Drink up!

If you are living in the Northern hemisphere you have just experienced the summer solstice a few days back which means the summer is officially here. For the lucky ones who live in southern climates, you‘ve been enjoying high temperatures for what, about two months now? For us, living in countries with very schizophrenic whether, we can only hope that the 20+ degree days are still to come. Either way – forgive me now, all you Irish and Brits – it’s time to swap your cup of tea for something more refreshing to keep you hydrated!

Early Summer is a great time for harvesting some of nature’s reserves and making the most of them. Elderflower is one of my personal favourites. From late May to early July, you can pick the white flowers full of yellow pollen and with a beautiful aroma. There is an abundance of recipes to use them with. The timeless classic which keeps the summer flavour for the longest is a cordial. ‘Bazovy sirup’ (in Slovak) or elderflower cordial is easy to make and very rewarding to use.

I started experimenting with it last year when I realised that we had an elderflower tree (or rather a big bush) growing in our back yard. The internet provides countless recipes and variations of this syrup so you can pick and choose which one suits best. Usually you will need: elderflower heads, sugar, lemons, citric acid and water. Combinations of all of the above depend on how strong/sweet/durable you want your final product to be.

Methods of preparation vary too – you can make it raw or cook it and treat it like a preserve (by water-boiling it after it’s canned). I have chosen the middle ground – cooking it for durability but without the subsequent bottle boiling. This year, I followed a recipe that seemed to work the best and here it is…

Elderflower cordial

30 big elderflower heads
60g citric acid
2.5kg sugar
2 lemons
3 litre water

Start by boiling 2 litres of water and leaving it to cool.

Prepare your bottles/jars by washing them in hot soapy water, rinse properly  and place in a cold oven which is then turned to about 100℃, so they heat up gradually and all the water dries out. If you are using the spring cap bottles, make sure that the caps can take heat – I made a boo-boo and one of my caps melted on me. (Lesson learned!)

Tip: If you don’t have suitable bottles already, buy some French lemonade (or other drinks you can find) in bottles you like. These are often cheaper than special preserving bottles and work as well! Also, their caps can stand the sterilisation process in the oven 🙂  

Pick the elderflower heads. Since it’s the pollen that brings the flavour, try to pick them on a sunny day and not straight after rain. Don’t wash them, just get rid of any little bugs by slightly tossing them. Remove the thick stalks and place in a big enough pot or any container you can find.

Elderflower heads

Collected elderflower heads…

Slice the lemons and squeeze the juice out of them before placing them in the pot. (If you can’t get unwaxed lemons, place them for about 10 minutes in lukewarm water mixed with some vinegar which will get rid of the nasties. Wash, rinse and use them.)

Pour in the cooled water – 2 litres – mixed with the citric acid. Squash the flowerhead so that they are covered in liquid. Cover and leave in a cool dark place for about 24 hours.

After a day strain your liquid into a pot through a muslin cloth or a fine sieve. You should always have two litres of liquid so measure and add cooled boiled water if necessary. Some say that not squeezing the mixture when straining prevents clouding of the cordial later and there might be some truth in it. If you can’t resist squeezing it just go for it 🙂


Creative ways of straining!

In another big enough pot, place 1 litre of water and all the sugar. The rule of thumb seems to be 1kg of sugar per 1l of water. I, however, think that’s too much and used only 2.5kg for my final 3 litres of liquid. It’s still a lot of sugar! You have to remember though that sugar is also a conservant so if you are making your cordial to keep (it lasts up to a year), it helps to keep  it from spoiling. There are some alternatives if you don’t want yours want to be too sweet – you can swap it for brown (muscovado) sugar or stevia and as for preserving, you can increase the citric acid a bit – don’t forget that this will make it more sour as well. Warm up the sugar and water mixture on a medium heat to get a sticky syrupy liquid.

Add the elderflower water and bring to the boil. You can just bring it to the boil and turn off or boil it for up to 30 minutes to make sure it lasts, it’s up to you. I chose the former…we’ll see what happens!

Leave it rest for about 5 minutes. Pour, still hot, into prepared sterilised bottles or jars. Turn upside down to seal properly and let cool. I wrapped them in tea towels for slower cooling and left them like that overnight. Once cool, store the bottles in a dark place for up to a year.

Bottles upside down

Cooling upside down…

The best part is using this cordial up – let your imagination run free. Mix with still water, sparkling water, prosecco, gin, pour into your tea or on top of your porridge. My personal favourite is a shot of the cordial and ½ cup of white wine topped with sparkling water. Summer feeling in an instant.

Elderflower cordial

Final yield – about 4l of cordial

If you don’t like elderflower or can’t get any where you live, perhaps another herbal concoction might be of interest. If you like mint and happen to grow some in your garden or windowsill, you know how rapidly it multiplies. If you’ve had enough of mojitos, mint sauce or mint frozen in ice cubes, you could try a mint cordial.

Mint cordial

The preparation of this is very similar to the elderflower cordial. You will need:

2 big fistsfuls of mint (about 20 biggish stalks)
2 lemons
2 l water
1kg sugar (or 500g and some stevia to taste)
15g citric acid

Boil 2 litres of water and leave to cool. Prepare your bottles (as above).

