Monday, 16 January 2012

Spend it like the 70s 5: Friday 13th Fail

I was in Hemel Hempstead, with some really great people on a two day writing workshop. I do get a bit hyper when I'm leading an event; I feel as if I have to keep the energy levels up all the time (except when they're writing quietly) so I like to go all quiet in the evenings.

So there I am on Facebook, and there's a heated debate with L'Artisan Parfumeur about not getting on to their  sale site, so I joined in and told them I'd been toppled at the last hurdle and they got back to me, said sorry and said they'd fixed it. Also in the thread L'A P said that they had discontinued one of my favourite scents, Tea for Two. It's a weird one - which is probably why it's gone - but I like it.

One way to push my spending buttons is to tell me that I'll never be able to buy something I like again. I do realise that there's always going to be something similar in future and that I'll probably want that too, but Tea for Two? Dammit. I confess, I went back onto the site and tried to buy it. Failed again.
A second way is when I say to myself, "Ah, but it's part of a project, so I need it." Tick. So when I got off the train at Euston, I got the Northern Line to Charing Cross, walked to the L'Artisan Parfumer shop in Covent Garden and bought it. And maybe some others too.

On Saturday we did good things, went out in the sunshine and walked up the twirly hill next to the A40, walked into Ealing and paid cheques into the bank. 10000 steps at least.

Yesterday, I went to a car boot sale in Pimlico with a view to going there to sell stuff one day. I took a small amount of cash and came back with half of it, got a yellow Bakelite necklace for £1 and an unopened bottle of YSL In Love Again, the 1990s discontinued original, for £12. I ought to sell it on eBay and make back everything I spend on Friday. Truth: I probably won't.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Spend it like the 70s 4: What I didn't buy

So here I am not buying anything I don't need on a quest for less stuff and more happiness.
But around sale time, I'm always tempted.

In the 70s my finest purchase was a pair of navy blue shimmery leather, platform soled, knee high boots. I had a budget of £5 (their full price was around £25 and Susan Malloy told me I'd no chance) but I was undeterred and went to almost every shoe shop in the north east before I found them in Washington. With my hand-embroidered denim skirt and checked cheesecloth shirt over a ribbed polo neck sweater, I was the coolest I'd ever been.

Sales bring back happy memories of shopping triumphs, when I could finally have some of the things I usually couldn't afford.
Also embedded was the belief that if I didn't get them while they were a bargain, then I'd miss my chance for ever. Later, I began to realise that these chances keep on coming back. I might miss one thing, but there would always be others.

Now, I can stay out of the shops, but now their emails still come tumbling into my inbox, inviting me to click.
Last night I went to the L'Artisan Parfumeur website to see what was in their sale. I even got as far as adding everything I wanted to my inbox, but when I got to the point of putting in my card details, I cancelled it. There is no more space in my perfume cupboard. (Yes, I know. I do know, really.) So I left, and I visited the perfume cupboard to try out something I already own.

What I did buy:
Sticking to the rules - only replacing things that have run or worn out and things I really do need - I got a webcam for the PC I got last year. The laptop, which had one built in, was near collapse and it's my livelyhood, so I did need the PC. Then I realised that I couldn't do my Skyping properly, so I got the webcam.
Where to put it? I had to get an extra 4 x USB port adapter things because I'd run out of holes.
I bought the cat a new collar, because the old one was scratched to bits, and some moisturiser. Technically, I've enough STEAMCREAM to last me a couple of months so that was a transgression, but I do like this one too.
For work, when I run writing workshops, I like to give everyone a small notebook to keep their ideas in. The V&A's sale email tempted me and I got 26 notebooks for £50 (bargain) ready for my two day sessions this week and next. It's a business expense, and while I suppose I don't have to do it, I like to because it creates a good atmosphere; everyone likes presents.

I also bid for some things on eBay, but I've already been outbid on all of them so that's a relief. I shouldn't go there, in the way that slimmers shouldn't walk into sweet shops just to see what's there, not if I want to stick to my guidelines.

And I sold a yoga mat to one of my students, so that's one more small space created in the front room.

