After having a bit of a splurge on my birthday with a trip to New York (more about that coming up soon!), I made my mum promise not to spend any money on Christmas presents for me. However, she still felt that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a few presents under the tree, so she set herself a challenge: Freebie Christmas!
I received some really great gifts – way more than I expected – and my mum swears she didn’t spend a penny. Even the wrapping paper was free (she had a coupon). None of the presents cost anything – some because of coupons, some buy one get one free, some free samples by post or handed out at train stations. It was really impressive.
I got loads of smellies:
Some are travel-sized samples (always useful) but see that full-size bottle of shower gel on the right there? That was handed out at Waterloo Station!
I got sweets and drinks:
Yes, that is a full-size bag of Waitrose fudge, AND a whole bag of Thornton’s continental chocolates!!
Some gifts were silly, like this Fitness First stress toy:
And some very useful, like this Kikkoman calendar:
One of my mum’s friends was clearing out some old books, so I got a couple of paperbacks:
And finally, perhaps the best and most generous present of all, my mum’s Nero’s cards:
That’s two free coffees!!
2012 is going to be the year that I learn to be a bit more frugal. I’ve decided that I’m going to be more mindful of how I spend my money – but this doesn’t mean I’m not going to have any fun. This Christmas has proved to me that it’s entirely possible to give and receive wonderful things without breaking the bank, and I’m so inspired that I’m going to make it my challenge to have a Freebie Christmas in 2012.
In these times of economic belt-tightening, most of us can’t really afford to splurge. However, it can make you feel quite blue if you spend all your time thinking that you “can’t afford” to do things or “mustn’t” do things. Instead of those negative terms, I’m going to try to just think about the real value of money when I choose to spend it. For example, during 2011 I often spent £4.50 at Starbucks without giving it a second thought (coffee and a cake). If I did that once a week for an entire year I would spend £234. If I don’t go to Starbucks every week, I can save £234.
As well as being mindful of the treats I have, I’m also going to look out for bargains and offers. There are always “buy one get one free” offers on things I use, so I should stock up on those things when I see them.
Finally, for the first time in my life (and yes, I have just turned 30), I’m going to learn to save up for the things I want. I see people around me all the time wanting and getting, but they’re not happy. More often than not, they’re just in debt and surrounded by stuff. I can honestly say that there is nothing I actually need right now, so I’m going to watch my pennies and save up for experiences. I want to travel, I want to study, I want to have fun.
2012 will be the year where I remember that the best things in life are free!
I’ve been thinking a lot about legacies recently. Without wanting to sound morbid, I’ve been thinking about what is left behind when we die.
Last weekend I visited one of my best friends, who has just had her first baby. Something she said made me realise that, in having a baby and starting a family of her own, she had created her legacy.
Not wanting to have children of my own, I started thinking about how, when I died, there would be nothing left of my name… unless I found some other way to leave my legacy.
Tonight I went to a special Time Out event at The Museum of Everything in Selfridges. All of the artwork featured was by people with some kind of disability. The featured artist of Exhibition #4.1, Judith Scott, had down syndrome and no verbal way of communication because she was deaf and dumb. However, she found a way of communicating through art. She told stories with intricately hand-woven bundles of yarn and found objects. And, once she started, nothing and no one could stop her. Only death. Now her work is hung in a gallery for people to discuss as they swig from free bottles if beer and munch on pop corn from red and white striped bags.
The museum’s founder, James Brett, commented that “we’re here to make stuff“. He added, “perhaps if we don’t make anything, we weren’t here at all“.
This comment stuck with me and my thoughts about legacies. My friend made a family. Judith Scott made objects we can now call art. I have always said that I write because I have to, because I can’t not write. I’m here to make stuff with words, otherwise there’ll be nothing of me left behind.
The Museum of Everything is at Selfridges until 25th October. If you need inspiring, it’s the place to be. Exhibition #4 is on the Lower Ground floor of Selfridges and Exhibition #4.1 (Judith Scott) is upstairs in the old Selfridges Hotel. Both spaces are incredibly designed and worth visiting for their utter uniqueness.
***UPDATE: Exhibition #4.1 at the old Selfridges Hotel has been extended until November 6th, so please check it out!***
“Home” is a topic I’ve thought about a lot this year. I began my year living in Japan, which is a place I will always call “home”. In April, I returned to my childhood home in Bognor Regis, where I then lived for just over three months. While I did enjoy being able to spend more time with my mum, catch up with friends, and sort through a bunch of stuff in my old room, Bognor Regis is not a place I ever intend to call “home” again.
At the end of July I finally got a job and had to move to London very quickly. This haste has since caused me a great number of problems, but there was really nothing I could do about it.
I had two weeks to find a flat in London, no specific area in mind, and a very limited budget. All I knew was that I didn’t want to live in East London again (because I used to live there, and because of the Olympics next year), and I wanted an easy commute. So I looked at a Tube map, picked a line (the Bakerloo Line) and followed it out from Baker Street (where I work) until I found somewhere I could afford.
I started looking online and quickly became frustrated by calling and being told that the properties I had seen on websites were no longer available. When I finally called somewhere and was offered a chance to view a studio flat, I jumped at the chance and got on the next train to London.