Wash the mint stalks and leaves and roughly chop them. This will help releasing the essential oils from the leaves. Don’t waste anything, use up the stalks as well!

Slice the lemons and place them with the chopped mint in a pot. Pour over the cooled water, stir and leave to rest for about 24-48 hours. You can stir it once or twice while waiting.

Strain the mixture into a biggish pot through a muslin cloth or a fine sieve. Slowly heat up adding the sugar and citric acid. Warm up to 70-75℃ to retain aromatic materials and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Mint cordial prep

Mint cordial preparations…

Pour into prepared bottles, turn upside down and let cool. Store in a cool dark place afterwards. Once open, store in the fridge.

Use as you wish – mixed with water, in cocktails, in tea, poured over a fruit bowl or just like that, a bold glug from a bottle 🙂

Mint cordial

Pink mint cordial 🙂

Finally, if you don’t want to mess around with pots and pans, sieves and spoons but still want something more than just a plain water, here are 5 tips for sprucing up your aul jug…

  1. Cucumber – orange – ginger :: Put a few slices of cucumber, orange and a piece of peeled ginger in a jug of water. Leave in the fridge for a few hours to mix. Drink. If the day gets too much, add a shot of Pims!
  2. Strawberry – basil :: Add a few freshly sliced strawberries and ½ cup of basil leaves to a jug of water. Drink straight away. Instant summer hit.
  3. Apple – cinnamon :: A few slices of a sour apple and a cinnamon stick. Leave to infuse in the fridge for a few hours. Unusual combination of soothing and refreshing.
  4. Lemon – ginger :: Slice half a lemon and place into a jug with a thumb-sized peeled piece of ginger sliced thinly. A cold version of this power drink.
  5. Lavender – lemon ::  Slice half a lemon and add to ½ cup dried lavender (or fresh if you have it) into a jug. Let it infuse and drink in the afternoon to relax. Good sleep guaranteed.

Have fun and mess around with more flavours if you want: cucumber & rosemary, pear, cranberry & mandarin, melon & mint – the sky’s the limit!

Ups and downs

Switching to a simpler life came with one added bonus – I can engage my creative skills in making things myself. Being made from simple ingredients, they are better for me – and I get the satisfaction of making something with my own paws.

However, as with everything, there are successes and failures. I want to share my experience with homemade potions to encourage you to try something new (and not be discouraged if something doesn’t work)!!


As mentioned in my last post, a homemade laundry gel is not only very easy to make but also much cheaper in comparison to store-bought products. I gave it a chance after an experiment with soap nuts which did not work for me at all. I bought a kilo of them when I started looking for an alternative to conventional laundry products. I closely followed the instructions on the nice textile bag. All was well until after a full 40 degree cycle, the clothes came out just simply wet. No feel or smell of cleanliness or freshness. I also probably didn’t fasten the little bag with the nuts properly so they ended up spread all over the wash. I was not impressed! Quickly after this, I decided to look elsewhere. In true zero waste fashion, I thought I would use the nuts for some second-degree laundry (rugs, mats, etc.) but never actually came around to do that. So, if anyone wants to give them a chance, I will happily send them my bag for free!! Maybe you can have better results than me. (Conclusion: Laundry gel – YES, soap nuts – NO)


Soap nuts vs laundry gel…




Buying in bulk 🙂

As we have a dishwasher, I searched for a recipe for homemade dishwasher tablets. After some internet research and entering the world of opinions on Borax I, luckily, found a recipe that consisted of washing soda (soda crystals), baking soda, salt and citric acid. Simple enough ingredients and simple enough instructions. Basically, mix it all together. Well…. The first batch was great. Consistency was fine, cleaning power decent as well. So I went ahead and bought a bulk pack (a 5kg tub) of citric acid. Hmm. Perhaps a slightly rushed decision. Every batch after the first one just didn’t cut it. The mixture either turned to liquid (this apparently happens in humid conditions – Ireland, duh!), turned to stone (citric acid reacting with the sodas apparently) or didn’t really wash the dishes properly (when the citric acid was added right before the wash). So, after a few trials and errors, I reluctantly went back to shop-bought tablets. I chose the Ecover brand which is supposed to be not damaging to the environment but every tablet is still wrapped in plastic. Not ideal. However, I haven’t given up on this one yet. Especially when looking at that full citric acid tub 🙂 I will try again. Perhaps the drier summer climate will help the result. (Conclusion: Dishwasher tables – MAYBE)

One more nature-friendly swap for your dishes is to change the shop-bought rinse for vinegar. I tried out red wine, white wine, malt and apple cider vinegars. They all worked perfectly and are all cheaper than the original rinse. (Conclusion: Vinegar rinse – YES)

Personal hygiene

I am not a big fan of mouthwash but here and there I like to use it. I don’t like, however, the alcohol-laden Listerine and similar products, so I searched for a natural one. The internet proved to be full of ideas and recipes which were pretty easy with simple and easily found ingredients. I followed the recipe from DIY Natural. Water, baking soda, a few drops of essential oil and you’re done. You can add some xylitol if you don’t like the salty taste of baking soda 🙂 [Recipe I use: Mix together 1/2 cup filtered water, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp xylitol, 2 drops of tea tree oil, 4 drops of peppermint oil]. You might need to mix the concoction more often than you buy a bottle of Listerine (big batches are not really wanted as the oils blend and the mouthwash changes taste slightly) but it literally takes 2 minutes and I am fine with that. (Conclusion: Mouthwash – YES)


