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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Waste food? Me? Never!

This week's Change the World Wednesday challenge is to waste no food during the week. Whenever I see people talking about food waste I feel a bit smug. I don't waste food - I'm the queen of leftovers, me! But then I had to admit to myself that there were two clementines in the fruit bowl that had to be thrown out because they were going rotten. And come to think of it, there was that time last week when I made cheese straws with leftover pastry and forgot about them so they burned. That captures two areas where I could improve - buying too much fruit/not eating it quickly enough (it tends to be citrus fruit) and letting things burn in the oven.

At the weekend I begged some cooking apples from a friend to make mincemeat (and consulted her on the recipe. I'd volunteered to make mince pies for a village event without really thinking about the fact that I've never made them before). I only wanted one or two, but she'd given me nine before I could stop her. Two went in the mincemeat (which after a couple of days is looking and smelling very much as it should, which is a relief), leaving seven sitting in a bag.

They were windfalls but even so, it would be a shame to let them go off. As the were windfalls, some of them were bruised and starting to go bad already, so I'd have to use them quickly. Ian doesn't like stewed apple, so it's a bit of a challenge thinking of ways to use cooking apples. I decided that the best thing to do would be to stew the lot and freeze it, so that's what I did.

When I'm freezing sauces that are essentially ingredients rather than a main part of a meal, I prefer to freeze it in the ice cube tray so I can take out just as many cubes as I need. They also thaw more quickly than a bigger block. Seven apples-worth of sauce were going to take several goes of the ice cube tray, though. Then I opened a cupboard and spotted my new chocolate moulds (inspired by Susie) - they'd do nicely. When I opened the freezer I saw another silicone tray that I'd forgotten about, this one with heart-shaped moulds. So now I have seven stewed apples freezing in a variety of decorative shapes.

Stewed apple in several trays, ready for freezing. It tastes better than it looks.

I still don't know what I'm going to use it for, but at least now it's preserved and as an added bonus, not in a bag on the kitchen floor.

Oh, and those bits of beef fat that I forgot to put in the fridge last night? Pebble didn't think they were wasted!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Heating project: Planning and design

This has been a mammoth project (and it's not finished yet), and blogging about it seems almost as great a task. To avoid this post becoming unreadably long, I'm breaking it down into stages, starting with all the thinking and planning that occupied me for several months as I tried to figure out how to get the heating system I want.

It's been quite a while since I last wrote about the heating project, and there's a good reason for this: We did very little work on it for over four months (hmm, notice a similarity with the last post?) Although not much physical progress was made during that time, I did do a lot of thinking and planning and yes, learning about central heating systems.

To recap, the plan is to replace our standard gas-fired combi boiler that heats water for taps and radiators, on demand, with a wood burning stove with back boiler, the water from which is stored in a tank that in turn provides hot water to taps and underfloor heating. This tank will also have input from solar panels (thermal, not electric).

The solar heating is obviously thoroughly green, as the sun's energy is freely available, endlessly* renewable and totally clean. Wood is slightly more debatable as burning wood obviously releases CO2 in the same way as burning coal, gas or oil. However, more wood can be grown in a relatively short timescale (relative to making more fossil fuels), which then reabsorbs the CO2, so provided that enough trees are planted, wood doesn't add to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Also, it's renewable, meaning it won't run out like fossil fuels. It's debatable whether it's sustainable when you consider the amount of land required to grow enough trees to heat one house (i.e. we don't have enough land for everyone to heat their houses this way**) Finally, burning wood isn't very clean in the sense of smoke and particulates. The prettier the flames, the less efficient (clean) the burn. I'm sorry, but I do like pretty yellow flames in my fireplace.

Back to the project. So far, we have a stove:

Second hand wood burning stove

We were at the local hotel one day and spotted this outside on the pavement, where it had previously been in the bar. We asked how much they wanted for it, and got told we could have it for nothing if we'd take it away. Needless to say, we didn't need telling twice! It needs new glass in one of the doors, a new handle on the other door, and a new grate, but it was definitely working before they took it out. It has an integral boiler, which we wanted, that was linked up to radiators in the hotel. I reckon the space heated by the stove and those radiators is about the same size as our house, so the stove should be about the right size for us.

