7: Week Five, Waste

Such has been the flurry of birthday and mothering celebrations that blogging has been a bit neglected. Waste week paled in comparison and it’s hard to remember much more than the many renditions of ‘Happy Birthday’ and a lot of small children. But here are a couple of highights:

1. The Car-free day shopping trip.

My last post was written just before we headed out en famille to walk to Asda. We didn’t get off to a great start when Elijah’s scooter broke within 15ft of the house, but we still made it up the dual carriageway and did a supermarket sweep version of the weekly shop. We got some very funny looks on the way home. Every nook and cranny of the double buggy had been stuffed with unbagged groceries. Elijah had spaghetti behind his shoulder, juice under his knees and Juju was surrounded by cereal boxes and apples. A bag of Mini Eggs kept morale up on the way home and we were congratulating ourselves on a fun, successful outing until a whiff of something nasty reminded me of the purpose of the trip and what we had forgotten. Nappies.

2. Laundry. I admit I used this as an excuse to do no laundry for a week but finally crumbled when there were too many pee-soaked items to be conscionable. I did a couple of dryer-free loads but then cracked and switched it on.

Back when we lived in Vancouver, I had a fair bit of counselling from a wonderful Northern Irish psychologist. She had been around Regent College Mums long enough to know both how idealistic and how hard on ourselves some of us could be. One day, she looked me in the eye and said, ‘Debbie, some days you just need to say, ‘Let the Planet Die”. This was not the party line, especially coming from a Faculty Member’s wife. But actually, this has been one of her little gems that I need to hold on to from time to time. Because she knew me well enough to see both my good-hearted intentions and also my legalism, perfectionism and self-criticism (that’s a lot of ism’s). She knew that I can use anything good to beat myself over the head with and make myself feel bad about. It’s really important to take creation care seriously and do whatever we can, but sometimes when it all gets too much and we feel a bit overwhelmed it’s ok to cut ourselves some freaking slack and turn the bloody tumble dryer on. Mental Health is a fragile and beautiful thing.

3. No Impact Man

A little documentary-movie about a family in Manhattan who decide to decrease their impact on the environment to zero over the course of the year. Including no toilet-roll, no fossil fuels of any kind and no chemicals. The Dad, whose idea the whole thing is, is likeable and genuine, while his wife is a little more reluctant and also a little irritating. It’s not as life-changing as ‘Food Inc’, but interesting to see someone do a 7-esque project for a year in the middle of one of the most consumptive places on the planet.

4. The Birthday Bag.

We had 3 birthdays in the house this week. That’s a lot of wrapping paper. So, having had a cup of tea and recovered from my ‘let the planet die’ meltdown earlier in the day, I got out my sewing machine and spent a very pleasant hour creating a Birthday Bag. It’s really just a large drawstring sack which all the birthday person’s gifts go into, minus the wrapping paper (and many hours of wrapping). The kids enjoyed closing their eyes and sticking their hand into the bag to pick out a present at a time, and all the birthday people agreed it would now be A Mullan Family Tradition.

I’m sure we could have done more this week, to get into the spirit of it, but maybe 7 is also trying to teach me that perfection is not the goal, nor is even trying to get it ‘right’. It’s about being willing to go on a journey and some weeks we’ll be able to dive into that and others we might just dip our toe in. And that’s ok.


Week Five: Waste

I have to confess, I am flagging a bit this week.

We started waste week on Friday, and it’s not too taxing so far but I think I am generally feeling a little ‘7’ fatigue. Non-‘7’ life keeps getting busier and more demanding (did I mention it’s birthday month?) and it’s a battle to keep finding the head space a project like this requires.  I’m not known to be a completer-finisher; I’m all about the first flush of enthusiasm so it’s a familiar wall I find myself hitting. But, I’m also a stubborn wee fecker and, dammit, a legalist to boot. So deep breaths, and let’s tally-ho for week 5…

This is our most straightforwardly ‘green’ week, as we take seriously our commitment to creation care. What we do intentionally or indirectly to the physical world matters and it is as much a spiritual issue as an environmental one. Wendell Berry says,

‘The ecological teaching of the bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that obliges us to take excellent care of it. If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it?’

 A great place to start is to simply consume less. Of everything. But we will be specifically thinking about our most fragile resources – fossil fuels. We will also be trying to make better use of our waste and find ways to decrease our land-fill contribution.

