Friday, 27 July 2012

What to do with old greetings cards?

This must be a perpetual problem for most people... ever feel guilty about tossing those old cards in the recycling bin? Nope? Lucky you!

In my decluttering purges I am coming across lots of stacks of cards. Normally they get taken down when my husband points out that the relevant celebration was 4 months ago. Then they get put on a shelf or in a draw and left, never to see the light of day again. Then last week, oh no, I threw some out. Oh the guilt! Somebody bought that, spent precious pennies (how can a card cost £3?!), took the time to write a thoughtful note, and posted it. I should be grateful and not throwing them out.

So what should I do with all those cards... holiday cards, thank you cards, birthday cards, anniversary cards, wedding cards (should really be keeping those!), invitations, RSVPs, new home... the list goes on!

The only solution (so far) is one my mother taught me. She has never ever bought gift tags for Christmas. Instead that crafty Mum of mine cuts up old cards into wonderful shapes and sticks them on the wrapping! Unfortunately this doesn't get rid of them all. So here are a few more ideas I've thought up or found through the wonders of the internet:

1. Cut them up and use to make new cards (could look quite tacky if you aren't careful!).

2. Photograph and catalogue them electronically before recycling so you at least have a record of them, as done by

3. Create a scrapbook year by year to remember the events by, cutting up the relevant cards as you go along. This would particularly nice to do for a child I think.

4. Turn them into bookmarks.

5. Turn them into fun postcards.

6. Give them to a local nursery for crafting supplies.

7. Make placemats or coasters (
8. Turn into gift pillow boxes (

9. Turn into a notebook or portfolio of cards (

10. Use to make table place cards.

That's it so far. Nothing really stands out as wonderful except the pillow gift box idea. Lots of people out there indicate that you will regret not keeping cards from your nearest and dearest should they pass away. So maybe I should be rethinking this whole thing! Maybe shoebox storage is the best solution!

On a related note, to save all my friends and relatives the same dilemma, I might just not send cards this Christmas, just a letter update (I like to do this every year) and a note stating that I'm donating the money I would normally spend on cards to charity instead.... wonder how that will go down!

Thanks for stopping by,
Let me know what you think... leave a comment or send an email to passthecaffeine {at} gmail {dot} com.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Using those store vouchers

For anyone who shops in Sainsburys they will know that they now insist on providing you with lots and lots of paper vouchers 'to reduce your bill' (aka spend more money) next time you shop. Aside from avoiding using them from a 'not giving them even more money' some of them are useful... but I never use them!
Too many vouchers, too little time!

Let me explain. My at-the-till procedure works like this.
1. Frantically bag up my shopping while the cashier keeps sending the items through at light speed.
2. Avoid dropping bags on the floor while finding my wallet.
3. Hand over the cards, completely ignorant of the total sum to be paid.
4. Type in the pin, receive the vouchers and receive and stuff them into the wallet.
5. Exit the supermarket feeling dazed confused and generally unwell.

I will use vouchers, I will use vouchers, I will use vouchers!
As I am always flustered at the checkout I never seem to remember to use the vouchers, even when they would actually save me money! And the scheme where you should be using them because 'they charged you too much last time'? Phhhhft! Never! See they make soooo much money out of me. I eventually get to the point where I can't shut my wallet anymore, I rip all the receipts and vouchers out, realise they are all out of date or useless and put them through the shredder. It always seems so silly when I realise I have about £10 in vouchers that I would have used. I mean who wouldn't say yes to £10 off their shopping?

So I have a plan. Each time I get home and unpack the shopping I *will* check the receipt and pin this on the noticeboard (I do need to think of a better scheme than pinning). At the same time I will check the vouchers and any that I think I may use will get tucked in my card wallet around the appropriate store-card (see I always remember to use my nectar card, isn't that funny?). Fingers crossed this will mean I am more likely to use them (or drop them on the floor as the cashier grabs them off me). Each time I sort through the new vouchers I can remove out-of-date and unused vouchers from the card wallet. Sorted!