Part of our research involved finding the information plate on the front of the stove and contacting the manufacturer. We now know it's a Charnwood 40B (the B is for Boiler) and they were kind enough to track down the installation instructions of this obsolete stove, so we also know that its nominal output is 3.2 kW to the room and 7.5 kW to the water, which is pretty much ideal. They also sent us a price list for spare parts, and since they were so helpful, we ordered replacement door glass from them, even though we could have got it cheaper elsewhere. The grate bars were over £100 for a set, so we passed on those. We don't want to burn coal anyway, and wood prefers a solid bed, so we scrounged a couple of fire brick from old storage heaters (from the hotel again) which fitted nicely.

We contacted Thermoboard requesting a quote for underfloor heating. We were thinking of their pipes-in-polystyrene system, to be fitted under the floorboards. There's excellent access to the underside of our floor, but getting the pipes in the right place would involve a lot of drilling through joists and fiddling long lengths of uncooperative pipe through the holes.

When the quote came, it wasn't for that system at all, but for pipes embedded in chipboard flooring. At first I thought they'd made a mistake and quoted for the wrong thing, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the right solution. We had wanted to polish the floorboards instead of covering them with carpet or whatever, but if I'm honest, they're nothing special. I'm sure they're not as old as the house (which is nearly 200 years old) and probably much more recent. I'd had a feeling for a while that this project wasn't quite right and that Something had to give. Maybe that something is the floorboards.

So, we have the stove, give or take a few repairs, and the specification for the heat distribution. I was glad to see that the requirements of the underfloor, namely 5.2 kW, were in the same ballpark as the output of the stove. What we needed next was to specify that tank to link the two together. Even if we didn't want input from solar panels, we'd still need a tank to store the heat from, e.g. lighting the fire in the evening through to warming the house for getting up in the morning. Having the heat stored also allows more control of temperature, which is necessary as the underfloor heating operates at a relatively low temperature - relative to what leaves the stove, that is.

Through the 'ish forum, I got in touch with a couple who are installing a similar heating system and have done a great deal of work investigating exactly what they need. As luck would have it, they live about twenty miles from us, so we arranged to visit and pick their brains. Over tea and cake, we looked at the design for their tank. It has a couple of features to solve problems that had been bothering me. 1. If you have input from the solar panels in the bottom of the tank, it will preheat the water for the stove when you have the stove on, but what about in the summer when you're relying on solar alone and only need hot water, not heating too? Won't you end up with a big tank full of luke warm water? Solution: A chimney type arrangement running up the middle of the tank. This takes hot water from the bottom of the tank straight to the top. It also has holes, so when the water at the top is hot, it starts to diffuse into lower areas of the tank. Brilliant! 2. What do we do if we go away for a week or two in the winter and need to keep the house from freezing? Solution: Have a second immersion heater in the bottom of the tank (you have one halfway up anyway, for hot water when the summer sun is being a bit Welsh), but above the chimney thing. This produces the tankful of tepid water that we were trying to avoid when we want a shower, but is exactly what we need to keep the frost off the house.

Our new friends also recommended their supplier, Newark Copper Cylinders, who are very helpful and will make a tank to whatever specification you want. Their prices aren't too bad either. This was an enormously helpful meeting (and it was very nice to make new friends, too!) which solved a couple of problems and saved me a lot of work researching tank manufacturers.

I still had a couple of questions regarding the tank***, namely where to put it and how big to get. 1. Where? I want the stove-to-tank system to run without electricity, i.e. on the principle that hot water rises, so I'd originally assumed we'd need to put the tank in the loft. This puts serious constraints on the size of the thing, especially considering that it would be over our heads, and loft joists aren't always particularly strong. Alternatively, we have plenty of space below the stove (in the workshop) but that would require a pumped system. If we had a power cut, we'd then have to put out the fire in case the water in the back overheated and it exploded. 2. How big? In general, the advice for a thermal store (the kind of tank that stores heat for future use) is, The bigger the better. That's not very helpful if you'd really like to put the tank in the loft and want to know how small a tank you can get away with.

There is an online space I know of where experts dwell and talk in detailed technical terms about designs for green houses (that's eco-friendly houses, not places to grow plants). I've been aware for some time that the answers to all my questions may be found here, but scared to venture to that place, for fear of not understanding a word that's said. It's like mastering just enough of a foreign language to ask a question, then not having a clue what the answer means. That place is the Green Building Forum.