Some time back, I came across an article on Treehugger about natural body scrubs and said to myself that I am going to try them out! I picked the last one with sea salt and oil. I used some sea salt that I bought in bulk (well, bulk-ish – a 2kg tub), olive oil from the kitchen and added some dried lavender from my garden. I mixed everything in a nice little Kilner jar and put it in the bathroom. But, boy oh boy, what a mess trying to use it! Maybe I am just fussy but it just didn’t work for me. The oil was everywhere and most of it was soaked in my towel rather than by my body. Not to mention the bathtub was all oily and slippery after use. I suppose if you use very hot water for your shower (which I don’t), it wouldn’t be as bad. Either way, I was happy when I finally finished the jar. I still like a good scrub though so might try the dry one – no added oil – less mess guaranteed. (Conclusion: Oil scrub – NO).

At the local market, a girl was selling homemade cosmetic products and I was curious to try her natural clay toothpaste. I tried it twice. The second time just to reassure myself that this is not for me. I am not sure if it was the weird texture or the extra salty taste. Simply put, it was just yuck. But then again, that’s just me – my friend used it and loved it!! I happily traded her Waleda toothpaste for my clay one. Until I find something else acceptable to brush my teeth with (pure baking soda sounds like a very unlikely candidate for me), I will keep using the Kingfisher natural toothpaste. Smooth and refreshing. I like. (Conclusion: Clay toothpaste – NO)


If you haven’t tried it yet, the internet-praised cleaning power of baking soda and vinegar is, in fact, true. I was a bit sceptical at the beginning as it did seem a bit odd just to scrub the bathroom with some white powder and spray what is basically a sour water but it does work. The child in me also loves the fizzing when you mix those two together 🙂 There are dozens of uses for this combo but I mostly use them to get the bathroom to a spotless condition. Including that pesky black mould that is an organic part of an (c)old house in a humid country. (Conclusion: soda and vinegar – YES)

There are many more but these are just a few examples of fun stuff you can try to make yourself ! Homemade soaps, lotions, shampoos…all you need is an open mind and maybe a bit of patience 🙂


Green Whites

One of the things that I like about Zero Waste is the fact that I save money. Money that can be spent on going out, meeting with friends, trying out new fun stuff. So when I learned I can replace the commercial laundry detergent with something simple for a fraction of the price, I was sold on it pretty quickly.

All I needed to swap all the chemicals usually found in laundry products for something greener were two things – a bar soap and washing soda – and a bit of time to mix them together. I found this laundry detergent recipe in the Bea Johnson’s book and adapted it a bit.

You might be sceptical if this easy solution works but I’ve been using it now for a couple of months and I am very happy with the results!

What you need

Bar of soap – recipes in cyberspace ask for all kinds of different soaps but your basic castile soap bar, laundry soap or any natural soap bar will do. Bea recommends using the blue one which contains optical brighteners. I bought mine in Slovakia last time I visited but I am sure you can find it anywhere 🙂 Dr. Bronner makes soap bars that should be fit for the purpose!

Washing soda – or soda ash – usually sold in supermarkets in the laundry aisle. It took a little bit of internet research to find out that in Ireland I need to look for soda crystals! I found one kilogram bags being sold in Tesco – the bags are still made of plastic film which is not recyclable but at least the pack lasts some time.


The last ingredient is just warm water. Other than that a few utensils will come handy – a basin or a bucket for mixing, a measuring jug, a measuring cup and a mixing spoon. Depending on the method you use, you might need a hand blender to liquidise it.

How to make it

For a 3-litre (about 3 quarts) dose, you will need a ½ cup of washing soda and a ½ cup of soap. Measure up the washing soda and pour it in the basin. Grate the soap (I use a conventional cheese grater) and add to the basin. Mix them together a little.


Pour in about 0.5 litres of hot water (about half a quart). I use boiled water to start the mixing. Stir until the soap and soda are mostly dissolved. Add another litre of hot water. I then pour in 1.5 litres of cold water to bring the temperature to lukewarm. Stir the mixture for a little while and leave it to settle, best overnight. In the morning, when the liquid has turned into a wobbly jelly, enjoy this chemistry magic for a while and then break it with the mixing spoon. To bring it back to liquid form (it will be nicely thick), use a hand blender for a couple of minutes. If you used an unscented soap and you would like to add some scent, you can now add a few drops of any essential (not synthetic) oil – lavender, citrus or tea tree work well.

I asked my lovely boyfriend to film this part of the preparation process – please be kind with your comments 🙂

Pour the finished product into a prepared jug (I use a 3l plastic milk jug) and voila, your laundry gel is ready to use.

If you don’t have a hand blender or you want to skip this step, you can pour the warm mixture straight into the jug you are going to use to store the product and leave it to cool in there. Just make sure you shake it a couple of times in the next few hours to ensure all the ingredients are mixed properly. I found that with this method, the gel is more likely to separate when not used for a while but then just shake the bottle and you’re good to go.