Fingers crossed this works!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The path of least resistance

One of the major changes in my life that has led to less clutter, more things put away and more chores being completed is choosing suitable locations to store items. Strangely I had never thought of this until Mr PTC pointed out one day that keeping my makeup in the bathroom was bonkers when I continually left it out in the bedroom where I actually applied my makeup (lighting, space etc. etc. you get the picture). So gradually we've been re-evaluating things. I thought I'd take sometime to list a few things we have changed. It is still a work in progress however, with new items added to the list weekly, and many jobs 'pending'.

1. Relocate keys to by the backdoor. I loose my keys frequently, because I never put them on the shelf by the front door where they are supposed to live! We enter/exit the house by the back door (actually the side door!), and so we need a place to put the keys by that door. This is 'pending'  because I have some crafty ideas for cute little key hooks up my sleeve! For now the kitchen counter will suffice!

2. Handbag and rucksacks. These originally lived in the bedroom but were left all over the house, never making it anywhere near the bedroom. So for now they live near the kitchen door, ready for 'lift-off' each morning. They don't get in the way, its not very tidy looking, but they have a location... and they can easily be gathered up and shoved in a cupboard should the in-laws visit (I don't bother trying to impress my parents - they know me too well already).

One day I'll have a 'launch pad' with space for keys, handbags, shoes and coats. In the meantime I'll just keep pinning the ideas!

3. Recycling. We have a lovely Brabantia stainless steal bin for waste... and we used to have a smelly carrier bag next to it for recycling. Delightful. Especially as when you are trying to tidy up, do the dishes and get out the door who has time to open a smelly bag and pop in the recycling? It was just too frustrating. We solved the problem by using a small laundry basket placed behind the bin. It isn't beautifully pretty or anything, but now everything gets put in there straightaway and then before recycling collections on Monday morning I just take the box into the garage and sort it into the two recycling collection bins. Easy peasy. There's also a designated spot for the compost bin next to it too!

4. The lawnmower. To me mowing the lawn is a lot like vacuuming. Dreadful. Mind you at least it smells nice and you are outside. We have a tiny lawn and to be quite honest it takes longer to get the machine out and put it away than to actually mow. To improve the probability of actually mowing the lawnmower is now stored at the front of the shed (easier to access and less likely to get blocked in!) and an extension lead is kept by the utility room door where we plug it in. Two to-do jobs for Mr PTC include providing a large hanging bracket for the mower in the shed (its a teeny weeny little thing so hangs quite nicely!) and some sort of peg for the extension lead as it currently sits on the washing machine (not exactly tidy).

So there we are... just a few ways to make us more likely to put things away and to actually achieve tasks. Or as Mr PTC refers to it 'remove some of the inertia'.

Is de-cluttering easier than organising?

I've read a lot recently about the benefits of starting your 'organisation project' with a good de-clutter. I can see the merits - a lot less stuff to find a home for and less stuff to keep putting away. However, I think I disagree because I love my stuff! I find it so hard to let go. While I am not quite as fully fledged a hoarder as my parents or those folk on TV who can't live in their homes anymore I definitely hang onto things. I just don't like letting go...

So I've established that I'm not a natural de-clutterer. I certainly can't just whip out the recycling box and bin lots of things in one fell swoop. No it doesn't make me feel better. All those professionals out there who claim you'll free and better and everything obviously don't understand people like me (or am I alone?! eeek!). However, I do know things need to change.

OK, so I'm not that bad but did you know there is a support website for hoarders and their families? Oh yes there is!

I've been thinking about how to handle the de-clutter for a while now. I threw out *a lot* of stuff (or so I thought) as we packed up our flat to move into our cottage last autumn. However, the unpacking revealed a lot of things that probably shouldn't have been kept! Interestingly there are lots of things of my husbands I would be more than happy to be rid of (years of magazines why oh why?!), and equally he feels the same about some of my 'junk'. Last night I was finally (ahem) unpacking from our wee trip away last week and I found a bag of things that hadn't been touched for four months - did we even need the stuff that was in it? Some of it yes. The rest, well probably not. So its official. We have too much junk. And yes it really is junk!