Having got my tank problems down to two questions, I plucked up courage and posted my questions on the Green Building Forum, with suitable pleas not to talk in jargon - and they didn't! I got some really helpful advice on positioning, namely the suggestion that I consider putting the tank on the same level as the stove. This was something that hadn't occurred to me, as I'd assumed that a thermosyphon system (i.e. working on the heat rises principle) would require the tank above the stove. Apparently not. After some discussion, we came up with a plan to put the tank in the airing cupboard. This is on the same level as the stove with the kitchen in between. The flow pipe from stove to tank goes up over the kitchen ceiling and down (a little) into the tank, then the return pipe runs from the bottom of the tank down under the kitchen floor and back up into the stove, so we have a circle of pipes around the kitchen, with stove on one side and tank on the other. As the hot water rises from the back of the stove, it sets a current flowing round the circle, drawing cold(er) water into the bottom of the stove via the return pipe. As the tank is halfway round this loop it gets filled with hot water on its way round.

Another piece of advice I got from the Green Building Forum was to get in a professional plumber. Apparently designing a central heating system is not a job for an amateur. This posed a bit of a challenge. We had tried to get quotes from plumbers earlier in the year. One was very enthusiastic, insisted that what we needed was a pumped system with the tank downstairs, and sent us a quote that was several thousand pounds over our budget. Another was very reluctant to give advice and kept asking what we wanted to do, which didn't inspire confidence. A third seemed convincingly knowledgeable, but never actually quoted at all.

Since the third plumber seemed to know what he was talking about, I got in touch with him again. He remembered coming to visit and was quite embarrassed about not quoting. He'd been busy and by the time a few weeks had passed, assumed we'd have found someone else. Well, we hadn't and this was three months later - would he quote please? And would he mind if I sent him all the information I'd amassed in the meantime? He agreed, but even so, it took several weeks and more phonecalls before he eventually sent us a quote, though before he did, he called to discuss some of the details, which I felt was a good sign. We accepted the quote and booked him in for the last week in October, giving us less than a month to order the underfloor heating and tank, and lay all the heating boards ready for him to connect up the pipework.

At the time I called the plumber, I still didn't have a clear answer to the question of how big the tank should be. Advice from two contributors to the green building forum was, "Standard rule of thumb gives 400 litres," and, "There's no way that's going to be big enough." Our friends from this 'ish forum had said, "I wouldn't want to risk anything less than 450 litres," and when I spoke to the plumber he said, "With this sort of system people would usually have 800 to 1000 litres." All this was pointing to a very big tank, but I still wasn't convinced.

There are two approaches to determining tank size; big enough to absorb all the heat you might generate or big enough to supply all the heat you're likely to need. I had a feeling it was the first approach that was leading to the very large estimates, whereas the second approach seemed more sensible to me. Surely if the tank's full of hot water we can just burn less wood? There was also some of the second approach, but assuming we'd light the fire fairly infrequently and want the tank to keep us supplied with a day or more's heat between lightings. We really only want a couple of hours' worth - after that we'd be happy to light the fire again if need be.

I did various calculations for how much water we'd need, came up with various answers, and generally got stuck halfway through. Eventually I found an approach that convinced me, if no-one else. The quote for underfloor heating included a figure for flow rate, which I multiplied up to the two hours we wanted, then multiplied by 1.5 for the rule of thumb that heating uses two thirds of the tank and hot water one third. That gave me 350 litres and that was what I ordered, ignoring all advice to go for bigger, and also ignoring advice from the tank supplier to go for smaller!

* Yes I know the sun will burn out one day, but that's really not a timescale that concerns me.

** This is the argument I've heard. I have no idea what the figures are, but it sounds plausible.

*** I know I should call this a cylinder, especially if I'm talking to a plumber and trying to explain where a problem is, but it's a big vessel containing water. It's a tank, OK?

Wednesday 2 November 2011

November decluttering challenge

The challenge is to get rid of one thing every day, not just as a way of getting rid of thirty things, but to build a new habit of looking at things and asking, Do I really need that? Getting rid of doesn't necessarily mean that the thing has to leave the house that day, but action must be taken towards that goal. We have some things in the probably valuable to somebody category, which means either selling them or freecycling. Selling is harder, but the money would come in handy. I'm planning to advertise these at the start of the month, then if they don't sell in two weeks, freecycle them. Other things will go straight to freecycle, and I have a shiny new freecycle account ready for action! Other destinations will be box for charity shop and bin though that last one may hurt.

