Hacks for maintaining control

Those hacks you see on Facebook and Instagram have nothing on me. Everyone has a hack they swear by, a story of ingenuity they like to share. Some people have more than one, usually people with more stories are those who’ve been forced to make do without all the comforts of home and access to conventional tools. When we travel or move out of home we become veritable mavericks and even if we return home we use the new tricks we’ve learnt, even if only to demonstrate how smart we became.

Without a washing machine I quickly figured out ways to do my laundry without forking out cash at a laundromat. I started by washing my socks in the sink. They take the longest to dry so I rinse them with cold water, fill the sink with warm soapy water and let them soak, drain the sink and take the socks out, put the plug back in, grab some soap (any soap cause soap is soap) and scrub one sock at a time inside and out, drop the soak covered sock into the sink, and repeat until every sock has been scrubbed, then run hot water into the sink until all of the socks are submerged, let them soak, remove the plug, run some cold water over all the socks, squeeze excess water out as I remove them from the sink, then rinse each sock until there is no soap suds left, find a place for them to dry and rinse the sink. After socks I’d do t-shirts and underwear. You’d be amazed how many things you can hang off a bunk bed and locker door. In a hostel I’m vigilant and my paranoia spikes but knowing that I am in control of the cleanliness of my things helps somewhat.

I figured out lots of ways to keep control and do things without spending any money. I can turn a scarf into a bag because I refuse to pay for one. I learnt how to open a can with a spoon from some Russian guy on YouTube, he’d made the video for people preparing for the apocalypse, I watched it because there was no way I was buying a can opener for a hostel in Berlin. That hostel was so shoddy that I cooked an egg on a plate over a candle (much like they did in chitty chitty bang bang) because there was one hot plate for a ten-story building where seven school groups and five soccer teams were staying and I was impatient.

When I moved from hostels to uni accommodation I joined a team of students on shoe string budgets and we started to learn more hacks than I can remember (I actually asked them to send me hacks we used and there were things I’d forgotten). I turned corks into doorstops and they were taken by maintenance because you’re not allowed to keep fire doors open in the UK. Because I’m not healthy and strong enough to open the heavy fire doors I then used an actual doorstop, when maintenance took that I used a plastic spoon and a bottle opener as a door stop, when the plastic broke I started to use my walking stick. At that point I think maintenance recognised I needed the door open and they stopped removing my doorstop.

I watched Caris make coffee in a bowl and then filter it through a tea towel because the French Press wasn’t available. Lauren, Mie and I used freezer bags as piping bags when making mini meringues. We used a water bottle as a rolling pin to make a pumpkin pie and blueberry turnovers. I used a whisk to mash some potatoes because our potato masher was stuck behind the broken oven. Lauren used hand soap to do her dishes, soap is soap. For our Christmas dinner we ate in the corridor off the top of our food boxes because 15 people wouldn’t fit around the eight-person table.

Lauren and I went through the glass recycling bin and found three shot glasses, one cup, a mason jar and two glass dishes that were the perfect size for mini crumbles. When I ran out of jars for the jam and pasta sauce and marmalade I made I returned to the glass recycling bin. I wanted all my flatmates to learn the value of taking all the free things they can because free stuff will always be useful at some point. Everyone knows the value of tote bags, I now know they can replace draws and be used as a delicate bag in the wash. A tube that had lollies in it was rescued from recycling so I could put my knitting in it. One of the cups I got at the welcome tent in o-week was a pen cup then a place for spare change before it held all of my magnets so they wouldn’t be crushed in my bag.

On the way home Caris, Ethie and I had too much stuff and not enough space in our bags so we all got a shit tonne of vacuum bags and hoped and prayed and sat on each others suitcases till they shut. I had two bags and one had to be posted back, instead of paying to get it shrink wrapped I bought a roll of glad wrap and used a pub table to turn the bag around on while I wrapped it myself. I was a bit worried a custom dog might smell the beer from the table top on my bag but I posted it anyway.

I’m home now (and so’s my bag) but I still make up ways to do things unconventionally, maybe because it lets me pretend I’m still travelling, maybe because I need to make things accessible, maybe because it reminds me of the weird things my friends and I did and maybe because it lets me feel like I’m in control of something cool, something other people might marvel at. 

Marmalade

Marmalade was different. It was made on a Saturday after I’d said farewell to nine people and while I waited for others to finish packing so we could watch tv together for the last time.

The citrus fruit had been sitting in a plastic bag for a few days waiting to be used. I was meant to cook the maramalade with friends but that didn’t work out because packing up to leave takes longer than expected.

So I worked on it by myself as my flatmates came in and out of the kitchen to distract me. And I guess that’s alright. These friends will in my life even when they can’t be there in person.

I suppose marmalade is a pretty transparent metaphor. A jam but not quite, given a different name because it’s a slightly different thing. The people who I called flatmates I now call my friends. Because there’ll be just a slight difference.

Groceries

I am a student. I have a student budget. I live in student accomodation. Our student kitchen has two stoves and of the two stoves there is always one out of order. Our student kitchen has two traffic cones, one of which we named Albert, the other still doesn’t have a name. In our student kitchen we have red tubs, one red tub for each student. We keep our groceries in our tubs until we have time to cook a student meal. Our student groceries are usually from Aldi, Iceland or Home Bargains. Bulk ingredients for a bulk amount of students. Bulk ingredients to make a bulk meal that can be split into multiple tuperware containers (read ‘cheap take-away containers’) to go into the freezer so the student can eat it later when they forget that cooking a meal takes time.

Students aren’t great at looking afterourselves. We’re all learning too much and learning to care for themselves is just another thing students have to add to the list of things to revise. Caring for themselves is the first class students drop out of when they get too busy with chemistry, or music theory, or translation classes, or sports science, or teaching, or clubs. Students need someone to teach us to be better students because these student budgets and student kitchens and student meals and student exhaustions are not healthy.