The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space


jackdaws nesting in our chimneyA few years ago Danny admitted that he had considered leaving me.

“The problem is that you are so untidy. You have too much stuff and too little space. At one point I just felt I couldn’t cope.” He stared at me with a slightly pop eyed look. Probably expecting an explosion.

I could only agree with him. Luckily he has very little in the way of possessions. Even the Min Pins have more toys. His arrival at the cottage had a big impact on my life and a small impression on the space. Until he tired of living out of a suitcase and suggested that his own wardrobe would be a better option.

I averted disaster by buying a small shed. Not as a chilly walk in wardrobe for Danny rather a place to move all my stuff that was compressed in the wardrobe. We spent a morning shifting the stuff from wardrobe to shed.
“When are you ever going to use a shooting stick? That outboard motor’s leaking oil. What about this roll of lino? We have carpets.”

“The lino is for lino cuts.” I often buy in bulk. It’s cheaper, if you actually use the stuff.
“OK, keep the lino. Why don’t we just chuck the rest?”


He has benefited from his magpie princess. Once I raised the money for a weekend away by selling some early 20th century fishing rods and reels that I was storing in the barn, just in case.
“Surely if you take up fishing, you’d want a super, lightweight rod and reel. This stuff is over a hundred years old. You wouldn’t cut a dash on the riverbank and they’d be difficult to use.”
Cheffins auction rooms obliged.

Before the terrible day when he hired the giant skip and cleared some of “the tat” from the barn, we usually had a selection of replacements if something got broken. Some of them were older than me and a few still worked with a little care and the gentle touch of an oily rag.

Things have got out of hand over the past few months at the cottage. Even I am finding it hard to locate ingredients in the larder and cope with the buffeting landslide when I open a “stash” cupboard door. Suddenly the idea of the practical use of space is appealing.

As D is away on business this week I decided to take a few days off and tackle the kitchen. Already I’ve found lost treasures. A Rose Elliot cook book, my phone charger and an unrecognisable object under the cooker which could have been an ancient potato or a large anaesthetised slug. It was guzzled so fast by Inca that I’m still not sure.

Already I’m fighting the seductive trill of the magpie daemon.
“Why not just shift some stuff into the attic before Danny gets back and think about it later? He’ll never know. You might need the weighing scales without weights one day. You could probably make your own weights if you put your mind to it.”

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  1. moonroot

    I sympathise. In our house, I’m the squirrel who can’t bear to throw anything away, either for sentimental reasons, or because ‘it might come in useful’. It even extends to my cooking, and I’ve fantasised sometimes about publishing the ‘Leftovers Cookbook’, which seems to be my specialist culinary subject. T is the tidy one whose idea of heaven would be a minimalist apartment. Fat chance!
    Freecycle has been a great blessing, in that it allows me to pass on the ‘that might be useful one day’ stuff to people who might actually use it, and feel happy about it. I just cannot bear sending stuff to the tip! I find I don’t pick up much stuff from it, because I know whatever’s advertised will be useful to someone and hence not wasted, so I don’t feel the need to ‘rescue’ it (if that makes sense).

  2. Katherine

    Ohhhh Fiona, I’m just the same. I inherited hoardiness from my ma (“but you never know when that big bag of plastic clippy thingies might come in useful!”). My mother even had 1960s cruet sets she’d collected from Japan Airlines flights, piles of folded foil, balls of string, jam jar lids, enough beautiful crockery for for ten households. Having lost my ma, I was attached to everything she’d left behind, so you can imagine the mayhem.

    There’s nothing quite like the prospect of emigration to cure this problem. Paul’s attitude to possessions is very Zen (“but do you really NEED more than one handbag???”) and this is finally filtering through to me. When our quote for shifting our stuff to Australia came in at just under £5000, I guess this is when I really woke up. I had a house auction a couple of weeks ago, inviting London friends – and friends of friends – cooked up a vast bucket of chilli con carne and put lots of stuff out for bidding. I earned £330 from just a few items sold! On top of that, another £270 in one week from selling off what books I could bear to part with. There’s money in them thar piles o’stuff!

    It was hard to get rid of the more sentimental things. But deep breath, away they went. “K, those cruet sets are NOT your mother! You’re not throwing your mother away! Just old manky cruet sets!”). It’s a fabulous feeling. And once it’s gone, I don’t miss any of it.

    I’ve now gone into a charity shop/selling/eBaying/throwing away frenzy and it feels great. I’m feeling lighter….less befuddled from too many Things. It’s been liberating to chuck stuff out, though I found it a little scary to begin with. Paul is highly approving. He still tries to push me a little too far (“but do you really NEED an ironing board? Surely a towel on the floor will do?”). I know I’ve done well though – our removals quote is now down to £2400. And I’ll be setting off on our travels as light as air!

    Fancy a pair of bamboo screens for the garden?

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Sally

    I think that I would get on well with your squirrel!

    I say similar things most days to D – He is such a sweetheart that he searches for the things too.

    Hi Kathy

    I feel the same about my stuff. But I do have loads of extraneous bits that just need to be sifted and chucked, like the nifty carrier bag filing system that drives me dotty when I have to find that important letter.

    Hi Magic Cochin

    I love the tidier parts of the kitchen. They look calm and clear and organised. I am now falling over the piles of stuff that I’ve shoved in the sitting room. Thank goodness D is away all week.

    Hi Stephen

    It’s fine to side with Danny!

    The not putting it back drives D nuts too. I try and remember and then slip up again.