Right. So here we are:
1. I've recognised there is a problem to be fixed.
2. I know I feel a little uncomfortable physically sick if I just 'do it'.
3. This requires a challenge... that moves at a comfortable (sick averting) pace.

So here is my challenge.

The challenge:
1. For the month of August choose one item each day to be discarded/donated/recycled/freecycled/sold.
2. This can not include 10 days of 1 birthday card per day, or equivalent items.
3. Review progress at the end of August and update as required.

Now I'm realistic. I know myself well enough to know that I won't do this *everyday* but by the end of August I want 31 items removed from my life. I'm also frugal enough to know that some items have real value and while I'm more than happy to donate to charity/freecycle some things might be easier to let go of if we got some cash value out of them (probably only fairly expensive items, or things that wouldn't get an audience in a charity shop, but might on ebay). These items will be stored in a 'for sale' box until the item is sold. If unsold after one month they are to be donated.

I'm optimistic that this is a reasonable pace to accept initially, but I have enough junk around the place that I would like to up-the-pace come September. You never know, maybe I'll start enjoying it. 

So for all you reluctant de-clutterers out there who don't understand the obsession with fast de-hoarding, take a page out of my book and do it slow and steady. I reckon this is actually more likely to work for me as I won't feel a gaping hole suddenly exploding into my life!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Meal planning

One of my greatest failures (and probably a source of quite a lot of expenditure) is my failure to sort out dinner. Yes we are subject to random takeaway evenings. This has become even more expensive now that we live 8 miles from the nearest takeaway and we can't get delivery. The biggest problem is deciding what to cook... for years I've followed my mothers way of "cook what we fancy" and I have resisted planning ahead so that I can buy whatever is on offer and cook what is in the fridge. Sadly I'm not quite as creative as my mother and I'm also not very good at figuring out what to cook.

Randomly generating your main ingredient... take away that decision stress!
To avoid countless evenings spending an hour deciding what to cook, then giving up, I am going to meal plan! To start the process off I have created a 31-day main ingredient list in excel. By listing the various 'base' ingredients, fish, chicken, cheese etc. I have compiled a list for the 31 days of a month. The great thing about this is it is now automated. If I decide I want chicken more or less often I just have to change the 'weighting' and the whole thing updates! I can also just press return on column G and the whole column updates for a new month.

I chose 'weightings' based on what I think is a good compromise between what we really like to eat (meat! or for my husband red meat) and what is healthy. So fish should be eaten twice a week (8 or 9 times in a typical month), and so has a weighting of 8. Vegan meals are on the agenda for health and value for money (I've also found that they make me a more adventurous cook), but coupled with cheese meals  (i.e. basically vegetarian unless the cheese isn't strictly speaking veggie-safe) I didn't want to cook this more than three times a week. I have aimed for weightings that will result on average with (roughly speaking), two fish meals, two chicken meals, two veggie/vegan meals and one red meat meal per week. However, I am sure we will adjust.

So the August meal plan will follow the ingredients list above. Now I just need to come up with a list of recipes to dive into! That should be the fun bit.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Think of the trees

I'm back... did you notice I'd gone? Sorry for all the quiet around here. I've now got a million ideas for blogs, a million ideas on my to-do list and not enough time in the day to get anything done! Well, at least I have ideas.

I've just got back from a couple of weeks of semi-holiday. I actually went to work for 4 of the last 10 working days, but it was broken up by taking sporadic days off and an extra-long weekend (or is that a short-week?) with my parents. And this is where the purpose of my post comes from. I don't have any wonderful organisational tips, progress updates (haha more like negative progress as there appear to be over 300 emails still in my inbox), but I do have this:

Before you buy a tree this Christmas think about where it came from and where it will end up.

Oh dear. Yes the word Christmas is in there. But before you roll your eyes and run away in horror bare with me. Maybe I'm the only person who thinks about this, but each year when I think "oh how I would love a real tree that smells of pine and fills the house with far more joy than a fake tree does" I then realise that chopping a tree off with no roots after upwards of 10 years of growth is criminal. Especially if it then goes to landfill. I really don't understand why we do this. The world has acknowledged that wood is an important resource, that it should be cherished, recycled, reclaimed and reused, but we chop down trees for Christmas with no hesitation! At least most local councils in the UK now offer post-Christmas collections of trees which are then mulched or some such, but surely it would be better to have a tree with roots.

