Making a home

£144 a week tax free? Rent out your spare room(s)

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rentalIf you are feeling the pinch financially after the Christmas holidays, there are a few things that you can do to raise extra funds but if you have the space, renting out a room is likely to make the most difference to the housekeeping budget, as it’s effectively cash in hand. This is because the Inland Revenue has revised the Rent a Room scheme so that you can now make £7500 a year tax free (£144 a week) from renting furnished spare rooms in your main home (i.e. you have to be living in it). The details are here: https://www.gov.uk/rent-room-in-your-home/the-rent-a-room-scheme.

In terms of preparing for your lodger, you might have a suitable room already that requires minimal expense to set up. This is ideal, but if not, start with a fresh coat of light coloured, neutral paint and some neutral, thermally lined curtains from a shop such as Dunelm. These £15.99 ones are in the sale in their shortest version  http://www.dunelm.com/product/cream-toledo-thermal-pencil-pleat-curtains-1000014042 but floor-length ones always look classier (even if they do block the heat from radiators a bit).

Then you need to ensure there is sufficient good quality furniture, and here, if you can’t repurpose things from the rest of the house, or find things on Ebay or in charity shops that work, Argos is your friend, because their things can be good value for money and their customer service is so excellent it kicks IKEA into the long grass, along with their Express Delivery options. Today, the code FURN15 entered at checkout will get you a discount of 15% as well (Argos periodically runs discounts of this type, by the way). This £89.99 white, Shaker-style Aspley bed comes in different sizes and gets excellent reviews; http://www.argos.co.uk/product/4989622. There is an optional under-bed drawer for £39.99 if the bedroom is really tight for storage space. Then Argos sell good quality £189 foam mattresses, which are delivered rolled up for rapid and simply delivery – you just need to let them expand and air for 48 hours after delivery. The Dormeo Antigua hybrid single mattress is excellent and again gets rave reviews – we have one at home and were delighted with it. http://www.argos.co.uk/product/4291107 It also comes with a free pillow but we gave that away as it was a bit high. You don’t have to provide any bedding or towels if you don’t want to – that can be the responsibility of the lodger.

In addition, your lodger will need a wardrobe, so you might want to look at the new £87.99 Malibu one, which has small drawers as well as a hanging space http://www.argos.co.uk/product/5609712. Finally, a bedside table, lamp and chair will all be appreciated. If you don’t have anything that matches already, try the half price Osaka £29.99 bedside table with three drawers (extra storage) https://www.argos.co.uk/product/5488696, the reduced £4.49 ColourMatch lamp in cream http://www.argos.co.uk/product/9103056 and so your lodger can relax in the evening, this £79.99 Bentwood chair with matching footstool and integral magazine holder (extra storage again) http://www.argos.co.uk/product/5717336.

Once all these are in, your room will look very bland, but airy, and you can decide whether you want to style it more artistically with accent colours such as dark blue or wine red, or whether you prefer to leave it for your lodger to make their own mark. If your budget permits, you can also put in useful items such as a wall-mounted flat screen TV, bookcase, additional chair, coffee table, and so on, or a desk and chair if you are having students lodge with you. A large cork pinboard is also very useful in terms of discouraging Blu-tack on walls and subsequent redecoration. A row of hooks on the wall or on the back of the door is great for coats/bathrobes, and a steel towel airer on the radiator good for them to dry their towels and little bits of washing. This one is sufficiently classy http://www.argos.co.uk/product/4615604

So a budget of £500 would allow you to decorate and fit out the room in an appealing style that would look good in letting photographs and allow the lodger to enjoy the basics, leaving you to make up to £7000 from rent. (Outside expensive cities, you might only make half of this, so you might want to consider that and budget a bit less accordingly for redecorating your room, but a light, airy room means a fast let and few voids).

 

 

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Planning for Christmas 2 – Decorations

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It’s pretty straightforward to decorate your house so it looks welcoming and festive without going mad in the artificial environment of the Christmas displays in department stores. Try these suggestions for cheap and cheerful displays.