 Rachel and I will be embracing 7 habits for a greener life this week. Which are:

  • Gardening: preparing our gardens for and planting our gardens with foodstuffs.
  • Composting and recycling. Most of us already do this but it easy to get lazy so we will really be trying to ramp this up this week
  • A tumble drier fast for the week (happy days, think we’ll also let the washing machine have a wee rest too)
  • One car-free day
  • A light-bulb survey- replacing with energy efficient
  • A crackdown on convenience consumables eg Kitchen roll, baby wipes, sandwich/freezer bags, foil, cotton wool. Toilet roll is happily exempt.
  • Buying local products to save on transportation fuel

Today has been designanted car-free, so we left the car at home this morning and walked to church. This would deserve a pat on the back were it not for the shameful truth that we drive to church every sunday and it is literally less than half a mile away. While we Mullans may feel smug about our recycling/composting/gardening efforts we are pretty disastrous when it comes to using our car. We are North Coast wusses and dive into our car at the slighest skiff of rain or breeze. Billy Connolly may say that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong kind of clothing, but he has never tried to wrestle himself and 3 small children into wet gear. A vertible tangle of polymide. So we’ll be taking note of how necessary our car journeys are. One piece of particularly bad planning means that no-car-day coincides with very bare cupboards and a nappy crisis, so we are off on a family expedition to asda on scooters and double buggies to do the weekly shop. Father, forgive us for our sunday trading and please don’t let it rain….

7: Week four, Media

Two words for Media week:  not fun.

It wasn’t that it was more difficult than I thought, it was just a pain in the ass. It interrupted, in some ways even more than the others, the rhythm and the business of my days.

I was set up to have a bad week by the fact that 1) I am very tired, 2) it’s birthday month. The tiredness meant that I really just wanted to flop in front of something at the end of the day and I didn’t have the energy to use the screen-free time to knit, do jigsaws, journal, read or bake, all things I usually love to do. My va-va-voom has gone awol. So instead I just got grumpy and eventually settled down to read a book I wasn’t very interested in.

There must be something pretty frisky about the month of June, because we have a staggering amount of March birthdays amongst our friends and family. This necesitates much internet activity to find the right present at the right price and plan various birthday activities, so I now have a marathon buying session to do this weekend to make sure it all comes in time. Not helping the grumpiness.

We extended this week’s media fast to the kids, who, as you can imagine weren’t thrilled. The first 3 mornings were fairly painful for all of us as we tried to work out what to do with 3 very wide awake children at 7am that didn’t involve media. Who knew Lego was so noisy? In fairness to them, by the end of day 3 they stopped whinging and totally forgot about computers, the wii and dvds. Unlike their parents. Who at one point were cursing 7 and Jen hatmaker black and blue.

I think what I felt most about the week was a sense of isolation. In my world of stay-at-home-motherhood, the intenet can make you feel like you are engaging with the outside world, still a grown up who reads newspapers, blogs, shops, comments, albeit surrounded by a filthy kitchen and various wailing children. Which is fine, but at times becomes a poor substitute for real human engagement, whether that’s with other mums or even my own kids. It’s a very convenient rabbit hole, right there on my kitchen table and I escape down it a little more often than I should.

As with every week, we end with the question, ‘How should I now live?’. I think Jayber and I both recognise that we allow media to invade our lives without any boundaries. We seem to worry much more about what media does to our kids brains and hearts, strictly limiting their exposure, without any thought about our own. So, we are going to try and keep our media fixes to the weekend from now on. I’d like to try and keep the laptop off during the day, especially when the kids are about, and be more present to my present.

Goodbye, media week. You won’t be missed.


Week Four: Media

It’s T minus 6 and counting til it all goes very, very quiet.

From midnight tonight, the Jayspero household will be a screen-free zone. No movies or dvds, no wii, no iplayer (and the like), no social networks, no texting, no newspapers, no browsing.

Radio is allowed, voice calls are allowed, JM can use his computer to do work and we can access our e-mail.

I predict a riot…

..from the kids, who have been trained to turn the dvd player on each morning so that Mummy and Daddy can lie in bed for as long as possible (Our record is 8.25. On a school day). Oh wait, I’ll be rioting that one.

..from the husband who can not believe he won’t see Ireland play on Sunday (yes, JM, really).

I think we have a fairly deep addiction to the many forms of entertainment we access through screens in our house and I’m bracing myself for a few meltdowns, my own included. We don’t actually have tv, but this does not make us more virtuous, just sneakier. In reality we spend a surprising amount of our week watching tv shows and movies either online or from Lovefilm. We are fussy, we like quality shows, it’s something we do together, but it is still an awful lot of time in our week spent on entertainment. This doesn’t include the hours spent surfing, blog reading, blog writing, shopping and randomly reading on the internet.  The irony is that, bar their early morning fix, we are much stricter about how much screen-time the kids have than we are about our own. 

