Wednesday 31 August 2016

A Present Nightmare. Thoughts on making gifts.

One of my most dreaded moments in the year is the christmas-presents-nightmare. Presents are a really serious source of getting trapped in the net of consumerism. Because you want to show you care and then instead of concentrating on the person or making something yourself , it suddely gets really big because you are compensating for not finding the time or thought for that present. Also I find that all year round shops are trying to get us to buy and give something (expensive and superfluous) to show that we care. Starting with January "Happy New Year" Presents to wish one another a good year. Continueing with February - Valentine's Day. I'd rather get a spontanous hug during the year than a forced Valentine's Day card. Really. Next is Easter. Then Mother's Day, Father's Day, Beginning of Summer, Beginning of Spring, Autumn begins, Halloween, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Football Championship, Wedding Day anniversaries .... and so on and so forth. 
Whatever is going on - be sure it is going to be made into a Consumer's delight. What I find worrying is that there seems to be the conception, that not buying something for your loved ones on the right occasion (as dictated by the shops) is utter neglect and proves lack of love. And it is not like that at all. Not  at  all. 

And then there is also this: - Big Bang Theory - Why Sheldon doesn't givegifts

At Christmas also, I find prices go up. I prefer to buy Christmas presents during the year (which also takes the stress of Christmas shopping away, which is mad anyway, because christmas is about love and not about the biggest presents and getting totally stressed about it and the whole thing possibly ending up in a giant argument and tears...).

If you really don't know what to give to somebody and still want to give them more than just a card - why not try a voucher for a shop they might like. It's better than giving them something they don't like that clutters their home... talking to people helps, too. Like "For your birthday I'd really like to buy you something" Or you could try "For your birthday, I would really like to spend some time with you, what do you like?"

If you like DIY and arts and crafts - why not make something yourself? The time and thought and care invested  in making the present is the most precious thing in the world. If that someone doesn't appreciate self-made gifts, then maybe it is not such a good idea. And would they notice how much you've spent? And if so, why is it important?

A gift is something that is meant to make somebody else happy. And it shouldn't be forced and it shouldn't be about money. At least as far as I am concerned. 

So how am I dealing with Christmas presents then... well, first of all - for our small family unit, it is birthday and christmas, that we definitely exchange gifts. Everything else is voluntary. We think about what each family member would appreciate. And we set budgets. And thats that. Everyone who doesn't get presents from us: It's not because we don't love you - we just don't show it through regular scheduled gift-making. But I think you all know that already. :)

And for everyone who is disappointed we didn't make a huge gift at a certain occasion: Really? That's what our relationship is about?

Some more thoughts on by wikipedia: gifts
Thoughts from Zen Habits

Monday 29 August 2016

"Eternal" life for my favourite summer trousers...

So, it's Make and Mend Monday again. 

The other day I was posting about my summer linen trousers and that I dyed them again, only to find that one of them had a hole and was also so thin from wearing that I couldn't really wear them any more (should have checked for that in the first place before dying them...). 

I've had another pair on my desk which fit me well but was just worn and couldn't be saved any more - which isn't entirely true because there is one last thing your favourite trousers can do for you, when there is absolutely no way of mending them again - you can trace them!

Which is exactly what I did. I cut them apart by the seams, making notes and little sketches about the construction on the way and now I have 2 patterns for summer linen trousers, that will definitely fit me. 
How to trace:

  1. Piece of clothing washed and ironed, otherwise tracing will get difficult. 
  2. Cut the trousers (or whatever) apart by the seams, make sure you note how it was put together. 
  3. Lie flat on brown paper, best with weights (I used duplos...) and trace with a pencil. Make notes on the pattern to help you assemble it later when you don't know any more exactly what goes where. Maybe take pictures (I didn't, tried, but black fabric in artificial lighting didn't really make much sense). Make sure you remember that this pattern is WITHOUT seam allowances! (write that in thick letters maybe...)
  4. Cut out the pattern, sort away in safe place, say goodbye to your old (now cut apart) favourite trousers that you have just helped to gain eternal life. And make sure you tidy up after that mess you've made. 

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Consuming and Modern Slavery

Sadly enough, I can't escape consuming altogether. I can minimize and rationalize what I buy and I can try my very best to know about the provenence of the products I am buying.

Slavery did not end with abolition in the 19th century.[source]

Monday 22 August 2016

jersey knit neckline band - different options!

