A tasty Hallowe’en treat

The nights are drawing in, the clocks went back last weekend (for us in the UK), and whether you celebrate Hallowe’en or not it’s definitely the time of year when we all start to hunker down at home and need some more warmth in our lives. As a slightly different post this week I’m sharing my recipe for squash and red pepper soup, which not only is deliciously warming but also gives you a way of putting the innards of a Hallowe’en pumpkin to good use!

Squash and red pepper soup

Serves 4 – takes about an hour if you’re not going to carve the pumpkin afterwards, slightly longer if you want to preserve the pumpkin shell!

Ingredients

You will need:

  • 1 medium butternut squash, or 2 small cooking pumpkins (you can also use the flesh from a larger pumpkin but it won’t be quite as flavourful)
  • 2 red peppers, de-seeded and cut into 3 or 4 large slices
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used rapeseed)
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1.5 pints (about 850ml) vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 7.
  • For the pumpkin: cut off the top, scoop out the seeds (you can roast them and eat them if you wish) and carefully remove as much flesh as you can from the inside. If you’re not planning on carving your pumpkin afterwards, or are using a butternut squash, chop the squash into manageable pieces to remove the skin from the flesh. Cut up the flesh into bitesize cubes and place in a roasting tin.
  • Add the chopped red pepper to the tin, then drizzle over 1 tbsp vegetable oil along with 1 tsp cumin, some salt and pepper. Ensure that the oil and spice mix covers the vegetables well, then roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until the squash is tender and the peppers’ skin has blistered.
  • When the squash and peppers have 5-10 minutes left to go in the oven, using a large saucepan fry the chopped onion and leek gently in the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. When the onion and leek are starting to soften, add a teaspoon of cumin to the pan and fry for another minute.
  • Once the roasted vegetables are ready, peel the skin off the peppers and chop them into bitesize pieces. Add the stock, squash and red pepper to the saucepan with the onions and leeks and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to fuse.
  • Take the soup off the heat and carefully blend using either a jug or stick blender. Serve with freshly ground black pepper and crusty bread and butter or a tasty cheese scone.

I’m not a very frequent pumpkin carver, and this was the first time I’ve carved a pumpkin with the intention of using the flesh for something else. A sharp metal ice-cream scoop did the job well and resulted more in squash “flakes” rather than bitesize pieces. Nevertheless, we still managed to get enough flesh from the two small cooking pumpkins to make the soup work, and with a couple of homemade cheese scones from the BBC Good Food website (made while the vegetables were roasting in the oven) it made for an excellent autumn dinner!

Let me know in the comments if you try the recipe out – I hope you enjoy it!

How to make your sock drawer a thing of beauty

In my previous post we looked at how to make sustainable decisions when thinking about buying new socks. If you’re looking to organise your socks but haven’t yet sorted through them check out last week’s post first for tips on repair and disposal. Once you’re you’re happy with the state of your sock supply, it’s time to organise and make your sock drawer a thing of beauty!

Organising your socks

The first step in organising most things is to begin by gathering everything together in one place. This is also true for your socks as only by seeing them all at once will you realise how much space is required to store them. Try and do this when you’re as on top of your laundry as possible, but if that’s not possible try and get a ballpark figure of the number of socks you have by being aware of how many additional pairs of socks you currently have working their way through the wash.

Ditch the potato

In Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” she describes one of her client’s sock drawers as being “full of potato-like lumps that rolled about”. In this passage Marie is referring to the method I’m pretty certain 90% of us use to fold our socks – you know where you basically fold them in on each other to form a sock ball that keeps the pair together but ends up with the inside of the sock on the outside?

The dreaded sock potato

Having a drawer full of sock potatoes is not a good look. Not only do you end up not being able to see what you have properly but you also run the risk of stretching out the elastic of your socks more quickly, reducing their lifespan and ability to stay on your feet. But fear not! There is a better way, which takes equally as little time and will make your sock stash far more aesthetically pleasing.

