February Gratitude

A simple list of gratitude from this month

♥ Enjoying work
♥ Turning down work because I've finally learnt to say no
♥ Daffodils and tulips in my favourite vases
♥ Celebrating birthdays with family and friends
♥ Eating out 
♥ Spring flowers arriving on time
♥ Daily fun on Instagram
♥ Much wardrobe editing and saying goodbye to clothes that no longer suit me
♥ Deeper sleep
♥ Planning a holiday, theatre trip and a festival for later in the year
♥ Embracing new opportunities
♥ Loving reading daily
♥ The return of rock 'n' roll  – husband off to band practice after a long gap (it's been 7 years)
♥ Surviving a family health crisis (Dad) – he's fine now
♥ Painting the bathroom  - can't wait to paint our kitchen next
♥ Loving family
♥ Catching up with friends
♥ Me time
♥ Enjoying the moment 
♥ Looking forward to unknown moments ahead
♥ Thank you for reading Just a little less this month...




February Days

Can you believe we're into the last week of February already? It seems to have gone so fast even for a short month.

But February's always a busy month for us with my birthday and our youngest son's just days apart and then there's Valentine' s Day vying for our attention (maybe one celebration too many). I do like February though and not just because of our birthdays. Knowing spring will be with us soon fills me with hope for the milder, lighter months ahead. 

In February I feel I can enjoy the cosiness of winter whilst I begin to look forward to spring. This week's milder weather and bright skies have certainly helped buoy me up. We've relished walks looking for signs of spring and I took my camera for a whirl around my parent's lovely garden where many of these shots were taken. At this time of year I'm also keen to get on with decluttering so I've been editing my clothes, books and magazines and tidying up corners of my home, like this bookcase in the kitchen. 

This year February seems to have started in winter and ended in spring. Lovely.



Colour Combining my Wardrobe

Follow Just a little less's board Teal on Pinterest.

Hello. Today I've been working on streamlining my wardrobe (yes, again). As my wardrobe gets smaller it's becoming more necessary to consider the colour of each item I decide to keep. My aim is to limit the amount of colours in my wardrobe whilst still having multiple outfit options. Yes, I want the best of both worlds, a smaller wardrobe but a versatile one that allows me some pick and mix fun. 

Some wardrobe organising experts, such as Miss Minimalist, suggest choosing one or two neutral base colours for trousers and skirts and several accent colours for tops and accessories. I think this is good advice but then which colours do I commit to? Isn't this the tricky bit? Some colours are in my wardrobe because they are classic such as navy others just because they make me happy such as my yellow bangles. But I know I still have too many colours in my wardrobe. Which should I choose?

Colour Me Beautiful has successfully helped many people to find which colours suit them but I personally their system hard to follow. Instead of fretting about my 'season' and then whether I'm 'cool' or 'warm' I simply hold a garment close to my face to see if it suits me. Some colours effortlessly lift my skin tone and others can instantly wipe out any hint of radiance. Another trick to choosing colours that suit you is to take notice of what other people with similar colouring to you wear and also how they combine colours. 

Colour combining is a skill and requires confidence. A brilliant tip I picked up recently is to collect images of your favourite colour to create a Pinterest mood board of a favourite colour. The key though is to collect images not just of clothing but of anything in that colour and also to look for images that show your chosen colour alongside other colours. Natural images and cleverly styled interiors can be great inspiration for the colour shy. 

Teal is one of my chosen accent colours and I already have clothes, jewellery and scarves in various shades of this colour. I'm hoping my teal board (or aqua or greeny-blue depending on your opinion) will help me to combine my teal items with other coloured garments that I own now or may buy in the future. I've discovered some great new colour combinations simply by putting this board together. It would also be fun to create a real colour mood board by cutting up magazine images.

Check out Kate Middleton in teal above and oh Beyoncé wore sparkling teal to perform at this year's Brit Awards. I'm off to release my inner diva!



