Chaos & Toyotas

Not a Toyota, and a far more respectable vintage.

One of our cars is a very (very) old Toyota. In fact it’s the “original” family Toyota – the Toyota the longevity and reliability of which inspired Toyota loyalty, if not lifelong devotion,  within the Chaos family. These days, at least in my area, one very seldom sees cars of the vintage of ours on the roads, unless they are in fact Vintage. Ours is more ‘vintage’ in the sense of a cheap bottle of plonk left sitting at the back of a cupboard for years. Three of its doors don’t open from the outside, one of the windows doesn’t wind, and it can’t be locked, on account of some plonker bust the locks in the process of breaking and entering one dark and (hopefully) rainy night. Sod. I hope he spent our 10c wisely.

But we, and when I say ”we” I mean specifically my husband, continue shamelessly driving the heap to the presumable disapprobation of our neighbourhood, and will do until it drops dead in the traces from exhaustion.

Although I would anthropomorphically feel sorry for the faithful family workhorse were we to send it to scrapyard hell after its years of service, and it’s worth more dead than alive. But who throws away a perfectly good, running car?

I ask that slightly tongue-in-cheek, because I’m well aware that for a lot of people, a certain visual standard also weighs in the equation of decency. But for me, the slight embarrassment is far outweighed by the fact that at this point it’s a free car. I mean, we’re not paying for a replacement, right?

Now all I need is a bumper sticker which says “My other car is – halfway decent….”




How to Domesticate Clutter (Or, Make Like the Borg and Assimilate)

domesticated clutter demonstrated

domesticated clutter demonstrated

Lately my already tenuous hold on household order has slipped. Luckily I love irony, or the irony of creating chaos by writing about it would be killing me.

But I do and it’s not, and I am somewhat saved from chaos by some fail-safes I prepared earlier.

Like: the fact that I already had my bases covered for the eventuality of disorder prevailing (because it was going to happen, someday, somehow). Three kids, two adults and a dog living in 85m2 was always going to be a challenge, as I’ve mentioned before.

open shelf storage

What has saved my home from uglitude is:

1) accepting that there will be clutter

2) utensils and appliances that are functional as well as beautiful, or well hidden

3) finding creative storage spaces (from vertical storage behind doors to windowsills – such underutilized areas in minimalist philosophy!)

4) keeping it eclectic (matchy-matchy is far harder to achieve by shopping second hand. Plus, it’s really, really dull.)

plain shade wrapped in a shawl atop a stack of home magazines - storage for shawl + hair decoration + magazines = boheme bedside table and lamp

plain shade wrapped in a shawl atop a stack of home magazines – storage for shawl + hair decoration + magazines = boheme bedside table and lamp

5) going with a boheme vibe which kind of soaks up, or embraces, clutter.

Yup. Embraces.

My feelings on clutter are this: it’s better not to have it. I regularly go through our cupboards and throw as much as I can out – which is never ever enough to go minimalist, even were I so inclined. So, if you are going to have clutter – and for some of us it’s inevitable (and apparently for the sake of creativity you’re better off not getting up hung up over it anyway, according to this comforting little piece) – you must, like the Borg, learn to assimilate.

Thus, all our utensils and stationery and paperwork, toys, schoolbags and hoarded treasures are either in and of themselves visually appealing, displayed appealingly, or contained in something visually appealing, or at the very least tidy. I collect containers of all sorts when I come across them especially for those little odds and sods which end up lying around until they’re rehomed.

fabric covered container

fabric covered container

Someone commented in response to my post on beauty and discrimination how unnecessary it seemed to choose between intelligence and attractiveness when a person could embrace both as a gift. Broadening the point, I get the feeling that greenies like me (and busy mommies) have a tendency to eschew attractive surroundings, assuming, I think, that busy and/or frugal lifestyles cannot or should not also accommodate beauty. But me, I am an artiste, and uglitude sucks my energy and disorders my mind. But I don’t think it’s just me being precious, I think we all function more efficiently in comely environs. Humans are biologically programmed for aesthetic pleasure, so I don’t feel a little bit bad, even as an environmentally-conscious greeny, for desiring attractive surroundings. I’m convinced it enables me to be more productive and creative.