How to use it

I usually use about a cup (250ml) per load, adjusted for the amount of clothes and level of dirtiness 🙂 One 3l dose lasts me for about 13 washes. With 3 washes per week on average (darks, lights and towels for 2 people), I have enough for a month to 5 weeks. The recipe is very easily doubled or tripled if you want to make more, so no need to skimp!

I normally pour the gel into the detergent compartment in the washing machine but I don’t see why you couldn’t put it directly in the drum.

How much it costs

I mentioned in the video that this laundry gel costs about 10 times less than a conventional gel. These are my calculations:


300g laundry soap €1.501kg soda crystals €1.39

For 3l of the gel I need 60g of the soap (one pack lasts for 5 doses or 15 litres of gel) and about 90g of the soda (for 15 litres I use half a pack for €0.70).

In total, 15 litres of the gel costs €2.20. That is €2.20 for 65 washes (5 x 3l dose x 13 washes per dose).

A comparable conventional laundry detergent (let’s say Persil Small & Mighty Non-Bio 60 washes) costs €19.80 – which is 9x more. On offer, Ariel Bio Washing Liquid 60 washes costs €10.00 which is still 5x more than my non-toxic and totally working laundry gel.

The prices might vary where you live but I guarantee you that you can save money (not to mention all the chemicals which will not get into the waterways from the washing machine).

Final notes

My friend also uses this recipe because she and her daughter have very sensitive skin and conventional laundry products are quite irritating for them. So, that’s another brownie point for the homemade stuff.

Finally, if you’re asking about fabric softener that would be natural and eco-friendly, think  vinegar. Apple cider vinegar and white distilled vinegar work well for me.  About a ¼ – ½ cup (60 – 120 ml) with a few drops of essential oil of your choice (I like grapefruit or tea tree) will give the clothes nice smell and touch.

Well…are you tempted to give it a try yet?


Incredible bulk

Shopping in bulk and without packaging greatly reduces the amount of waste produced by any household. That is a fact. But what do you do when there aren’t many options for buying food from bulk bins into your own containers?

The Zero Waste trend of dry goods sold unpackaged has not really reached Ireland yet. The things I can buy loose or unpackaged in Dublin may be few but I can at least try!

Bread & pastry

This one is probably the easiest. Aside from packaged sliced pan which is not really my type of bread anyway, it’s pretty easy to pick up some lovely bread, baguettes and pastries into your own bag. Just have to remember to bring it with me!

Fruit and veg

The supermarkets are a hit-and-miss here. You can find loose apples, lemons, potatoes and the lot but they vacuum-pack the broccoli and I can never find celery or lettuce without a plastic bag in a supermarket. I compromise on those – lettuce is essential in our house!


Strawberries in a bag 🙂

I don’t have a good farmers’ market nearby so I have to rely on the supermarkets and my local Fresh – a fruit and veg store where, as I mentioned last week, they package almost everything. They recently changed owner though so I might talk to them to see if they would loosen up a bit and sell the produce as is. The other day I bought some strawberries there (which they pack themselves in the shop), put them in my cotton bag and returned the box for their reuse…sorted.   


We do eat meat and when I want some free-range or organic stuff, I’ve found it’s best to go to a good butcher shop. Flemings just around the corner from our house is one of them. One day I went in, armed with my empty glass jar and asked for some chicken. At first, I got the classical confused look but I duly explained why…We ended up chatting about how this not only prevents waste but how the meat keeps better in glass than plastic! Since then, I‘ve barely bought any packaged meat – maybe just a whole chicken or a piece that is too big for my jar. They pack the meat in aluminium trays so at least I can reuse them for roasting and then recycle. I also used some of them for planting seeds – and reuse them each year.


The infamous meat jar

Encouraged with this success, I tried to bring my jar into two other butcher shops and they happily obliged! In one of them I am officially known as the ‘Lady with the Jar’. Happy days.

Nuts & dried fruits

The one type of dry goods that is available in bulk in supermarkets are nuts. Lidl started selling these some time last year. The selection might be limited (roasted almonds, salted cashew and salted pistachios) but hey, it’s something. The only thing that baffles me is that the bulk stuff is more expensive than the packaged stuff. That’s nuts.

Nuts, dried fruits and sweets in bulk are also sold at some markets and country fairs. I just remembered that when my supply of dried apricots finished. I might do some research to see if there any on a weekly basis that I could replenish from regularly…and perhaps pick up some more natural sweets 🙂



Cinema’s pick & mix

When we go to the cinema, we get easily tempted (and seduced) by their pick & mix sweets selection. They have paper bags for it but the last time, I remembered to bring my own little cotton bag and used it – it even brought a smile to the cashier’s face! Refined sugar crush all the way!!

The above selection is not what it could be but, actually, it’s not that bad. It also depends on the type of diet you are on. It’s definitely easier for a vegan but we are not there yet. We cut almost all processed food but do buy the occasional pack of biscuits or crisps. We also eat dairy and despite my efforts, I couldn’t find any milk sold in a glass bottle. Our favourite cheese (Dubliner) is also only sold in plastic bags. I tried to switch to another type of cheddar but it just didn’t work. Compromise it is then!