Today I quickly want to share with you the different ways of attaching knit fabric edging.
I like these two tutorials, so I share them with you:
No 1.
No 2.

Also, I want to emphasize, that the techniques have their advantages and disadvantages. I usually like  Technique No 1, because it is quick and easy. However, with the Technique no 2 you get a smaller tape at the neckline and if you want to make an "American Neckline" it might be more suitable because of the "inside" or "outside" curves. You can have a look at my "American neckline Disaster" to see what happens if you use the wrong technique in the wrong way. :)

Just saying.. :)

Have a great day sewing!

Wednesday 17 August 2016

Consuming and Awareness

I am sure it does not come as a surprise to you: I am consuming, too. It's like with communicating - one cannot "NOT" communicate [Paul Watzlawick].

Every week we go shopping for food, the children need new clothes and shoes (and so fast!!), household items break (and tend to do so in groups together...). And i can't make everything myself. There is also the point where being too minimalist would make life difficult for me and my family. 

What I find important about consuming is being aware of our consuming behaviour. 

I have written about my 4 magic questions already, here they are again:

1. What purpose does this item serve?
2. Have I got something at home that serves the same purpose?
3. How often would I use it? 
4. If I don't get this item now, will it make my life difficult?
5. (Bonus question: Is the quality acceptable for the price?)
These questions aim at rationalizing and minimizing consume. And of course they also create awareness. 

But apart from minimizing consume and being aware of it, I think it is important what I consume and why.

For example, when we go food shopping, we try to do go shopping only once a week. It saves money to plan meals ahead, cook e.g. double portions of rice for another rice dish the next day (it also saves work!), and it also saves a lot of time. We try to buy our food from local producers/the market. E.g. no strawberries in December, we wait until they are in season. (Confession: We do buy bananas, they certainly don't grow here, but the children love them and they are incredibly practical to take...). We don't regularly buy "organic" or "BIO", because I find no evidence that organic products are more healthy for us or more sustainable. I do believe that buying from local producers and only buying what you need (not throwing food away because it's gone off) makes a difference. No, that is not the cheapest way, but we hope the healthiest. :)

I think that buying quality products (that usually come at a higher initial cost) usually pays off because of their durability.

I have nothing against consuming for pleasure. If it is pleasure and doesn't become a hollow habit. I've reached a point in my life at the moment where I don't see going shopping for clothes every day just for the sake of it, as something I would do now (because I would constantly ask myself the above questions...). But if it's done as a treat and with awareness and appreciation of the actual act of consuming, fine. :)  We thoroughly enjoy going out for a cup of coffee every now and again as a special treat. :) 

Minimalism is not about chastising ourselves. :)

And here, because it is such a good graph:


Wednesday 10 August 2016

Minimalism - Luxury lifestyle for less?


 I was talking to some friends the other week and we were talking about expenses. Inevitably the topic "minimalism" came up and  I got the impression that a lot of people seem to think that  "a minimalistic lifestyle"  aims to have a luxury lifestyle for less money ("finding bargains", "minimal price").

For me, minimalism is not about affording a luxurious lifestyle for less money. It is about changing our attitude towards consuming. I have no interest in maintaing a lifestyle, where I followed fashions and trends "just because". Or about getting the extra "thing" or gadget, because I can. I don't really want to consume, unless it is adds long-lasting value to my life or my family's life. 

I do this by carefully assessing, what I actually need. I am trying to concentrate on what I find important in my life. I don't want to own lots of stuff I hardly use. I find no long-lasting pleasure in following fashion or redecorating our place regularly (and dusting stuff...).  I do find pleasure in reading a good book. Or taking a bath. Or going for a walk in the forest. Or drinking a really good cup of tea. Reading a story to my children. Or doing my yoga exercises. Or a kitchen tool that I can use regularly for years and years. I enjoy focussing on and appreciating the luxuries we've got, rather than striving for more possessions. 

I would like to focus on what I feel "luxury" actually is.

If you think about the origin of the word "luxury" and its basic meaning (e.g. using it is clear, that luxuries are "desireable" but not really needed and usually "expensive". It is opposed to "necessity". You can also argue, that a luxury is everything that is more than the usual "standard of living". But what is "usual"? And what do you compare it to? If I compare the German standard of living to the standard of living of the majority of the people, then I have to say it is luxury. I can drink the water from the tap, I can walk anywhere I want, I have access to free education, I can choose my profession, I have freedom of speech, I have access to health care, to social welfare... the list is not complete...
Of course, I can also see flaws in our system, and I agree it is always good to try and improve, but per se, a life in Germany is well above the overall standard of living. And I think it is worth remembering this actively every now and again and appreciate the advantages we've got.