Minimalist Monday: Minimalist Goals Progress

Hello minimalist friends. It's been more than a month since I wrote about my decluttering goals for 2014 so time for a quick update for both myself and you. I thought I wasn't making much progress but when I look back at my original goals I can see that there is some progress and plans are developing to make further progress. 

So how am I doing in each area?

Declutter our loft space (this has now become our 'spare room'  aka our dumping ground). No, this will have to wait until we have some warmer weather (but not too warm) as for now it's too cold to spend any length of time up there.

Declutter our bedroom (nothing stashed under the bed, more clear surfaces). No, but I have been dreaming of a new look for this room, possibly a coastal theme.

Declutter our paperwork (my least favourite job). Yes, I've done quite well with this one and have edited out quite a lot of unnecessary paperwork. I've also spent time looking into our personal finances and have found ways to save money by cancelling unnecessary policies.

Have a serious attempt at decluterring my laptop. No.

Continue editing my wardrobe. No, but I have decided to donate my unwanted clothes to charity as selling on Ebay and at car boot sales is so time consuming. I think I get more pleasure from donating to charity than making a few pounds. 

Create a wish-list to move my wardrobe nearer to a fully co-ordinating capsule wardrobe. Yes I now have a wish list that I am working from and my wardrobe is moving closer to a capsule wardrobe. Realising I had too many colour combinations in my wardrobe has been a breakthrough. I'll post about my wardrobe again soon.

Redesign our small lawned garden into a low maintenance courtyard garden. No due to the time of year and weather. I'm really hoping this will happen sometime in spring though. Roll on sitting al fresco. 

Minimalise time wasted to allow more time for personal and health goals. Yes, with less work pressures I'm finding it much easier to use my time productively and approach life positively. I have been doing some paid work but it is not all consuming and has allowed me plenty of time for domestic tasks and personal time too. Since January I've been able to spend much more time on favourite activities like reading, baking and spending time with my family and friends. I'm much more content too.

Minimalise money wasted by following a strict grocery budget to allow for a few new experiences and treats throughout the year. Yes, good progress with this goal so far. This has been my main focus since the start of the year and I'm really pleased with how much money I've saved on food with negligible negative effects.

So overall 4/9 for the year's goals which isn't too bad for starters. Reviewing my goals has been useful and has made me realise the importance not just of wanting to simplify but of having systems in place to make these changes happen. Now I've created a system for saving money on grocery shopping the weekly grocery bill is staying consistently low. And hopefully, now I've decided to donate my unwanted clothes rather than sell them they should be gone out of the house quicker than I can say, “To Ebay, or not to Ebay...” 

How about you? Any decluttering or simplifying news to share? I need all the inspiration I can get!




Only You...


notice the heart shape on your lunchtime bowl of soup at your computer (I didn't - it's a pure coincidence that my swirl turned into a heart)
♥ be so pleased by a morning iced bun
♥ could provide the perfect soundtrack (via Spotify) to a simple V-Day curry feast. And yes, Only You by Yazoo was on the tracklist.

Happy Valentines all xo



Eating Shoots and Leaves

Thanks so much for all the birthday wishes and comments on my A Little Less Grocery Shopping post. Your encouragement means a lot and is helping me to stay focused on limiting both my spending and waste this year. I'm determined to keep improving in this area.

Our cooking is definitely becoming more experimental adventurous as we endeavour to use up our leftovers before replenishing our food supplies. Take tonight's meal, a stir fry with a difference. Instead of our usual pre-prepared stir fry veg mix (cheap but still an expense) we used what veg we had to hand: one onion, the last few stalks of limp celery, carrot shavings (yellow stickered carrots), leftover florets of broccoli plus the stem (peeled and finely chopped), shredded iceburg lettuce, a few chilli flakes and chopped ginger (Very Lazy Ginger, which lasts forever). It's the first time I've used broccoli stalk and lettuce in a stir fry but they worked well and added volume and texture without any strong flavour. And it's amazing how lacklustre veg can suddenly be transformed into something robust with a flash of heat in a wok. To the stir fried veg we added leftover pork from Sunday's roast and a sachet of sweet and sour sauce from Aldi but I'm sure a homemade sauce of soy sauce and fruit juice would have worked just as well. We ate this with noodles as they're so quick and easy. Mouth wateringly good. 

