All You Need Is Less: A Book Review.


‘Free yourself from the tyranny of objects.’

So instructs the Kazimir Malevich quote turned Manic Street Preachers lyric that has been going round and round my head of late. I have been trying, to free myself. With mixed results.

Since the start of this year we have been making a concerted effort to cut down on the amount of stuff that comes into our house and the amount of money that leaves our bank account. We called it Operation Frugality (Actually that’s a lie, I called it Operation Frugality, because I am a giant loser and like the drama.)

And it’s tougher than I anticipated, to stop spending money. To stop impulse purchasing pretty things and to plan well enough in advance that you don’t need to pick stuff up as a matter of convenience, be it coffee or sandwiches or a forgotten umbrella. Buying stuff is not only habitual, but often enjoyable, (well of course, our entire society is built on a bedrock of capitalism, which wouldn’t work half as well if everybody stopped, y’know, capitalising).

We have made changes though: A drastically slashed weekly food budget, homemade toiletries and cleaning products, fewer items popped idly in the shopping basket and paid for with plastic so it’s as if you never paid at all. Our new loft sits almost devoid of furniture because I can barely summon the energy to search and search and spend money on the perfect thing to put the piles of clothes into. They do no harm on the floor. The kettle whose lid no longer opens still boils water, the freezer keeps making a weird beeping noise, but it keeps things frozen. We’d rather go out for dinner than fix electrical appliances, although I sat on my phone last week and the screen is now so shattered it gives my thumbs splinters, so may need to reprioritise. Damn my lack of insurance!

In the midst of all this trying to cut down, I bought (yes, the irony doesn’t escape me), All You Need Is Less by Madeliene Somerville, or Sweet Madeleiene to readers of her excellent blog. Then I leant it to a friend to read and bought another copy for a friend’s birthday. It’s that kind of book. And if you too get excited by reducing your consumption, making your own toothpaste and composting in urban settings (like, everyone yes?) then you should buy it too.

Easily the best thing about All You Need Is Less is that it is funny. Self deprecating, knowing and very, very funny, (there is an anecdote about freezing compost that had me in tears). Madeleine is not sitting up on her judgey, judgey Eco pedestal telling you how to live your life, she is just giving you some dead simple ways to get one over on the man and be kind to the planet. Under Madeleine’s instruction I have stopped forgetting my reusable bags when I go shopping, switched our takeaway of choice to one that doesn’t use plastic containers, started carrying coffee round in jam jars and taken a bath in diluted vinegar, just kidding (not kidding!).

Plus it is just really, really cool to have followed someone on Tumblr for years, and then watch them make the leap to bonafide author. Incredible, life affirming stuff right there.

I have always been an Eco nerd. I jumped on the cloth nappy band wagon faster than I could get pregnant (which was pretty damn fast, let me tell you), but to make this extended stay at home Mum gig work and to survive on one income, I need to go beyond buying products that are environmentally friendly and work on the reducing side of the deal. In other words: not buying that shit in the first place, as opposed to buying it and then upcycling it into a jaunty hat. Madeliene’s book, which focuses on ‘reducing’, really resonated with me and had me making notes because there were just so many ‘I must do that!’ moments.

So whether you can afford to buy it at your local independent bookstore, or if you kinda have to suck up the evil and get it on Amazon, whether you can locate it at your library, or if you have a friend that you can pilfer it from, get your hands on a copy of All You Need Is Less. And then kick back with your coconut oil and apple cider vinegar and grate yourself some soap. For the planet yeah?

Operation Frugality: Bath Products


The other evening I was round at my friend’s and telling her about the £30 weekly food shop (still going strong by the way and saving SO much money), when she stopped me and asked, ‘Yeah but what about toiletries and stuff? How do you factor those in?’.

An hour later I sense she probably regretted asking, but I DID NOT LET THAT STOP ME, because frugal bath products? I am all over it.

Let’s talk toiletries.

This is not new. I have been through (many) phases of trying to reduce the number of bath products that I use. When I was 21 I shaved off all my hair and didn’t wash it for over a year, so yeah, I’m not a stranger to being a big dirty hippie. Eventually i grew my hair back and jumped back on the hair care wagon, but inside I still felt a yearning for better, simpler, less soapy times. Then last year I read this awesome post by Sweet Madeleine , who purported to be washing her hair with baking soda and vinegar alone. It was the no-poo solution I’d been looking for, only this time I could have long hair! And not look totally gross! I had to try it.

