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What to do with your Covid decluttering items

23 February, 2021

When the UK went in to the first lockdown in March 2020, many people saw an opportunity to focus on improving their home. While some DIY shops were flooded with people buying paint and wallpaper or new lighting fixtures, the real issue came in May and June, when lockdown started to be relaxed. At this point many charity shops were inundated with donations, as people had spent some of their furlough or their weekends at home having a clearout.

The problem was that charity shops weren't ready for the flood. There was still confusion regarding how long Covid could survive on various surfaces, and many small charity shops didn't have the space to keep things quarantined. Many shops had to put up signs saying they couldn't accept certain donations, such as books, while others had to release messages asking people to phone and book a drop-in time so that donations could be staggered.

If you had a Covid declutter and took these messages to heart before the second and third lockdowns, then it's possible that you have a few bags of cleared out items still sitting in a cupboard. So what can you do to clear the space while charity shops are closed, or are likely to restrict the types of donations they accept?

Olio app

The Olio app is available on both iPhone and Android. Originally starting out as a food waste app, Olio has since grown to add some new features, including a section that lets you list "Non-food" items.

Once you've downloaded the app and registered an account, you can start listing items you want to give away for free. Simply take a photo, fill out the title and description and the times when you'll be in for someone to collect, and select how long you want the listing to stay up for. You can list things individually, or as a bundle, and you can have several photos on a listing.

You can also use this for food items, but there are restrictions. You can't list anything that's past the Use By date, so a lot of fresh items may not qualify. But a Best Before date is suitable, so if you've found a few unopened tins of soup at the back of the cupboard then you can put them up, just make sure you state the Best Before date on the listing so that other users know what they'll be getting.

Once you have listed an item it will show up on the app, along with a map indicating where you live (it's not specifically pointing at your property, it just pins the road). Then when someone messages you asking for the item you can give them your address for them to pick it up from.

And of course, this works both ways! You can check the app to see if anyone is giving away something you need. Because Olio started out as a food waste app, you may find you have a Food Waste Hero in your local area. These users collect food items from supermarkets who are signed up to the app, and they then list the items themselves. The majority are fresh items, so you need to be quick about requesting before they need to be taken down.

The downside to Olio is that your range of prospective users can be quite limited, as it's not as well known as something like Freegle or Facebook Marketplace. But all messages should go through the app, so if someone becomes rude or abusive towards you, it's easy to report them to the app. It also has a rating function, so you can rate people who you give an item to, or collect one from.

You also can't use Olio to sell things, unless you've made something yourself (in which case Olio has a separate section). It has to be given away for free, so if you're hoping to make a few quid then this is one to avoid.

Facebook Marketplace and Groups

Speaking of Facebook Marketplace, this is another good way to give away some of your clutter. Many areas will have a "Buying and Selling" group, run by volunteer admins. You can either list direct to the Marketplace, or post on your local group (once you've joined and been approved), which will also give you the option of duplicating your listing to the main Marketplace.

Similarly to Olio, you just need a photo and a description. Unlike Olio, you can use it to sell your items. So if you have a large bundle of good quality clothing you could list it and ask for payment for it. People can comment on your listing, or contact you using Facebook Messenger to discuss it further. You can ask them to collect the item (it's generally polite to put "collect from [town]" in your listing) or they may ask you to drop it off to them (you don't have to agree, it depends on how helpful you're feeling). You can also list things that you are giving away for free if you just want to get rid of them quickly.

Facebook has a much larger userbase, so listing items on it significantly increases the chance of you managing to get rid of things. However, unlike Olio there isn't any kind of feedback feature, and there are limits to what you can do if someone gets demanding. In the past I've seen stories about people demanding an item is dropped off at their house as they don't have a car, or coming round to collect in person and then being argumentative and abusive when the seller refuses to let the price be negotiated down.

As with so many of these things, you have to be mindful of the risk you are willing to take. Some Admins can be proactive at banning someone who has a bad reputation among their group, but it can descend in to "he says, she says".

Stick things outside your house

If you have space outside your house (such as a small front garden) and you live in an area which can get some footfall during the day, then you could try simply putting things outside with a "free to take" sign.