So that's tonight sorted. I still haven't decided on a meal for Valentine's Day. Our youngest is off to see The Lego Movie with friends so it looks like we can please ourselves. Is curry romantic?



Taking Stock

Hello! I've had a lovely few days celebrating my birthday with family and friends. But you knowhow busy birthdays get? Hence my absence over the last few days. Please forgive me.

It has been a good birthday though. Busy but nice. 

This birthday I enjoyed...

♥ Beautiful butterflies on my yummy birthday cake thanks to my budding baker husband.
♥ Trying a new cocktail, a Pink Cadillac, when Mum and Dad came over for Sunday lunch.
♥ Flowers from friends and family. I've not bought any flowers for eons (not even daffodils or an orchid, my usual good value buys) so it's great to have some in the house again.
♥ Surprise gifts. As well as flowers there's been a new cookery book, a fragrance diffuser, a favourite magazine (don't buy these anymore either), a notebook, shoes, a  DVD and popcorn. It's feels good having gifts that are things I wouldn't buy for myself. These are then real treats.
♥ Working in the morning but having lunch out afterwards.
♥ A phone call from my eldest son who's away at uni.
♥ Taking stock. This year I feel empowered by an extra year's life experience and feel more excited about the future than I have for several years. I'm enjoying life on a daily basis and enjoying trying new things.
♥ Oh and on order I have a new phone - white, sleek and with an amazing camera. I've needed a new phone for a while and wanted to join Instagram for sometime too. So, I'm not sure if this phone is a need or a want but I've finally given in. Instagram here I come! 

I know without my February birthday I might be a little less happy these grey winter days. Hope you can find some February cheer somehow this week.

Be happy xo



Less Tastes Great

First of all, before I start blathering on, thank you so much for your interesting comments on my last post. It's great to hear that there are others out there who are keen to get their grocery shopping under control and also to hear from those of you who are already experts in the field of living well on less. Thank you for your feedback.

All of this has made me think about less in a different way.

Less tastes great because...

The less I have the more creative I can be. This certainly applies to choosing to spend less money on groceries. Using up the food items we have to create new recipes without going out and buying missing ingredients (which I increasingly refuse to do) leads to perfectly successful and indeed often memorable meals.

Less convenience food means tastier food. Home cooking is undeniably yummier than convenience food.

It's better value. I get more value as home cooking provides extra portions for leftovers or meals to freeze.

I'm becoming a better cook. Every time I cook from scratch I'm improving my skills.

Less grocery shopping lightens my load. I am confident now that I can visit a supermarket and leave with only a small amount of groceries that I actually need. I love using a basket instead of a trolley and I feel uncomfortable spending more than £50 in one shop. I know what's in my cupboards and know that they are pretty full most of the time so I try to limit new food coming into the house.

I appreciate food more. I really appreciate a simple meal and the value of each ingredient. Takeaways, meals out, or our friends or family cooking for us are now a real treat as we value the whole process of meal preparation more.

I'm learning that time spent in the kitchen is valuable. These days I value time spent in the kitchen. Our food budget may be lower but our enjoyment of cooking and eating has increased. I believe time spent planning, preparing, cooking and savouring food is a great use of time. The kitchen is the room where we interact most as a family.

There's less guilt. Being in control of our spending feels great. And less waste and negative impact on the environment is also a benefit.

Oh and the photo? Irresistibly easy tarka dhal and potato and spinach curry (tinned potatoes and frozen spinach) made from store cupboard ingredients this week when we found ourselves child free one evening this week. A curry feast on a budget. Yum.



