Austerity Housekeeping eBook FREE on Amazon on September 6 and 7, 2015

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If you want to download the book version of this blog, so you can wander around with it on your phone or whatever, Amazon are now offering it for free from about 1200 GMT on Sunday, September 6 for about 24 hours. After that it goes back to the usual price of £1.99/$2.99 USD.

You can read it on a Kindle, iPad, iPhone or PC just by downloading the Kindle App, which is free. If you do download the book, it would be great if you could leave a review on the Amazon site. Every review helps to build the Austerity community.

We’re currently in talks regarding a US version of the book, so if you would like to know more about this, or have any topics you would like to see covered, please get in touch.


The Staycation

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We know it’s a trend when every women’s magazine has an article on it. The current fashion in taking holidays is therefore the ‘staycation’. I am not entirely sure what this means, and whether there’s even a consensus, but reading between the lines, it seems as though it can be one of two things. Firstly, it can mean staying in the UK rather than travelling overseas, in order to avoid unnecessary expense or travel hassle, or similar. It is not always an economical option, despite what you might expect, as often it can be just as expensive for a family to stay in an undistinguished B and B in a remote part of Dorset as travelling to somewhere more exotic, particularly if you are clued up enough to swap homes with someone overseas.  The other meaning of the word is to stay at home and go on little trips, seeing and doing a lot of things that you might not have time to engage in normally. That is the approach this post is going to take. (After reading it, you might also want to look in the Polls category to vote on what your holiday plans might be this year. Look in the column on the right of the screen to find it).

Designing a successful staycation based at home probably takes as much work as planning and booking a foreign holiday, if not more. The key is to think constantly about what you can do that is actually different, in order to make it feel like a holiday, and offer some relaxation. Consider some of the following.

  • Actually swap bedrooms. The children can move around into each others’ rooms, or even share rooms a la sleepover for a change, with sleeping bags if necessary . If you are lucky enough to have extra space, parents can even sleep in their own guest room, which might even have been prepared specially for the occasion hotel-style. This might involve a bit of decorating or tidying up, fresh flowers, supplies of glossy magazines and upmarket beauty products in sample sized bottles, and a drinks/snacks tray. Failing the presence of a guest room, try upgrading your normal bedroom in the same way.
  • Change meal times and typical patterns, and consider having a late brunch every day, afternoon cream teas, and so on.
  • Fill the freezer with ice lollies, preferably home made.
  • Try themed meal nights chosen by family vote – Mexican, BBQ, Italian, etc. Or you could rent DVDs from your local library and have film nights with microwave popcorn, hot dogs, and that ideally rare but necessary treat, an occasional can of Coke.
  • Make maximum use of your nearest leisure centre or gym/hotel with swimming pool and day guest facilities. They often go very quiet in August and it might be possible to buy a three day or weekly pass relatively cheaply and go there on a daily basis.
  • Try a family treasure hunt with a pretty decent prize of some kind. Put clues all around the house and garden so that the children will have to make a bit of effort working out the answers.
  • Take the children on mystery tours of the local area, imagining what you might show a visitor from overseas if they materialised on your doorstep. Children are capable of great feats of sightseeing endurance if they get a couple of quid to spend in the gift shop at the end and a scone in the cafe, and even though there can be moaning at the time, it’s amazing how much they take in. However they are cunning and won’t let you know this until years later.
  • Consider travelling around all the relatives you like best on a kind of Grand Tour, to catch up and reinforce family ties. It doesn’t have to be Christmas to organise a get together.
  • Invite other people (or their children) to stay at yours, if you like being a host.

Image: Graham Maddrell /

Tips for larger family living

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There’s been a lot of coverage in the news over the last few weeks about large US families, and it’s fair to say that many people are curious about how they run, hence the popularity of TV programmes such as ’19 kids and counting’. Glossing over the many and various religious and political agendas flying around (I coirish-600uld write at least ten polemical posts on all of that, but I won’t), in this post I’d like to peel back the layers a bit of our own household.

