home improvements

My pantry

One of the things I was most excited about when we bought this house was the cupboard in the hall. The lady that lived here before had it set up as a kind of walk-in cleaning cupboard. There were a few shelves and some bags hanging on the wall full of carrier bags and odds and ends. As soon as I saw it I knew exactly how I’d use it if it were mine. When were in the process of buying we had the usual list of bits and bobs the vendor might like to sell for a bit extra. We hardly bought anything but we did buy the under-counter freezer that she had in the kitchen. It looks like new and we only paid £10 for it. Since I already have a fridge-freezer this has doubled my freezing space. The day we moved in one of the first things we did was to shuffle the freezer from the kitchen into the cupboard in the hall. It’s great to have an extra freezer in a place that is easy to access and out of the way all at the same time.

The freezer fits nicely under the three shelves which had been covered in the same minging wallpaper that we currently have in the spare room. Lovely isn’t it?


This weekend I ripped all of the wallpaper off and properly sorted the content of the shelves. Ta da!


As you can see, I’ve now got plenty of room to do a bit of bulk buying if I see a good offer on.

I caved in this morning and went to Tesco. I had been dithering about whether to go since I had a ‘£5 off a £40 shop’ voucher. We were desperately low on some of our staples (and completely out of cling film, clothes wash and that type of thing) but I also didn’t want to spend any more money until the end of the month when I would release our new food budget for April. In the end I decided that it would be better to take money out of the budget a bit early to make the most of the offer – it seemed daft to miss out on saving £5 just for the sake of buying them 6 days early. It also means that I don’t have to do a big shop during Easter Bank Holiday weekend just when the supermarkets will be heaving. Tesco had their 3 for £10 offer on meat so I bought £20 worth. I ought to be able to make that last the whole month. I need to do a bit of an inventory to see exactly what I’ve got and make sure I’m using everything up. I would have done it this afternoon but we had friends over for tea and cakes this afternoon which was much more fun! Must stop baking though. I’m expanding at an alarming rate :-/ .

Categories: Domesticity, Frugal food, home improvements | 4 Comments

Get the house scrubbed up

I’m still enjoying my £1.56 bargain flowers!

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to make the house look more presentable in readiness for trying to sell. There are a several things that only Husband will be able to do but, in the mean time, I’ve been cracking on with what I can. I have:

  • Washed the shower curtain (something I ought to do more often)
  • Been doing extra cleaning and dusting
  • Tidied up one of the cupboards under the stairs (I’d love to really clear it out and then tart it up but I don’t have the time/funds/patience. We don’t have an attic so the two under stair cupboards are our only storage for EVERYTHING. Thus they are never going to look show home-ish). The stuff in the upstairs one, however, is now stacked as neatly as possible and has been vacuum cleaned and dusted.
  • Used one of those washbags designed to hang on the back of a hotel bathroom door to neatly store bath time toys. That washbag has been in a drawer for years – I’m glad I hung on to it now! The bathroom looks so much neater for this one little thing.
  • Replaced the tatty paper lampshade in the entrance hall with something a bit smarter from Homebase (£19.99)
  • Re-organised a few key areas where the eye falls as you enter certain rooms (like the sideboard in the living room) so there are more clear surfaces
  • Finally found a place to store our CDs (I have lived with them being in two cardboard boxes on the landing for two years)

Doing these things have made a real difference and yet the only expense has been the lampshade – the rest has come about from using things I already had (from wash bags to cleaning products) and sheer elbow grease!

Categories: home improvements | 7 Comments

Make your own personalised ‘art’!

You might remember that I was excited a couple of months ago as I found some wrapping paper that I thought I could frame and hang as a print in our bedroom. Annoyingly, when I got home I realised that the pattern went ‘up’ instead of ‘across’ and it wouldn’t work. Instead I decided to decorate some ‘old-school’ luggage tags that I bought a long time ago with a similar project in mind.

We already had a frame with a mount that we bought in IKEA years ago. It has displayed several different prints in several locations around our home over the last few years. It was just the right size to display 8 of these tags. You don’t have to be able to draw or paint to create something personalised.

I decorated the 8 tags in lots of different ways including a scanned copy of a map showing our favourite holiday spot, pressed flowers from the garden of my childhood home and other bits and bobs that mean something to us.