Minimalist Monday: A Little Less Grocery Shopping

This January I managed to cut our grocery spending by over one third. After the mortgage our grocery spending is our second biggest outgoing and one that can fluctuate wildly if left unmonitored. I have been trying to cut our weekly food shop for several years but with limited success. 

I have become a lot more mindful about my grocery shopping over the last few years and have managed to get some control over it, at least by checking my spending on our bank statement at the end of each month. This has regulated my spending to some extent and meant my spending has become more consistent whereas in the past there were massive (shocking) variations each month. Like many people with an all consuming job and busy family life there were times when I lost track of my spending and I overspent on food and threw some of it away. A desire to limit such shameful waste and to eat well on a reduced income has become a growing desire (and necessity) over the last few years since I started my yen for minimalism and simple living. Having enough food in the cupboards and eating and a good quality diet but without excessive expense or waste fits in perfectly with this philosophy.

Since the end of December with a change in lifestyle (giving up my permanent job), a smaller budget and more time on my hands I have been able to focus on reducing my grocery spending. It has taken up a lot of my time but already I have cut it by one third and think I could do even better if I stick to my new habits. I'm quite excited by my progress in this area (you can probably tell by the length of this post!). Getting our family weekly shop (2 adults and 1 or 2 teenagers) from well over £100 to well under the same figure is some achievement!

How have I done this? 

Mostly by being very disciplined which has meant spending a lot of time planning meals and recording every little bit of spending. Here is a detailed list of other habits that have helped reduce our grocery spending this month.

Weekly thorough stock-takes of cupboards, fridge and freezer (as opposed to occasional). It's so easy to forget how many items you have in stock (especially when items have been bought in bulk months before). I'm amazed how I can buy something one week and then completely forget that I haven't used it. Taking everything out of cupboards can result in some unexpected foodie treasures!

Completely cleaning out the fridge each week. This also reveals food items that would otherwise get forgotten about. It doesn't take as long as you think.

Weekly menu planning. This comes before writing the shopping list. After stock-taking I plan some of our meals from what's already stored. This is saving us a fortune. We have family favourites that appear regularly on our menu and we also try to cook something new once or twice a month - often on a Friday night. Our menu runs from Friday to Thursday and a simple menu plan is displayed on a chalkboard in the kitchen.

Less food waste. If I buy an item such as a large pack of bacon or a savoy cabbage I plan different meals that use this ingredient and incorporate them into that week's menu plan. In the past I would have thrown away half used items. 

Pre preparing veg. I often prepare veg on a Sunday and use half that day and the other half is ready prepared for later in the week. Cooking from scratch is hard work so you have to think of ways to lighten the load.

Online shopping. I spend about £40 a week on one online shop - usually a Saturday. Online shopping gives me more control over my shopping as I can see the price (and adjust it if necessary) before I actually pay. I book my slot at the beginning of the week giving me lots of time to edit the list during the week as we run out of things or my menu ideas change. Keeping my online orders to just over £40 means I qualify for the delivery saver option which means I pay upfront for delivery but don't have to pay the £6 plus peak charges I used to pay. Online shopping suits me at the moment although I know I could save more money if I went without this luxury. Keeping out of big supermarkets keeps me away from the temptations of homewares, clothes and magazines as well!

A weekly shop at Aldi (or Lidl) to supplement my online shop. These shops are great for lots of things but especially fresh fruit and veg (Super 6), meat, cheese and cheap but good quality wine. 

Trying to keep weekly shopping spending consistent. I buy food for the week ahead but with a little bulk buying on the side if it makes economic sense. 

Recording all grocery spending in my main diary. I keep this diary in my handbag. Every grocery shop is recorded and I tot up each week's total in the same diary.

Flexibility. Our menu plan isn't rigid. If there are left-overs or we go out, meals will be carried over into the following week.

Knowing the price of my regular purchases. I'm becoming much more price savvy. This helps me to spot a genuine bargain.