So this week will be a fairly radical lifestyle change and perhaps a bit of a wake up call. I can’t say any of us are particularly looking forward to it.

 Time to pull the plug. See you next Friday.


7: Possessions,the end

This has been a calm week, and a welcome one after the busyness of food and clothes.

Full of New Year energy, Jayber and I did a pretty thorough house declutter in January and took several car loads of stuff to various charity shops. So I wondered what we would have left to give this week. Turns out it was really very easy to find seven things each day to give away, and most of the days I was able to give away way over the allotted amount (except pesky decorative items, whose idea was that? Ah, yes. Mine) All told, I probably gave away 100-150 items this week and even then it hasn’t really hurt; that’s how much stuff I am surrounded by. 

It’s pretty cathartic, this move from excess to simplicty and our house feels a little bit lighter, as if it’s breathing easier without it all. It wasn’t bad stuff, it wasn’t crap, I could cheerfully have held on to some of it for a few more years without noticing. But I didn’t need it and I could probably do a whole other month of Possessions and still have a house full of more than I need and use. And, let’s face it, the fairies didn’t bring it in, it was all me.

This morning I dropped off a huge amount of stuff to Women’s Aid. They were so appreciative of all that we brought them and it was lovely to think about all the clothes,toys and household items that Rachel and I gathered up this week going to people who really need them and will be blessed by them. There’s something a little bit redemptive in that.

7: Possessions, Days 1-4

Day One: Clothes

14 items found their way from my wardrobe to the Clothes Swap. A few of them nearly got stuffed quietly in a plastic bag to come home again, but I held my nerve. I also showed unprecedented restraint when faced with a room full of free clothes (not so much self control with the pink cava though). With Rach’s blessing, I took 6 items home but even these will face a final review before they get hanger space. Tough love: a whole new concept in my wardrobe.

Day 2:  DVDs

This is not really my department in our house. I think there are only about 3 movies that I would consider mine in our entire collection. So I attacked the kids’ stash and cast a critical eye over Jaybers’ (without consultation, a little rash perhaps?). Here is what’s up for grabs…

Bridget Jones’s diary


Ultimate Yogalates

Genius of Britian – The Scientists who changed the world

Nigella Bites

(and 4 kids DVDs, but they were snapped up)

So, if you want them, let me know and we’ll find a way to get them to you. Otherwise, any suggestions, other than Charity shop?

Day Three: Books

Rachel Martin is putting together an event for World Book Night (23rd April) when we will celebrate all things bookish and she, as a designated book giver, will dispense free copies of Dodie Smith’s ‘I Capture the Castle’. This is the second year Rach has done this and it’s a great way to get together all the various book lovers and book club members in our community. Last year we had a table for book swapping, so I am saving the books that I have purged from our shelves (again, minus consultation, oops) to get them into the hands of some avid readers in April.

Day Four: Toys

I am a women possessed, and have become stealthy in a bid to avoid any opposition (tears, tantrums, begging and the like) to my downsizing. This category had no chance of being constrained by the number ‘7’ and 2 large bags came with me to Mother and Toddlers today, set out under a sign saying, ‘Free to a good home’.  The few bits that were left will be taken over to Women’s Aid along with other things from this week. These will go directly to women and their kids who have had to leave home as a result of domestic abuse, often with only the clothes they are standing up in. Women’s Aid offers them a safe place to live for as long as they need it and then helps them find and set up a new home away from their abuser. So that’s where I will also be taking day 5’s Kitchen equipment and day 6’s linens and towels.

It’s not looking good for Day 7; decorative items. I’m not a nick-nacky person and so anything decorative that does make it into the house is dearly loved. Could I donate a child instead, do you think?

Week Three: Possessions

This week is fairly self-explanatory and goes to the heart of what ‘7’ is about – the excess of ‘stuff’ in our lives. It is also a nice change in gear from denial (food and clothes weeks) to generosity as we will not just be decreasing our ‘stuff’ this week, but hopefully finding it a recipient who may need it. Each day this week we will be giving away 7 items, with a different category of giving each day: clothing, books, music and film, kitchen equipment, linens and blankets, kids’ toys, decorative items. This stuff should be worth passing on and I’m expecting that some of these 49 things will be difficult to part with. I’d also really like to have some of the items go directly to a person we know has a need for it. In other words this is not the week when I take bag loads of crap to my local charity shops.

William Morris once said,

‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’

This will be the mantra as I delve into cupboards, wardrobes, bookshelves and toy boxes this week. It is these places that will tell me what kind of consumer I have been. Jen Hatmaker talks about, ‘thoughtless, default consumerism: see it, like it, buy it’ and I know even before I start opening closets and drawers that this defines a lot of my shopping.