I bought a piece of pale grey card which I stuck the tags to (in two lines of four) and then popped it into the frame. The thing that took the most time was deciding what to put on each tag! Once I figured it out, I printed out any text required using a typewriter style font as I thought it fitted with the look of the old fashioned luggage tags. I then printed the document and cut out each word or phrase and stuck it on the corresponding tag. One of the great things about this is that none of it has to be perfectly neat or straight – a bit of wobble makes it look even better! Since I already had the frame, the tags, a printer, a sheet of A4 paper and some ink, the only thing I had to buy was the card which I bought for pence in a local stationery shop.

I think something like this would make a really great present, picking a theme like holidays you’ve had, special dates or a just variety of things as I’ve done. This would probably go down well with anyone who likes the stuff from Not On The High Street! And that’s another thing off the ‘house’ list…

Categories: home improvements, Make do | 1 Comment

House shopping

There’s been quite a bit of shopping action in this neck of the woods. Mainly for the house I hasten to add. I haven’t added it all up yet (I’ll be doing that later this morning). A fair bit of this has been baby related. She has been crawling properly for around a month now and we’ve been struggling to find stair gates that will fit our crazy house (I’ve mentioned before that it is tall and thin like a straw with not one but TWO flights of stairs). We’ve managed to get three that will work though so far only one is installed. We’ve aldo had to get a few plug socket covers and those thingies that go on cupboard doors (not actually out of the packet yet).

We’ve spent a bit more than planned because we’ve only just realised that we could do with certain things. Our living room is really small and we’ve made a big effort over the last year or so to do things that will make it look bigger. These things have included:

  • Wall mounting the TV and getting rid of the old TV cabinet
  • Putting our lovely big table into storage and buying a small table for 2 (though can extend to just about fit 4!)
  • Moving the bookcases in (weirdly this actually makes the room look larger). This provides a bit more sneaky storage (storage boxes along the top etc).
  • Sanding the floorboards and revarnishing them with paler varnish.
  • Painting a couple of things (like the wooden mirror frame) white to make it all look lighter and brighter. We’ve also given the walls and ceiling a fresh coat of white paint.
  • Taking down a lot of the pictures and photographs so the walls looks less cluttered.
  • Moving the big bit of marble (again don’t ask. Or rather, get my Husband to explain!).
  • Replacing the door as one of the panes of glass in the old one was missing. We got a second-hand door and had it fitted for under £50.

So, some other things have been happening this week in the bid to a) make the room more user friendly and spacious and b) make it look better for selling. Firstly we decided to buy a rug. We have stripped, original floorboards which are lovely to look at but bloody uncomfortable if you want to sit on the floor (which we never did because it was so uncomfortable). When Baby used to play on the floor we’d put down blankets etc but they aren’t much good now that she is shooting off all over the place (and are also annoying because you have to kep getting them out and tucking them away again). We decided, after some years of dithering, to get a rug. I spent ages looking online, trying to get something for around £50-£60 but just couldn’t see anything I liked. I also think that rugs are things that you need to be able to touch before you buy! Because it is for our main room, and we’ve already put so much work in, I didn’t want to get something that I didn’t really love because rugs really seem to dominate small rooms like ours. In the end I went to a nearby town and found a rug on sale, reduced from £165 to £99. On one hand this was over our initial budget (and felt like a really big spend) but I fell in love with it the second I saw it and the colours look perfect with our existing furnishings. It has been so nice to be able to sit on the floor in comfort and actually relax and play with Baby and she seems to love it too (though she’d rather sit under one of the chairs or the table).

The other thing we’ve ‘re-thought’ is the coffee table. We have a corner sofa unit and, previously, had a coffee table in front of it that was way too large (we bought it because it was cheap!). It meant that if we had people over everyone had to shuffle around the coffee table to sit down, made the room look small and was generally a pain in the bum. Also, Baby was banging into it constantly. We’ve looked for something better for about 6 months but couldn’t find one that would be enough of an improvement to justify the cost. In the end we decided that we’d be better off not having a coffee table at all and getting a nest of tables. This means that they will be out of the way most of the time but can be whipped out if we have people over or need them for something else. Again, I looked on ebay but the only ones I liked the look of were anywhere from £40 to £80. I also looked in a local second-hand shop but could only find occasional tables – not nests. We found a brand new one in a local shop for £39 which I thought was pretty good.

