We've had a lot of storm force weather here in the north east of England but I've been determined to potter in some sunlight wherever possible. Last week I had a spring clean and found anything I didn't need and sold it on Facebook Marketplace and the pawn shop in town. I didn't have a lot of stuff but I still managed to net myself about £40-50 in all, which I had fun investing in seeds and garden things ready to grow my own fruit and vegetables to try and save on my grocery shopping bills. It's a bit too cold and risky to plant anything outdoors yet and we'll likely have snow at some point before the end of March. So I'm really just doing prep things right now. But I hope to plant things outdoors the last week of March and onwards weather depending.
Putting up the Screen
When I moved into the property in August 2019, I purchased one of these screens from Amazon for £19.95 (cheaper in August I think but included delivery and very good quality compared to others I looked at) and was very pleased with how it looked in my yard. I live in a pretty rough neighbourhood, I've had windows smashed in over New Year, watched a police man chase a suspect up over my fence and the security gate at the back, and most of the walls around me are covered in glass to deter burglars and the likes. But I'm determined to create as much of an outdoor oasis as I can so I can at least get a bit of vitamin D during the day come summer, and then take things with me when I hope to move to my forever home late October.
Sadly the screen I put up in August got pretty damaged during the big storms, and I'd like to make it just a bit higher, so I decided to order a second screen, exactly the same as the first one, and once the wind stops I'll attach it to the first one. I had one attempt in the wind but there was too much debris flying about as there's a lot of litter on the pavements. But even the first screen has made a huge difference to how secure and private the yard feels (very important when I had my dog before she did last month) and it certainly looks a lot nicer than the wall of graffiti and glass behind.
When I first moved in I also purchased a luxury item of a swing seat which was about £20 from Argos (I had to remove the protective cover to prevent it flying away!), and I hope to get to sit on that this summer when I sit outside to write. I can only really sit out when there's no one around as the kids have a tendency to throw stuff over the wall and that really isn't nice when you are sat there and suddenly get covered in McDonalds milkshake or cans of pop or whatever. It seems to be what they do around here and I think shouting at them will likely make things worse.
Sourcing Seeds and Seed Potatoes
But with the weather very windy, I decided instead, to plant up the first of my seeds. I did a bit of shopping around and found a great selection for 29p per pack from Lidl, 25p per pack from Wilko, and I got a few 'collections' of 6 packs from Poundland. I was pretty surprised at what Poundland had, to be honest, as I also managed to get some fruit bushes for £1 each (gooseberry, blackcurrant, raspberry, and blueberry) and a box of potato and veg fertilser for £1 which was much cheaper than I'd seen it at Wilko and elsewhere. I also picked up some seed potatoes from Wilkos for £1 each, along with ginger, rhubarb, asparagus, onions, and strawberry plants for £1 each. I can plant the potatoes and onions now, but I'm waiting on the potato growing bags I ordered from Amazon (£4.78 for a pack of two that you can access from the side via flaps) to arrive, which should be this week some time. I also ordered a large bag of compost from Amazon for £14.99 for 80Litres and picked up a smaller bag of compost and seed trays from Wilko for £1. I'm pretty sure that there are much better offers available for compost, especially supermarkets that seem to be doing two big bags for £5 but I don't have a car and they would be too large for me to carry home on my own. But it goes to show that it really is worth shopping around. The same species of seeds certainly varied a lot from one place to the next.
I'm really pleased with what I managed to get for my small budget and I think it will definitely save me money in the longer term and help me to eat more healthy whilst enjoying pottering around in the garden between writing chapters. I somehow managed to get a couple of packs stuck together so I ended up with double on some seed packs from Lidl but that's not the end of the world. I still have a few more types of fruit and veg on my wish list to keep an eye out for, but I'm interested to see how different species or brands of the same or similar things do in the same conditions. For things like lettuce, I'll be planting seeds on a regular basis so I have a constant supply, and potatoes and onions and carrots should see me through winter at my new place when I eventually move. It's all a bit of an experiment in frugality so I'm very excited to see what happens, especially as I'm not someone with green fingers. I did pick up some flower seeds and I hope these will help to minimise the smell of pollution and dust in the summer and attract some butterflies and bees as there isn't much green around me, save for the graveyard at the end of the road which doesn't have flowers just grass and trees. I'll be able to pretend I'm in a lovely garden if my plan works and that will be great for sitting on the swing seat writing on the hot days.