Sadly the combination of super bleached and damaged hair, hard water, and a new house with a bath but no shower resulted in this…


I gave it some thought and decided that the world is just not ready for that kind of beauty. To be honest I was sick of the constant jealousy.

HOWEVER, in a twist of fate, at about the same time I ran out of moisturiser. While I waited to get to the shops I took desperate measures and used a bit of the olive oil that I was using to give the mancub his post bath massage. Guess what? I got my first ever skin compliment! I was literally glowing. Glowing like a lovely shiny olive. I gave up on the unpooing, but fully embraced using cooking oil instead of moisturiser on my face, hands and body. As a bonus I smelt like a delicious salad and I was saving some £££.

Roll forward to Operation Frugality and I start weighing up my options for reducing my consumption of beauty products even further. Two things happen: I decide to give unpooing another go AND I finally give in and buy the hot hippie product of the moment: Coconut oil. OH. MY. GOD. Life changing.

Let’s talk coconuts first. It is good. Way better as a moisturiser than olive oil because it is less greasy, but still makes you skin look and smell great (less focaccia, more tropical paradise). I now use it for all of my moisturising needs on me and both children (it also makes an excellent, cloth nappy friendly nappy lotion. Fact.) But why stop there where there are literally a hundred coconut oil recipes on Pinterest? I’ve used it as a conditioner in the mancub’s ridiculously frizzy bed head, I’ve whipped up a batch of homemade toothpaste using baking soda and peppermint oil (incredible!) and we even used it to make some granola, because why the hell not since we’re living in Hippie Central over here?! Using coconut oil as a moisturiser, hair conditioner and toothpaste is easily cheaper than buying all of those individual products, plus it’s all organic and comes in a nice, recyclable glass jar. Frugal and Eco for the win!

So with my skin sorted, it was time to look again at hair care and this time I was serious. I found the excellent Almost Exactly, which trouble shoots the hell out of all your unpooing needs. I was interested in her method of using very diluted Castille Soap instead of baking soda, as I hoped this would be less drying and, 7 weeks ago, I switched. I gave my hair its last wash in conventional shampoo and conditioner and then entered what is known as ‘transition’. Which is also known as having really greasy hair. I rocked a hat for a while.

Every few days I would wash my roots in about one part Dr Bronner’s and three parts water then rinse with a couple of caps of apple cider vinegar diluted in a cup of water. Seriously. As time went on I eked out the days between washes and added more and more water to the Dr Bronner’s mix. Right now I am washing once a week in a mix of one part soap, eight parts water, followed by the vinegar rinse. In between days I shower, but don’t get my hair wet and just give it a really good brush to pull down any oils and get rid of any lint that tends to build up. It’s like a hobby!

Results? Well, as per requested by Sweet Madeleine, the original unpooer, I attempted to take some photos. Selfies using a really heavy camera mainly result in me missing out my hair completely and making faces like this…


But eventually I got a shot which profiles the messy bun which I wear most days, who am I kidding, every day.


Not too grubby!

I still have a backlog of toiletries to work through, but that is me, done with buying any more bath products and keeping myself clean with the power of Dr Bronner’s, coconut oil, a little baking soda and some essential oils. Good enough to eat.

Operation Frugality: The Weekly Shop Results.

At the beginning of this week, inspired by A Girl Called Jack, I challenged myself to do our family food shop for under £30. You can click here to see exactly what I bought and how it all added up, and below are the week’s results.

It’s been a huge success! Not only have we cooked and really enjoyed some new and delicious meals, but I didn’t have to buy any extra food and we even have a few bits left over to carry into next week. Never again will I spend £90 on a food shop.

Here’s what we ate.

^^A Girl Called Jack’s two bean stew with Sainsbury’s Meat Free meatballs. This recipe uses Basics baked beans, but you wash the orange sauce off and use the beans as a regular pulse. It’s much cheaper than using any other canned beans. I served it with spaghetti.

^^Jack’s smoked mackerel kedgeree. I wasn’t sure how this would go down with my toddler, but it was a huge hit. I haven’t had kedgeree in years, but it was quick to make and using smoked mackerel instead of cod or haddock kept the cost down.