Although we’ve spent quite a bit of money I’m glad that we’ve managed to support two local, independent shops in doing so. I’m also glad that although we’ve spent more money on the house, it has all been things that we can actually take with us when we move!


Categories: home improvements | 2 Comments

7 week challenge: Week 2

I’ve been busy though, apparently, not quite as productive as on week 1. Still, I’ve managed to get the following done:

Weight loss:

  • I haven’t actually lost any weight. Mainly because I’ve not really been sticking to a sensible eating plan. Unless a sensible eating plan involves an evening Twix amongst other things. I’m thinking it doesn’t. I’m actually amazed that I haven’t actually put any weight on. Possibly because…
  • I’ve been sticking to the exercising! Two Davina work outs plus a couple of 10 minute kick boxing workouts. I’ve also taken Baby out for two long walks. Now if I could just co-ordinate a proper meal plan with all of this exercising I might actually be able to shed a pound or two – hopefully something to report next week…


  • Got rid of the old front door and living room door – yay! Husband’s mate came along with his van and vanished them for us. I thought they were going to end up a permanent fixture.
  • Mum has put together some CD boxes for me (she picked them up for me on a recent IKEA trip). These should soon be going on the shelves in the entrance hall (to home junk – not actual CDs).
  • Got socket guards to cover up the two plug sockets that Baby has become fixated with.
  • Gave the bathroom a really good clean and sort out. We have a large chest of drawers in the bathroom with one drawer for cleaning products and spare/occasionally used skincare stuff, one for towels and one for bed linen. These are all now cleaned out and tidied up. We also have two massive shelves instead of bathroom cabinets which is where we keep everything from shampoo to face wash. I gave every single thing a wipe down (including the shelves!). It is much more user friendly and inviting now.

Getting Organised

  • Filed all of our paperwork. This took two sessions. The first was where I opened all of the post and sorted the envelopes and leaflets for recycling, the second session was for the actual filing. I had to do this in two goes because it was soul-destroyingly dull.
  • Renewed my car tax. Because I had actually been organised enough to put back money for car tax I was able to pay for a year instead of 6 months. Not only did this mean I got the discount but it also means I won’t have to pay out for it in January when a) I am skint and b) I have to pay for the MoT. Paying for car tax and your MoT in the same month sucks.
  • Paid another £150 into my ISA
  • Wrote out budgets taking me up until the end of the year (more on this another time).

And that’s all for now. If things have been a bit quiet here on Shoestring Alley it is because of this…

I’ve been completely sucked into the Cazalet Chronicle, of which The Light Years is the first title. There are four novels and I have almost finished the second one. How did I not know about these books before?! I am gripped – gripped. In as much as I keep not getting things done because I can’t put them down (and going to bed too late). I bought the whole lot second hand on Amazon (incidentally, has anyone else noticed that second hand books are now cheaper on Amazon? Something to do with sellers offering a price that includes P&P? Before, even if a book was 1p there was a standard P&P charge of £2.80 meaning that the cheapest you could get a book for was £2.81. I bought one of these books for a total cost of £1.98. Anyway, I managed to get all 4 books for well under £10 and they are giving me HOURS worth of entertainment and I am already lending the first book to a friend!).

Happy days…

Categories: Book love, Getting organised, home improvements | 1 Comment

7 week challenge: Week 1

Okay – one week into the 7 week challenge and I have managed to do the following:

Weight loss:

  • I’ve done 5 x 10 minute kickboxing workouts from the DVD and two Davina workouts of around 35-40 minutes. In a week. Me! I actually feel better already.
  • Lost the 2 pounds I’d put back on again. I now have 8 pounds left to go to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight (AGAIN!!).
  • I’ve also bought a pair of trainers reduced from £49.99 to £29.99. They are really comfy and have gel soles which are great as my ankles tend to play up when I’ve been exercising (they’ve been fine since I got the trainers so it was well worth the spend). I’m also considering buying some cod liver oil capsules (to help my joints which object even to sedentary life, let alone exercise) but I’ll see how I get on.


