Sunday posts

Spiritual housekeeping

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Today I’m writing about how to enhance your wellbeing through looking outwards, with nine tried and tested techniques for relating to your community.

  1. Ask for advice. An example of this might be something as simple as approaching a neighbour who is a keen gardener for information about which plants grow most easily in your particular neighbourhood, or asking a well-groomed colleague about their hairdresser. Asking for such things builds personal links with others.
  2. Find excuses to do small favours. You might offer to keep an eye on a neighbour’s house while they are away, and let them come back to a bottle of milk in the fridge and a loaf of bread in the cupboard. Or donate surplus home grown flowers and vegetables to those around you.  Maybe babysit for someone has been cooped up with young children, so they can get out of the house. Favours do not always have to be reciprocal – they are worth doing even if they only add to the sum total of human kindness.
  3. Try throwing your house open especially if you are a busy working parent, to other people in the same situation from the local area now and then, for a glass of wine  and mutual conversation. Alternatively , organise a group meal out together. This way you can build and reinforce a sense of solidarity and community.
  4. Set up a food group so you can order supplies together and get a wholesale discount, or even share an allotment.
  5. Pot up cuttings from your garden or windowbox, and offer them to anyone who is developing a new flowerbed or  remodelling their own patch. Even a carefully nurtured shoot from a spider plant can be a love offering.
  6. Help maintain the pavements in bad weather by clearing your section, as well as those of any adjacent neighbours too frail to help. In summer, offer to trim back hedges or branches that might be bothering your neighbour.
  7. Give and receive lifts. For practical reasons, it’s often impossible to organise regular shared lifts to work, despite the relentless nagging we experience at the hand of large organisations obsessed by carbon reduction targets, invariably generated by those fortunate enough to be able to pootle up to work on a bicycle without a care in the world. However it is often useful to give and receive lifts to social events, for example, and this can be an easier goal.
  8. Share your cooking. Once you have a decent mealtime system going, it is comparatively easy to cook a little extra and make space at your table for a visitor, who might be a new person to the area, an local student, a recently arrived colleague from your workplace, or a new friend from your children’s school. Home cooking and socialising is often appreciated more than you might realise in these situations.
  9. Share your children. They don’t belong to us, they are just passing through. Help them bring joy to the lives of friends and older relatives, through thoughtful letters and visits, which can be short but regular. If your relatives don’t appreciate your children (and sadly some in our society seem to have lost the knack of interacting with them, and become unduly judgemental instead), then consider finding places where your children are appreciated and enjoyed, and spend some time there as well.

Image: kongsky /


Sunday night organisation

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I mentioned in an earlier post that  it can be useful to give your hair a careful blow dry on a Sunday night to boost morale and save time the next week. Here is a more extensive plan for Sundays to help you organise your time and effort so things are less stressful on a daily basis. Once you have got into the habit, the organisational part  should take you about at least 20-30 minutes in total and this is best done in the early evening. If you add the beauty and grooming regime to it, you need to add at least another 20-30 minutes (an alternative is to do this in two stages with beautification happening during your evening bath once the kids are in bed). 

To start this process, set up your ironing board near your clothes, and have a sewing kit and shoe cleaning kit close to hand. You will also need a notepad, pen, chequebook and envelopes, your diary and/or your smartphone, if you use one, and finally a laptop connected to the internet if possible.

DIARY – Look through and update your appointments for the week. Think about whether you need to book dental checkups, routine health screening  or hair appointments in the near future. Make sure you have completed any slips or cheques that need returning to school or elsewhere, and entered any trips or holiday information into your personal diary. Think about any pick up/drop off problems that might be looming, or times when it looks as though you might have too much on, and try to consider whether there might be some sort of workaround. This might involve making a couple of phone calls to organise sharing lifts with another parent or colleague, cancelling activities you are not completely committed to, or changing dates to a more convenient time. Remember, if there’s too much on, it is perfectly possible to slow time down so you are functioning more on your own terms.

TO DO LIST – Write out Monday’s to-do list, merging work and home commitments and prioritising them 1-4 (1=Urgent and important; 2= Urgent but less important; 3=Not urgent but important; 4=Not urgent and not particularly important).  This should be redone every evening ready for the next day ahead.

