Hardcore Housewiffery: the make-do edition


I’m really getting into this housewiffery thing!

Okay, my garden is a frightful mess and my house isn’t perfect (although it’s a heck of a lot better than it probably ever has been before), but more to the point I’m managing to get through most days without painstorms (touch wood).

I am working towards building up my reserves of strength and energy,  using the pacing principle. Instead of doing a heap of work then collapsing, which I’m afraid is my natural tendency, I’m trying to do something for a short time then – and the crucial part here is before I actually feel tired – stop it and do something else.

Harder than it sounds! We’re all used to working away until something makes us think: oh, okay, that’s probably enough now. It is really, really hard to interrupt a pleasant activity before this point. There are really no cues to work from. I’m basically guessing half the time, and then there’s the frustration factor.

Working from one of the principles they taught us at the JUMP course, ‘always something, never nothing’, I’m not giving in to lengthy resting. But I am trying to alternate between restful activities and energy-draining activities.

Restful activities don’t always involve meditating, taking a bath or a quick lie down – although I do those things. But they also include activities that I find pleasantly non-draining, such as cooking or walking Darling Dog. The more active stuff involves exercising, and working in the garden. Yes, I have started to do small amounts of garden work. I have worked out what I can get done without feeling sore or tired, and am doing a bit every day. My muscles, apart from the inevitable strong pain during the exercise, have that pleasant stiffness that you get when you’re actually using them properly.

And the really painful stuff – writing – I still do in tiny amounts. So it’s getting harder to blog, and longer to finish a blog, so I hope you forgive me. This post, in fact, has taken me three days so far! And I still managed to overdo it a few times.

I have noticed that I generally feel a bit calmer. I am not doing The Thing quite so badly as usual, and when I do start doing it, I’m quicker to realise and distract myself with things I love. I’m working away quietly at homemade Christmas pressies which is very theraputic.

And something else has happened too. For as long as I recall, my blood pressure has been smack bang in the middle of normal, and practically nothing has ever shifted it. *

My blood pressure has been so stable I think sometimes various medical people find it a bit boring. But my doctor was recently slightly diverted by the fact that for the first time, it has gone down without me needing to knock my own foot off. It is currently officially low.

I was so surprised I blurted out ‘Is that bad?’ My doctor reassured me that it probably isn’t. She thought it might be because I am experiencing so much less anxiety and pain. She could be right.

I have noticed that on Sunday afternoons I still start to become anxious and a bit fearful (meaning I’m usually pretty tired and sore on Monday morning). Even though I know logically I’m not about to endure a week’s worth of mounting pain, my body still remembers and reacts. Old habits etc. We’ll see how long it takes for that one to settle down!

This week I’ve challenged myself to start some new habits.

Being at home most of the time, I’ve started to become aware of how quickly those rubbish and recycling bins fill. It’s incredible, really, and quite disturbing to realise how much we’ve been contributing to landfill. We didn’t think of ourselves as particularly wasteful. We thought we were being fairly sensible about things.

But I think we could do a whole lot better. So my challenge this week is to see how much less stuff I can chuck out.

This isn’t a new thing at all, is it? I know during the second world war, loads of housewiffs challenged themselves to ‘Make Do and Mend‘, and to collect as much reusable household waste as possible, towards the war effort.

make do

I’m not actually planning to mend the Captain’s trousers while he’s still wearing them. Except in very exceptional circumstances.

There has been a re-emergence of interest in the reduce, reuse, recycle thing, of course. It’s positively trendy. ** But in spite of that, I think it’s worth putting some effort into it. Save money, save the environment etc.

Of course, there are pitfalls. I may or may not be related to some people who developed a habit of saving stuff during the war, and as a result have taken on certain packrat-like qualities. There is reducing waste, and then there is obsessively hoarding it, and keeping towers of old cartons, and entire drawers full of rotting rubber bands and string.

So much packaging comes into our homes at the moment, that if we kept everything that is potentially reusable, we would spend our lives awkwardly wedged between tottering piles of plastic containers, old milk cartons, newspapers and the like.

The trick is to balance keeping what I can, with accepting the inevitable: that some stuff will still make it into the recycling bin.

recycling bin

Not forgetting about you, buddy.

I have already done the week’s grocery shopping, and realised that by doing all my fresh food shopping away from the Bad Place, we are bringing a heap less rubbish into the house. Sure the meat still comes in plastic bags, but at least it isn’t also packaged into those foam or plastic trays. Those stack up.

Also, the veggies just come in lovely piles and the people I buy them from are more than happy for me not to shove them all into plastic bags, but tumble them into my basket bagless.

(Slightly odd confession: when I do put veg into plastic bags, I have been experimenting with washing the bags out and drying them outdoors so they can be reused. Yes, I know that is very slightly obsessive and pack-ratty, but I will throw them out as they get too old, and at least it means I always have a clean plastic bag to put that head of lettuce into. And I can take them shopping with me. Too weird?)

Re-using decent quality plastic and glass containers has proven fairly easy so far. I am always needing a clean jar for my salad dressings, so I can shake them up instead of whisking them (easier on my poor arthritic hands). I can buy dry ingredients in bulk and decant them into jars and containers to store in the pantry.