House & getting organised

  • Arranged all of the things on the mantlepiece in the bedroom
  • Went through the massive collection of Baby’s plastic cups, got rid of the ones she doesn’t like drinking out of or that were looking worn out and reorganised a shelf in the kitchen cupboard so they actually have a place to go!
  • Packed away most of the tiny tupperware pots I used while Baby was having purees and so on. They will be easy enough to access if I need them but I just have ‘out’ a few which I can use for making packed lunches and snacks.
  • Re-organised where our recycling goes. It is now tucked away neatly in the cupboard under the boiler (where Baby can’t get at it). Ditto the plastic thing that I keep carrier bags in.
  • Moved a slab of seriously heavy marble out of the living room  which has been driving me mad for about 5 years (don’t even ask).
  • Sorted out the chest of drawers in the living room
  • Put all of Baby’s first birthday cards in a large plastic envelope and tucked them away
  • Made a 4 portions of tomato, courgette and basil pasta sauce to go in the freezer

And now on to week 2!

Categories: Getting organised, home improvements | 4 Comments

5 step programme (week 2): Up front

It’s been an unexpectedly busy week on the home improvements front. Here’s this weeks 5 for the 5 step programme:

  1. Actually managed to get someone out to come and look at our front door and got him booked in to do the work – result! (You’d think it wouldn’t have been this hard given the state of the economy but there you go).
  2. Went to Homebase, chose and bought: door handles, locks, hinges etc.
  3. Went to local builders merchants and got paint for our new front door.
  4. Chose glass and door from trade catalogue and ordered.
  5. Got door fitted! Yes!!!!! Need to wait until next week for the glass to arrive (it will have boarding in the spaces until then). Dad will be painting the door for us this weekend if the weather isn’t too awful.

I feel like I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this to be done. When we had our place on the market before one of the comments made by an estate agent was that the front door let the rest of the property down. I’m hoping the new one will make a better first impression!

When we looked at doors before we went to B&Q. For one practically identical to the one we’ve just bought, you could either pay £179 for just the door or £579 for the complete kit (ie including a door frame, handles, hinges etc). Neither included glass and both would have needed to be varnished/treated or painted. By going through someone we know and using their trade discount we’ve managed to get the whole thing done for about £430 which includes the door itself, the glazing, two locks, door handles, hinges, letter plate, paint, primer etc and the labour for fitting it. I am very pleased with this! Plus I’ve got a much nicer looking door than I thought we would be able to get.

This is going to take up most of what was left in our ‘House fund’ account. One of the next big things we’ve got to pay for is carpet. The stair carpet leading up to the first floor from the front hall is in such a bad state it is beyond professional cleaning, as is the carpet in our bedroom. I had hoped that we would have moved before this needed doing but we aren’t going to get away with it any longer! I need to get a final price on the door so I can work out how much we have left towards carpet. I’ve already decided that I need to put some extra back towards this from my wages this month rather than putting it in my ISA (it took me days to make up my mind about this). Getting our home finished and market-ready has got to be the priority for just a few months!

Categories: home improvements | Leave a comment

The 5 step programme

No, I’m not in an anonymous group dealing with some kind of addiction (though starting getting my house ready and then not seeing it through could possibly be argued as being some kind of disorder). I’ve just been thinking about what I can do to get the ball rolling and have decided (because I like these mini goals) that I am going to take 5 proactive steps each week towards getting ready to go on the market and making our home ‘work’ better (which is all the same thing really). I’ll try and report on this each week until a) it’s all finished or b) I lose steam again…!

1. Buying a magazine: ‘A magazine?!’ I hear you cry. Yup, a magazine – one focusing on interiors. I am desperately in need of fresh inspiration. I decided that there is no point trying to make this place look super smart in that very catalogue-ish, hotelesque kind of way. It won’t work here – it is too quirky and odd. What is needs is a bit of a rustic vibe (we live in a country/seaside town after all). Thus decided I was pleased to see that Ideal Home have published a ‘Country Issue’ this month. I promptly bought it and got a loads of ideas. Good start…

2. Decluttering: Yup, more of that. I’ve put aside 22 books to take to the charity shop on my lunch break after seeing if anyone at work wants a rummage first. I’m getting better at not hoarding books. My collection still runs into the hundreds (and hundreds) but I’m trying to be more ruthless about getting rid of books I didn’t really love, persistently skip over when I’m trying to find something to read or probably wouldn’t read again. I also added a weird little pot to the charity shop bag. It was a gift about 8 years ago. We don’t see the people who gave it to us anymore and it doesn’t really ‘go’ anywhere. Maybe it will be just right for someone else.