So here we go then. I'll be updating this post throughout the month with details of what I'm getting rid of each day.

Nov 1st. Electric Hob

Rather smart halogen hob. I prefer gas.

This had to be the first one. It was installed in the kitchen of our last house when we moved in, and I quickly had it replaced with a gas hob. That was about four years ago and we've been meaning to sell it ever since. When I fetched it out of the store room I found it wasn't as clean as it might be, so I spent much of the morning polishing it, then Ian took a photo and posted an ad on Preloved.

Nov 2nd. Back issues of New Scientist

Terrible photo of heaps of magazines, but you get the idea.

I've subscribed to this magazine on and off for some years, and have always kept old issues thinking that I'll want to re-read them. I have to face up to the fact that I just don't, and these are clogging up the house. A friend mentioned something she'd read in New Scientist, I asked if she'd like my old copies, and she said yes. Easy!

Nov 3rd. Two bottles of squash

This squash has sweeteners in.

Neither of us like the taste of artificial sweeteners, to the point where we can't really stand drinks with them in. I also have a principled objection - I like my food honest. If it tastes like it's full of calories, it should deliver! Unfortunately these additives are so ubiquitous that we occasionally buy products with them in by mistake. These then sit at the back of the cupboard for ages while we attempt to palm them off on guests. When my friend came to collect the magazines, I remembered that she drinks squash with sweeteners, so gave these to her, which is a much better use for them.

Nov 8th. Books and shoes

I needed to go into town for food shopping so took the opportunity to take some things to charity shops while I was there. That heap of books is the result of a quick book audit. Some of these I've had since childhood and really don't know why I was keeping them, others are books bought more recently, read once and not likely to be read again. Ian contributed some too, making up a total of 35 books (one item or 35, depending on how you're counting). As for the shoes, this was prompted by going to a funeral recently and choosing my dark burgundy boots over my black shoes. If I don't need black shoes for a funeral, what else do I need them for? I used to wear them to work, but as I hardly ever wear them now, they're very uncomfortable when I do. I found a couple of other pair of rarely worn shoes, making up four pairs in various conditions (one item, four or eight, depending...)

Nov 9th. Satellite dishes and extractor fan

We've been meaning to take these off their respective walls since we moved over a year ago. Both are ugly, the extractor really shouldn't be over that type of cooker and we don't even have a telly! In the interests of getting rid of stuff, we finally got round to doing both jobs, and Ian took them to the tip. (Apart from the smaller dish, minus bracket, which I'm keeping for use as a garden sieve, though it's currently being used to dry acorns).

Nov 20th. Old papers and contents of a drawer

These four box files were full of papers relating to old jobs, specifically data from experiments conducted back in the day when I was actively involved in research. There are good reasons to keep old data - many journals require that data should be kept for at least five years after associated reports have been published, in case other scientists want to examine the details. Some of my papers fell into that category, but more than five years have by now elapsed, and in any case I'm no longer in contact with my colleagues, so they wouldn't be able to get hold of the data even if someone asked for it. Other papers were more difficult. These were results of experiments I'd conducted more recently (though still at least four years ago) but never written up and published. Throwing these away means accepting that I'm never going to write up those experiments. If I'm honest, I think some of them weren't very well designed anyway.

If paper's only printed on one side, I put it in the scrap paper drawer for re-use. For this lot, I was going to need a bigger drawer (actually, quite a lot ended up in the recycling bin, too). I chose a suitable drawer in the study, which happened to be filled with an assortment of odds and ends. I am now prepared to reveal to you the entire contents of that drawer, and the destination of each item.