    I do hope that D doesn’t read your comment as he hasn’t cottoned onto accidentally breaking things.

    I like your 3 pile advice. Particularly “I don’t know what it is”!

    Of course you’re not evil, you are just catching the reins of the runaway coach.

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    Hi Pat (and fellow hoarder)

    I spent a wonderful hour on Freecycle once and realised that it could be a slippery slope so logged off. If I hadn’t found the 8″ stair rods in the barn to make the fruit cage I would have been scouring Feecycle. Keeping those 4 slim rods has saved me so much time and money!

    Hi Clare

    My mum saves gift wrap, washes out freezer bags and foil. I actually tossed some plastic veg containers today that could have housed seedlings. I’ve been saving them for weeks but they never make the jump from kitchen side to greenhouse.

    Great idea to weigh what you are letting go. Perhaps if I start with the heavy stuff D will be impressed. A “yet to decide box” attracts me. Thanks for the advice.

    Hi KJ

    Scary idea unless there are just six things on the lawn!

    I love my bits and bobs. Also I like to have reserves if something breaks. Just need to sort the wheat from the chaff to begin with.

    Hi Jane

    I can understand this. In my book bathrooms and bedrooms need to be reasonably clear. They are next on the list.

    Hi Martyn

    A much gentler solution. Thanks.

    The only problem is that there’s no more space in the sheds or barn!

    Hi Pamela

    The charity that rents the shop beneath your flat would get double bubble from me if I was living above. Crates in the morning and then wads of cash to buy the stuff back in the afternoon.

    I empathise with your dad. It took me years to recover from the day of the giant skip and even Danny regretted his impetuousness when we actually had to buy replacements 🙂

    Hi Mildred

    We don’t have much time and this has an impact on the mess. But I need to reorganise things so that we save more time and trim everything down a bit before we are overwhelmed.

    Hi Sharon J

    The rods and reels were rather beautiful but unlike anything that I’ve seen on any riverbank in my lifetime!

    Hi Kate(uk)

    When I read your comment, I felt a twinge of guilt. I am determined to clear out a good proportion of the junk.

    Hi Sally

    This is D all over. Laid back and patient and then suddenly grumpy and shovelling stuff into the barn.

    Hi Nick

    Great story! The police would have the final straw. Even for me.

    We have a lot of books and a lot of shelves, containing most of our collection.

    Hi Polly

    I’m a butter paper saving fanatic too. Usually, when I find them in the fridge they are out of date.

    I want to sort out my ancient paperbacks. There is a box in the bedroom of ones that I don’t want to keep. It just needs shifting down to the charity shop.

    Hi Louisa

    Filling the larder is one of my known vices. I love buying cookery ingredients. Now I have a rule, I can only add to the larder if there is space on the shelves.

  4. Oh how I empathise. I cleared my kitchen out a couple of weeks ago, and the stuff I chucked out was ridiculas. I donated some cupboard stuff to my needy friend, who enjoyed the elderberry jelly and cup-a-soups.

  5. Mmmm. I’ve still got a Christmas tree decoration (an obnoxious green plastic reindeer with a broken leg) that I’ve had for several decades. And I still save butter papers, even when I know I can’t use them all. And the three-year-old kitchen extension is now crammed to bursting with even more bargain pots and pans. And why can’t I throw away ancient paperback I know I’ll never read again (priced 2/6d.!!)? And does anyone else save plastic packaging from the supermarket to use as plant saucers – but you never do??

  6. books were the wifes weakness, boxes and boxes of books. A loud sliding and crashing noise from the box room one afternoon could not be investigated as the door was jammed shut from inside!.The embarassment of having to explain to the police, called out by the neighbourhood watch why I was accessing my own house via an upstairs window and ladder spurred me to take drastic action.
    As “KJ” calls it i did an “oprah” emptied the room and put up a set of bookshelves. the wife was allowed to fill the bookshelf with favourites and the rest went to charity. The law to this day “Books, if they aint on the shelf they aint in the house” . you have to be firm its the only way. happy sorting….

  7. Kate, That’s me exactly. Of course we accept the whole package and there is an awful lot of love, but every now and then it gets to me too and I throw a ‘wobbly’. I actually thought ‘squirrel’ was allergic to bins at one stage because ‘stuff’ can find its way near the bin, but the last final sacrificial act is always down to me.

  8. Kate(uk)

    My husband has difficulty throwing anything away- and I really mean ANYTHING. We have a very large garage and a shed FULL of stuff.In fact, when we were moving back to the UK and I saw the size of the garage I knew this was the house for us and it has meant I can have a ‘nothing in the loft’rule because of the potential ceiling falling in scenario.I can keep the living room tidy all week if he is away, but within minutes of his return the sofa,floor and table are just covered in STUFF.He is a hopeless case, but then I knew that when he moved in ( with stuff, though there was 24 yearsworth less of it then)so I accepted the whole package.Most of the time I can put up with it, but every now and then it gets to me- usually when the walkway through the boxes to my potting shed gets blocked!

  9. Sharon J

    Unfortunately, my ex is as bad as I’ve been so no help there.

    I had a good laugh reading this, though. And the picture in my mind of you and that old fishing rod… as a keen angler myself, I can tell you now that it would’ve been a riot 🙂

  10. Mildred

    What a great topic Fi! I can’t live with mess . . . everything in its place! It seems to ‘free me up’ somehow! And what a lovely feeling when you open a cupboard and everything is all lined up, tidy and labelled . . . good luck!

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