I feel quite good about not buying the perfumes. When the sale ends and they are no longer available I might have a moment's panic about what I missed, but I'll get over it. There'll be another. I'll worry about that in six months' time.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Spend it like the 70s 3: When we get a bigger house...

When I was a kid there was this theme running through the family dialogue. "When we get a bigger house..."
My parents would aquire stuff to prepare for moving to the next destination. My dad's aim was always to save up enough to buy the house he'd lived in as a schoolboy during World War II, which you can read about here if you like. It didn't belong to his family; he'd been sent to live with an elderly doctor, his grown-up daughter and his second wife in a tiny Teesdale village. At the back of his mind, my dad always planned to live in Carrowcroft, which is why my mum's modernish 60s house is filled with Victorian furniture. Dating from when I was 11, my parents always lived in the same place. The thing about Carrowcroft was that it was a long narrow, unlit road away from all the things my dad liked to do: go to the theatre, get the train to London, poke about second hand book shops. The house he had, the wrong one, was in the right place. The right one was in the middle of a very beautiful nowhere.

I realise that I've been planning along the same lines. The text I learned by heart - buy lovely antiques, get books, aquire skills, take up hobbies - always prepared me for the next (bigger) house. Unless we win the Lottery, I think it's fair to say that the next house will be smaller. I'm going to have to memorise a different script. I buy Lottery tickets - despite the scorn I occasionally see in my friends glances - because:
1) You have to be in it to win it.
2) We win every month indirectly, because the Heritage Lottery Fund pays Nick's wages so they deserve our support.
3) A long story about my grandad and the football pools. Shortish version: he won just enough to make up the shortfall to put a deposit on a house when the builder increased the price at the last moment. £25 was a lot of money in those days, as we always have to say when we tell that story.

Another thing I noticed this week. We were out in Chelsea because we'd got vouchers for a cinema chain and the only one showing The Artist was in the Fulham Road. When we came out we went looking for somewhere to eat. The restaurants looked fine, but the customers scared me. All the men were wearing brightly coloured cords, brightly coloured v-necked cashmere jumpers and checked poplin shirts, and they had wavy hair. I just don't fit in with the upper middle classes. Down the King's Road it's more cosmopolitan so we got a table at the New Cultural Revolution and ate dumplings with a Spanish family one one side, some young British people on the other and an Iranian family over the way. Much more up our street. I'd thought that if I won the Lottery I might have fancied living in Chelsea, but now I realise I'd rather stay here in Ealing. (And I'd put in a bid for Carrowcroft.)

People have gazed astonished at the amount of stuff I've aquired. (Most of it is mine, let's be fair.) Many of them have said, "You need a bigger house." We don't. We need less stuff.

On Saturday some nice people took away 13 boxes and seven bags of stuff to sell on their website. Shared proceeds. Phew. Today I took some rather late Christmas presents to the post office. (It took me longer to knit them than I'd planned.) And I dropped off a bag of random stuff at the British Heart Foundation shop, including a men's belt that both the nephew and the husband deny owning and no-one else has ever claimed.

So now we're planning for the smaller house, the one we get when we stop earning and still haven't paid off the mortgage. It's taken off some of the pressure I hadn't realised I'd been under.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Spending it like the 70s 2

It'll be a bit dull if all I write about is staying in and trying to avoid the shops. Really what I've been doing is staying inside, doing a bit of yoga and trying to avoid being soaked (see left) or blown over by high winds.

I've put three 1930s detective novels in my Amazon basket, but I've not pressed go yet because I've got unread books around that I want to get stuck into, and if I bought new ones that would just distract me.

But I've sold a book on my Amazon seller account. That's a very interesting place, because it's supply and demand in the raw.

Your book's value is based on rarity and condition. Some people want a book that's brand new, and if they get it direct from Amazon they can get free postage. If they buy it from another seller it's £2.75 p&p. That means that the seller has to reduce the price by £2.75 to attract a buyer.
I was selling a book of iron-on transfers that was in perfect condition, so I decided to sell it at 5p less than the lowest available at the time. That worked and it sold last night.

I looked up the other books I'd put up at the lowest price, and found that other people have decided to sell their copies at a lower price, so it's unlikely mine will sell until theirs have all gone, unless I reduce mine further. Price war. Price skirmish anyway.