CLOTHES – Choose seven outfits, one for each day of the week, and assemble them onto hangers with all the accessories required. Check over the clothes and shoes to make sure they are clean, pressed and presentable, and in good repair (this is where the ironing board, shoe cleaning kit and sewing kit come in). Then line up the outfits at one end of your wardrobe ready for the week ahead, with the matching shoes if there is space. It is also sensible to check that you have enough pants and bras ready, including such refinements as nude coloured underwear that won’t show through light coloured clothing, as well as black bras when wearing dark tops with a neckline that slips, for example. You will need to check your stock of tights as well, to make sure that you have a pair for each outfit that requires them, as well as one or two spares in case the inevitable happens and you snag them with your nails as you are putting them on.  If you fund you are running low on regular cosmetics, sanitary protection or tights, you can order them in bulk online there and then to save time, if you have a laptop to hand.  Double check your children have enough underwear and school outfits/supplies for the week ahead as well.

Image: Ambro /

More money savers to try

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Here’s a few extra money saving tips you might like trying this spring.

1.Food collectives are a good thing to do. If you club together with other people from your street or school or whatever, you can legitimately buy food wholesale in bulk from Cash and Carry stores and the like, and then redistribute it amongst yourselves. Collective purchasing can really make a difference to food bills.

2. Land sharing and Guerrilla gardening is another thing to try, other words adopting a neglected piece of land and cultivating it. You might have to do this surreptitiously, but you might even get support from the local council or school to turn unused land into vegetable lots for people to take free fruit and vegetables from, including yourself.

3. Try a Friday night curry club. One night every week cook a different curry together with a few other people or families in large quantities, so it works out cheap per head, plus you get a bit of social interaction as well.

4. Approved Food is great for staples. You can buy food that is past the best before date with big discounts from this website. It’s still perfectly safe to eat.

Towards a history of Home Economics

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In this blog, I write about historic housekeeping techniques updated for the modern age. However it’s most emphatically not a history research paper, so the original versions are subsumed within my text, and it’s hard to know where the real roots are. Therefore this post is the first of a series that will help you find out more about the history of how Home Economics (also sometimes called Home Management or Domestic Economy) came to pass, and where I have been getting my inspiration from over the years. You might be interested to know that it’s currently a research field in its own right, and if any active researchers are logging on, I’d really be intrigued to see comments about what you are working on at the moment, and what you think about the blog.

For those of us in the UK educated before the introduction of the National Curriculum in the early 1990s, we probably think of Home Economics as involving the production of desultory soggy biscuits and bizarre items of knitwear while our male compatriots were off making mug trees. However what is often forgotten is that there has been a long history of women engaging in the subject at university, particularly in the US. Indeed, Home Economics courses offered such women a foot in the door of many hallowed institutions of higher learning, where previously they might have been unwelcome. In this way, Home Economics paved the way for more academic engagement with learning today for women. This website tells you how this happened at Cornell University, and gives a rich account of the history.

Open Vegetable Gardens Day

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Local author Anna Sugden inviting visitors to view her sweetcorn, carefully interwoven with flowering plants. You can read more about her work at

Today was a big day for local amateur gardeners and allotment owners, as they tentatively allowed visitors in to see their work, all to raise money for gardening tools for the local primary school. It’s rather like the National Gardens Scheme for people who can’t be bothered to have a perfectly manicured lawn, but care more about sustainability instead. We joined in the fun by descending on our neighbours, Anna and Keith Sugden, who have transformed their walled garden into a tribute to creative gardening, in true cottage garden style. Every bed is brimming with flowering plants carefully interspersed with edible delights, so that Anna and Keith can eat something picked from their garden every single day. We ended up making several visits, and many of Anna’s fine  fairy cakes were scoffed by the family, as I fantasised at length about introducing this philosophy to our own garden. something every keen Austerity Housekeeping fan should consider doing. My husband paled somewhat at the thought of the digging, but he’s a good sport, so I am hopeful.

We then made a visit to a hidden orchard at the other end of the village. I have passed this house most days I have lived in the area, and I had no idea that it had a two-acre orchard nestling behind it. There was a combination of fruit trees planted between the 1920s and the 1960s, and a beehive at the back, and local community orchards can borrow the owners’ apple press for a small charge each autumn. This proved to be a great inspiration to us as there is currently a drive to found our own community orchard with historic varieties of Cambridgeshire apples. Watch this space.

For keen cottage garden fans, I’m posting more pictures with key Austerity friendly features below:

Old garden chair upcycled, with a port bottle holder brought back into service as a geranium planter

Every inch of the garden is brimming with espalier fruit trees, colourful bedding plants, fruits, herbs and vegetables, all placed carefully to maximise the space.
Another neighbour made shopping bags for sale, using scraps of fabric leftover from other projects.