Feral vs Domesticated Clutter

Of course, there is more than one kind of clutter; let’s narrow it down to two kinds – feral and domesticated.

Feral clutter watches you with hostility and retreats from taming. It is unpredictable. Do not turn your back on it. Domesticated clutter is far friendlier. It allows itself to be wheedled into co-operation with bribes of food. And what you want living with you in your home is the domesticated variety.

Domesticated clutter may be, well, still clutter, but it works with one toward a purpose, and thus one feels that though “everything” constitutes a lot of “things”, still everything has a place. By which I mean, in my house, I know where everyone’s crap is at all times. But at least it’s nice crap.

making whoopie with books

making whoopie with books and other nice crap

So how do I justify my desire for an appealing home space while preaching thrift? Simple. Op shops are my thrill. I love a good rummage. If I ever had (just dreaming here) a day off from toddlers and kids, that is where I would go. Just me and the junk. Yep – weep for my sad little hobby. But it gets the job done, and how. I recently, in a period of obsessive organisation, upgraded our household storage from almost none to at least interesting and (to my eyes at least) attractive, for a fraction of the cost of the thrifty suggestions by the idea mills, through my weirdo secondhand shopping habit. For literally a few hundred smackeroos I revamped my entire house. Yu-huh. (High-fives self.)

I just love getting one over on Big Business plutocrats. I realise that if everyone descended upon their local op shops they’d be emptied in days leaving just the dross, but really, people, we do not need so much stuff. Think twice before you buys. (Erm…yeah…scraping the bottom of the rhyme barrel there…)

First World Expectations and the Surprising Evil Role of Pinterest

cunning out-in-the-open storage

cunning out-in-the-open storage of books, ornaments and children’s art

We may have a problem with our expectations. I was brought up in a third world country, and this has shaped my standards. But this is not necessarily to insult the third world’s standards. Maybe the first world’s standards are too gorram high. Dusty baseboards? Pfft, seriously?? I’d rather read another book to my kid. There’s few enough hours in a day. A new kitchen? What’s wrong with the old one? Does it truly need ripping out, or have you just put too many hours in on Pinterest? Put your hands in the air and step away from that Board… Really. I know the siren call of Pinterest; how it drowns out the voice of reason. (Having said that, I can point you to some great little boards where people have made sweet interior decorating whoopie with very basic, if not sub-par, spaces.)

Assimilation and Futility, Pushing the Borg Analogy to its Limits

I’m not going to even try to pretend I’ve got it made in chaos wrangling, that would be….futile. As I write, there’s the debris of a toybox explosion around my feet and I didn’t quite get around to unpacking all the groceries. But that’s my point – sub-perfection is O.K. If you can look around your place and it reflects you and makes you happy, you’ve succeeded in making whoopie with what you have.


DIY with the Good Oil


the good oil

There’s a a bit of debate around coconut oil and whether it is the queen of oils – coconut oil has a cult following, but mainstream medicine is rather less enthused about its health benefits over other oils. However, let’s remember this is the same mainstream medical fraternity which has been slow to recognise the brain-gut connection, or call out the everyday chemicals we’re exposed to as health risks.

For me the jury’s still out. So for the purposes of this post, I’d recommend any decent oil which you can get at a reasonable price because I’m not here discussing ingestable uses. I have a bucket of coconut oil because a large amount can be bought at a reasonable price, and I might have mentioned, I’m thrifty and love a good bargain!

And really, the point of this post is saving money by using things you have at home instead of needing to buy a product.

Make up remover and skin cleanser

A small amount of oil on a damp makeup removal pad or cottonwool removes make up, including eye make up which requires oil-based removers, and cleans the skin. You can follow this step with a clean damp pad wiped over the face. I have found this routine has worked very well for my skin without the use of any other products.


As above, put a small amount of oil onto a damp pad and wipe on to the face.  Coconut oil leaves a light and not unpleasant film.

Hand and body cream

It also makes a great handcream, or body or foot lotion, rubbed straight from the pot into the skin, especially dry patches. Used straight, it will leave an oily residue, which can be dabbed lightly with a towel to reduce.