Thanks to a good clear-out I now have some room to store clean empty bottles, jars and cartons. I figure that when the cupboard is full, it’s a sign to use it up before keeping any more. Avoid excessive packrattery.

One of the largest bulks of waste is generated when I clean out the Darling Birdroom. I end up with plenty of newspaper covered in bird poo. Surely this must be okay to pop in the compost bin – or is it too much? There is no way I’m putting poo-covered newspaper through the shredder. Your advice would be most welcome here – I’m not bucolic enough to know this stuff.

I also need to know what to do with those old egg cartons. The clean ones I can return to be refilled (hooray!) But sometimes the eggs crack in the cartons and they get covered in egg-white, or they get dirty in other ways. So they are probably not reusable as egg storage.

Can I shred and compost those too? Ideas please!

One thing that has been working out is making some of my own stuff for cleaning my home and myself. Surface cleaner, floor cleaner, shampoo and body wash, that sort of thing.

Sadly, that kind of thing is uber-trendy too. *** The interwebs are full of adorable, pastel or soft, natural-tinted blogs, rotten with words like ‘earth mother’ and ‘natural’ and ‘pure living’ and so forth, featuring heaps of lovely soft-focus photos of pearly-looking liquids in quirky glass bottles with those chalkboard hanging labels (kill me now), being offered towards the camera in perfectly-manicured youthful white hands. You know who you are.

You really don’t see too many photos of homemade floor cleaner in old plastic mineral water bottles, I can tell you.

The thing that really makes me sigh and apply head forcefully to desk, are the breathy claims that these goods are ‘chemical-free‘. I’m not even joking, I have officially found recipes for cleaning products that purport to be free of chemicals (and we’re not talking elbow grease, here). Incredible.

There seems to be a bit of a movement to blame all sorts of ills on ‘chemicals’ and ‘toxins’, without too much explanation (or understanding) of how these things actually work. Some look up ingredients of things like toothpaste on food or drug standards websites and then reveal in panic that these ingredients are ‘known to be toxic’ or can ’cause illness’. Ignoring the fact that pretty much anything, in a high enough concentration, is likely to be toxic. I can tell you, I would not attempt to drink that bottle of white vinegar I use for cleaning!

bad chemicals


Mwahahaha my life’s work! Vinegar! Ready to be unleashed on the foolish masses!

Sure, there are things I wouldn’t like too much exposure to, and it is genuinely worthwhile knowing what is in stuff, roughly, and where it comes from, and whether it is useful or pointless. Without hopefully being too dramatic about it.

But I have a more solid reason for deciding to use some of these recipes to make my own stuff. It’s a lot cheaper, and wastes less packaging.

Lucky for me, that I have time to put into my cleaning, and the ability to use my body to do the work. Elbow grease is a great cleaning product (and it’s chemical-free! snigger) so combining it with cheap things such as bicarb, vinegar and washing soda, which I can buy and store in bulk, means big savings over supermarket cleaning products. Buying in bulk means I can re-use my old containers and I end up throwing less rubbish in the bin.

i do the same with my body wash and stuff. I have worked out that by buying the ingredients in bulk and mixing smaller quantities when I want them, a bottle of body wash or shampoo costs less than $3.

(It would cost more if you stored it in expensive posh glass bottles, sourced from Etsy, complete with adorable, quirky shabby-chic hanging labels. But speaking for myself, I don’t want glass bottles in my shower, so I re-use my old plastic shampoo bottle.)

Of course I do have more idea what goes into them, which gives me slightly more chance of working out whether the ingredients are likely to be produced responsibly or sustainably. Which to the best of my knowledge they are, although you can rarely be 100% sure. And I m at least 100% sure I am not allergic to any of the ingredients.

Also I can safely say they are 100% composed of various chemicals.

Okay, so there are still things that get thrown away or recycled rather than re-used, at least so far. Not having any kids who need craft materials, I haven’t found any earthly use for stuff like loo rolls, tissue boxes and the like. Can you think of anything? Anything that doesn’t involve glueing fabric onto things and calling them ‘pen-holders’ or ‘drawer-tidies’, at least.

Likewise empty wine bottles. I already have plenty of vases and water bottles and watering cans. And I have no intention whatsoever of buying a glass-cutter or sapphire file unless some very dramatic reason turns up. Perhaps I’ll wait for the Zombie Apocalypse.

Do you have any suggestions for such things? Do you want them, for your kids or your school? If not, into the recycling bin they’ll go.

I may be getting better at housewiffery, making do and re-using, but I can’t see myself becoming a fabric-glueing, drawer-tidying, wine-bottle-vase-making type any time soon.


* Apart from that time I broke my leg really badly: the Captain tells me that my blood pressure dropped quite a bit when that happened, although I don’t really remember, since I was on some brilliant painkillers at the time – thanks, you lovely, kind Ambos!

** Ugh.

*** Ugh x a million.





One thought on “Hardcore Housewiffery: the make-do edition

  1. Sue

    You can add newspaper with bird droppings to your compost, but need to bulk it out with plenty of green matter and tear it into moderate bits to accelerate the change. Maybe the worms will eat it?


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