To fold your socks:

  • Take a matching pair (no odd socks here please!) and lie them on top of each other so that the toes and heels match. If there’s a design on one side but not the other, ensure that the designs are facing out. This is also a great opportunity to check your socks for any holes or patches that are starting to wear through. If they look like they need some TLC add them to your mending pile straight away rather than leaving them in the drawer for the holes to get worse.
  • Starting at the toe end, fold your socks over by a couple of inches and repeat until you reach the end of the sock (check out the animation below if this doesn’t make sense as it’s quite hard to explain). I have UK size 4 feet and do two folds in total (i.e. my socks end up in thirds) whereas my boyfriend’s socks (for his UK size 7 feet) are better folded three times, ending up with his socks folded into quarters. The number of folds will also vary depending on the length of your socks – my above suggestions are for standard ankle socks so you’ll need to adjust as necessary for longer or shorter socks.

Use what you already have

Now that you have a lovely pile of neatly folded socks, it’s time to put them away. How you do this will depend on your drawer situation, but here’s a few tips on how to make your sock drawer a thing of beauty:

  • If you have a small drawer solely dedicated to socks (or a larger drawer but a lot of socks!), you can just store the socks on edge without any need for additional containers or dividers in the drawer. Because of the way you’ve folded your socks into neat rectangles, you should be able to stand them on edge and have them stay upright without sagging.
  • If your socks are sharing a drawer with other items (e.g. underwear, tights etc.) you might want to consider corralling them into a separate container so that they all stay in one place. Don’t be tempted to run out and buy a dedicated container straight away – check out what you already have around the house that could be put to good use. I personally have two shoe boxes placed side by side in my drawer, one for socks and one for underwear. You could also use an old Tupperware container, or cut the top off a cardboard box – the possibilities are endless! If you want you can also cover the container in spare wrapping paper or wallpaper so that it looks more aesthetically pleasing.
  • To decide how best to categorise your socks, think of how you’re most likely going to be able to keep them organised in the future. If you’ve got the patience to sort them into rainbow order and having that beautiful sight will inspire you to keep them in check, go for it! If you favour a more practical approach and simply want to order them by function (e.g. sports socks, everyday socks, thicker socks etc.) then you can go for that too. The main priority is to come up with a system that is sustainable for you and your lifestyle.

How to never lose a sock in the wash again

A bold claim, I know, but there are a few changes that you can make to ensure that no sock gets left behind when the laundry is done:

  • Wash your socks and other underwear in a mesh laundry bag or even an old pillowcase with a drawstring added to the top. Keep the bag next to your main laundry basket and put the socks straight in the bag after taking them off. You can then place the whole bag into the washing machine knowing that the socks are safe and sound in their pairs and can’t wriggle their way into the filter!
  • Count them into the washing machine so one of the pair doesn’t get left behind for the next load (i.e. if one yellow spotty sock has been put in, make sure its twin makes its way into the same load).
  • Try to do a whole load of laundry, from washing to drying and putting away, as quickly as possible. Leaving piles of clothes to put away another day will encourage you to pull things off the pile, knocking smaller items off the top and inevitably down the back of some furniture ne’er to see the light of day again…

With these few simple tips you’ll ensure that your socks don’t go wandering off into the great unknown and can do their job in keeping your feet toasty warm for longer! Do you have any other ideas for organising and keeping track of your socks? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see you all next week!

A guide to sustainable socks

Ah socks, those humble items of clothing that sit unassumingly in everyone’s underwear drawer, only drawing attention when one suspiciously goes missing midway through the wash. I find that socks can be one of the more stressful items of clothing in one’s wardrobe; whether it’s facing a constant battle against odd socks, finding yet another hole in a pair you seemingly only bought the other week or realising you’ve running low on stock *again* and need to add a pack to your Christmas list. This then inevitably ends up with every relative under the sun buying you a five pack that year – my boyfriend’s sock drawer is testament to this fact.

In this post we’ll deal with what to look for when you’re in the market for new socks, then in part two we’ll take a look at how to make your sock drawer a thing of beauty!

A guide to sustainable sock buying

When in the market for a new pair of socks to keep those toes toasty, there are a number of things to consider if you’re looking to be more sustainable and eco-friendly in that area of your life:

Do you really need any more socks?

A survey for BlackSocks.com suggests that Europeans own between 17-24 pairs of socks each on average, although judging by a bit of Googling for “how many socks do you own” that number could vary from the mean significantly. A quick count of my own drawers show that I currently have 18 pairs (not including the ones I’m wearing plus a couple of pairs in the wash) and my boyfriend has a whopping 41 pairs (I did say earlier that he received a lot of socks last Christmas!).