^^Jack’s chickpea, carrot and coriander burgers. This was my least favourite meal to make as it’s quite messy (maybe that’s just me though), and it was the only meal the mancub wasn’t that keen on as he’s not a huge chickpea fan. Next time I’d use another pulse and mash the mixture more to get a smoother consistency. I served it with homemade bread, cheese, sliced tomato and a dollop of my Mum’s homemade chutney.

^^Jack’s feisty soup served with noodles, green beans and prawns. This was my favourite meal of the week. The soup is so quick to make, with very simple ingredients, but it’s so tasty with a real kick. We had the leftover soup with pitta bread for lunch the next day, so it was extra value for money.

^^Sainsbury’s Meat Free sausages with root vegetable mash, broad beans and onion gravy. Using sweet potatoes, carrots and a regular potato made the mash a bit more interesting and I think frozen broad beans are just as nice as fresh, but much more economical.

^^We rounded off the week with a vegetable risotto made with basmati rice to keep it cheap. I was feeling a little uninspired by this meal, but luckily our lovely friend Mike popped round with a gift of his famous spicy tofu, which livened it up a treat. Thanks Mike!

For breakfasts we’ve been eating cinnamon porridge, homemade granola and homemade bread with jam. Lunches have been soups, veggie omelettes and tinned sardines on an English muffin, and we’ve made some scones and cheese and onion dough balls to snack on along with our apples and bananas.

I’ve been really impressed with the foods we tried from the supermarket’s value range and choosing cheaper fish and vegetables definitely kept costs down without compromising on delicious and varied meals.

I hereby declare the £30 food shop a success and will try to stick to it going forward. Let me know if you have any good low budget meals that you enjoy so I can give them a go.

Operation Frugality: Bread.


A loaf of sliced white might set you back less then a pound, but it is, let’s face it, a sub par product. However if you upgrade to a better quality ‘artisan’ bread you’re shelling out closer to £2, which makes making your own a much more affordable option (I reckon I can knock out a loaf for around 40p), and really, who doesn’t love freshly made bread? No one, that’s who (stop kidding yourselves you crazies with the Paleo). So in a bid to become ever more frugal, that’s what I’ve been doing.

Initially I thought that making my own bread would be a lovely activity to do with a toddler, but my particular brand of toddler does not like getting his hands dirty (literally or metaphorically), and quickly decided it was pretty much the worst play dough ever and left me to it. Fine by me, I find all that kneading kind of therapeutic and bread making actually fits really well into a day at home with kids, as although it is time consuming, no single stage takes too long and there’s plenty of just leaving it to do its thing while you have a cup of tea.

This week, as part of our tight budget shop, I’ve upped the ante a little more and instead of buying more of our usual dried yeast sachets (that are pre measured and ready to add straight to your dry ingredients), I went for a more traditional dried yeast. I like this more for two reasons. Firstly there is much less packaging involved as it’s just loose yeast in a tin, plus the packaging it does come in is recyclable. But even better is that although the process of adding the yeast to sugar and water and leaving it to ferment adds another quite time consuming stage, it’s nice and nostalgic for me as it’s how I learned how to make bread with my Mum and Grandmas. The smell coming off that fermenting yeast? Divine. Seriously.

I’m onto my fifth loaf today and each time I learn a bit more. I’ve had a few successes, one total disaster involving some fatally wounded yeast and an over heated oven, and today was my best bread yet. Definitely a fun and easy way to save a few pennies. And make the house smell delicious to boot.

Operation Frugality: The Weekly Shop.

This week, in my mission to be more frugal, I have been tackling our food consumption. I’ve been inspired by A Girl Called Jack to have a go at slashing our budget and set myself the challenge of buying all of our family’s food for the week for less than £30, around a third of our usual spend.

If you haven’t heard of A Girl Called Jack, she writes a blog and a column in The Guardian about eating on a very tight budget. After losing her job she fell into poverty and became dependent on benefits and food banks. By cooking creatively and making her ingredients go further she was able to cook for herself and her young son on less than £10 a week, and absolutely everything was made from scratch. She is incredible and if you’re interested in food and / or social welfare issues, then you should definitely check her out.