It cost me £1.46 to post my thing today (at the 250-500g large envelope Post Office rate) and Amazon takes a chunk of the price, but I do get a couple of quid in the bank. With hardback books, unless you sell them for around £5, or have your own account with one of the alternative delivery services, you'll make a loss on the postage.

So what we've got are thousands of popular books selling for 1p each (+£2.75 postage and packing of course). That's their true market value. There's very little sense of loyalty when all Amazon online sellers look pretty much the same on screen. The only reason to pay more is to get a copy that's in better condition. The only way to make a profit is to sell something that's in better condition than all the others.

I won't buy books for one penny.
I get the system, but I don't like it. I understand that there's no point paying more, but I still do. I pick what I think is a fair price for the book, and I pay that. Books are worth more than a penny. You've got to stand up for what you think is right.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Spent it Like the 70s. Revisited

There are clever people who've written books that prove we're no happier now we've got loads of stuff and "freedom of choice" (more loads of stuff). We peaked in the 1970s.
I know I've written about this before, but I want another go at it. And this time, why not put it into practice?
I was alive in the 70s and I wasn't that happy myself, but that was mostly because I was at school, had loads of exams to do, and had to do what other people told me. It's like that when you live in someone else's house (parents) and lived off someone else's income (parents).
So now, with my own house and income, can I make myself happier by living like we did in the 70s?

What did we do then that we don't do now?
I think it was this:
We bought things when the old ones fell to bits, or when we really needed a new thing. We then used them.
We thought it was important to be kind and polite. But I don't think we really understood why.
In the words of Mr. Spock, we believed that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or of the one. But at the time, we didn't know how that was going to work, exactly. It all seemed a bit theoretical when the school bullies had pushed you in the mud and stolen your dinner money. How would being kind to them be a good idea? How about hiding?

It was the 80s when we were taught that being greedy and selfish was a really good idea and that owning more stuff would make us very happy indeed. (The US had had that since the 50s, but it only caught on in the UK when Mrs. Thatcher unleashed her new non-paternalistic form of capitalist conservatism.)

In the 80s there wasn't any good scientific research to support putting the needs of others before yourself; that was one of the things that made Thatcherism so popular. To many people, it seemed obvious that working hard, earning lots and getting stuff was the answer. There was the God Squad telling us that behaving like Jesus was the best way to be, but no-one could see how, not on earth anyway. It's interesting to know that kindness and selflessness really do make people happier. You don't have to be religious, you just have to be lovely.

My family had been brought up (my mum's side) believing that kindness had to work both ways, directly back and forth. You'd be kind to someone if and only if they deserved it. This led to surprising scenes where my mother could turn into an evil, revengeful harpy, but only if they started it.
I think I've learned that it's the consistently kind people who end up happy, not the conditionally kind ones. Karma works in unexpected directions. Kindness with no expectation of a payback works best in the happiness stakes.

Another thing. You've got to be kind to yourself too. There are these constant givers, who often turn up in the caring professions, who tell you they don't expect any thanks for what they do. They think they're being kind, but they're just building up a deficit in their accounts, enumerating and mentally recording every selfless act. There's a worry that it'll all burst out one day and they'll stab someone with a fork 23 times then tell the nice policeman that it just all got a bit much. Don't be one of them. Be kind, but be fair, and that includes being fair to yourself and your own.

So what's the plan.
1) Stuff the stuff
2) Be lovely

I have too much stuff. I was saving it for when I got a bigger house, but we've got a lovely house and I'll probably live here for the rest of my life, so what's the use?
I'm going to take my stuff and do one of four things with it: use it, sell it, give it away, recycle it.
And I'm going to lower my need threshhold. I think I need a constant supply of beautiful new stuff. (And old stuff; I love Arts & Crafts Movement pottery. See picture.) I don't. I just need to play with the stuff I've got.

I'm going to try to be kinder, particularly to the people I know well. Random acts of kindness to complete strangers are all well and good, but they're easy.

I've just put up a load of books to sell on Amazon and next I'm going to get off the computer and make the lad a cup of coffee. And does anyone need a box of fabric paints?