The right number of socks for you will completely depend on your lifestyle and circumstances. If you wear socks everyday or only do washing once a week, you’re going to need more than those who don’t always wear socks or have the washing machine on a near-constant cycle. Assess your situation and before buying any new pairs, work out whether you have enough socks to take you from one washing load to the next without running short (with a couple of back ups in case you have a habit of stepping in large puddles when it’s raining!).

Can you repair the ones you already have?

Our world nowadays is one of convenience, where new clothes can be purchased for pennies and delivered to us the next day, so it can be tempting when your big toe starts peeping out of the top of your socks to chuck them in the bin and buy a new pair. However, getting out a needle and thread and spending ten minutes on some handiwork not only benefits the environment with a lesser demand for resources, but can also save you money in the long run with fewer socks needing to be bought.

We’ve gotten out of the habit of mending our clothes (I certainly wasn’t taught to mend and darn at school) so if the thought of darning your socks brings you out in a cold sweat, help is at hand! The internet is a wonderful thing and there are numerous tutorials and videos that can teach you the ways of sock darning, for example this video here by Professor Pincushion:

You’ll need a couple of tools to darn your socks:

  • A needle – any hand sewing needle with a large enough eye for your thread will suffice, but the longer the better.
  • Some thread – my research indicates that a slightly thicker thread than your standard machine polyester thread is preferable, e.g. embroidery cotton. You can either match the colour to your sock or make a statement out of a contrasting colour.
  • Something to stuff into your sock while darning – traditionally this would have been a wooden darning egg or mushroom (which you can still buy today) but anything firm and round will suffice, such as a tennis ball or a robust spherical piece of fruit! (warning – your sock may smell distinctly orange-y afterwards)

A few too many pairs of my socks are looking a bit worse for wear, so I invested in a wooden darning mushroom and some darning thread and had a go at darning my own socks. As a disclaimer, I do sew my own clothes so I know my way round a needle and thread, but when it comes to darning I am a newbie! The hole pictured below took me about 15 minutes to mend, and after a stressful day at work it was a relaxing and mindful thing to do to wind down into the evening.

The mending is quite visible due to the difference in colour between the thread and the pale mesh of the sock (plus I think I should have done more of a weave effect when coming back on the second pass) but the mended area feels a lot thicker and stronger than before. Here’s hoping I get a few more months’ wear out of these!

If you still need some new pairs, can you make a sustainable purchase?

When deciding to buy a new set of socks, there are a couple of things to take into consideration if you want to make a more sustainable purchase. Firstly, the materials that the sock is made of – ideally you want to aim for something with a higher percentage of natural fibres (e.g. cotton, bamboo or wool) rather than a synthetic (e.g. polyamide, polyester etc.). Not only are natural fibres generally less polluting on the environment, they are also a lot more breathable than their plastic-based counterparts, leaving you with far less sweaty feet!

There are quite a few retailers out there now which sell eco-friendly socks; I won’t list them all as there are several good articles on where to buy sustainable socks, including a recent post from Moral Fibres. Personally I’ve bought bamboo socks as a gift from thought in the past which are really well made and durable, as well as coming in a variety of fun patterns, however these sustainable socks can be very expensive and are not for all budgets. A cheaper alternative would be to look for a high street store or supermarket with a good track record for sustainability (check out a store’s website to see if they have a decent sustainability policy) and go for their range of higher percentage natural fibre based or organic socks.

It’s also worth considering the packaging that the socks come in – try to go for those with either recyclable or reusable packaging over those that come in a plastic pouch. The box that the aforementioned socks from thought came in is now enjoying a second life as storage for computer cables!

Box which socks came in now containing computer cables
What should you do with the old pairs?

Sometimes despite all your best darning efforts, a sock will simply become a lost cause and can no longer be used as a sock. But rather than throwing them into the bin, which will lead to them sitting in landfill for years to come, there are a few different options in order to give your socks a second life:

  • Use your old socks as cloth dusters – the fabric most socks are made of lends itself well to being used as a duster for furniture, computer screens etc.
  • Crack out the googly eyes and make sock puppets! (note that you do not need to have children in order to partake in this fun activity)

If you’re all set for dusting cloths and sock puppets creep you out, take your old socks to the nearest textile recycling bank. These bins are scattered all over the place in the UK, and recyclenow has a great tool on their website to let you know where your nearest recycling point is. Much of what is put in textile bins, where not fit for use in its current form, is repurposed into other products depending on the fibre content such as house insulation panels and carpet underlay.