It was the first property I viewed, and I knew I shouldn’t rush into making any decisions, but desperation had set in and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a place to live. When I saw the door, which was on the high street, my heart sank a little bit but I managed to convince myself that it was what was behind the door that counted.
Behind the door was a dingy hallway and dirty staircase, which led up to a white door. I started telling myself that the hallway didn’t matter, it was what was behind the next door that mattered.
Behind the next door was a room. The room was small, and there was an old-looking double bed in the middle, next to a slightly cracked wooden table. There were two plastic chairs which used to be white, and a water stain on the ceiling. That was the main living and sleeping area. Behind two more doors were a kitchen that was smaller than anything I had seen before and a bathroom containing a water stained shower.
As I describe it now, I can’t believe I actually stood there and thought “I can make this my home”, but I did. I imagined brightening the place up with pictures and knick-knacks, and I imagined cleaning everything up until it sparkled.
The reality was that some of the dirt was so ingrained that it wasn’t going anywhere. The flat was so small that I couldn’t fit hardly any of my stuff in it – in fact, the kitchen cupboards were so narrow that I couldn’t even put my dinner plates away. Seriously.
And then the problems began. The sink was leaking, a few things the letting agent had promised to get fixed weren’t getting fixed, there was nowhere to put my rubbish, the neighbours were really noisy… I won’t go on, but basically it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined to make it my “home”. I tried, though. I bought a colourful duvet cover and a few picture postcards, but nothing could hide the gloom.
Eventually, it all became too much. After a number of run-ins with my letting agent I asked to be let out of my tenancy agreement. On top of the flat being a disaster, the area wasn’t very nice either. Wealdstone was never going to be my “home”.
Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this story. On Saturday I will be getting the keys to my new flat. I’ve come to realise that a “home” should reflect the personality of the person living in it. My new home has a dark pink door, and behind the door there is a spiral staircase leading to a split level studio flat. It’s all self-contained, and thoroughly quirky. It’s incredibly well designed and makes really good use of a small space. It’s inviting, yet private. There’s a bath to relax in, and a skylight to let plenty of light in.
My new “home” means everything to me at the moment. I’m looking forward to adding my own splash of individuality to an already curious property, in a great part of London. I think Finchley will be my home for many years to come, and I’m excited about exploring and discovering new things there.
So, what does “home” mean to you?
How to make a “house” a “home”…
As I was browsing the shelves in my local supermarket last weekend I happened to spot a nice little selection of chocolate reindeer. Beside them were gigantic tins of Quality Street. This can only mean one thing – Christmas is coming!
Except, unless I’m mistaken, it’s only September. Kids have only just gone back to school, and we haven’t had Halloween yet. Surely, if anything, the shops should be full of pumpkins and witches?!
I feel like every year is getting shorter, and people are in too much of a rush to move on to the next big thing. We all know Creme Eggs will be available to buy before Christmas Eve and, as much as I do love them and wish they were available all year round, that’s just wrong.
Let me compare England to Japan for a moment. In Japan, there is a very distinct changing of the seasons, and this is reflected in the goods available in the shops. But there is never any overlap. It’s simply not possible to buy Halloween goods and Christmas goods at the same time in Japan. In England, I sometimes wonder if it might actually be possible to buy reduced Halloween goods, Christmas goods, and early Easter goods all at the same time – late November, perhaps?!
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting excited about Christmas already. I’ve seen some lovely Christmas cards in the shops, and I’m already imagining where I’m going to put my Christmas tree in my new flat. But I think we need to slow down. If we’re not careful, we’re going to forget to enjoy the moment completely.
So, what am I looking forward to right now? Moving house (again!) next weekend. That’s just about as far into the future as I want to go at the moment.
If you can’t help get excited, there are:
35 days until Halloween
90 days until Christmas
198 days until Easter
(Image source: I think I received it in an email once, but I don’t know whose image it is originally.)
The other day, I was reading an article in the Evening Standard called 30 things to do before you’re 30. The article referred to the now grinning with pride Beyoncé pictured below, and how she had managed to get pregnant just in time – she’s 29.
See how she glows? She’s glowing with relief because, at 29, she must be feeling the pressure. There are just so many things one must do before turning 30 – everybody says so.
According to the article, when people are faced with turning thirty, they think they ought to have bought a property, had a baby, co-habited, owned a designer handbag, written a book, dropped their last “e” (what?!), learnt a language and lived abroad. Phew. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Given that I only have just over 3 months before the big three-oh hits, I don’t think there’s much chance I’m going to cross everything off the list.
But, you know what, I don’t really care.
I used to have this feeling that turning thirty was the be-all and end-all. I know people who still think this – friends who are getting their knickers in a twist because their birthdays are approaching and they’re not married/up the duff/living in their dream home/all of the above.
I had one goal this year – one “thing to do before I turn thirty”. It’s proving difficult, and I’m not sure if I’m going to have achieved it 100%, but my goal was to be financially independent by thirty. By “financially independent”, I mean that I don’t want to be taking any hand-outs and I don’t want to be relying on credit cards.
I’m living in a really shitty little flat at the moment. It’s worse than some of the places I lived in when I was a student. But, you know what, I can afford it. My salary is low, but I’m budgeting my living expenses to match. For once, I’m not living beyond my means.
My twenties have been about working out what I want from life. I hope my thirties will be about achieving those things. I don’t think I need a list though, do you?