Mixed with baking soda, coconut oil is a surprisingly effective deodorant! The baking soda being the active ingredient, just mix with enough oil to be a carrier for the powder. Rub in about a thumbnail sized amount every morning.


Nappy/diaper rash cream. I use this on the Burglar both to prevent and to treat light cases of nappy rash and redness.


Oil can be used as a conditioner and especially an intensive conditioner. A word of warning though – use oil very sparingly and dissolved in water on the hair, as it can be difficult to remove the residue if too much is used. Ask me how I know.

And once again: Chaos Girl 1, Big Business 0


And here is a great page on the different kinds of oils and their best uses in cooking.



On the Virtues of Baking Soda


by kat on flickr

by kat on flickr

I love baking soda (or bicarbonate of soda, or bicarb) at least as much as I love vertical storage. It’s a staple of the clean, green, frugal home. I hardly ever use it in baking in fact (ok I don’t bake a lot), but I have a bucketload of it on account of all the other things it does for me.


Most people now know of its cleaning virtues. These cannot be overstated. Bicarb has superlative cleaning qualities which scrub stove tops and basins like nothing I have ever come across. This pleases me. Product makers have latched on to this, and many have cleaning products with added baking soda, but that’s all a gimmick in my opinion, as baking soda alone does the trick just fine. I do not know whether baking soda’s cleaning virtues are owed solely to its abrasive qualities, but I suspect not, on account of my second most favourite use – as a hair cleanser.


I have tried the no ‘poo route, but that did not ever work for me. I have a pretty neutral hair type, but no ‘poo never left me feeling completely clean. Bicarb however is the shizznit.

I keep a jar of the powder in the bathroom, sprinkle a teaspoon onto wet hair, and scrub in and leave till the end of my shower. For the kids I have some ready mixed in water. This just prevents powdery messes and wastage, but you can do whatever works for you.

Maybe it depends on what you require of your hair, but I require mine to be clean, soft and if possible shiny, and I find that baking soda does all that – without the use of conditioner, although for longer hair with split ends it might be a good plan to condition the ends anyway.


I sometimes use it as a body and face scrub, and it leaves skin feeling surprisingly soft. However, though many sites recommend baking soda for skin scrubs, others warn against using it on skin (it has a pH of 7 while skin is 4.5-5 – not being a dermatologist, I don’t know how relevant this is but it can’t be worse than using soap.). So be warned, and make up your own mind about this one.


And how could I forget deodorant. In a fit of frugality I once came across recipes for homemade deodorant. Some involved specialised ingredients, melting, fiddling and well, patience. I figured the common ingredient to all was baking soda, so that was probably the most active ingredient, and so, being the cut-the-crap kind of person I am (or just lazy), I went with just those two ingredients. Since I have a bucket of coconut oil in the house (on account of I’m loving that too), I used that as the medium. Coconut oil in our temperate climate is usually a solid,  so I mashed the baking soda into the oil in a jar, and then put it in my bathroom cupboard. That’s it. To use, just scoop a thumbnail sized amount or so, and rub in.

Amazingly it’s really not messy. It doesn’t stain clothes or leave a residue on the skin. I don’t do fuss, and this couldn’t be easier. I gave it the sniff test under stiff conditions, and it truly is effective. There may be a period of adjustment as your body learns to do without the ingredients of regular deodorant it has been exposed to for years, and if real irritation occurs, it’s always best to stop, but for many people, like me, it’s a brilliant and cheap alternative.

Score for the earth and my pocket. How much would you save not buying cleaning products, shampoo, and deodorant, really?

Of course, there are even more uses for baking soda than I’ve listed here; if you want to know more, here is some further reading……



Frugal and Fun

Beautiful Home in Nagdhar - Anni, Kullu
Many people, for one reason and another, find themselves in straightened circumstances, for limited or indefinite periods of time, but does this mean they should put their lives on hold until fresh income makes life enjoyable once again?

