Tip of the day – bin freshener

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Placing an inch-thick layer of cat litter at the bottom of your kitchen bin, under the bag, helps absorb odours and drips. The fuller’s earth type works well, but makes the bin heavy to move, while the crystal type or pressed pellet type is lighter weight. Almost all types can be placed on the garden when they become soiled and will simply biodegrade.

Recipe of the day – home-made air freshener

Personally, I dislike using commercial air-fresheners, which often contain some nasty chemicals such as benzenes and phthalates. Products with antibacterial powers, such as Febreze, are useful for items such as the dog’s bed, but simply making the air smell sweeter doesn’t really require bactericides.

Obviously, your main treatment for stale smells is to open the windows and, if you can, put a fan on. Failing that, however,  this home-made air freshener will work wonders. Spray it on all fabrics, plus a few squirts into the air generally.

30 drops of citronella oil
30 drops of lavender or lavendin oil
20 drops of clove oil
A slug of vodka (to blend the oils)

Mix the first four ingredients, place in a spray bottle and top up with water. Shake as you use, to blend the oils. You can choose another blend if you like, but this blend smells good and is cheap. In the cold and flu season, I often add a further 20 drops of eucalyptus oil to the mix.

Task of the day – kindling bundles

It’s the time for trimming back in the garden, so it’s also a good time to make kindling bundles for next year.

The best trimmings for these are those from fruitwood trees, hazel and vines – basically, trees whose fruit you eat. Avoid toxic woods such as elder, or any others you aren’t sure about. I also use the stems from my miscanthus grasses, which have to be cut back at this time of year, and whose stalks are a good 2m high.

You’ll need secateurs, newspaper or brown paper, raffia and scissors. Cut some pieces of raffia to about 50cm in length (30cm might do). Cut your stalks, twigs or grasses to lengths that correspond with your firebox – ours is 50cm but I make the bundles a little shorter. Take a good bundle of twigs and wrap them in newspaper and secure with the raffia – voilà. Store somewhere dry until needed.

These look quite fetching as they are, but if they’re on display, you can make them more decorative by using (uncoated) coloured wrapping paper, or paper tablecloth cut into strips about 30cm wide, and coloured raffia or thick cotton yarn or tape.

This is a nice job for a sunny hour in the garden and has the same meditative quality as stripping lavender in late summer. Yesterday afternoon I made enough to light fires for a couple of weeks.

Task of the day – bed-making

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No matter how little money you earn, you can enjoy a well-made bed. Slipping between cool, smooth, wrinkle-free sheets like you would in a hotel is a private pleasure. It’s well worth making your bed properly every morning, so that when you crash at the end of the day, you don’t have to think about it, and you can relax into sleep.

So, each morning, air the bed by pulling back the duvet or sheets and blankets if you prefer things the old-fashioned way, spray with linen spray, open the windows and leave the bed to air while you have breakfast.

As a linen spray, I use a dirt-cheap eau de cologne deodorant from my local supermarket, SuperU. As a deodorant it was useless, but as a linen spray it works really well. You can also buy purpose-made ones, though these tend to be expensive for what they are, or use cheap scent, such as Mont St Michel eau de cologne, decanted into a spray bottle. If you suffer from allergies, etc, you can skip this bit.

After breakfast, go and make the bed – properly. Take off the pillows, retuck the sheets, even if they’re fitted, and pull them tight and smooth, especially at the foot end. Plump the pillows and also turn the pillowcase if you have time. Give the duvet a good shake and put it back in place – turn it, if it’s reversible.

One tip from hotels is to double-line your pillowcases (ie: put two cases on, rather than one). This makes the pillow feel more ‘dressed’ and substantial. It also works for the mattress – all mattresses should have covers, and an extra sheet (summer) or wool blanket (winter) will pad the sheet and make it feel smoother under your body. You need wash the undersheet or cover only once a month or so.

When getting into bed at night, you might find aromatherapy helpful. Rather than sprinkling oil on the pillowcase, put a drop or two on a sheet of kitchen roll and tuck it under the pillowcase, to avoid staining. You can also buy pillow sprays such as Sommeil, from Puressentiel, that are meant to aid sleep.

Always buy the best bed, mattress and bedlinen you can afford – you spend a third of your life in this place and what happens here forms the ballast of your daily life.



Brand of the day – Woolovers

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Woolovers is one of those brands that I find myself returning to again and again for nice, well-made basic knitwear.

Recently, I really lucked out by introducing a friend – she got 20% off and I got a £50 voucher to spend, which meant my next purchases cost virtually nothing.

Woolovers makes a range of knitwear for men and women (and some unisex items) in a range of wools, cottons and silks. My favourite weight is the cashmere-merino mix, which is very soft, very wearable and comfortable. The pure lambswool is a bit itchy for me – wearable but needs three or four washes to soften it. Recently I bought a new wool Aran sweater and that’s fantastic – a really nice weight and quality.

For summer, the company also does lovely cottons and cotton-silk mixtures that are lighter in weight – I particularly value their polka-dot cardis.

The Woolovers website is easy to use – you can check out the measures on individual garments (for instance, I often go up a size to get jumpers at least 28 inches long), and shipping is cheap and fast.

End-of-season sales are very good and afterwards, the goods appear on Amazon.

Tip of the day – scented newspaper

If, as I do, you use crumpled newspaper to shine up your windows after cleaning them, here’s a nice tip to make the process of window-cleaning rather less tedious – scent your newspaper.

This is easily done each week by getting a bin bag, crumpling up your newspaper sheets, sprinkling a few of the sheets with some drops of lavender (or other) essential oil and tying the bag up.

Put it aside for a day or two for the oils to sink in, and then use as you see fit.

Nice oils for housework include lavender, peppermint and citronella, all of which smell clean and fresh.

Product of the day – alcool ménager

Alcool ménager is one of those French cleaning products that I never came across in the UK – cleaning alcohol.

It’s a denatured alcohol that’s available in every supermarket and DIY store, and comes in plain (labelled Alcool à bruler, because it’s used for starting barbeques or burning in shepherd’s lamps) and a number of scents, including vanilla, lemon, peppermint and lavender, for cleaning purposes.

It’s a great product for cleaning white goods, door handles, floors where an animal has soiled, pet cages, computer keyboards, bathrooms, etc. I first became aware of it when the French cleaner I had for three brief weeks asked me to buy it for her to use. My local restaurant uses it to wipe down all the surfaces, including sinks and toilet handles. Just squirt it on and wipe it off with paper towels or a microfibre cloth (I use paper towels, then use them as firelighters), or decant it into a plant sprayer.

Alcool à bruler is cheaper, but the smell is a bit fierce, so I do tend to stump up for the scented stuff – peppermint in the bathroom, lemon in the kitchen and vanilla or lavender for use in the living room.