So, while my family are lucky to be a long way from living on the bread line, we are trying to make savings, and reading Jack’s blog made me realise there were ways that we could do that, without compromising on good food. As we are a family comprising of one very tall man, one breastfeeding woman and a very hungry toddler I decided that £30 was about the bare minimum we could get by on. I should point out that I wasn’t starting with nothing. There was, as is usually the case, already stuff in my cupboards and fridge: oil, a bit of cheese, rice, tinned tomatoes and pulses. All of this will also come into play this week, but it is also the point in the week when I would naturally stock up on fresh ingredients and a few tricks have allowed me to do it for a lot less than usual. Here’s how…


1. This week I’ve selected a lot more from the ‘Basics’ range. We shop at Sainsbury’s, but all supermarkets tend to have a value range now. I’ve never really bought much from it, but this week I’ve tried out the pasta, beans, flour, mackerel and a few other bits. I’ll let you know which ones we like.

2. I’ve chosen cheaper types of fish. Typically we eat totally veggie a few nights a week, then have fish or prawns two or sometimes three nights, and one night I usually cook with a ‘Meat Free’ product such as veggie sausages or mince. This week I exchanged more expensive fish choices such as salmon for Basics smoked mackerel and a small pack of prawns. I got two meat free products on special offer.

3. I’ve selected a much more limited range of fruit. Normally I would buy four or five different varieties of fresh fruit, but this week I just got Basics bananas and a mixed bag of apples. The apples are small, but a great size for a toddler. We will supplement these with some tinned fruit I’ve got in the cupboard.

4. Likewise I’ve selected cheaper vegetables. There’s going to be lots of carrots and onions on offer this week, as well as frozen spinach and some other frozen veg I’ve got left over.

5. There are a few new things that we’ll be making ourselves this week. I’ve bought flour and yeast instead of sliced bread (this cost more than one loaf, but should last longer), and we’re going to try our hand at making a budget granola with the oats instead of buying any cereal.

My aim going forward is not to always get buy on the bare minimum. I know that we have the luxury to be able to afford more expensive ingredients, and even this week I’ve managed to buy Organic milk and free range eggs. However I hope that some of our successes this week can be carried forward to bring the overall cost of our family food shop down and I’m excited to see how we get on.

You can scroll to the bottom to see the full list of things that I bought with my £30 and I will update you at the end of the week with what I cooked and whether I managed to make it last a whole 7 days. I have a bit of a plan as to what I’m cooking, but of course I’d welcome any suggestions of meals I could make with my ingredients. What would you make? What are your best budget ingredients?





300g cooked prawns £2.25
250g smoked mackerel £1.99
12 free range eggs £2.50
1kg frozen chopped spinach £1.50
2 sweet potatoes 68p
1kg pasta shapes 70p
2 x 4 pint organic semi skimmed milk £3.00
2 x 1 litre soya milk £2.40
1.5kg carrots 89p
1kg mixed onions £1.00
20 Meat Free meatballs and 6 Meat Free sausages £3.00
2 x 420g can of baked beans 50p
6 x English muffins 69p
6 x pitta breads 22p
45g cinnamon £1.00
125g dried yeast 65p
1.5kg strong white bread flour £1.00
1.5kg plain flour 65p
1.5kg self raising flour 65p
8 x bananas £1.15
9 x apples £1.60
1.5kg porridge oats £1.69


Operation Frugality.

We have spent the last year gradually paring down our possessions, trying to shed some of the detritus that we have accumulated over the years in order to turn our loft into a liveable space, as opposed to a giant storage centre where old clothes and camping equipment go to die.

We’ve got rid of a lot, and there’s still more to go, however our greatest challenge will be to resist the temptation to just replace it with more stuff. Because let’s face it, buying stuff is fun.

But no more! Operation Frugality will see us attempting to resist the urge to bring up Amazon on the iPad every time the urge to have something new takes us. Furthermore, when we do want or need something, we’re going to look into alternatives first. Could we make it ourselves? Or get it for free somehow? Or at the very least pick it up second hand to save some money. Because this isn’t just about stemming the acquisition of stuff, but about saving the money that just seems to disappear at the drop of a credit card.

To help us I’ve devised a handy info graphic, because guys, I am a RIOT (and also because I have waaaaay too much time on my hands after the kids go to bed).


Running through this every time we start saying, ‘You know what we should get….’ helps us to prioritise what we really need and what we can make do without or get in other ways.

I’ll keep you updated on how we get on and on the changes we make to max out the frugal. I’ve got some good and thrifty projects in mind that I’m looking forward to sharing with you.