3. Shopping at home: I’ve decided to try and make a bit of a feature of the (extremely oddly proportioned) ‘mantlepiece’ in our bedroom. It isn’t really a mantlepiece. I mean, it clearly was one but it has been filled in and there is no chimney. And it looks like it has been cut in half and separated. I told you this place was odd. Anyway, I saw a collection of things in the magazine and decided to see what I already had that I could make a similar arrangement of (all in off white). I found a little lantern (that I will probably paint at some point) and an unused candle in a little dish. They are now randomly placed on the mantlepiece awaiting further developments!

4. Shopping in the shops: To add to the decorations/finishing touches in the bedroom I bought a very gorgeous hanging tealight holder (can’t describe it – will take a photo at some point) for £7.49, an old-fashioned metal candleholder with a ‘flower’ base (which I also can’t describe) for £5.99 and a little boat for £5.99 – all items in off white thus helping me to start creating a ‘look’. Total spend £19.47 which I think is pretty good for the above haul!

5. A make-do print: I have an ongoing battle, trying to find a print that I can hang over the mantlepiece in our bedroom. Nothing seems to work. I really wanted something a bit folk arty but I just can’t find anything. Anyway, I already have an old IKEA frame with a mount so I went to a local gift shop today and bought a pretty piece of wrapping paper in the right sort of colours for £1.75. I’m hoping it will look right once framed. The frame also needs to be painted but, if it looks good, I should be able to get something hanging over the mantlepiece for under £2!

I’ve really got to keep at it and get everything done. Onwards and upwards…

Categories: Decluttering, home improvements, Make do | 3 Comments

Running it like a business: Making plans for the future

I always shudder when I hear people talk about five year plans. I’m not sure if it is because the idea of having everything laid about before me like a straight road with no mystery or surprise makes me want to give up before I start or whether it seems like such an obvious way of setting yourself up to fail (or take the wrong course because you are ‘sticking to the plan’).

That said…

If you’re running a business you’ve got to look to the future. And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m going to be really annoying and say that I can’t blog about one aspect of this. Surfice it to say that I have been doing a lot of thinking about my current earnings and the potential for the future. And how, without turning into a money grabbing monster, I ultimately want to be able to get more for the time that I am effectively ‘selling’. There are no immediate plans for changes but I do have a sort of action plan (in the vaguest sense of the word) and some steps that I can take, nice and slowly without compromising my time with Baby. I know it is annoying when anonymous bloggers allude to things that they aren’t blogging about. the only reason I mention it at all is to say that I do have a plan – I’ll post more as time goes on! Also a plan, possibly, for potential second income. I need to brush up on some things first though (the earliest I’d look into this would be next year) so I’m going to spend the rest of the year trying to sharpen up my tired and confused old brain!

I also need to look at the whole house sale thing again. The amount we can borrow has been seriously curtailed by my drop in wages. We might only be able to raise a 5 figure number and we need to go up from a 2 bed flat to a 3 bed house – eek! There are only two things we can do about this. 1: Save money towards a deposit (on it!). 2: Get more for our flat.

I must admit that I’ve been ignoring the list of home improvements left to be done (imagine, if you will, me sat at home with my eyes screwed shut, fingers in my ears shouting ‘la la la’). I think we have missed the boat for 2011. What can I say? We’ve had a baby and have just made the transition of me going back to work. It looks like we’ll have to stay until next spring. Which, in one sense is good as it gives us more chance to save and also more time to do things that might make our place more desirable. For example, our bedroom carpet is looking truly awful. I was hoping we were going to get away with not replacing it but we’ve been here too long – it needs to go. As does the carpet on the stairs leading up from the hall. A lot of things are beginning to look very shabby. I’ve never managed to make the very peculiar mantlepiece in our bedroom ‘work’. It needs to be dressed properly. In fact the whole place needs to be polished up somehow. I’ve been trying not to spend any more money on the place but perhaps this isn’t the right approach. We need to sell and we need to get as much as we can for it so maybe spending a bit more £ wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. In addition to the front door (which we already have the money saved for) I think it would take less than £1000 to make some improvements that would make a big difference. I’ll blog on this as we go along!