After going on and on about this for years I now have a solution. While at my parents this last week I pilfered a spruce seedling from their garden. Its in a pot now, ready for its roll come Christmas. It is only a foot tall, so I guess we'll have to wait a few years before it really comes into its own, but I'm prepared to wait. Out of season it will live, in a pot, on my patio being fed and watered and loved. And it won't end up in landfill. When it gets too tall for the house, we'll plant it out into the garden or chop it down and use it for something (no idea what yet!). But I won't buy a new, rootless tree year after year.

So before you go out and buy yourself a £50 Christmas tree this winter, think about why you are doing it and is it really worth it? Could you not keep one in a pot all year round?

On a related note my Dad had a great idea for anyone wanting to set up a Christmas-seedling scheme. Dig seedlings up, pot them up, sell at a reduced amount, but with a return deposit (like the good old fashioned glass recycling schemes). Then after Christmas people return their potted trees, receive a refund and the nursery plants them back in the ground for next year. There is quite a large labour cost, but you wouldn't have to grow trees from ground level for 10 years to flog them, and the repeated digging up would restrain the rate of growth. Sorted. Let me know if you are interested ;-)

Thanks for reading my random ramblings about Christmas in July... but do remember those trees!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Preparing for guests

Sorry for the quietness recently, we've just had a busy for days over here at pass the caffeine. One of the items on the agenda has been having a friend to stay for a few days. So I thought I would share what I do in preparation for house guests.

Now Martha has a nice long list of things that should be done for a successful house-visit. The list is long, and in my opinion expensive (I mean I don't mind providing some things, but buying a radio and desk just for a guest is a little excessive surely, not to mention our little spare room doesn't have space for a desk). So here is my 'get read for house guests' list.

1. Clean house. Obvious I know, but do all the little things that normally get missed, such as dusting the top of doors and cleaning the windows in the spare room (especially if it has a pretty view!). I will upload a cleaning list later in the week (fingers crossed!).

2. Provide toiletry essentials. I'm sure I am not alone in having lots of useless toiletries which I absolutely intend to use but just never seem to. Well put them to good use and provide a little welcome basket with all the essentials, so your guest won't have to ask if they've forgotten to include something in their bags. I always make sure there is shampoo, conditioner (use the small ones you bring back from holiday), hand soap, hand cream, Q-tips, cotton wood pads/balls, shower gel and toothpaste. My Mum goes even further and provides slippers! My budget doesn't go that far though!

Follow Martha's advice at

3. Make the bed up and provide plenty of towels. This is obvious, but I'm sure most of us have made the mistake of not getting it done in time, and it is the worst feeling watching someone insist on making a bed for you! So plan. Make up the bed a week before if necessary. Spray a linen spray over the bed so it smells divine and add those cushions until you are blue in the face. After all, how often does your own bedroom stay that pretty for more than 5 minutes? As for the towels, maybe I'm fussy but it drives me nuts if I go somewhere and provided with one skimpy towel even though I know there are technically many more available. I'm a wimp, so I never ask. As far as possible I try and provide one large bathsheet, one small bath towel, a hand towel and a face cloth for each guest. I only have the supplies to do this for two guests, then I run out of towels, but I only have one spare bed.

4. Flowers. I always try and pick some flowers from the garden for the bedroom (unless the guest has hayfever). This time it was some lovely pink roses that were getting battered by the terrible weather we've been having and rotting before they were opening. So i picked them 5 days early, still in the bud-stage, and by the time my friend turned up they were all open.

5. Open the windows then turn on the heating. Open the windows to exchange the air, particularly if you don't use the room very often. If it is winter, only leave them open for half an hour, making sure you keep the room door shut so all the heat doesn't escape from the rest of the house. Unless you have a nice new-build with decent insulation it is worth turning the heating on even in summer, for an hour or so. Our house is several hundred years old and the stone walls are not very forgiving. I turned the heating on just for an hour the day before and it just lifted the temperature in the room slightly and made it feel more lived in.