For some people this can involve setting up a folding table and sticking a load of items outside on a good day. But given the pandemic you may feel a bit uncomfortable with having someone rifle through your items, picking them up and putting them down, and then having to bring them back in to your house afterwards.

On the other hand if you have something small, like a pile of books, then you could store them in a lidded plastic box. That way you can simply put them outside and take the lid off, then put the lid back on at the end of the day before bringing them back indoors.

This process is a lot less involved than a digital option. You don't need to take time to snap photos, edit them if you don't like them, and then type out a description on your phone. Nor do you need to keep checking for messages throughout the day. However, you will have a very limited audience, unless you're on a popular dog walking route or live along a high street. You might find it takes a lot longer for just one or two items to be given away, and after a few days of moving things in and out of your house you'll probably be a bit fed up.

However you could combine this with a Facebook selling group. I have occasionally seen people on my local group post a photo of a laden-down table at their garden gate stating "I'm giving away these items at [house number and road name] until 6pm, please pop by and collect." This increases the potential for getting rid of items, but means you don't need to keep checking your phone for replies (especially if you state that you won't hold items for people).

These are just three options for getting rid of items while charity shops are closed. Other options include Freegle, or keeping an eye out for any requests from people on local Facebook groups for specific items (I've seen a few "I'm moving in to my first home and need a few household bits, does anyone have some bits I can buy cheap?" posts in the past).

All of these have risks around giving your address out to people online, and risks around Covid. Remember that you don't need to invite people in to your house to pick up an item. You can place it in a carrier bag and leave it on your doorstep if you know that someone is on their way. Or keep the item next to your front door so when someone knocks you can just pick it up and hand it out the door to them. If you've had items on a table outside during the day then you can give them a quick wipe down with a Dettol wipe before bringing them inside, or if you have a garage you can pop them in there over night rather than put them back in your home.


A wardrobe of clothes with "What to do with your Covid decluttering items" in green text over the top.

How I managed to skip Amazon for Christmas

31 January, 2020

There may be affiliate links in my post. Affiliate links mean that if you sign up after clicking through, I will get some extra money from the company. I do not use links that cost you anything!

For the past couple of years I've told myself that I would cut back on my use of Amazon for my Christmas shopping. Bezos has more than enough money, the staff are overworked and underpaid, and there are plenty of small businesses that could use my money and will pay UK taxes with it.

Every year I end up inevitably failing. I will get some things from places like Waterstones, but eventually I'll resort to Amazon as it's cheaper and thus I can "buy more" for family and friends. And then over the course of the next year I read more about the poor treatment of Amazon warehouse staff and feel guilty and resolve to not do it again.

However for Christmas 2019 I finally achieved my goal. There was not a single present under the Christmas tree that has come delivered from Amazon. And in many ways this year was almost accidental.

Planning early
In the middle of October I sat down and looked at my plans for the weekends before then and Christmas. I'd booked a few trips over the autumn and knew my time was getting filled up so decided to see how bad it was.

Imagine my shock to realise that the only free weekends I had from 23 November through to Christmas day were Saturday 30 November and Sunday 1 December, and Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 December. The last weekend in particular was far too late to be Christmas shopping! Shops would be horribly overcrowded and loads of things would be impossible to find.

So with that in mind I knew I would need to get all my shopping done before December began. It didn't need to be wrapped but it did need to be purchased. With this much lead time I knew there was no real reason to be diving on to Amazon, except to take a look at the wishlists of family for some inspiration.

Local small businesses
I'm very lucky in that my large village has an independent bookshop. Their website stated that they can order in books for you if they don't have what you're looking for in stock.

I emailed them to confirm what I needed could be ordered. Once they replied I sent back a list of the titles and authors. They confirmed the price, ordered them for me, and then two days later emailed to say everything was ready to collect. I popped down one day after work, paid in the shop (so no need for Paypal fees) and came home with a large brown paper bag of books.