If packaged stuff is the only option, I always do two things. First – ask if I really need it. Second – if I do, check if there is a recyclable packaging option. There are often feasible alternatives to plastic, be it cardboard, paper, glass or metal. Then buying ‘in bulk’ means to buy the biggest package of the thing there is. I buy the biggest pack of the cheese, a 240-tea bags pack of tea rather than the 40-tea bags one. The idea here is to cut down on the amount of packaging if I can’t avoid it. Other examples from our house are buying the whole leg of ham (free range serrano ham from Spain no less) or toying with the idea of buying a 20kg bag of rice from an Indian shop. It might mean a bit of research before I buy something but once I know, the next time it’s easy!


All that said, it makes me thinking that opening a bulk shop here in Dublin might not be a bad business idea!!! 😉

Know your enemy

If you want to combat any enemy, first you have to know what you are dealing with. So when I wanted to scale down the waste our household produced, I went routing through the bins. Literally.

What I found was probably very similar to what you would in any western-world household. Most of it was packaging – for food, drinks or cosmetics. Then there were recyclable items like PET bottles, cardboard, magazines and papers, tins, glass bottles and organic waste.


Looks familiar?

I used to live in an apartment block where there were recycling bins but there was no option to separate organic waste. You can imagine the look (and smell) of the bins whenever they missed a collection. So I was very happy when we moved to a house where we could pick our waste collection company – and I picked one that collected food waste separately. Score!

That was even before I embarked on the Zero Waste journey so now I am pretty used to separation of green and other waste. With that sorted, there were the recyclables and the ‘general waste’ to plough through.

Soda Stream

Soda Stream & Aloe Vera King Mango

Recycling is great but refusing, reducing and reusing is still better. We try to cut down on buying stuff in general even though it comes in a recyclable packaging. One of the very first alternatives we adopted was switching from buying sparkling water in plastic bottles to the Soda Stream system. The gas cylinders are reusable and you even get a discount when you bring your old cylinder to the store. This had significantly helped reduce the recyclables because sparkling water is popular in our little household! An added bonus is that we don’t have to carry all the heavy bottles from the shop!

We also learned to love our tap water which (filtered) tastes great! This, in combination with reusable stainless steel bottles, cuts down another big batch of plastic waste! Oh and as for all the cokes, 7-ups and other sugary soft drinks full of god-knows-what, we just stop buying them. The only soft drink we buy in a PET bottle is a natural mango aloe vera juice.

Mango Fizz

“Mango Fizz”

“Mango Fizz” – the juice diluted with ⅔ of sparkling water – is my boyfriend’s beverage of choice :). You might argue that that’s also creating waste but I am trying to find a sustainable balance for our life that will work on a long-term basis and compromises are part of that!

So in this way, I went through all the recyclables and consciously divided them into two simple categories and courses of action: avoidable – stop buying – and non-avoidable (yet) – buy (much) less.

When I moved over to the ‘general waste’ pile, that’s where it got a bit tricky. Mostly because about 85% of it was packaging. A modern western life really seems to have an obsession in packing everything. Some of this might be necessary for transport but there is a lot of double or triple layers of ‘protective’ paper or plastic that is far from necessary. Take a simple pack of sliced ham or cheese. Not only are those 6 slices packed in a plastic box but they are separated from each other by a piece of plastic film. That’s such a waste! But sadly, it seems to be the norm.

Lettuce in a bag

Sadly, this is the norm…

The easiest thing is to buy less processed packaged food …you’d think. But here in Ireland it is quite challenging to buy even the ingredients for home cooking without layers of the wasteful packaging. Fruit and vegetables, which are perfectly fine in their own peels and outer layers of leaves, are often thrown into a plastic bag – just so that it’s easier to stick the label with a barcode on them.

It also depends where I want to buy my food. Farmers’ markets are great altogether but if there are none at a convenient distance from where I live or work, I will hardly visit them regularly. Burn the petrol in a car just to get some fruit and veg does not add up for me. There is one market nearby but it only opens one day for two hours. I went there a few times but it’s more of a baked-goods-and-preserves type of market – things I like making myself so don’t want to buy them. But I made a resolution to visit more often – especially during the summer when there will be, hopefully, more fresh produce to be bought. 

I really want to support my local small fruit & veg shop but they pack everything – 6 apples on a polystyrene tray wrapped in cling film and sold to you in a plastic bag. I had a chat with them about selling loose produce but it hasn’t stuck for now. If I am really in need, I buy a pack of apples in there, don’t take the plastic bag and bring the polystyrene tray back. Then the only waste is the bit of cling film. As I said, compromises.

There are no bulk bin sections in the supermarkets here or dedicated bulk stores like in other European cities and America. Shopping for things with no packaging (or with the least packaging possible) can be challenging…and it does take a bit of planning to not make shopping a chore. But it’s totally worth it.

Next week, I tell you more about my other shopping solutions!

Wardrobe conundrums

I often think the concept of seasons is totally lost on Ireland. Here, you get rain for about 6 months of the year, snow in April, a heatwave in May, one week of temperatures over 25 degrees in June or July (the Irish summer) and for the rest, a mixture of all the above…

As far as my wardrobe and I are concerned, there are only two seasons in a year. One season with black tights and one without them. End of story. These can, as they did this year, switch in about 2 days flat. The whole month of April there was rain, hail and freezing cold temperatures and just as the calendar turned its page to May, the non-black-tights-season arrived. Sun shining, birds singing and all that jazz. Of course I’m delighted – but somehow suspicious!