What Seeds and Things Did I Get?
Most of the flowers and some of the salads came in multipack collections such as 'Mexican Salsa', 'Butterflies and Bees', etc. £1 for 6 or more seed packs so that was great.
Still on My Wishlist If I Find Them at a Good Price
I still have a lot of things on my wish list but hadn't found them as cheaply as the other seeds yet, so it might be that I keep an eye on places like Freegle in case anyone with an allotment has seeds going spare or wants to do a seed swap with me. Sometimes you can get free packs of seeds with gardening magazines and I did see that Thompson and Morgan offer free plugs of plants if you pay for postage, but the postage makes it a bit too expensive for me at the moment unless I were to buy some of their other things. They do have seeds for £1 so if I was doing a big order and made use of their 4 for the price of 3, or 10% discount to new newsletter subscribers offers on more expensive plants and seeds then that would certainly be worth looking at.
My Dream Home
One day when I get my dream home, I'd love to become as self sufficient and off-grid as much as possible so my dream garden would include trees for growing walnuts, brazil nuts, and coffee beans, and I'd also have cocoa trees so I could make my own chocolate. I'd probably try and grow small amounts of things like quinoa and rice too and pineapples and melons and other yummy things. The idea would be to take whatever I grow in my container sacks now, and over time to build on these and invest more as I become better able to care for plants and not kill them. Then keep produce in containers in a big walk in store room by the kitchen so everything was produced on site for me to consume. Now that would be really cool!! A girl can dream:)
This week I began the first of many changes to my life, in order to make room for more coziness. I haven't been in my new place for long and I had nothing when I got here, but amazingly after sorting through every single cupboard and having a bit of a spring clean, I still managed to find a few things to get rid of. I love the simplicity of a minimal life and I find it quite claustrophobic to have too much stuff, but if you are one of those people who hasn't moved house recently or tends to hoard things, then I can highly recommend a book (and a Netflix series) called Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. Basically, you look at every item you own and you decide whether it makes you feel happy or not when you look at it. If it doesn't 'spark joy' then can you get rid of it?
I only had a handful of items because I've moved so much in the past 18 months that I've gone through this process multiple times and only just purchased basic furniture things like a bed, but the point is, if I can find a few things that I don't need, then so can you. I needed to find a way to bring in funds pretty desperately because I knew my dog, Isla, was dying and I needed to have £125 in my bank ready to pay the crematorium otherwise they wouldn't collect her and I didn't want to have her body lying around at home and because I'm renting it is illegal to bury a pet - plus my yard is paving slabs and I wanted to be able to take her ashes to my forever home in the Lake District later in the year.
The only thing I could think of to sell, was my cat treadmill. This was a luxury purchase but also essential when I was living in one room of the bed and breakfast when I was of no fixed abode for 14 months as my three cats were in a confined place and putting on weight and getting bored and were starting to get cabin fever. They used the wheel all the time in the room, but since we moved to the this place and now they play outside most of the day, the treadmill is just gathering dust. So I put it up for sale on Facebook Marketplace, along with a couple of extra plates and bowls (I live alone, and really don't need a whole set especially since I don't know anyone here so never have guests over), and a few other trivial items. The treadmill sold after a few days, and I gave up with the smaller items as they were a couple of pounds each and seemed to be attracting a lot of either scary people (from their Facebook profiles - always vet people before allowing them to your house) or were time wasters and didn't show up. Those items I ended up taking to the pawn shop where I got my replacement laptop. But you could sell your stuff outside your house in a yard sale if you have neighbours (which I don't because the properties are mostly empty or boarded up), have a car boot sale (I don't have a car and didn't have enough things for this), or sell them through places like Craig's List or Ebay. I probably could have got more for them through Facebook Marketplace, but I decided that my time and energy was worth more than waiting on non shows, and so the pawn shop was my preference. I took things in to town and asked for valuations from both places before deciding.