Avoiding going out to buy one missing ingredient. Instead I think can it be left out or is there an alternative/similar ingredient? I also celebrate no spend days and try and limit my number of food shops to two a week.

Buying less snack foods (and no diet coke - last year's bad habit!)

Cooking extra portions. Friday night's curry will give us enough for a left-over meal at Saturday lunchtime. A big batch of chilli can be eaten with rice as a main meal one day and in wraps or with tortilla crisps another night. Left-over rice can be turned into egg fried rice for a second meal (I always cook too much rice). A Sunday roast cooked with extra veg will leave us with enough to feast on for Monday's tea. 

Finding new inspiration. Reading and re-reading cookery books for new ideas plus blog reading and tearing out recipes from free magazines from supermarkets. There are so many wonderful recipes out there but simply not enough time to try them all. However, I'm getting better at trying new recipes these days.

Celebrating running out of things. It's good to run out of things - it means we're using what we've got in our cupboards and it can lead to some creative meal ideas. It's also good for teenagers to know there isn't a bottomless pit of snacks in the house.

Recording each week's menu in a separate notebook. I started this at the beginning of January and it's already providing a useful reference and source for meal ideas when inspiration is lacking. It will be good to look at old week's menu plans as the year progresses.

Saying yes to cheap ingredients. Using lentils for dhal, white potatoes to make home made wedges, roast potatoes and oven chips, pasta once or twice a week (no pasta dish needs to be the same) and porridge oats for breakfast several times a week are all yummy but cheap.

Keeping my store cupboard well stocked with basics. Some of my favourite items to have in stock include chopped tomatoes, white and red onions, chilli flakes, dried herbs and dried milk 

Simple meals. When it's just the two of us we often indulge in simple meals. Soup and bread, scrambled eggs or beans on toast are sometimes better than many fancy meals out. 

Filling up with simple carbs. Bread, potatoes and rice are the cheapest way to fill up our growing teenage boys.

Making our own version of takeaways. Yuk sung is no longer a takeaway treat. Instead we make our own and have takeaways less often. We are also developing a range of favourite curry dishes.

Not taking too much notice of best before dates on food.  We use our common sense to decide if it will be OK to eat an item past its best before date. However, we are careful with use by dates as these are important for food safety.

Buying less ready meals. Friday night is often curry night in our house and once upon a time this meal would have consisted of various microwavable ready meals. Now all the dishes are home cooked – some are fresh others are frozen and then reheated. It takes a while to practise and perfect a recipe but once mastered the rewards are great.

Looking out for offers. As I do some of my grocery shopping online I find there are fabulous offers each week which are heavily promoted (especially when new or improved products are launched). I still buy some convenience food such as pizzas if they are on offer but balance this with plenty of cooking from scratch.

Not being loyal to brands. I have favourite brands but can be tempted by another if there is a decent offer and I'm no snob when it comes to using own brands. Often the quality of own brand products is the same if you look beyond the fancy packaging and seductive advertising.

Running down our food stocks from time to time. This can mean everyone eating something different at the occasional mealtime. This can be quite fun!

Buying less wine. We have cut down this month but not completely!

This is an extensive list I know, but it's a useful record of my current food shopping habits. There's more I can do to further reduce our spending (shopping for yellow sticker reductions, using Approved Foods more, more vegetarian cooking) and I will post occasionally on this topic with my progress or setbacks. 

How do you control your grocery shopping? Have you any tips? I'd love to hear.



First Weekend of February

Hello Mr. Blue Sky! I remember you... 

Yesterday's rain-filled skies were replaced this morning with blue skies that actually lasted all day. The sky stayed light 'til after 5pm. How amazing is that? Hopefully, a sign of things to come. 

This weekend has felt free and I've slept well, eaten healthily, found a gorgeous new wood to explore, indulged in low fat tea bread (thank you Hairy Bikers) and a Sunday night cocktail (a Moscow Mule). 

I'm settling into February nicely. Hope you are too.

Be happy this month my friends xo