Austerity. That amorphous being, that post-2008 malaise. Like a guest that’s come to live with you: irritating and intrusive. And yet while you wish almost every day they would leave, you can’t quite remember what daily life was like before their arrival. It’s a concept so deeply embedded in the national psyche now that we plod around under clouds of cynicism and doom, resigned to the prospect that while some cats will continue to get much of the cream, many will inexorably slide into unemployment, privation and despair.
On the brighter and perhaps more insouciant side, fallout from the global downturn has birthed a myriad of small scale trends that attempt to subvert some of our more rapacious consumerist impulses and bring some creative abeyance to painful economic realities. Many celebrity chefs have moved away from boutique, obscure and expensive ingredients and are instead demonstrating how, in an age of parsimoniousness, we can continue to entertain and eat in revised extravagance. Television is awash with shows about super scrimpers, DIY and how to decorate your homes with hand made crafts and save yourself a bomb (if you like excessive amounts of bunting of course, and adjectives like ‘shabby’ and ‘distressed’. Which I don’t).
Being thrifty isn’t a trend to many, but rather habitual or even instinctual, while others lack the gene entirely. For me, I’m probably somewhere in the middle: I begrudge spending, but fail at trying to find inventive ways of saving or shaving off some of the excess of my outgoings. However, due unforeseen (slash, predictable) circumstances and the worrying bloating of child related expenses, I am feeling an imminent need to make what I have, stretch a little further.
There are the obvious aspects of course, like reducing waste in both food and utilities which I already try to observe. I turn the power points off rather than have things on standby (mostly). I try not to throw food away (difficult with a toddler, although vastly improved with second child as virtually any leftover or turning vegetable can be pureed). I try not to shower for excessive amounts of time (residual Australian drought mentality), and I run the washing machine and dishwasher on every other day (increasingly difficult).
But then there are the more innovative, lateral approaches to every day life. My latest revelation? Upcycling.
My mother in law has been quietly upcycling clothes for my kids for a couple of years now; deftly breathing new life into her old cashmere sweaters and my old dresses. It’s gratifying to see this transformation, to see something which was dormant take on a new form. It’s also extremely helpful, given the ever-lengthening tendencies of my dual sprogs and the relentless need for new garms.
Recently however, a friend put me onto the site of a particularly talented London-based mother of two, who has carved out an entire lifestyle from felted, car boot sourced jumpers. So excited by this discovery, combined with the boredom of storm induced houseboundedness, I decided to take the upcycling challenge. It worked far better than expected, given my appalling track record with fabrics, but I suppose kidswear is more forgiving of the obvious signs of a sartorial novice.
Oddly, the experience invigorated me. I had a spring in my step and I found myself desperate to get the kids outside so I could adorn them with their bizarre homemade attire. Part of the apparent exuberance too was that I had not only produced something with use value, but I had also entertained myself as well as the children (Child One was an enthusiastic albeit ultimately unhelpful pom pom maker) without having spent a penny. This was quite an exhilarating discovery for a woman living in London, where getting up and breathing in the morning seems to cost money.
I have always enjoyed craft – knitting predominantly. These days however, craft can prove a very expensive hobby, with wools, fabrics and yarns all commanding prices that make one break out into an allergic reaction. I remember balking at some of the prices of blankets for my daughter when she was born, and yet I probably spent treble those amounts when I decided to knit one myself instead. Anyway, I digress.
Emboldened by my new found love of craft, several ill-fated cardigans now lie in trepidation upon my dining table, ready for the chop. I feel excited, restored; those financial concerns having faded conveniently into the background.