Contents of a drawer, laid out and numbered for your perusal (click to enlarge)
  1. Travel iron, in bag. This is quite useful, at least it used to be in our old life. I've used an iron just once since moving, though my skirt did get compliments from two complete strangers on that occasion, so I think it was worth it. Anyway, I'm not getting rid of the travel iron yet. Destination: In the cupboard with the other iron.
  2. Hot brush. This was useful when I had a job which required respectable hair. I don't any more - this can go. Destination: Umm, could be saleable... maybe freecycle.
  3. Ribbons used in our wedding ceremony (it was a handfasting). I can't get rid of these! On the other hand, what's the point of keeping a bit of ribbon? I'll probably use it for something at some point. Destination: Sewing drawer.
  4. Press studs. Destination: Sewing basket.
  5. Bangles from Bengal. A friend gave me these, but they're too small. Destination: Give them to someone who might be able to wear them.
  6. Garden wire. Useful stuff, that. Destination: Greenhouse.
  7. (Ian said rude things when he saw this picture and refused to let me demonstrate its use) Massage roller. I'd like to keep this, but unless I can persuade Ian to join in, it's not much use. Destination: Umm, I dunno.
  8. Wire with in-line fuse holder, complete with fuse. This is a classic, "But it might be useful!" Deep breath now... Destination: Bin.
  9. Occarina in soft pouch. I bought this at a country fair when I was about eight. I may even have played it a bit at some point. I really should get rid of it, but... I've just found the tune book that goes with it! Destination: Umm...
  10. *Too much information alert* Mooncup. I had to change which type of pills I take several years ago, and haven't had periods since then, so I don't need this at the moment, but I'm hanging onto it in case I need it in the future. Destination: A drawer somewhere.
  11. Hair brush. Useful as spare and future replacement when one wears out. Destination: Bathroom cupboard.
  12. Pretty red cord. Destination: Sewing drawer (though it's just occurred to me that this could be ideal for knooking).
  13. Cloth for cleaning glasses. Destination: I think I stuck this in a drawer.
  14. Strap for mobile phone. It has one of those little clips for attaching it to a key ring. Those can be quite handy if you happen to need one. No, really. Destination: Some drawer somewhere.
  15. Handle and base of shaver (no shaving head). This isn't even mine, so I get out of making a decision on this one.
  16. I can't remember what came in this case, but it currently contains a couple of fabric flowers that I wore to my sister's wedding. I have since given away the dress that they went with. Destination: Bin. I'm keeping the case, though.
  17. Scrunchy. I don't wear these, but I might. Destination: Dressing table drawer.
  18. Toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste received on a long-haul flight. I can't remember where the flight was to, or even whether it was me doing the flying. However, a spare toothbrush and paste could be handy. Destination: Bathroom cupboard.
  19. Zip-lock case from same flight. One side is transparent. Useful for taking pens and things into the National Library and other such places where they like to see what you're carrying. Destination: Some drawer or other.
  20. Small plastic containers that once contained gloves for use with hair dye. I have one in my handbag with glucose sweets in it, but haven't managed to find any other uses for these. Destination: Bin.
  21. Plastic pieces of goodness-knows-what. Destination: Bin.
  22. American Express travellers cheques that I received in payment for taking part in some online study. I never got round to finding out how to put dollars in my bank account. This is ridiculous. Destination: Handbag.
  23. Cover for my last-but-one mobile phone. I don't think I used it even when I had the phone. Destination: Bin.
  24. Eye mask from aforementioned flight. Umm...
  25. Brushes for cleaning electric shavers and suchlike. Destination: Bin.
  26. Old receipt for petrol. Destination: Bin.
  27. Keys from my last-but-one house. Many were cut because the old lady who used to live there had a habit of buying them in the garden. These aren't going straight in the bin because we're planning to weigh in some scrap metal at some point soon. Destination: In a bag with old nails.
  28. Small purse, one of two, that came with a belt. I used the other one for keeping change for the car park in my car, until Ian cleared it out. Now if I could find that one it might be useful... Anyway, not throwing this away. Destination: Some drawer or other.
  29. Scented wipes. I say scented... they reek. Still, wipes are often handy when camping. Destination: Sponge bag.
  30. Old hanky that I used to practise some embroidery. This can resume its original function. Destination: Hanky box.
  31. Strip of muslin. Very useful for straining jams and suchlike. Destination: Kitchen cupboard.
  32. Reel of thread. Destination: Sewing basket.
  33. Nasal spray, out of date. Destination: Bin.
  34. Epilator. I don't use this because it gives me a rash (and hurts). We pinched its power supply for something else - electric keyboard, I think. Anyway, who'd want a second hand epilator? Destination: Bin.
  35. Battery from aforementioned mobile phone. The trouble with batteries is they're not very convenient to dispose of. Plenty of shops take them, but it's remembering to pick them up before you go out. We have rather a lot of dead batteries... this one's going to join them.