It was such a great experience that I've since ordered more from them. Yes, it's not quite as convenient as having something drop through my door. But I don't subscribe to Prime, so most deliveries take a week or even occasionally longer. My local bookshop got everything within two days, if I'd been quicker off the mark I could have gone and picked them up on the afternoon of the second day. Overall it was a much better service.

Follow independent online retailers on social media
Small businesses are increasingly spending money on advertising on social media, particularly Instagram. If I see one I like, or whose style I know a family member will like, then I follow them.

Not only do I then get regular posts about their work, which reminds me that I want to buy something from them, but I also get alerts for sales. Yes, it's best to pay full price for an independent if you can. But if the only way something will be in your price range is if it has a discount - then wait for a sale! Depending on when they have them you may find you can tick a gift or two off the shopping list in August or September, as they clear space for seasonal stock.

Make the most of your Christmas excursions
One of my booked up Saturdays was for a coach trip to Bury St Edmund's Christmas market. A week before we were due to go I looked on their website for a list of stallholders. This gave me an idea of what types of products I would be able to buy (turned out there were a lot of distilleries!) and if there were any stalls in particular I wanted to look out for.

I then had a good idea of some gifts to look out for for my family, and could prioritise finding the stalls once I arrived. A few turned out to be not quite what I was looking for (some of those gin bottles are really small!) but on the other hand some had "market-only" versions of items that they weren't selling online.

In the end I came home with a nice selection of gifts which really helped kick-off the gift buying.

Click and collect
This was another time saver. There are a few "chain" shops (like Hotel Chocolat) where I buy the same things as Christmas presents each year. This year I blocked out two evenings in one week and dedicated them to shopping with click and collect options. I made sure I selected the same Saturday for collection, which was the last Saturday I had free in November.

Even with click and collect I was still able to get cashback by buying online through Quidco. It also meant that I could stick to my budgets!

Before picking everything up I made sure I made a list of the places I had to collect orders from, and had the emails saved on my phone to show in the shops. I managed to get around quickly, and it was much easier than trying to think of things on the day.

Make quicker decisions
This was probably one of the biggest factors. Normally I dawdle over deciding Christmas presents, and inevitably something will sell out before I decide to go back and buy it. 

Since time was of the essence I decided to go with gut instinct and buy things when I saw them. Rather than end up buying things I regretted, I found that my initial thoughts were correct and people liked the things I'd got them.

The final result
Having done all this last Christmas, I'm now even more determined to continue it next Christmas. I also managed to finish my shopping by the first week of December, so instead of stressing out about how I was going to sort it all out, I could relax and focus just on wrapping everything up.

My aim for Christmas 2020 is to try and get a bit more from Etsy. You can set your search parameters so that you only see shops based in the UK, and you can also set for things like free postage as well. I tend to get Christmas-themed washi tape from shops on there, so getting some gifts shouldn't be too much of a stretch!

A pile of presents with red and gold wrapping paper, with a white banner across the middle and "How I managed to avoid Amazon for Christmas" in green text.


Review: Blue Eyed Boy

23 July, 2019

Blue Eyed Boy is a novel from the popular author Joanne Harris, the author of “Chocolat” (turned into a film starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche). As with many of Harris’ books this one is written from several different points of view, the real twist comes from two characters actually writing from four different viewpoints between them.

The story starts with the character “blueeyedboy”, an internet persona who posts on a web journal called a “WeJay”. Each section is started with a box similar to that of an online blog, it notes the author, whether the entry is public or restricted (something you have to check as the story develops otherwise you may become a bit confused), what they are listening to and their mood. Each “public” chapter also ends with comments left by other online personas that follow the WeJay.

Blueyedboy is one of three boys whose mother assigned them different colours in order to make buying clothes for them easier; Nigel the eldest was given black, Brendan was assigned brown, and Benjamin had blue. As the story develops you quickly learn that colour is a major running theme in this story as every person is assigned a name that relates to a colour; “Mrs Electric Blue”, “Emily White”, “Doctor Peacock”. The colours are specific to the development of the character and their persona, for example the name “Emily White” suggests a young girl, the character is around six years old so this fits perfectly. “Doctor Peacock” gives you a vision of an intellectual professor type who collects things and has an old-fashioned mentality. As the book moves on you realise how well these names fit the characters. Blueeyedboy is very much an anti-hero, he’s manipulative and scheming and has little to no empathy. However when you realise just how abusive his mother is you feel a bit of sympathy for him (although it’s sympathy that won’t last long!) and his situation.