  • Popcorn chains – Follow an air-popped popcorn recipe  and thread pieces onto a long red thread. These can be draped over Christmas trees or hung in windows.
  • Gingerbread ornaments – Make up a batch of gingerbread dough and cut out using Christmas cutters, making a hole at the top before baking ready for a ribbon to be threaded through later on. You can also ice them with coloured writing icing once they are cooled.
  • Paper chains – Cut strips of coloured paper so they are about 15-20cm long. Make a loop of the first one, and glue closed with Pritt stick. Thread a second strip through this, and close the loop with Pritt stick once again. Carry on until the chain is long enough to hang across a room. Several of them can be used for a more elaborate effect. Children often enjoy helping to make these.
  • Cinammon sticks – Tie bundles of cinnamon sticks together with ribbon and use to adorn Christmas trees, by securing with craft wire.
  • Snow – Using the cheapest cotton wool you can lay your hands on, stretch in the window to create the effect of snow. This also works for cobwebs around Halloween time.
  • Snowflakes – This is another good project for children. Cut white or silver paper into squares about 15cmx15cm, and then fold into quarters. Cut an arc around the edge so you get a circle, and then snip out little pieces around the edge and on the folds so that when you open it out you get a snowflake pattern. These look good on the Christmas tree.
  • Wreaths – Make a loop of chicken wire, and then tie evergreens  and clusters of berries from the garden onto it, until the wire is obscured. You can also use florist’s wire or a hot glue gun to secure things like apples, nuts, oven dried slices of orange, and cinnamon sticks. Spray with hairspray to preserve the wreath (which will need keeping away from fire afterwards). Then add a wide tartan ribbon at the top to make a hanging loop.

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.

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 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to Adapt Your Garden in Periods of Austerity

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book

I have recently come across a really terrific gardening book from the Second World War period, written by Richard Sudell, and while most of it was fairly predictable, there was a excellent chapter on ‘How to Adapt Your Garden in Wartime’, that has some relevance for this blog. I’m therefore looking at the chapter here to see what we can glean about what they call ‘cropping’ round where I live. The idea of gardening wearing a shirt and tie also appeals to me; this is a phenomenon we see in many early DIY books as well. In those days, clearly Britain Had Standards.

First of all, the garden it appears to be based on is large by modern standards (100ft by 35ft), and unless you live in the middle of nowhere, or are lucky enough to live in a house build before 1960, I doubt you’ll have enough space for most of their ideas. He also regards the average family as having 4-5 people, which again is large for present times. However it is possible to work from the same principles and develop a productive garden that might not meet all your food needs, but which will let you harvest something fresh and tasty to eat most days of the summer and early autumn.

Richard starts by suggesting you allocate half to two-thirds of the garden to the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, leaving an area with flowers and shrubs near where you are planning to sit, and near the bits of the garden you see most closely to the house. He also suggests widening the beds and reducing the size of the lawn so you can also grow flowers for cutting fairly easily (garden flowers rather than shop-bought flowers being a staple of this blog, so obviously we approve of that idea). I would add to his advice that there might be a case for losing the lawn completely, as they are high maintenance and the space might be put to better purpose with other things, but if you have football playing children this will be regarded as sacrilegious.

You then lay out your garden  with gravel paths near the house (I would recommend putting landscape matting underneath gravel to stop weeds poking through, by the way), and grass paths in the vegetable area. In the vegetable patch he recommends growing potatoes, cabbage, beans and so on as staples to last you through the year. In addition he suggests adding fruit trees and bushes, and having a good compost pit. A small greenhouse will allow you to raise seedlings (vegetables being cheapest when they are grown from seed), early vegetables, salads, and also force rhubarb (probably the easiest plant to grown in the country, and when you put a cover over it, you get early tender pale stalks that are delicious in a rhubarb fool (recipe in the Austerity Housekeeping eBook if you need it).

He goes further and suggests your Anderson Air Raid shelter might make a good chicken coop ‘on the intensive system’. Please could any readers of this blog discovering an Anderson shelter in their back garden, and who are planning to try this, get in touch immediately as the television production company I word with will most likely be both flabbergasted and impressed enough to send out a cameraman to record it for posterity. From the way this chapter reads, it appears you would be bedding down with the chickens should Jerry fly overhead, so I wonder if he was implying the chicken stage of development would be better achieved after the war.

Now in relation to the actual vegetable patch, you apparently need to divide it into three portions.

  • Greens (cabbages, sprouts, cauliflowers)
  • Legumes and root crops (peans, beans, carrots)
  • Potatoes

You also need a section for salads such as lettuce, celery, onions, small herbs and so on.

The beds are divided this way as each year you will need to rotate the crops, or in other words, only grow vegetables in the same bed once every three years. This is a method of avoiding pests and diseases, and not exhausting the soil. You’ll also need to feed the soil regularly with good compost from your pit, and he also recommends using an incinerator for burning garden waste to create good potash as extra soil nutrition.

Other additions from the Sudell book – a shallow pond can apparently become a watercress bed. I would never have thought of that. Also growing fruit up trellises and walls/fences is a real option to save space.

Overall it’s lovely to come across gardening books like these, as they take us back to a time when the craft of gardening was done in a more earthy way, working from basics, rather than the present convention of going to a garden centre and filling a massive trolley with expensive seedlings and plants somebody else has reared for you. I have a feeling that in the Sudell garden, growing your own fruit and vegetables might even be economical compared to that, which is presumably how he could afford to garden in a shirt and tie.

