want to rage at the world, make me want to run off with everyone I love and hold dear and wrap them all up, hold them close to me and protect them from the world. But you can't do that can you? Life is for living. We can't effect what gets chucked at us, we can only control how we respond to it and deal with it once it's happened. My personal belief is we are here once. We have one chance to grab life as it slips, slithering and mercurial through our fingertips. We should cherish every moment, grab every opportunity, love, laugh, learn, make it all count.

I hear too many tales of lives cut prematurely short, not completely lived, not given the chance to make all those dreams come true. I listen to old people, blessed with all that history and a long life behind them, cursed with shoulda, woulda, coulda regrets. My mantra has always been I'd rather regret the things I did do than the things I didn't. How I can live with looking back and recalling mistakes, laughing at silly moves I made, learning from every foot I put wrong, how I couldn't live with never having given it a go. Being scared is not reason enough not to do something. Taking risks to make us gasp is what keeps us breathing in, breathing an exhalation sigh of relief is what keeps us breathing out. Living is what keeps us alive.

Wondering Wanderers is our 'all on the black', but we're keeping enough in our back pockets to shove on the red if that black choice looks a bit wonky. It's our 'here is what we really want, this might just be the path to lead us there'. And when we put it like that it begins to occur to us we don't really have a choice.