The Box. It survived two house moves and holds together only by willpower 🙂

This also means that I have to pull out a cardboard box where I stash all my ‘summer’ clothes. All the coats, jumpers, hats, gloves, long-sleeved dresses and black tights must now make space for light T-shirts, summery dresses and reasonably long shorts.

It has to be said that I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe, definition of which is ‘a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion’. If you fancy some reading on the topic or some reading with pretty pictures, go ahead! However, I still think that this might be one step too far for me for now. For starters, I kinda need two sets of clothes – for work and leisure. Because I work in an office, half of my wardrobe consists of shift dresses (I love their versatility, you can dress them up or down as you please), suit jackets, the occasional pair of pants and some tops. The other half would be more of the jeans-and-a-top type – for leisure. I try not to have clothes that I don’t wear cluttering my space but I do have quite a few occasional (aka not very versatile) pieces.

I mean – something like this would be just great:


Photo: polyvore.com

Every time I change my seasonal wardrobe, I try to take out pieces that I don’t wear, don’t love or they have passed their wearability date and pass them onto someone – a charity shop or a clothing recycling bank. But, let’s be honest, there is still much to do! Even though I haven’t bought many new clothes in the past year (only some essentials), there is still enough for about three capsule wardrobes – if not more!

So, with the aim of upping my game this time around, I plan to cut down the ‘winter’ wardrobe as I store it in the box for the summer. I’m thinking about actually counting all the pieces and cutting it down by about a quarter. I’ll see how it goes and I will update you on the progress!

I have also decided not to buy any new clothes. If I find a need for any garments, I will do my best to get them second-hand. As I never was a second-hand shop girl, this will be new to me. You see, the second-hand outlets in Slovakia are quite different to the charity shop concept here in Ireland. I remember going in and swimming through oddly sized and shaped garments that didn’t catch my imagination so I stopped soon after. When I had a peek into few charity shops in Dublin, there were perfectly fine pieces of brands that I actually recognised 🙂

When I was a student, I somehow unintentionally had a good habit of buying less clothes – I only spent money on things I really liked because couldn’t afford more. However, once the fast fashion industry made its way into my life, all my unintentionally good habits went out the window. All the nice pieces for next to nothing were there for me to have 🙂 After a period of buying cheap clothes in fast fashion chains (well, we are talking about most of my adult-with-earnings years), last year I started to learn about where my clothes really come from and how much they really cost. As a result, I gradually stopped buying them. At least in Penneys.

Looking ahead, the ideal situation would be to have enough money to build a capsule wardrobe from sustainable pieces that were ethically manufactured and would last for years – we are talking about Alden from EcoCult levels here…well, I suppose it’s good to have a goal.

Until then, with the help of the internet and a strong will, I will somehow get my existing garments into a small(ish) wardrobe that is timeless, flexible and loved – it’s a good start, don’t you think? Do you have any tips for solving wardrobe conundrums? Let me know!

:: UPDATE ::

So, I did it. I went totally nerdy about it and there is a spreadsheet to prove it. I counted all my clothes in all ‘categories’ – winter, summer, all-year and sport (mainly for cycling). The things I didn’t count were undies, socks and shoes (they got pared down last year quite considerably though). Even without them I came to a total number of 168!!! That’s 5 capsule wardrobes right there. I really didn’t think it was so bad! But, as promised, I took one quarter of these clothes (all 42 pieces) and divided them into the charity shop/clothing bank/rags categories. According to my calculations I need to add 13 more to achieve a one-third-clean-up….and I think I am going to do it! I know, in the grand scheme of things it isn’t much but it’s a great start!!


About green thumbs

After we came back from sunny Estonia, I travelled home to attend a certain life jubilee party for my Dad. It was great to see all the family (and I mean really all of them) but also to spend some days in the haven of my parents’ house.

They live at the edge of a small town and their house borders a meadow with a forest. My old room has a beautiful view and every time I am in there, I feel very connected to nature. The view changes by season and I can definitely say that the autumn is my favourite. But, the upcoming shades of green did give me a ‘spring’ in my step after the grey winter.

My parents have a vegetable garden, not because it’s cool or trendy but because growing their own food was always part of their life. As a child, I learned all about the seasons in the garden. From a seed to a fruit-bearing plant to its decay. A circle of life.


The garden in Spring

The preparation starts in the cold of winter. Seeds are planted, nourished and sprouting. In Spring, the little seedlings are replanted in individual pots and moved to the greenhouse before they arrive to their final destinations. My Dad plants the tomatoes and peppers seedlings into yogurt pots, yep, the perfectly-sized vessels for the job. He is also a master of reusing – he uses the same yogurt pots for 14 years now! Every year, they are filled with fresh hummus and little seedlings grow to strength in them, then the pots are cleaned and stored until the next year. Each of the pots has a list of its ‘babies’ written on it – Slava 2013, Tornado 2014, Sant Pierre 2015, Cour di Blue 2016…



Reusing at its finest…same pots for 14 years

In the polytunnel, little lettuce seedlings have already found a home and are bringing their first harvest. Little red baubles of radishes peaking their heads from the soil waiting for to be eaten. Peppery and crunchy, they are amazing in a salad, on a sandwich or just like that, eaten there and then. From the seed to the mouth in two months. Ok, maybe a little longer than a trip to the groceries to pick a pack of them but the flavour is incomparable!