I don't want to go into all the details, again, standard of living is a vast topic. Understanding and defining what luxuries are is a very personal thing and I am not telling anyone else what to do or think. But I strongly believe that concentrating on what I've got that I find positive is a lot better than dwelling on what's I haven't got and what's negative.

PS: It is controversial, whether a minimalist lifestyle is cheaper - you can own less items and spend horrendous amouts of money. ;) 

Wednesday 3 August 2016

A short thought on quality.

Since I am approaching "things" from a more minimalist point of view, I am thinking about products and quality and prices a lot. Basically I am thinking about the "price-performance ratio".

I ask: What determines the price of a product? Which factors influence the quality?

Every step of making a product that in the end we (the consumer) can buy includes cost. Think about a T-Shirt. How many thoughts, steps and people are involved!

It starts with someone thinking about the product. Then the design/cut and the material(s). And deciding on them. I bet there's an awful lot of people involved there. From the "Can we sell this?" to the "yes, let's do this". Then those materials have to be produced. That takes raw materials (e.g. cotton, that has to be grown somewhere and harvested somewhere by people). And then made into fabric. By machines. And people. Then this fabric will have to be treated (dyed and whatever else). And then cut and sewn together, maybe embellished. By machines. And people. And then sold to sellers and more sellers, think about how many midlle-men there may be...  until the product finally reaches the market. But before that, the people that want to sell it, have to decide on the price of the product. Not only supply and demand but also other factors influence price. And then also the consumer has to be informed that this product exists and why it should be bought. Marketing is a huge thing. And how many people will acutally buy it at what price? And will they buy again? And when?

In reality the whole thing is a LOT more complex, this is just to illustrate that the quality and the price of a product is influenced by an awful lot of factors. But what I am interested in most, of course, is the quality and how long it will last me. A knife that is very sharp in the beginning (or maybe not even that...) but is blunt after 4 times of using it, is not what I want. So where to start?

My husband simply says "You get what you pay for". Works for everything. ;)

It seems, that most people prefer "cheap and cheerful" to lasting quality. If you buy something you only intend to wear once in a dark nightclub, that probably doesn't matter, but if you want e.g. a kitchen machine that you need frequently you better get quality. In fact, products are available in all sorts of different qualities and prices. You get the ones that just make the 2 years warranty. And then the little cogs are broken. Because they are plastic and not metal. Or the electrical contacts are bad from corrosion, because the whole item isn't that well protected agains humidity. There has been the long-lasting discussion about the predetermined breakingpoint. But i don't think that it is an active "breaking point" so much. I think products don't last as long as they could, because we are also not willing to spend the amount needed on them. If a company produces a product that lasts forever and has been carefully designed and then sells it for next to nothing (which won't cover for their costs) - they'll go bankrupt in no time. Common sense. :) So either they sell it at the price it is worth (but won't sell many probably) or they produce a product that is not quite as durable, not quite as perfect. Or maybe they offer both. The high-end version and the budget version. But those two machines might look nearly the same. But there are no give-aways in economy. You always get exactly what you pay for. Planned Obsolescence

My experience with cheap products is: They don't last. So I have to buy a new one. And then spend more than I would have had if I had bought the better quality in the first place. Especially if you want to own less items (e.g. kitchen tools, or clothing, shoes) it is money well spent on quality, because the products perform better. The suit will fit better and will be made from better materials and thus look better. And won't loose it's shape. The kitchen machine will function better and not break immediately only because you like to make a lot of heavy pizza dough. A lot.

A key to thinking here is again the question: "Do I really need this"? 

The topic is not "conscious consumption" or "lifestyle of health and sustainability". Because that's just another marketing strategy. It is not about how to consume, it is about consuming less. And just on the side: I don't do "organic". A real quality product doesn't need an "organic" stamp. I also prefer local producers (so don't tell me about you "organic" bananas from a hyper-market). :) For food and for machines alike I think it is best to look around where you live. As for clothes, I am trying to be my own local producer. :) And I am growing some basil. Keep it simple. :)

PS: I hate the immediate obsolescence of computers, smartphones and tablets. Don't get me started on that.

PPS: Our coffee-machine just broke. It is a very sad day for our household. My husband is feeling particularly sad about it. We are replacing it with a french press coffee maker.