Life, and to the Full

The Good Book says we only get this one life, but even for those of the reincarnation persuasion, this life still has its own precious value and should be appreciated to the full … and can be, financial circumstances notwithstanding. It takes some creativity and extra work, but being forced to think twice before purchasing isn’t necessarily a negative.

A priority reshuffle which generates savings might mean a vacation, or avoiding debt, or it may mean a breadwinner could make career decisions based on different priorities than income. I have written previously about a culture of acquisition pervading western society, and whether our purchases deliver the satisfaction we anticipate, or if accumulation is really more of a habit than a necessity.

And of course, this question becomes especially relevant on a reduced income.

Don’t just Survive – Thrive

Realistically, unless we take drastic measures to live “off the grid”, we do need some level of income to put food on our tables and keep a roof over our heads. But necessities aside, can we not just survive, but thrive, on less?

Totally Free Activities

Besides basic food, shelter and clothes, most of the important things in life are free! Time with family never has to cost a bean – walking the dog, or the baby, taking the kids to the beach or park, and even couple time; whether you like board games or feeding birds, it’s all out there.

Put Your Hands Where I can See Them and Step Away from the Mall!

On a daily basis, depending on financial necessity and commitment to lifestyle change, there are more or less things that can be done to spend less – staying away from malls might be the biggest income saver of all. Unless you have nerves of steel (or consumer paralysis), window shopping usually doesn’t remain free, when cups of coffee or lunch to keep the strength up, or falling in love with a “must-have” item is counted.

Food Savings: Planning

Supermarket shopping and meal planning, while requiring some organisational skills, are other areas where significant savings can be made over time. Work out some staple recipes with core common ingredients, mix them up for variety, and buy in bulk or on special when available. Try to plan menus around in-season vegetables, since these will be cheaper. Decide in advance what the necessities are and buy only what’s on the list while shopping. Doing more food preparation at home rather than buying ready-made is both healthier and generally cheaper, and you can involve children in the preparation of meals, which is always great for bonding and developing self-sufficiency.

Go one step further, and save both money and teeth by avoiding softdrinks or juice – tap water is virtually free, and in some places actually tastes decent. Yes, the kids will bellyache, but they’ll get used to it. Really, I am that cruel.

G.Y.O. – Grow Your Own

If you’re really keen, you can grow the more expensive of the fruit and vegetables which constitute your core ingredients – but bear in mind that it may be a good idea to concentrate on high-harvest, low-area crops – potatoes, for example, can be a good choice, since they can be grown successfully vertically and produce well, whereas onions and carrots are usually cheap to buy, while to grow they need a lot of space for the harvest that would make the effort worthwhile.

Home Savings: Treasure and Tat

While home magazines sing their siren song, tempting us with all-new kitchens and trendy bathrooms, unless the place is really falling to bits, existing fixtures generally will suffice for years to come. Instead of craving to rip the lot out and start over, we can take a leaf from the book of rental chic – as demonstrated at Apartment Therapy, renters are creating beautiful spaces, while by necessity retaining sometimes less than beautiful existing features. These inspiring people demonstrate the eco- and pocket-friendly possibilities and benefits of effective recycling. By avoiding soulless, store-bought tat, their homes reflect personality and originality.

Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle

Secondhand stores, often supporting charities, contain troves of treasures from clothing to furniture to household items, many full of the character of decades past, often solid and made to last. Clothing, and other things, can also be upcycled for reuse in an original way. Here again, a rummage through the internet will turn up sites with ideas for upcycled clothing design. Furthermore, if you have thrifty friends, consider swapping or bartering useful items.

Priceless (Free) Gifts

If you’re on a tight budget, gifts can be a drain on the pocket, but depending on skills and interests, friends and relatives can just as well be recipients of handmade gifts. Made with recycled materials, these can be free to make, and priceless for the receiver. From jewelry to hand cream to a cover for his motorcycle, the world wide web is a fund of ideas for the willing.

Emotional Wealth

Living on a budget doesn’t need to be a source of gloom, but of pride in achievement and overcoming a challenge, and encounters with simple pleasures. Having to work together on money-saving projects can be a bonding experience for a family or couple, and a mental renovation may be the catalyst for realigning priorities towards accumulating a hoard of emotional wealth.