Probably my worst area for this kind of consumption, and today’s category, is clothes. If it is cheap, fits and looks halfway decent on me then home it comes. There may be a 10 second justification in there somewhere if I already have something like it/don’t really love it/have nothing that goes with it. This usually smooths things over and ensures that said item gets bought, worn once and then retired to a dark, smelly corner of the wardrobe.

By happy coincidence, tonight is Clothes Swop Night. Rachel and I have invited all the women from our community to come with their cast-offs to her house where we can have some wine, craic and a marathon trying on session of each others clothes. This is a great way to re-invigorate our wardrobes without consuming and has the bonus of being environmentally friendly. I will, however be reigning myself in. This week is not about giving things away to create space for more. The aim is simplicity and so, ‘Do I really need it?’,  will be following me round the piles of clothes tonight. Rach, you can cross-examine and search my bags on the way home, ok? I need all the help I can get when faced with mountains of free clothes, especially if fueled with wine.

7: Clothes, the end

College assignments and sleepless have dominated the past few days, (as has the newly discovered Friday Night Lights box set, so good), and also, to be honest, clothes week has just been a bit….fnuh. It wasn’t awful, just dull. I like the whole process of deciding what I feel like wearing and earrings just make me happy. For a Clothes fast to really start to hit home, I think I would need to go hardcore and, like Jen Hatmaker did in ‘7’, only wear 7 items for a full month. I’m guessing by the end of that month my issues with clothing would really start to rear their ugly heads. But there have been whispers and hints, little questions in the back of my mind that probably could do with some attention. Like, why do you think about who you are going to see in the day when deciding what to wear? Or, why, on a college day, do you think about the outfits you’ve worn in the past few weeks in class before dressing? Hmmmm, who I am dressing for?

There was another, unexpected, side-effect to this week. I had picked up a couple of Women’s mags in the charity shop a few days ago. Juju went down for a nap and I installed myself with a cuppa and a blanket in my favourite chair. Bliss. I don’t really read these kind of mags, simply because they are pretty pricey and I get a good dose of them when I am in the hairdressers, but I enjoy a wee flick. They are both marketed at women like me, with my social background and means and I was really stunned, as I turned the glossy pages, at what I was being sold. Every single article, advert and feature was pitching me a lifestyle way beyond my means and I would guess, the means of about 90% of it’s readers. The fashion spread had dresses at 4oo pounds, coats at 1000, jewellery in the hundreds. Lifetsyle features were in the houses of the rich and D-list famous, ‘getaways’ to far flung parts and cosmetics pages were all about how to keep up with celebrity make up styles. I guess I realised that the purpose of this magazine was to create either discontent or greed within me. To go after what I don’t have or feel worse about what I do. Later in the day, we read these words in home group,

 What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Matthew 6

But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 1 Timothy

I need to hear these words of life, of realignment. The magazines and the thousands of adverts I see every day dangle their bright and shiny things in front of me and, more often than not, I buy into their version of the kind of life I should have, the kinds of things I should own. And I do it at the expense of contentment and thankfulness.

I’m not sure I would have had that reaction, even a few weeks ago, to the magazines. In entering the slightly unhinged world of ‘7’, I am being prodded awake. Or maybe I am weaning myself off the Kool Aid.

7:Clothes, Day Three


…was what I chose for my remaining 2 items. Cosy, comfy and appeases Jayber as he is going through a ‘I-like-you-in-red-phase’. This is progress. He has finally learnt the importance of having an opinion about what I wear.

Again, enjoyed this morning the speed at which I was able to get ready for church. The jumper is new (Benetton 70% sale, oh yeah) so that helped offset the fact that I was not quite as dressy for church as usual. Our church is very casual, but on Sundays I enjoy putting on some clothes that I wouldn’t ordinarily wear for the school run/ doing laundry/cleaning  bathrooms. Sabbath is about rest and play and I like the festive-ness of dressing up for it.

Labour Behind the Label don’t have any info on Benetton, so I headed over to ethicalconsumer.org who have now totally confused me. They use a different set of criteria to judge how ethical a comany is. Whereas LBL focus on the impact on the workers, ethical consumer takes the environment, animals, people, product sustainability and politics into consideration before working out a score. The more you look into these areas of ethics the more confusing and complicated it can get. I just want someone to tell me where to/where not to shop. Ethicalconsumer may well be able to do that but they would like to charge me 30quid per year for the information, which sucks.

On the upside, they weren’t so scathing about Gap, who must vindicate themselves in other ethical areas.

The skinny jeans live on.

p.s Paul has put the text of his sermon on generosity and giving up on his blog.