The sale of the cat wheel was cash, which I promptly paid into my new Starling bank account via the post office at the end of my street, and I even had a little bit left to get some food in the house, which felt amazing - nothing fancy, just bread, eggs, cheese. The things that I sold at the pawn shop (CEX was one place I visited) netted me about £40 amazingly, and I used this to buy seeds, compost, and containers ready to grow my own produce which I hope will save me money in the longer term. I did toy with using this money to pay off the interest on this month's credit card bill, but I decided that I was better to 'invest' and 'grow' this 'seed' money because all being well it will save me more over the course of the year and help me to clear my debts and buy my house sooner. I'll talk more about debts in another post. I'm no expert on financial things, I'm really just sharing my own journey with you. I'll break down exactly what I spent this money on in another post, and tell you where I got things from and how I plan to be more self sufficient and to lower my outgoings.
But that's your homework for today! Have a spring clean and see if there is anything you can sell, and then list it for sale or sell it at a car boot or through a place like CEX. If you don't use those items from week to week, then chances are you won't miss then at all, and you could use that cash to grow more cash, time, or energy in the longer term (or use it to buy investment pieces like tracker funds or new cozy mystery book covers). I would love to know how you get on. If you feel overwhelmed then tackle a little bit at a time, like one shelf of a cupboard, or your sock drawer first. Oh, and if you are doing clothes things first, then check out Marie Kondo's folding video. I've been using this system for a couple of years now and I love it.
If you've been following my posts on Patreon or Kickstarter recently, then this blog post will come as no surprise to you at all! You see, February, for want of a better word, has been the crappest of crap months. Not nice at all, and I'm already willing it to be March. First of all my dog of fifteen years, Isla, died, and secondly my laptop of eleven years died. I got lots of lovely comments from folks and most folks got it and understood, but some of the messages only made me feel worse. The helpful advice from folks telling me that they haven't had a laptop in years and they've managed just fine. The thing is, this was a huge deal to me, because the laptop is my bread and butter. I work from home, and no laptop was akin to losing my job and losing my salary and ability to pay rent and bills, and suddenly credit card companies and loans were chasing me for missed payments and calling me every five minutes. But worse still, I lost the freedom to make choices for my dying dog. I had vet bills to pay, and I was worried about whether I could afford the crematorium payment since I don't have a garden and it is illegal to bury pets in rental properties. This wasn't just an inconvenience of not having a laptop to check Facebook, and worse still, I missed several publishing deadlines and ended up locked out of Amazon for pre-orders for a year. I could have lost my entire business, which is not great when you are just a few months in to a new career.
Anyway, you get the picture. February was nasty. But there was a silver lining. I had a Kickstarter running, and only because of that and the amazing backers, I was able to pick up a secondhand laptop from the local pawn shop, once the funds paid out and cleared into my account. I actually dread to think what would have happened otherwise, because no way could I replace it or have survived without the support from my readers and patrons. Food banks are one thing, but getting things like internet disconnected is stressful.
The Silver Lining
There is nothing like a crisis to get you rethinking the meaning of life. I had been on the edge of a cliff for a very long time, wanting to go full time with my writing, but too scared to stop working with my clients even though I spent all day everyday, even Christmas Day and holidays wondering whether they would send me work that day, and often it would come in at 4 am so I'd have to wake up and start work to get it done in time. I lived that way for a few years, constantly checking emails and fretting about whether work would come in each day and then whether or not I won't get paid. The laptop dying gave me no option, I lost that client work but I gained control and freedom of my time once more. I got to snuggle with Isla and to nurse her through her final weeks and I got to reflect on where I am and where I want to be a year from now. I was ready for change, and I found excitement and energy in the midst of what was otherwise a very bleak time.