Incidentally, if you want a copy of this book for yourself, Ebay has several for sale at the moment.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?_kw=practical+gardening+food+production

 

Weekly cleaning schedule

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The following grid lays out a typical cleaning schedule for a family with a couple of school-aged children once again, with one parent around for an hour or two during the day and able to do some cleaning.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
1. Remove bedclothes and put clean ones on
2. Wash  bedclothes (take them out of the tumble drier as soon as they are ready, and fold them, to reduce ironing time) 

– wash whites at 60C with whites washing powder and fabric conditioner

– wash light coloureds at 40C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

– wash dark coloureds at 30C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

Note: All laundry can be done at 30C if there are no stains, to be more environmentally friendly.

3. Put away  bedclothes neatly in airing cupboard
4. Dust and vacuum bedrooms, including underneath and behind beds
5. Vacuum mattresses once every month or two to prevent dust mite building up
6. Launder duvets and pillows at least once a year, preferably on a hot summer’s day when you can get it all outside to dry easily
7. Empty bedroom bins
Tuesday
1. Dust and vacuum living room (including windowsills, sofas, tables, TV unit, and tops of cupboards)
2. Throw away any dead flowers and water plants
3. Tidy toys, bookshelves and insides of cupboards as necessary
Wednesday
Big clean of family bathroom and downstairs WC
– clean bath, toilet, sinks
– clean shower, shower screen and mirrors
– clean taps (using descaler if necessary)
– make sure there is spare toilet roll and soap
– change towels and flannels and launder old ones
– dust tops of cabinets
– hoover and mop floors
– empty bins
Thursday
1. Wash your clothes – to prevent a washing mountain, only get as much washing going in one day as you can wash, dry, fold/iron and put away that day, or at the very latest the next.
2. Take everything out of the tumble drier as soon as it is ready, and fold it all, straightaway to reduce ironing time to practically zero) 

– wash whites at 60C with whites washing powder and fabric conditioner

– wash light coloureds at 40C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner, Consider using colour catcher sheets for mixed washes.

– wash dark coloureds at 30C with coloureds washing powder and fabric conditioner

Note: All laundry can be done at 30C if there are no stains, to be more environmentally friendly.

3. Big clean of kitchen
– clean oven using cream cleanser on washing up sponge (if reasonable) or oven cleaning gel (if bad)
– clean hob with cream cleanser, or use a special blade if it is ceramic
– wipe extractor fan with cream cleanser on washing up sponge, and rinse off
– Wipe worktops and tiles, including behind toaster, microwave, kettle, etc.
– Hoover bits off floor and then mop
– Polish sink and taps, using descaler if necessary
– Empty bin, wipe down outside and put in new bin bag
– clean tops of cupboard and light switches at least twice a year
Friday
1. Wash, dry and put away children’s clothes
2. Do any mending that’s needed
3. Iron some of the children’s clothes if necessary and make sure there is enough uniform ready for next week.

Bathing beauty

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Lots of people contact me for details about how to get on top of their cleaning, and over the course of a few posts, I am going to sum up some of the main hints and tips. The first hint is that if you spend two minutes wiping around the taps, sink and toilet every day, it will never get too revolting in a bathroom, even if there are a lot of menfolk and teenage girls in the house (I name no names here). On top of this, all you need to keep a bathroom really clean is a weekly session using some bleach and cream cleanser for the toilet, a spray water bottle and a microfibre cloth for polishing tiles, ceramics and mirrors, and occasionally some descaler if you are in a hard water area. Use separate gloves, cleaning cloths and drying towels for the toilet and sink/bath/shower, and remember to clean the area at the base of the toilet and the pedestal to the sink, as a lot of unsightly drips end up there.  To clean the toilet properly you will need to get right in with a pair of rubber gloves on, and a non-scratch scouring sponge, as well as some cleansing cream, doing the top of the s-bend as well as around the rim where the water comes in. Dabbing at the thing with an old toilet brush like an effete 18th century fencing master just won’t do the job, I am afraid.

In terms of equipping the bathroom, in an ideal world every family member should have his or her own peg or rail with a bath towel, flannel and hand towel ready to hand. In real life, people tend to share these items, which makes the laundry easier, but which transmits yukky tummy bugs and threadworms amongst family members, so it’s best avoided.  There should also be separate tooth mugs, regularly cleaned, and possibly even separate toothpastes to avoid arguments about who left off the lid (and so you can measure how much a reluctant tooth cleaner is actually using, mwah hah hah!). It’s all a question of space and practicality.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net