We often have anything up to eight people around at home at any one time, and all this needs a careful hand at the tiller in order to prevent chaos. Here are ten ways larger families streamline life to make more time for the important things, such as hanging out with the kids.

1. Try not to do more laundry in a day that you can wash, dry and put away. This avoids your home looking like a refugee camp.

2. If your house looks like a tip, go around with an empty laundry basket and pick up all the rogue items lying around in the wrong place, and put them in it. Then make one of the kids put it all away. Pay them to do this if necessary.

3. If you find a room hard to tidy up, you either have too much stuff or not enough shelving. Sort out either or both of those to remove mess and related energy drain.

4. Children do not need to attend dozens of expensive clubs in order to mature properly, with parents driving them around like wannabe Uber chauffeurs. To simplify children’s extra-curricular lives, allow everyone a maximum of one after school music activity and one sports activity a week, preferably in similar times and locations, and that’s it. If these can take place at their school at minimal cost, so much the better. If they don’t want to do extra-curricular activities, that’s fine. Let them just play out with their friends after school.

5. Your home is not a restaurant. Allow people to eat three square meals a day, the same food at the same time, then the kitchen is closed. No grazing, no picking, no making of mess. If people are hungry between meals, direct them to the fruit bowl, or if they are teenagers or sporty people, allow them to make toast as long as they clear up afterwards. You will save money and a lot of time cleaning if you are suitably draconian about this. It also becomes easier to manage your children’s weight and nutritional intake properly.

6. Specify quiet hours where people need to keep noise and music down in order for everyone to get enough rest. Ours are 9pm to 7am, for example. Yours will depend on the ages of your children, working hours and so on.

7.  When there are a few things that are getting annoying, such as acts of selfishness or rule breaching, we call a family meeting. Everyone sits around the table, we all get refreshments, and we have an agenda. We discuss the points of annoyance and agree a way forward. We then sign a short agreement confirming what has been said.  It works miracles, frankly.

8. If children repeatedly get in trouble with school for forgetting homework, uniform, PE kit, lunch money and so on, make them responsible for the consequences rather than you. After alerting the school to your cunning plan, supply them with a list of what is required on which day, and stick it up somewhere obvious. Do not run into school with forgotten items for them. Allow them to get into trouble and get detentions if necessary. They will soon work out what they need to remember. If you mention this at a parents’ evening consultation, any teacher will back you up. Teachers love nothing more than children learning to take responsibility for their own stuff, supported by parents.

9. There’s a lot to be said for keeping a Box of Last Resort to hand. You can find out how to create one here.

10. When the going gets tough, the tough go out for a family walk. Many arguments and difficulties are caused by sitting around the house too much. Fresh air followed by a hot chocolate or a cup of tea can solve a lot of problems.

Let the sunshine in

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As the sunshine starts to stream in through your windows, you might start to think of doing some spring cleaning to make sure your house is well maintained. How you do this will depend on the style and layout of your house, but the main areas you will need to concentrate on are probably as follows.

Bookcases – Take out all the books and ornaments, and dust the shelves. Dust the books all over very carefully before replacing.  Take advantage of this process to declutter and rearrange your things.

Carpets – Use a special carpet shampoo or soapy water to remove individual stains. Pull out all the furniture and hoover behind and underneath. Consider using a carpet cleaning machine or wet/dry vacuum cleaner on as many areas as possible.

Furniture – Hoover hidden crevices in sofas and chairs. Feed leather furniture with special leather balm.  Varnished furniture should be cleaned with smear-free silicon polish and brought to a shine with a duster. Polished, unvarnished furniture needs feeding with a beeswax spray polish or a specialist beeswax product.

Switches and sockets – Spray some polish onto a duster (not directly onto the electrical fitting) and wipe away fingerprints. Run cloth along the top to remove dust and dirt.