I think I caught those green thumbs of my parents. I love seeing things grow and I started collecting yogurt pots 🙂 Back in March, I planted a few tomato and pepper seeds in two little trays and they sprouted! I was so happy! Encouraged by that, I got some pea seeds and planted them outside in our little garden patch we dug out last year. I was told that they don’t mind cold – a very important feature for anything grown in Ireland 🙂 It worked! They sprouted and little pea shoots are forming now and doing their own thing. You should see the smug smile on my face…Definitely encouraged and eager, I have re-planted my tomato & pepper seedlings into my own yogurt pots just so that they can grow to strength and eventually replace the peas in the soil. Have I mentioned how satisfying is to watch things grow?


In a couple of months, these will be covered with red strawberry jewels…


I know that I have a long way to go to be anywhere close to a self-sufficient farmer but hey – you have to start somewhere! Compared to years of experience my parents have, I know very little – for example, did you know that potatoes should be planted at a ‘lady’s foot’ distance? Or that tomatoes and peppers should not be planted near each other? There is so much to learn…but I think that until I move into a house with a huge garden, I’ll be fine. You can be too – try growing a few herbs on your windowsill or a strawberry plant in a hanging basket on your patio…even if they won’t bear any fruit, they are lovely to look at!!

Did you start on your own urban garden? Let me know how are you getting on…leave a comment below!    

About Tallinn

I like travelling. It doesn’t matter whether it’s down the county or to a country where I’ve never been before. There is always that feeling of anticipation of something new, something different. You get a chance to get another point of view. That’s the point. To get a point of view that differs from your own and teaches you. To be tolerant, to be open to things but also to know what you like and stand for. People everywhere have their ways and I like exploring them.

In the true spirit of Zero Waste, last Christmas I got a present of a trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Last week then we visited this green piece of land. Nestled between Russia, nordic and baltic countries, the country is a beautiful mixture of all the above – architectonically and culturally. I am not much of a museum nut and would consider myself more of the walking-and-looking-around type. So I walked and looked around. The sunny city was very inviting!

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I wanted to visit the local town market so we hopped on a tram (public transport in Tallinn is reliable and cheap) and found our way to Keskturg (City Market). Definitely charming with a strong Russian feel, we first strolled through the stalls filled with clothes for all ages and sizes, some of a questionable style, some reminding me of my grandma (long dressing-gown style buttoned-up dresses from an unmistakable synthetic material:)). You could also find second-hand clothes and definitely some proper vintage pieces.

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DIY supplies 🙂

We passed by stalls with vintage crockery and glasses, old books, plumbing supplies, chargers for every phone known to man, Soviet uniforms, pin badges, toys, LPs or cassettes. You name it, they probably had it.

When we ventured inside a big concrete building in the centre of the market, it was like we stepped back in time. Imagine a still from an old Soviet movie. Left, right and centre – glass vitrines full of products. We entered the food section of the market. A bulk-buyer’s heaven. You could do your weekly food shop and not use a single bit of plastic. I immediately wished I had this in Dublin :)) People were purposefully walking around buying meat, vegetables, dairy products, pickles, sweets, spices – anything and everything. The best part of it was that they didn’t think about this as a novelty or a recent trend. They have sold and bought products in this fashion for decades.

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Selection of curd cheeses

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National condiment – sauerkraut

Despite Tallinn being a home to a half-million people, the Keskturg felt local. People knew each other and familiarly ran their errands as they did since ever. But don’t read this wrong, Tallinn and Estonia are modern and very European – modern shopping centres carrying world brands are also a firm part of the city. I like the fact though that they stayed loyal to their traditions and ways of life.

Tallinn won me over with its paved Old Town streets, rye bread and elk soup, calm people, unpretentiousness and its folklore of stripes. If you are looking for your next weekend break destination, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

…a few more pictures…

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Dried fruit

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Spices in bulk

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Pickled gherkins

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Suspiciously even-sized strawberries

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If you ever wanted a linen produce bag…

About more than one use

In my last blog, I talked about how we live in a disposable world.

With the surge in plastic in the last 50 years, a lot of durable things got replaced by single-use items that cost very little and are much handier. I mean, I totally get it. Instead of washing up a pile of plates and glasses after a party, you can just sweep them into the bin and you’re done. Instead of sitting down and waiting for your coffee to cool, you can just have it on the go in a smart paper cup. If you get hungry or thirsty, it’s dead easy to buy a bottle of water and a pre-packed sandwich. Convenient and easy. There is a little catch though.

This catch is that although we think that we are throwing these things away, there is no ‘away’. They all end up back where they came from – around us. In the form of waste piling up in landfills. Recycling helps, but still, I am pretty sure the best way forward is to avoid throwing things out at all as much as we can. That’s the principle of Zero Waste after all!