Now that we’re all set for socks, it’s time to organise! Next week we’ll be looking at how to make your sock drawer a thing of beauty, so come back soon for part two of this sock mini-series.

How to store reusable face masks

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been quite the year so far. We’ve all had to turn our lives drastically upside down, getting used to a different way of life and building new habits to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. In the UK at the time of writing, it’s currently mandatory to wear a form of face covering in numerous public places unless you are exempt from wearing one. This has, understandably, led to a boom in the sale of both disposable and reusable face masks across the country.

As we’re probably all starting to see, the increase in the use of disposable surgical masks by the general public is generating far more litter and waste than that of their reusable counterparts. The best way to counteract this upwards trend is to invest in some reusable fabric face masks, either by purchasing some or (if you’re handy with a sewing machine) by making your own. Not only will the amount of waste that you’re producing decrease, but you’ll potentially also save money in the long run. You can now buy reusable masks and face coverings from many different retailers, but if you want to support independent creators check out these listings on Etsy or pick up some quilting cotton and have a go yourselves with this DIY pattern from Tilly and the Buttons.

Solely using reusable masks does require you to have a fair stash of them – at present my boyfriend and I have three each (with the fabric for a couple more on its way!) but if you go out more regularly or commute on public transport it’s worth having a few extra just in case. But how do you remember to pick one up before you head out of the door? That’s where I’ve come up with a little trick to both store your clean face masks and make sure that you never leave home without one!

You will need:

  • An empty tissue box
  • Some glue or tape (strong enough to hold cardboard down)
  • A pair of scissors
  • Some funky face masks!

To create a storage box for your face masks, simply take the empty tissue box and remove the plastic film that partly covers the opening of the box (check to see whether this can be recycled with carrier bags and similar materials at your local supermarket).

Cut diagonally from the hole to each corner of the box, then stick down the “flaps” to the inside of the box with tape or glue. Alternatively you can simply remove the top of the box, but folding down the “flaps” gives a nicer edge.

And that’s it! You can now fill your box with your clean masks as soon as they’re dry from the wash so that they don’t wander or end up in someone’s underwear drawer by mistake. Place your box of masks in a prominent place by the front door, or where you leave your house keys, so that you’ll see them as you’re leaving and pick one up automatically. Make sure not to place dirty masks in the same box as clean masks; these should be stored somewhere separate until they’re washed or thrown straight into the washing machine after use. Try to avoid putting them in the washing basket – by storing them separately or in the washing machine itself they’re guaranteed to be in the next load of laundry and back into circulation in no time!

Let me know in the comments if you try this out and find it useful – do you have any further thoughts on how to store reusable face masks?

Launching soon!

Welcome to sustainably organised, a blog designed to help you organise your life one sustainable step at a time. My name is Vicki and I’ve always had a keen interest in the environment and trying to live a more “eco-friendly” life. I’m also a great believer in the fact that an uncluttered and well-organised life is a more stress-free and happy life. This is why I’ve combined two of my passions into helping others become more organised while taking the planet into consideration too.

If you look up the word “sustainable” in the dictionary there are two principal meanings: to be able to continue over a period of time and causing little or no damage to the environment, hence being able to continue for a long time. Both of these meanings embody what sustainably organised is all about – coming up with organisational tools and methods that not only keep you organised in the long run but are good for the world around us. 

This is not meant to be a “zero waste” blog and being sustainable or attaining zero waste is an aspiration, not a goal, so there may be things that you see here that aren’t necessarily the most environmentally friendly option. Being zero waste, only buying food in bulk with no packaging etc. can be a very expensive way to live and certainly isn’t accessible to everyone. My aim for this blog is to try to cater for a wider audience and provide advice and options for a variety of lifestyles and budgets. After all, every little helps and even a small step towards a more organised or sustainable life can have a massive impact on your wellbeing.

Please check back on the 26th September for our first blog post, and in the meantime have a great day!