Walls –Hoover away cobwebs and dust. Then if the wall is painted, wash with a solution of washing up liquid and water, before polishing dry. Or even consider repainting if it’s very tired.

Windows – These can be easily cleaned with a microfibre cloth and a spray bottle of water, and a lot of elbow grease. However if you live near a main road, you may need to tackle outside windows with a solution of washing up liquid and water before rinsing carefully and then polishing to a shine. It’s not usually a good idea to clean windows in sunny weather as they tend to go streaky.

Woodwork – Using a damp cloth, wipe with cream cleanser and then rinse it off, concentrating on any areas with lots of fingermarks. Polish dry.

Stock up your present cupboard

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With a lot of sales on at the moment, it’s a good time to start thinking about autumn birthday presents and parties and stocking up your supplies. This means you won’t end up spending more than you need to on a last minute present in a panic. Here are some gifts for under-fives that hopefully won’t duplicate existing toys and which only cost a couple of quid. Remember to stock up on wrapping paper and cheap cards at the same time!

One-year-olds – Card books, posting and stacking toys, balls, simple bucket and spade set for the local sandpit.

Two-year-olds – Colourful sports drinking bottles, fizzy bath tablets, character bubble bath or bath foam, flap books.

Three-year-olds – Small models of knights, princesses or animals, Lego minifigures, toy cars, bubble blowers.

Four-year-olds – Simple card games, stickers, colouring books and crayons, craft kits.

Five-year-olds – Novelty swimming goggles, fancy dress accessories, character mugs and socks.

Image: jscreationzs /

Making an entrance

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As far as hall furnishings are concerned, you know you want to make something of a statement, but you are often working in a limited space, so between you and me,  the minimum requirement is probably:

  • A peg for each person’s coat(s) – consider having a lower level peg rail as well to encourage young children to hang up their coats and school bags consistently, especially if you shine a light on it (Feng Shui says).
  • A place to put a wet umbrella or store dry ones ready to grab on the way out.
  • A place to put really muddy shoes or boots from those rosy cheeked rambles gathering wild food (see my posts later in the year about this).
  • A place to stand the phone, along with a phone book. It might also be worth having a notice board over the top with a section for each family member so they are encouraged to remember things. An A4 diary is also very useful, to enter events and phone messages, and you can clip notices and invitations to the correct day so they don’t get lost. This last tip has transformed our family life, by the way.
  • A full length mirror so you can check your outfit on the way out. This also makes the area look larger, and oddly enough it will encourage you to keep trim and groomed.
  • A mat to wipe your feet on to save the carpets.  If you want to be really continental, make everyone take their outdoor shoes off and change into slippers when they come into the house.
  • Now here’s a clever one. Possibly have a gadget to assess how much electrical power your house is using, such as a whole house watt meter (various models are already on the market, and in future it may even be possible do this over the internet, with a digital meter). This can encourage the family to think about what their multiple appliances left on standby are costing the family purse, for example, and whether there are more environmentally friendly ways of behaving, which can’t be bad. It can also help you judge on the way out whether you have turned everything off. (While I am on the subject of saving power, I should say here that you probably want to set your central heating thermostat in winter to 18-20 degrees if at all possible, but I have been know to sneak our up to 22 degrees when working from home. Don’t tell, or the eco police will probably drag me off or something).

It’s worth dusting and vacuuming in here once a week, as well as shaking out the doormat (wearing a frilly Cath Kidston apron while doing this is optional, of course). If you have a buggy to consider, think about whether it’s worth foregoing glamorous expensive models (what I might call vanity buggies in a less charitable moment) and just having a cheap stroller in the hall that folds up and can hang on a peg (Silver Cross is my current favourite for value). This is likely to be much better for morale over the three or four years you will be using it than your entire household clambouring over a huge pantechnicon of a thing every time they need to get to the door. The same goes for bicycles – they can be mounted on clever racks that pull up to the ceiling, or folding version can be put away in a cupboard. Love your hall, don’t fight it.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn /