Tag Archives: sustainable living

Christmas Gifts – I saw this & thought of you / I thought of you… I saw nothing.

How do we get back to the true spirit of giving and receiving through this haze of Christmas shopping?

xmas-shop.pngAs an anti-consumerist, each year I freak out a little about the Christmas Season’s enforced gift giving. Gifts and generosity are beautiful things to behold, but the push – the pressure to give objects on a particular date, feels driven by commercial industries that want to sell. It’s lovely to be able to say to someone “I saw this and thought of you”, down right embarrassing to say “It’s the thought that counts, because I thought you’d like it but you clearly hate it” and totally taboo to say, no matter how true “I thought of you… but I saw nothing”.

I am notoriously difficult to buy non-edibles for, as a minimalist, traveller and anti-consumerist. If anything, I’m hoping to reduce the contents of my backpack, not increase it! I even looked through “ideal gifts for Digital Nomads” articles and couldn’t see anything I wanted, so goodness knows how anyone else is going to fare.

Having said this, almost paradoxically, as a traveller I’m incredibly sentimental. Many things I own/use/carry are from loved ones. This helps me feel connected to my friends and family wherever I am. Right I’m wearing, pocketing or using 12 things that were given to me. Not all were necessarily “presents” wrapped up for a birthday or Christmas. Some were also given as an alternative to donating, or bought for me onthe spot. It really doesn’t matter to me if it was expensive, wrapped, or presented on the “right” date. What matters is being given something I’ll use, by a loved one, so I can be reminded of them every time I use it.

There are certain ideas surrounding Christmas gifts, largely from advertising, which I’ve always found odd. At their worst, they can make gift exhange feel like a form of tax. As follows:

  • It’s not a proper gift if it’s used (especially if it’s been used by you).
  • Something bought is better than something home made (I’ve heard home made cards referred to as “cheapskate”).
  • Consumables are not gifts unless they are a special “gift box” of soaps, biscuits, chocolates which often are over-packaged and overpriced. Honestly, show me a chocolate lover who would rather receive 100gms in the shape of Santa rather than 200gms the same stuff in squares!
  • The “how did you know” factor, is all that matters. Yes, it’s lovely when it works, but there’s also an assumption that if you can’t get someone a surprise gift they’ll treasure, there’s no magic (possibly Santa’s to blame for this one – but seriously guys, he had a list!).
  • Presents must be un-wrappable (although digital gifts are getting more normal now).
  • Cost matters. Seen exactly what your Gran would love on sale for a fiver? Well, better hope she doesn’t find out it cost you so little.

It’s exactly these ideas that left my mother despairing and simply buying everyone a white bath towel one year. “Well, they can’t say it’s not useful” she said, “and if they don’t like the colour, they can dye it”.

Returning to my original question: How do we get back to the true spirit of giving and receiving through this haze of Christmas shopping? Many people just want to forget the whole thing, but my experience is that it’s a baby bathwater situation, in which loved ones are blocked from being generous. I would seriously recommend breaking the above taboos wherever needed, by having a talk with friends and family about reframing gift giving and receiving. Many people would be relieved by the suggestion of a “consumables only” rule, a spending limit, the “ok” to buy 2nd hand, or even guidance on what sort of gift you would like. Other ideas include agreeing to give handwritten personal vouchers such as “I’ll take you out for a curry”, “A massage from me”, “Breakfast in bed – redeemable Boxing Day”. Have whatever conversation it takes to take the stress out Christmas shopping/making, and free yourself from the pressure. After all, we all know the embarrassment of going to the shops, thinking of you, but seeing nothing!

Whilst this article is about attitudes, check out my next post on sustainable/anti-consumerist gift ideas at buymeonce.com, here: BuyMeOnce (stocks things that last a lifetime): Brilliant for Christmas Shopping!


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:


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Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:


Music @:




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Design 1 – My Dream Yurt

The 1st of three Dream Tiny Homes I’m designing and may build one day.

My Dream Yurt aims to be:

  • Comfortably liveable
  • Affordable (both to buy/build and to run)
  • Efficient in its use of interior space
  • Low maintenance (both time and cost wise)

The yurt used to live in had its flaws. It was damp. I kept my electrical gear in a cupboard in a house and barely got to use it. It had no power for the first few months and limited solar power after that. Because my setup was temporary it wasn’t possible to install plumbing or a toilet. But let’s imagine for the purposes of this design that we have a nice double skinned yurt or bell tent, on a platform, with no damp problems and good access to electricity, water from an outside tank and an outdoor composting toilet/bathroom.

Outdoor view of Dream Yurt, before I decided the woodburner should be to one side.

Outdoor view of Dream Yurt, before I decided the woodburner should be to one side.

These are my needs for a living space:

  • A small double bed (smaller is better for warmth, but I wouldn’t want to rule out the possibility of having 2 people in the bed by choosing a single bed).
  • A minimal kitchen with running water
  • A space to use my computer (likely a fold out standing desk) and recording studio, including speakers.
  • Storage for clothes, guitars and instruments, music books.
  • A source of heat (woodburners are best for canvas dwellings as they keep them dry).

Other considerations

No matter what, I’d keep my possessions minimal. Even if I had lots of space, I like the simplicity of not having to deal with lots of stuff. Digital stuff isn’t so bad because it automatically files itself and is searchable, removing both the headache of having to find things and then tidy them away. The less I have, the smaller the space I can live in, which I find cosy. The smaller the yurt the cheaper it is to heat and the quicker it warms up when the fire’s lit.

I’ve decided on a 13ft diameter yurt, which is 132sqft inside. My previous yurt was 12ft and was a little small. There was enough room for everything, but it was hard to have guests or a rehearsal. However, they usually only come in 12ft and 14ft…if I had to choose I’d go for the smaller option.

For This Design You Will Need:

09 Yurt Ad Ever Wanted Your Own Hermit

My 2012 advert seeking a pitch – Click to read

A pitch (which may also provide a toilet, washing machine, water source, rubbish collection etc.)

  • A 13ft Yurt (if they even exist) – my last 12ft single skinned yurt cost me £1500 2nd hand, and was a great deal. New, a double skinned yurt would have been £3.5k
  • A Yurt platform – I built my last with a carpenter for £300 using a combination of new and skipped wood.
  • The resources and skills to build furniture from new or found/recycled materials (Even so, you’d need to pay for glue and screws, and probably have to buy some materials for the kitchen etc –  estimate £500)
  • A woodburner – I used Parp Industries (http://www.woodlandyurts.co.uk/Woodland_Yurts/yurt_stove.html) in Totnes and got everything I needed to install the burner myself, for under £400.
  • Access to electricity run from a nearby building, or solar (it’s hard in the UK to run totally off solar energy without it costing thousands). Estimate £150-200 per month for ground rent(?) bills (including wood), council tax contribution etc…)

Total budget esimate: £4700 initial outlay plus £150-200 per month running costs


Building a yurt platform with Steve

Yurt before assembly, and the building of the platform

My old yurt before assembly


Click on the pics to read the annotations.

Bird's eye view

Dream Yurt – Bird’s eye view – Click to read annotations


My old yurt's bed and collection of bedside tables.

My old yurt’s bed and collection of bedside tables.

It seemed best to design purpose built storage around the bed. It would act as a thick layer of insulation for cold nights after the fire had died. In my last yurt, I pulled a curtain across the bed and the thermometer showed it kept the area 3 degrees C warmer – great for sleeping and for getting dressed in the mornings. Imagine how much warmer it would be in the Dream Yurt bed area!

I'd advise against a complete overhead curtain unless it's winter, since it means missing out on this view from the bed!

View of roof from bed in old single skinned yurt.

The last time I lived in a yurt I furnished it with bed-side tables, because they were often free. I also made some furniture – kitchen units and tables. I didn’t know how long I’d live that way, so wanted to keep my costs low, and not spend too much time on it. However, this is the Dream Yurt, assuming I have the resources to build bespoke furniture for a permanent dwelling.

The deepness of the storage units would mean that some stuff would be pushed to the back and be less accessible. I could use this for camping kit or other stuff that would normally be kept in a loft, but here it would still be useful, doubling as more insulation.

Dream Yurt Bedroom Area - Click to read annotations

Dream Yurt Bedroom Area – Click to read annotations


Part of my last yurt's kitchen, which I made from skip wood.

Part of my last yurt’s kitchen, which I made from skip wood.

I’ve always been fine with just one gas ring and a woodburner. Other people might bemoan the lack of oven. The kitchen is deliberately minimal and probably has more crockery pictured than I’d use in reality. Hot water for washing up would be provided by the wood burner.

Experience has taught me that it’s best if the fridge is outside. Sometimes I’ve used a cool box rather than a fridge, which works for everything but meat. Even veg doesn’t last as long, but it can be the best solution for setups such where access to electricity is limited. A cool box can however be easily picked up and brought inside every time you cook.

Having a sink with a tap would be a step up from my last yurt, but it’s still good to be economical with water if you have to bother to refill your water butt yourself. There are probably rainwater collection solutions too but this article doesn’t deal with water sources. I used to pour water from 5ltr bottles, which was a drag. These days I still catch myself cleaning a bowl with a hot teabag out of habit, even when I’m in a house.

Dream Yurt Main Area - Click to read annotations

Dream Yurt Main Area – Click to read annotations

The Woodburner

Someone’s fed-back that it would be better to include a wider and strategically angled area of aluminium behind the woodburner than is pictured in my design. They are probably right.

My previous yurt was always stacked high with damp wood I desperately drying, but this design includes an outdoor wood store which should be water tight, meaning I’d only need to bring enough wood inside for a day at a time.

A facility for drying clothes over the fire is vital, but it’s important not to store your whole wardrobe there permanently, because it would all end up smelling of cooking. The coat and shoe rack are also near the fire for faster drying. I’ve balanced shoes on the hearth for quick drying in a pinch, keeping a close eye in case they ignite. Once I had the bright idea of toasting my PJs for 10 seconds on the burner before getting changed for bed. They melted after 8 seconds, so don’t try that one yourself!

Door Area

No porch, just an ineffective tarp and no wood shelter - disaster.

No porch, just an ineffective tarp and no wood shelter – disaster.

You may have noticed that I’ve written VITAL next to the doormat. This is because there’s nothing like living in a one room dwelling to show you what hallways are for. It’s amazing how easy it is to tread mud through your entire living area in seconds. My last yurt had 1 doormat inside and a path of 3 outside. It also had no porch, which meant that as soon as you opened the door, rain poured into your home whilst you tried to get over the threshold.

It’s vitally important to remove shoes whilst still standing on the doormat and put them straight onto the shoe rack.


Having a double skinned yurt means opaque(ish) walls, so windows are necessary to let light in. They don’t need to open however, because you can just open the door.

Main Area/Living Room

The main area should be easy to transform for both work and play. Since there’s only one room in this house, it should be possible to fill it and clear it quickly so it can act as a study, practice area, gym, dining/entertaining area and more. At 132sqft, this dwelling can serve all these functions, unlike a 40sqft van which leaves me exercising outside, practicing guitar in the park and meeting friends in a cafe.

I’ve not included a standing-desk in my drawings but this is what I usually use to work on. There are a few reasons – it’s healthier, it saves space and it keeps you warmer (since you move more and more of your body is higher than woodburner level). A heavy duty music stand supports a laptop fine and then folds away. There are fold out chairs to create a social area (not my preference, but a compromise for the small space) and I’d consider a fold out table if I often had guests. It’s strange for me to think about this since I’ve not lived in spaces that have allowed me to have guests for some years, but I can imagine doing it often if I had the premises to. Floor cushions are another space saving idea but they are simply not an option because almost no heat from the woodburner reaches floor level. This is why I knitted extra thick guest socks for my last yurt.

As you can see from the diagram, the speakers are on casters so I can put them in the optimum position when I’m working on music. I’ve learned during my travels that I simply can’t mix on headphones, so if I had a permanent dwelling/workspace it would need to accommodate studio monitors.

What I’ve NOT included/addressed and why

Toilet: I’m assuming an outside toilet would be available. It’s best not to shit in the one room you live in, if you can help it. You may be pitched on land which is attached to a building, in which case you’d have access to a bathroom, washing machine and possibly even kitchen. If not, solutions may be specific to the limitations of your pitch, which is why they’re not detailed in this design.

Washing yourself: With a stove that can keep 3 pans/kettles warm at once, it would be quite easy to wash in a tin bath or basin. I tried this in my old yurt and it was lovely even in winter, since you have to stoke the fire to boil the water and can end up bathing in a body temperature room. I haven’t included this, but it would be easy to store a tin bath or basin hanging from the lattice.

Lighting: Assuming there’s electricity you could chose whatever lighting you wanted, but I haven’t drawn any in. Lightbulbs are cheapest and greenest, but candles are romantic. Candle lanterns suspended from the lattice are traditional.

Making tea lights in a tuna tin with string and a block of wax

Making tea lights in a tuna tin with string and a block of wax

Four long candles and a carefully placed mirror used to light up my old yurt, although once I stumbled in late at night and grabbed the pull-cord for the lights… only to remember that I didn’t HAVE any lights and was just pulling on the rope that had been tied in to tension the roof!

Washing machine: To wash clothes, I’d assume that it would be better to find other facilities than to clutter up such a small space with a washing machine. If you had to have one however, I’d recommend building an outside cupboard for it, similar to the wood store.

Hoovering: I’d carpet my yurt for warmth for warmth, but any dwelling with a woodburner gets ashy and needs hoovering. Unless I had a decent electricity supply and could borrow a hoover from a main building on a regular basis, I’d get a small battery powered hoover, even if it took longer to do the job each time. A lot can be achieved with a dustpan and brush first of all.

Household Running Tasks

  • Chop firewood and light fire daily if possible in order to keep yurt nice and dry (This is partly why I turned out not to be suitable for yurt living – I travel too much. In the end, I wasn’t able to light the fire enough and bits of the canvas went green and the new owner had to have it cleaned).
  • Re-fill water tank (if you don’t have a rainwater collection system or pipes)
  • Food shop more often if you don’t have a full sized electric fridge
  • Clear woodburner of ash when needed
  • Check yurt ropes at least once a week
  • Only 132sqft worth of general cleaning and tidying

Maintainance Tasks

  • Yurt, naked without it's canvas, being maintained.

    Yurt, naked without its canvas, being maintained.

    Oil yurt wood once a year – 1 day’s work

  • Treat the wooden platform every summer – 1 day’s work
  • Replace ropes as needed.
  • Waterproof the canvas every few years as needed. A big task which involves taking the yurt down fully and essentially moving out temporarily.

So there you have it. I know I won’t be building this design any time soon, but I’m bound to some day. Basically, I wouldn’t be able to do it till I was ready to settle in one place for a few years at a stretch. Hope it’s helped you dream up your own design based on what you need. Alternatively, write to me with your needs and I could always draw you a design.





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