So now, I have a laptop and time to get into the creative flow, and to plan out my own day, and to sleep for a full night without client interruptions. That feels amazing, let me tell you! And since I have a bit of extra time, I decided that I would start a new blog thread called The Cozy Guide to Life.
The Cozy Guide to Life - Goal Setting
At the end of the day, what I would like in my perfect future life, is to be able to ice swim in Lake Windermere whenever I want, and to have my friends come and swim with me, and to have my pets sat on the bank watching and playing.
Knowing that, actually makes things very simple for me, expensive, but simple to figure out. I want to buy a jetty on Lake Windermere, and in my perfect world I would like to design and build my own house, so I can sit and write my books and have my pets curled up besides me, or friends over to visit. From there I calculated how much I would need to make that dream a reality, and then I set about planning how I could reach that financial goal - how many books would I need to write and sell, and what could I do to reduce my spending and to invest more?
Around the same time that I was feeling glum and processing all of these things, I ended up watching Anne with an E on Netflix whilst Isla was in her last days, and I sobbed a lot during that time, so watching an angsty teenager was quite cathartic as it turned out. The point is, the family end up losing their savings and having to sell everything they own to avoid losing their home and livelihood to the bank, and they also spend much of their time growing their own food and baking bread and jams. Cooking and baking and growing my own things has always felt like a bot of a luxury to me, the kinds of things I would love to do, when I'm financially secure and in my forever home - which is crazy when you think about it. How has buying rather than making and growing your own produce become the norm and why does something that people have done since cavemen times seem like something only rich or retired people get to do? Especially for someone like me who tries to be environmentally and health conscious and lives on a financially knife edge for much of the time. I get excited when I have £10 to spend at the supermarket, and I am not joking. That buys me ten items if I am lucky - bread, milk, butter and a few other things and I stress before reaching the till in case I've added up the costs wrong and have to put something back at the till.
And for some bizarre reason, I decided to re-watch a documentary on Amazon called 'Playing with Fire' which I'd forgotten about for a long time.
But this was all the kick up the bum that I needed to make some big changes in my life, and I figured I would share my own journey with you through this blog, so that you can create your own cozy life too should you want to. Essentially I'll be focusing on three things:
I'll be looking for ways to replace my spending with things that are free or low cost, like growing my own tomatoes instead of buying them, and investing in index tracker funds and book covers and my business so that I can bring in more passive income.
Everything is centred around me wanting to increase my happiness, health, energy, time, and financial stability. Whilst minimising my environmental footprint where possible. I want to spend less money on the things I don't care about like clothes, so that I can spend more on the things I want to spend more on, like that place by the lake so I can get back to ice swimming and start to compete internationally and at the Winter Olympics. I also want to get a new puppy once I move house at the end of the year, but I don't want to ever be beholden to my finances again, I want to have freedom to make decisions that aren't factoring in the cost when it really matters the most.
I hope that all makes a little bit of sense, but basically I'm going to post on here most days about little things I've done, that will ultimately add up to something significant that will enable me to be financially independent and to have the freedom to make choices based on what I want to do rather than what I have to do to survive. I hope that this will interest you guys too, and I can't wait to share my experiments with yoghurt making, and learning to make bread, along with any recipes for things I've made with what I've grown in my yard. And most of all, I can't wait to begin writing my next cozy mystery and to start being able to write without the fear of being chased for missed bill payments or worrying about how I'm going to pay for my next meal. I know a lot of you folks are in a similar position to me, which is why you love the Free Book Friday books, so I hope that what I learn along the way will help you to feel more cozy in your own life too. Let the adventure begin!