And that’s it. Thinking about my future as an earner and trying solve our immediate problems are as close to a five year plan as I’m prepared to go!

Categories: Frugal ideas, Goals, home improvements | 4 Comments

My house

I was just replying to a comment when I realised that it is 11 years today that we moved into our house. 11 years! If you’d have told me, aged 22, that I’d still be living here at 33 I would have freaked out. It’s not so bad really. It is a lovely place. It is just far to small and doesn’t have it’s own garden. It’s funny to think, though, that I’ve spent most of my adult life here.

I’d love to give a list of things that I love most about this house but, in the interests of anonymity, I can’t. Surfice it to say that it is in a very unique location that would either draw you to it or make you run for the hills. It drew us in, like the other people that live here. And the location is stunning. It is also a blue plaque house (as in, a house of historic interest, with an official blue plaque on the outside). Since I can’t really say more than that, here are a few other things that I love about my house:

  • It has never felt like living in a flat. Mainly because it is set over three floors (own front door and large entrance hall on the ground floor, living room, kitchen and loo on the first floor and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor).
  • At night, when it is really windy or raining hard, it is seriously loud in the bedrooms (part under the eaves, part crazy bit of flat roof). This would drive some people nuts (it does my Husband). I love it.
  • Also at night, if the windows are open you can hear the sea. You can’t hear it in the day time.
  • Floorboards – original ones! We found them the day we moved in and promptly ripped up all of the carpet.
  • It is quirky and original. To a point of being impractical and annoying at times, but largely I love it. It was brought by a builder in the 60s who chopped it up into crazy sections and sold them off, one by one. There are some conventional flats and other weird bits like ours with their own front doors that are tall and thin. I am constantly going up and down stairs. It is like living in a lighthouse. Or a straw.
  • It is quiet. No real noise from traffic or the madding crowds.
  • I can walk five minutes in one direction and hit the beach or five minutes in the other and be in the countryside. I can also walk five minutes and be in town. I doubt I’ll ever live in such a perfect location again.

Things about my house that make me want to leave:

  • All of the flats hold the lease between us. Even so, the monthly maintenance charge is huge. More than I’ve heard of outside of places that have gyms and swimming pools.
  • There is a garden but it is a pain to get to. A bit like going to the park. If you want to go, you have to lock up and take a bag full of stuff you might need. Plus it is overlooked by nearly all of the flats so you always feel like someone is watching you (even if they don’t mean to be doing it). Also, it is a formal garden with a gardener so no room for a veg patch or doing your own thing really. I never really feel like we’ve got a garden. I really want to be able to have a door open and be able to wander in and out of the house, the type of place where Baby can play with her friends safely when she’s older.
  • It is so small. So small. I’m not saying I’m not grateful because I am. Baby has her own room where I know of more than one couple bringing up a baby in one bedroom flats. Even so. We’re currently debating on whether or not Baby can have a first birthday party. If the weather is okay we can use the garden. If it isn’t we simply can’t.
  • We could never have another baby here. I’m not saying we’re going to, but it can’t even be considered as long as we are here.

While we are desperate to get out I know I’ll be sad when we go. It has been a beautiful place to live and holds a huge amount of memories. Like sitting in my funny little room, studying away at nights to get my degree even though I was helping to run a growing business at the same time. And then changing that funny little room into a nursery and bringing my baby home. Or other daft memories like the night we wrapped my friend up using an industrial size roll of cling film. We were all laughing so hard no-one could unwrap her for ages.

Oh, and why do I remember the date so well? Because it is Kylie Minogue’s birthday (Happy Birthday Kylie) who ruled my nine-year old world and the date stuck in my head!


Categories: home improvements, Ramblings | 6 Comments

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