Some thoughts on clutter

I've had the draft of a post turning over in the back of my mind for a while now, called, In praise of clutter, but then Louisa set a decluttering challenge and I'm forced to admit that this would be really useful for me to do. So you see, my feelings on clutter are somewhat ambivalent.

Why on earth would anyone want to defend clutter? Pretty much by definition, clutter is excess stuff that gets in the way. We are bombarded with advice on how to declutter, the orthodoxy being that too much stuff is the bane of our affluent lives. This is my problem: It has become an orthodoxy, and this is particularly true amongst the simple living community. Now, I'm all for simple living and opting out of the consumerist treadmill. For me, shopping is a chore not a recreation and the latest new gizmo rarely holds any appeal.

So what is it about the decluttering movement that bothers me? I'm a hoarder by nature. I hang on to things not so much for sentimental reasons, but in case they might come in useful one day. I do have a lot of old junk and occasionally give in to the pressure to get rid of some of it. I always regret it shortly afterwards. I once looked in the boot of my car and and thought, I've never used those things - I don't even know what they're for, and threw them away. That included the jack. Luckily, by the time I had a flat tyre and needed it, I was with Ian, who not only had his own jack, but also knew how to use it.

Advice is always given in terms of how recently you last used the thing (example above: Never).Be merciless. If you haven’t used it in the last year, get rid of it. The last year?! I'm currently making a camera bag (ahem, yes, well, I really must get back to that project) from fabric that's been in my cupboard since I inherited it over twenty years ago! Even I admit that's a little extreme, but one year does seem a ridiculously short timescale. Is that just me?

I don't buy the idea that owning things uses up mental resources, either. Yesterday I was standing on a step ladder to paint the top of a wall and thought, This would be much easier if I used the other ladder. Then I couldn't remember when I'd last seen that other ladder. I asked Ian, Am I imagining it, or do we own another step ladder, that's shorter, with a table bit at the top? He looked baffled. Eventually I remembered - I used to own such a ladder, when I lived with my first husband. It must have gone with his share of our things (it's not just books and CDs you have to split). On that occasion, a ladder I no longer owned used up far more mental energy than it would have done if I'd still owned it.

Eco Cat Lady shared her revelation (it took me ages to find that again, and when I did, I see she used pretty much the same title as this post. I'm not copying, honest!) that nobody really owns anything. Stuff exists and we give it house space for a while. Why should we give up our precious space when the stuff could just as well go off and exist somewhere else? We could always go and get stuff when we need it. I tried this thought on for size. I turned it around in my head and pondered it a while, but I just couldn't make it fit. Eventually, I figured out why I didn't feel comfortable with this idea.

Having stuff stored elsewhere, to be got when needed, clashes with the idea of self sufficiency. Now, I hope I don't go as far as thinking of myself as an island, capable of meeting all needs without input from anyone else (even as an ideal - obviously not in practice) - I do value the interdependent nature of community - but the idea of self sufficiency is very appealing to me. When I'm thinking about what to have for dinner, my first thought is, What have I got in the garden? When I need a new set of shelves (to store all the junk that I can't bear to throw away - yes, I know), my first thought is, Do I have any suitable materials in the workshop?

I love having stuff available when I need it. I love reusing things that other people would throw away. I love the challenge of turning something into something else (as I write this, my husband reads to me from 2CVGB News, Laura Ashley fabric has cunningly turned four wheels into a pair of sturdy fireside pouffes - I think I could pick up some creative storage tips there!) Having to go and get stuff when needed takes either money or considerable time to find exactly what you need second hand (and still some money too, usually).

I remain an unrepentant hoarder!

But still, we do have too much stuff...

There are things we own that I definitely intend to get rid of: An electric hob that we took out of our last kitchen to replace with a gas one, toys bought for a party and not used again, many back issues of New Scientist that I'm never actually going to get round to re-reading... When we moved house we hired a 7.5 ton truck, and couldn't get all our stuff in it. At that point we agreed that we have too much stuff and must get rid of some. We've done nothing about it since, so Louisa's November decluttering challenge is the kick up the backside that I need. I'll write about it in a separate post, but the challenge has started. In the meantime I must go and fit an air vent into the floor and finish painting that room.