You might think that avoiding one paper cup won’t save the world and I agree. On the other hand – ideas spreading by chain reaction is a well-documented and totally real thing!! You might just give it a go and in the meantime inspire enough people to actually make a difference…I definitely think it’s possible…:)

Getting myself to use less single-use items was easier than I thought. Yes, it might have taken me some time, but with some planning it definitely wasn’t impossible! Instead of getting plastic-wrapped lunch in the shop every day, I just had to start bringing my own lunch in, complete with a stainless steel bottle and an apple bought in the fruit bulk aisle.

It is really not hard but, I warn you in advance, preparing your own food may mean some extra work. You might spend some time cooking batches of legumes, chopping veggies, assembling your creations and polishing apples but – it’s so worth it and it feels great! And yes, there will be days when you just won’t have that time. Yesterday, for instance, I had to either buy my lunch in a nearby shop or be hungry. Disclaimer: I am not very nice with low blood sugar. So, a sandwich wrapped in a foil-lined paper for me. Not cool, I know. But I have my limitations. Packed lunch today though 🙂

One thing that really gets on my nerves are the pesky half-litre plastic bottles for drinks. You buy it, drink it in less than half an hour and then throw it away. OK, in some cases, you can reuse it once or twice. But it always ends up in the bin. Oh and if it’s not a sweet fizzy drink but healthy water, you should realise that it’s basically just tap water. Filtered, perhaps, but basically tap water. It took me some time to get used to bringing a proper bottle with me everywhere (I usually realised that I forgot it as soon as I got the bus) – but I got there.

In two specific places it saves me a good bit of money. The cinema and the airport. Over-priced drinks are second nature for these two. If I travel anywhere, I take my stainless steel bottle (empty through security control) and the then either fill it in the bathrooms or just ask in one of the airport cafes. I’ve done this many times and I always felt like I outsmarted the system :))

Take for example plastic straws. I won’t say much but if you still use them and you haven’t seen the video below, watch it and you will stop. (Warning: it’s not a pretty sight). I am a responsible adult and can consume my drink directly from a glass. Really.

It can become fun to look around you and see if there are any more ‘quick fixes’. I don’t drink coffee but if you do, you could try bringing a travel mug to the coffee shop next time. Equip yourself with some confidence, like you do this aaaaall the time and ask them to pour your brew into the Garfield travel mug. Yes, that one that is sitting at the back of your press and it’s just waiting for his star to shine! I guarantee you one of every two staff will say ‘no problem’, and the other one will look at you quizzically and then say ‘ok, no problem’. Be a trend-setter. Be creative. It’s fun!

Can you think of anything else that you can do or have already averted or swapped in your daily life? Leave a comment below!

About stuff

We live in a world of disposable stuff. There is no denying that. A world, where everything can be replaced so easily that it’s not even worth considering alternatives. Or so it seems.

It’s not only the disposability we get used to. It’s also the constant availability. We are led to believe that once we have enough money we can buy whatever we always wanted – and maybe we can – a bigger car, a bigger house, the newest phone. It’s easy to get trapped in the vicious circle – working long and hard to earn money to buy things which we are told that are cool to own but then hardly having time to enjoy them because we spend so much time in work…This is how we can so easily become enslaved to stuff.

The guys from The Story of Stuff made a great video about where it all comes from and where it all ends up when it’s thrown out. It is pretty eye-opening and if you ask me, I think this should be a compulsory watch for primary school kids and onward. Especially for people living in developed countries. In the video, for the first time I came across terms like planned and perceived obsolescence – when things are built to break and when last season’s shoes are nothing like this season’s – and it all started to make sense.

(See for yourself if you want!)

After I thought about everything in the video, I looked at myself. At my habits, and also my possessions. And there was more than enough to look at! I realised that I was no different. I owned a lot of things, neatly accumulated over the years. Some of them, I used regularly and some never. They just waited in the closet, the drawer, the press. I thought I knew everything I had. And oh boy, was I wrong. I forgot about so much stuff that I’d bought for this or that, used once (or never!) and then put away! I am talking about everything – clothes, cosmetics, cans of food in my kitchen cabinets. I am sure I have more notebooks than I can use up in my lifetime along with the heap of pens I can write in them with!

Too much stuff

I remember when I moved about 2 years ago, I was amazed how much stuff I owned. I might have briefly thought about how can one person have so many things after a few years (since I came to Ireland with just necessities) but that was about it. I very quickly switched from amazement to putting it all neatly away. Once all the contents of the boxes had settled in their new home, all was well again.

It wasn’t until later, after much reading, watching and thinking, that I went on a crusade to downsize my possessions. I promised myself that next time I am moving, it will be only with half of the stuff (or less, if I am lucky :))

There are many great ‘schools of thoughts’ that talk about decluttering and freeing up space in life – minimalism, konmari method, tiny homes – it’s up to you to find the one that suits you. In my opinion, they all have some valid points and good thinking and definitely can help to make you feel less obliged to own stuff.

A good starting point for me was to think about what I want my life to be shaped by – experiences or stuff. Experiences won by a long way. So I decided to go through all my possessions and declutter. Room by room. Simplifying my life. One drawer at a time.

It takes time and it’s rather a journey than a destination. But I am fine with that.

Are you ready to start yours?