The community that “blueeyedboy” posts on is called “BadGuysRock” and it is here that he posts little murder-mystery stories written from his perspective. The other members leave their comments on the stories, and in his restricted entries we learn more about his “fans”; a woman obsessed with her celebrity crush, a troll masquerading as a religious fanatic who insists the author will burn in hell, an overweight girl that yo-yo diets and falls for abusive men, and a commenter whose comments are repeatedly deleted.

The story follows multiple murders, all published as public stories on the web community. It is only through blueeyedboy’s restricted, non-public posts that the connections are made and the real story unravels. About a third of the way in he is joined by “Albertine”, who tells her own side of the tale in a similar way. Her public stories are not about murder, but are instead posted from the view of a small blind child called Emily White, and again they are explained and unravelled through both her private postings and those of blueeyedboy.

Having read quite a lot of Harris’ previous works I’m used to her adept juggling of different viewpoints. However this time I struggled. The use of public and restricted-viewing posts threw me off once or twice, you really do need to read the top of each chapter carefully so you know what you’re meant to be reading. Four different viewpoints is a little too much for one book, especially when you throw in a whole host of additional characters, quite a few of which have names related to the colour blue and thus eventually blur in to one big (blue) blob. It makes for a very good story, but it’s not the kind that you can read when you’re tired and not fully concentrating because you really do need to pay attention to what you’re reading.

However the book does include one of Harris’ usual big twists and that makes it all worthwhile!

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who has read Harris’ previous works. For a new reader however it may not be the best tale to start with, the jump from viewpoints can get a little tiring and if you’re not used to her style of writing (and knowing that sooner or later she’s going to shove in a decent twist that surprises you) then you might end up giving up on the story early on. Stick with it however, the ending will make your spine tingle!

Review: Nothing to Envy

30 May, 2019

I bought this book a couple of years ago, and since then I will occasionally go back to reread it, particularly during times when North Korea is in the news. When I originally purchased it I ended up devouring ut within 2 days as I simply couldn't put it down, and each time I reread it I find it just a compelling as that first read.

Background

The author, Barbara Demick, is a journalist for the Los Angeles Times who spent time in South Korea from 2001 onwards. During her time she interviewed North Korean defectors, those who had escaped from the North in to either China or South Korea. Over the years she spoke to over 100 former North Koreans, primarily those from the city of Chongjin.

In the opening to the book she explains that she chose Chongjin as it's further away from the capital Pyongyang. North Korea's capital city is kept as the equivalent of a trade-show to Western tourists, those that live there permanently are smart, attractive, from high-status families or are part of the Workers Party. By choosing former residents of Chongjin, Demick gets a more authentic tale of life in North Korea.

The book

The story focuses on six main "characters" from a diverse range of backgrounds. There's "Mrs Song", who used to be fully dedicated to the Workers Party, Mi-ran the school teacher, Mrs Song's daughter Oak-hee who managed to escape an abusive husband, Jun-sang whose Korean family decided to repatriate from Japan and settle in the North, Hyuck the orphan whose arrest ultimately decides his fate, and Dr Kim whose Chinese-born father leaves her with an invaluable gift. They cover a range of ages and different social classes, for example Mi-ran's father is actually South Korean, a Prisoner of War who was never allowed to leave, while Mrs Song is married to a journalist which makes their family remarkably well-off in the grand scheme of things.

In between all their stories are explanations about the North Korean way of life. You would think that a true socialist society would have no class structure, and yet North Korea's system is worse than the social structure of India, with those on the bottom unable to rise and their children condemned with them. Likewise the economic situation is explained early on, I never knew that after the Korean War, the South was far worse off than the North. Demick also explains the propoganda, the daily indoctrination, the "voluntary" tasks such as spending one day a week in self-criticism, and the way neighbours spy on each other.

