How often do you eat out?

I was chatting to my mum recently and for some reason we got to talking about her childhood. She mentioned that, for her family (she was born in the late forties) it was a rarity to go out for a meal. It would happen about once a year and it was a big event! Even then, they wouldn’t go anywhere fancy- it would just be a canteen, for some fairly simple, yet tasty food. Now, they were a family of 5 on a very modest income. The only reason they ate chicken, was because they had a chicken farm and they killed the chickens for the table, at the end of their life. Must have been tough old meat! It may have been different if you were higher class.

Somehow it’s become more ‘the norm’ to go out for meals regularly in our society, no matter what class you are. I wonder if this is so much of a good thing? I mean, it’s easily £25- £40 for a couple to go out, for what is often a very standard kind of meal. If you want anything special/ tastier/ fancier then you’re talking upwards of £60 at least. Of course, that all depends on what you eat, drink, when, where and so on.

But I am convinced many people would be so much better off if they just cooked simple meals, from scratch for themselves at home. If they would just get rid of the takeaways, fast food, ready meals and take out coffees, they would be so much happier, inside and out! What if we went back to eating out just once a year? It would become something very special.

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Obroni Wawu

I’m fairly sure that like me, you probably had no knowledge of the meaning of those words before today. The literal translation from African/ Ghanaian is ‘dead white man’s clothes’. Rather apt when you hear the full story.

Again, like me, you probably thought that all those old clothes you sent to charity were sold onto other UK consumers, by the charity shop. What you may not know is that we spend an average of £60 billion a year on clothes here in the UK. Shocking, isn’t it? It should come as no surprise then, that our network of charity shops doesn’t have a big enough market to sell all these unwanted items on to, such is our thirst for the newer, better, cooler, trendier option. Apparently the UK 2nd hand market is dwindling, no doubt that old stigma still persists, but it is the oodles of cheap, disposable fashion that is the real culprit.

Our old cast-offs are sold on to ‘cash for clothes’ type wholesalers, by the tonne. Being as they have exhausted the UK market, they looked for new markets and the clothes are sold to Africa. Ghana specifically is the biggest importer taking £1 million per week! And this is where they get there name. ‘Obroni wawu’ is now preferred over traditional Ghanaian dress and the markets are literally full to bursting point with it. As in this country, there are different quality levels and weirdly, labels still have a big hold over consumers. Designer names and high quality brands like M&S are creamed off first and sold in boutiques. Then there are 2nd and 3rd tiers, the 3rd tier are the most worn, stained and worst condition. These 3rd level clothes are sold in the remote villages for as little as 25p each. But for some villagers, even that is too much and they have to get into debt for them.

Isn’t is shocking that our Western culture is having this kind of effect? Eroding Ghanaian culture because their clothes told stories, through the woven patterns since before they could read or write. Taking away their jobs in skilled, meaningful employment such as tailoring, weaving, dying and printing. Making them become consumers and perpetuating the cycle. Oh the irony of the poorest people in the world, PAYING for our charity shop cast-offs, freely given. The same charities that are probably sending money out to Africa to support these people.

Watching this BBC2 documentary, ‘The Secret Life of Your Clothes’ has only made my resolve stronger to break this cycle. Not only for myself, but to spread the word far and wide. We must only have what we need in this world and no more. Oh how blind we are to the consequences of our actions! Will you join me? Together, we can change the world.

Notes on Consumerism

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I’ve been watching the first episode of a BBC2 series ‘The Men Who Made Us Spend’- it is all about how consumerism is perpetually driven by product lifespans and ‘upgrades’. Interestingly, the concept of continual obsolescence was dreamt up by the CEO of General Motors in the 1950s. Consumer choice meant giving into what they want- a rainbow of high gloss colours just like nail varnish, different fabrics for seats, vast choice of models for every different budget and a new car range every year, but nothing actually mechanically different. In our modern society, giving objects social value, rather than simply utilitarian value and it is Apple who has taken on this mantle. So, does Apple really believe in great design or just in rolling upgrades to keep the cash flowing in? If you choose to stay part of this consumer culture, then simply- it will continue.

So what can you do to fight this? You could learn how to self-repair! Look up ifixit.com who’s philosophy is that to repair is noble; it creates freedom, it saves you money, saves the environment, it’s sustainable and it creates jobs. They created a special 5 point head screwdriver so you can self-repair your iPhone. In-fact, they have an encyclopaedia on-line of how to repair technology. One way to fight the disposable, throw-away culture of continuous spending.

This is just a mere snapshot of this fantastic programme. If this interests you too, or you want to catch up on previous episodes or just find out more information, go to:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/themenwhomadeusspend

This fab series of programmes is a collaboration between the BBC and the OU, so you can expect high quality!

Minimalist loft/ attic

Have you tackled your attic? I thought it was about time for me to get on top of ours. Actually having an attic is a new experience for us, we lived in a flat for years with no storage space other than an under stairs cupboard. That was tough! Yes, it makes you minimalist, but you can never keep the original boxes that things come in which is incredibly useful if you move often. You also can’t fit anything large in an under stairs cupboard which can be very limiting….if say you want to take up canoeing! I digress….

These are the pictures of the newly tidy loft- once again I failed to take before pictures. But imagine your typical loft, filled to the rafters with stuff you don’t need! I have taken about 10 bags to charity shops, recycled a number of bags of cardboard, sold anything of value and given stuff back to their rightful owners.

Admittedly we are lucky that someone who owned this house before us thought to put some storage bins and a large cupboard in which has helped us to organise the space. It also helps that the whole attic is carpeting and boarded, so we can put stuff wherever we like.

But I am super happy at how little we have up here. I still think there are some more items that will go in time, but a lot of them relate to the work I used to do which I do actually hope to go back to at some point. Hence why I am holding onto boxes of musical instruments because they would be prohibitively expensive to replace. I also think I will one day get to the point when I can relinquish my University notes, but that is not right now. What we do have are boxes to protect items when we move again.

Clearing this room in particular has really allowed me to see and feel the benefits of minimalism most clearly. I am certain when we next move that we will only be taking things we actually use, there is a great feeling of freedom in that! There is also an enormous sense of peace at knowing everything is tidy up here and I know exactly what we do have and where to find it, most importantly!