6. Meal plan. Now I would love to say that I did this all the time. But that would be lying. However, when you have guests its a little bit embarrassing to advocate going to the takeaway because you forgot to go shopping. So plan what you will eat. If you don't know your guests really well double check allergies/dislikes and plan your meals around that. I have a friend I stay with maybe once a year and she always give me something with mushrooms in (they make me sick) and pretty much every meal has dairy in it so Mr PTC can't eat it. It isn't difficult to get these things right if you just think about it in advance. Also keep in a relevant stash of snacks and drinks that you think your guests might like.

7. Think pets. If your guests aren't really 'pet people' think about how to manage this. Restrict your pets movements to certain rooms while you have your guests, or consider how to train your pets to not jump up at people. I keep our spare room cat-fur free by not letting the cats in there ever. This also means (theoretically) that the cats know they shouldn't go in there when the door is left open by guests (except we currently have a kitten who hasn't learnt the rules yet). Check your litter try more often - yes we should all do this every single time the cat uses the tray, but come on, sometimes its not convenient. Make an extra effort for guests who might not be able to cope with the smell quite as well as you! Ahem. OK this makes me sound like someone who never cleans out the litter tray, but we have a kitten who uses it 30 times a day, and sometimes I just want to finish making dinner! I'm not that bad. Honestly!

8. Give a drinks tour. I hate being in a house where I feel I have to ask for every single beverage… I feel like such an imposition and I always go home seriously dehydrated. However, no one likes to poke around and be out of place in a house because they can't find what they need. Take the time once your guests have arrived to show them where the cups, coffee, tea and soft drinks stash are and make it clear they are welcome to help themselves. However, you will inevitably come across people who just won't take the initiative and will only drink what you provide…. while I love some of these people, it is sometimes quite exhausting!

9. Get the essentials in. If you know your guest only eats Fruit & Fibre cereal, or will only take skimmed milk and you buy semi, go that extra mile and get those extras in. It won't cost much but will make your guest feel more at ease. Oh and make sure you provide sugar for the tea and coffee (this is one I always forget being living in a household that doesn't take sugar in drinks). 

10. The little extras. I always like to make sure there is a cake, or a batch of cookies made specially for the guests arrival. Just because I can… 

Most of this is common sense… but it helps to have a list. If you have other ideas I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Bin for the car

So I've been putting this post off for ages because I keep forgetting to take a picture of the finished article! Never mind. I'll get to that at some point... we will proceed with no photo-finish.

So part of my car challenge was to sort out a bin. And well. I've sorted it!

The hard part was figuring out what to use. I've attempted to use bins before... they always end up on the back seat, up-ended, spilling their contents and generally not being used. Helpful? I think not. So the real challenge to this was finding a receptical that would actually stay in the front seat, be accessible enough to be used so that we don't fill the car doors with lots of sweet wrappers, dirt, grit, tissues and general nastiness.

Luckily for me this new superb car of ours has a little 'coin tray' behind the central console. Weird I know. But its a nice little space asking for something to go in it. Step up the milk carton please.

So to replicate my fantastic pathetic erm craft, take a 4 litre milk bottle. Give it a good thorough sterilise as you don't want it getting smelly from milky residues (I left it full of a mild bleach solution for 24 hours), dry thoroughly (unlike the photo which is still dripping), and take out your scissors.

Remember to remove the label!
I cut the bottle roughly in half which gives a decent sized bin for a car (if you have children you might need something bigger unless you are super organised and empty the bin after every sticky-fingered trip!). The edges were quite sharp so I took some sticky tape to the edge to finish it off. Et voila! One car bin!

I'll add a photo if/when I get around to taking one!

Monday, 2 July 2012

How much money do you save by going green?

I came across an info-graphic this morning which attempts to put $-savings against attempts to 'go green'. OK, so I'm looking for £'s, and we all know that prices vary between countries... but its an interesting read!


Go Green (Infographic)