Through each person you get a rich picture of daily life in North Korea, and then the terrible years of the Great Famine and the situation that developed after it. You understand why it's so difficult for many to walk away, and why there is now an increasing number of people defecting. More than that, you'll start to realise the enormity of the task that South Korea will face should unification ever become a possibility, and just how much China will fight tooth and nail to prevent it happening.

Worth buying?

If you have ever had any inclination to finding out about North Korea, then buy this book. If you ever see the old photos of people weeping at the funeral of Kim Il-sun or King Jong-il, and wonder how they can cry like that, then buy this book. If you wonder why the country doesn't just rise up in it's own version of the Arab Spring, then buy this book. If none of those things sound interesting to you, then buy this book anyway.

"Nothing to Envy" is the perfect title, because at the end of it you will come away realising how lucky you are to be born in a wealthy country, and you will never be able to think about North Korea again without mentally adding the words "those poor sods".

Review: Gentlemen & Players

11 March, 2019

Gentlemen & Players is a crime novel written by the very talented author Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat). Normally I am not a fan of Harris’ crime writing, I prefer the magic that is involved in some of her other work. But after a few pages I found myself easily drawn in to this one, and struggled to put it down.

The story is set in a fictional private school named St Oswalds. As with many of Harris’s other books the book is written from two points of view, in this case from the point of view of the child of a former porter, named Snyde, and the Classics professor Rob Straitley.

Straitly is a very old fashioned character, he is the last Classics teacher left in the school, hates computers and whiteboards and prefers to use his pigeon hole and a blackboard with chalk. He has been at the school for over 30 years and is rapidly approaching his “centenary”, his 100th term as a teacher. He is a crotchety character, uncomfortable around women (he has never married), scornful of some of his colleagues and very protective of his students. He is also one of Snyde’s main targets, as he was a witness to an incident many years ago that led to the death of one of his students.

Snyde on the other hand is very modern, adept with mobile phones and computers, using them to leave a trail that incriminates various staff members with pornographic images and fake browser histories. Snyde was also a witness to the death of a student, Leon Knight, and through the book the story is slowly pieced together by these two characters.

The whole thing starts, as most school books do, in September with a new school year and a new term. New staff members, including Snyde under a new name with a fake CV, and reorganisation with some of the classrooms. Straitley’s year does not start well as he finds his office has been taken from him and given to the languages department, and during the term that the book covers other aspects of his teaching are eroded. You get the feeling that he would actually be a better head of the languages department as he is aware of the other teachers and their personal problems, and cares less for politics and Health and Safety and more about those he works with and those he teaches.

Snyde on the other hand is a predator, bent on destroying the school and Straitley, using one pupil to this end. Jackson Knight is in Straitley’s form and feels bullied and victimised, although both teachers agree that he is mostly just another spoilt brat who thinks the world should revolve around him. At one point he accuses Straitley of anti-Semitism, claiming the teacher is picking on him for being Jewish. I will not, obviously, ruin the rest of the book for you.

During the term Straitley is slowly pushed towards increasingly dangerous health problems as the speed of the story picks up, stolen items, accusations from pupils, graffiti on the fence of his home. Likewise the story about Snyde picks up, the past, the parents (including an absent mother) and Straitley’s role in everything and what he did to deserve such torment. Harris balances both characters well, ending each chapter with enough information to make you go “and...!?” before swapping back to the other character, so you are compelled to turn the pages and find out more. I also like the fact that she set the book in a school with an old history, but kept the book in the present day, where teachers are facing pressure to keep up to date with increasing workloads, the latest teaching technology, and the out-of-school arguments between pupils that often start on social media platforms beyond the school's remit.

My one complaint about this book is that it is a bit too long, but the ending will literally blow your socks off and make you flick back through the previous chapters going “how on earth did I miss that?” so it is definitely worth taking the time to read it.

This is a very good book writing by a very good author, if you like crime novels with a bit of a twist then I highly recommend you pick this up. It's been out for a number of years so you'll probably find it in a charity shop if you don't want to pay full price.

 
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