Small space solutions: how to live comfortably in a compact home

13389295125_ffd10ca7b0_b

Not many people are lucky enough to have the luxury of moving straight from their parents’ house and into a perfect first home. When Amy and I finished our university courses and decided to find a new place together, we had a choice to make: a slightly shabby house in the suburbs with room to spare, or a significantly less spacious modern apartment in the city.

We chose the latter, and haven’t regretted it for a second. It’s fantastic living so close to the places we love to spend time in, and we’ve enjoyed kitting out our small but sweet flat with furniture that fits our style and shows off our creativity. That said, many people are worried about feeling cramped in a small home. We’ve picked up several tips that should help to alleviate those concerns, letting you feel cosy and content in your compact pad.

Think vertically

15-corner-shelvesIf you don’t have much floor space in your home for furniture, use the height of your ceiling to your advantage. Storage becomes easier when you decide to use the space on your walls, instead of just cramming everything under your bed.

If you want to show off your stuff, you can’t beat a good wall mounted shelf – thoughtfully arranged, these will display your personality and give you a place to keep your favourite possessions. Books, pictures, cameras, toys and souvenirs from your travels all look pretty out in the open.

Alternatively, keep your things dust free behind closed doors in cabinets. You can often pick up nice vintage-looking ones dirt cheap from flea markets and car boot sales. Sand them down and give them a fresh coat of paint in your favourite colour for easy, attractive storage.

Be picky: choose furniture that works for you

shelvesDon’t listen to the people who tell you flat pack items are flimsy and unattractive – we know first hand that they have their place. The key advantage when shopping for mass produced furniture is the incredible amount of choice you have, and if you’re limited for space, you need to make the most of this variety.

When we moved into our little apartment in Cardiff, we immediately noticed a narrow nook in the wall – ideal for a bookcase. A quick flick through the IKEA catalogue revealed several that would fit. It was tempting to automatically go for the iconic BILLY bookcase, but we eventually decided that a taller shelf in a dark colour would better suit our needs.

Similarly, when we got fed up with eating off plastic boxes on the floor and decided to invest in a dining table, we were concerned about it taking up too much room in our already limited living area. With tape measure in hand, we explored the local superstore and discovered the perfect solution – a folding table that’s big enough to accommodate a small dinner party when fully extended, but barely noticeable when folded and pushed against the identically white wall. Even the chairs fold down and fit snugly between the table legs.

open table
closed table

Live a clutter free life

This one’s easier said than done, but listen up. You REALLY don’t need all that old tat that’s cluttering up your cupboards. You know the stuff: clothes you don’t wear, mementos from friends long gone, boxes for every electrical device you’ve ever owned. Be brutal. Sell the high-ticket items on eBay. Donate your unwanted clothes, books and DVDs. Chuck the rest.

It’s a liberating experience, and when you live in a small space, you badly need that extra room for storing the things that matter. Now all you need to do is decide on a place for everything and stick to it. You don’t have to be a neat freak, just pick one day of the week when you’ll put everything back where it should be. We like doing this on a Sunday – there’s always a lull in the late afternoon that’s perfect for end-of-week tidying, and it feels good to reset your home before Monday rolls around.

If you enjoyed reading this post and have your own secrets for small space happiness, share them with us! You can tweet us @Creative_Hacks or drop us a friendly comment below – we love to hear your thoughts, and always reply!

Matt

14 alternative date ideas for couples on Valentine’s Day

15018392488_59306af6c0_kIf you’ve got someone to share the annual day of love with (wahoo!), you’ll want to make the night memorable. Picking one of these alternatives to the traditional wine-and-dine dinner date will ensure you both have lots of fun, get to spend quality time together and have something to look back on in the future. There’s no expiry on these ideas, by the way, so even if it’s not February 14th you can still win hearts in a creative and thoughtful way that beats the norm.

1. Complete a jigsaw puzzle

indoorAs a society, we have forgotten the joy of connecting oddly shaped pieces of cardboard together to create a picture. Yes, jigsaw puzzles are still as fun as they were when you first assembled those 25-piece pre-school masterpieces. Allow your date the honour of putting the magical final piece in place and watch their heart melt.

2. Buy tickets for a band you’ve never heard before

Discovering something new together is always memorable. Seek out a hotly-tipped band that neither of you have listened to and buy a pair of tickets. If the band’s great, you can show off your best (or worst) dance moves, pretend to know all the words and listen to their album together next time you hang out. If they suck, you can chill by the bar and discuss your superior music tastes over rounds of shots.

3. Borrow a dog

Dog walkies on lead - credit to amtaylorphotographyIf you and your date both love dogs but aren’t able to have one due to other life commitments, Borrow My Doggy is for you. The website links up dog owners with eager animal lovers, hosting a massive network of pooches that need someone to play with. It’s a perfect opportunity to get outdoors and do something different together while bonding over a shared love of puppies.

4. Host a themed movie night

Cuddling up on the sofa and sticking on a DVD is cosy, but we know you can do better. Take your movie night to another level by preparing themed drinks and snack foods to nibble on while you watch. For example, a viewing of The Big Lebowski can be accompanied with a pair of classy White Russians, while Tarantino fans can knock up their own version of the infamous ‘Five Dollar Shake’ or build a tasty ‘Big Kahuna Burger’ while watching Pulp Fiction. Bonus points if you wear fancy dress.

5. Enrol in a class

Watercolours and brushEven if you have completed your formal education, that doesn’t mean you have to stop learning. Plenty of extra-curricular classes are out there to teach you skills and help you to find new hobbies. It can be nerve-wracking going alone, but invite a date along and you’ll have a great opportunity to reveal a different side of your personality.

6. Volunteer for a cause you both support

Doing good for somebody else is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. If you don’t have a lot of money to spare for charities, volunteering can be a great way to support a cause you care about. If you and your date are passionate about the same issues, helping to make the world a better place while spending time together is an absolute win-win.

7. Play board games together

7366181556_9201aa0f3d_kDust off those classic board games in the cupboard (or find some treasures in a charity shop) and prepare to get competitive. If you want to get really geeky with it, draw up a league table and invite other couples along for regular board game nights. Plenty of pubs and bars keep a collection of games for punters to play with if you fancy getting out of the house – our favourites in Cardiff are Brewdog and Porter’s.

8. Watch live action sport at a local arena

It doesn’t matter if neither of you are hardcore followers of your regional wrestling team or even whether you know the rules; it’s the taking part (in the crowd) that counts. Buy last minute tickets on the cheap, pick a side and shout along with the devout fans around you. We tried this at a Tiger Bay Brawlers roller derby bout. I had no idea what was going on but had an absolute blast.

9. Venture somewhere new

338796_10150984867020270_496608346_oGrab a map of the local area and pick somewhere at random to walk or drive to. Treat the excursion as a mini-adventure, taking photos of landmarks along the way and any funny incidents that happen. One of my favourite pictures of Matt is one of him cleaning cow dung off his shoe, partly because it was hilarious (sorry, Matt) and also because it was taken on a lovely walk we did (mostly the first point).

10. Seek out something neither of you care about

Here’s the logic: by going to something neither of you would ordinarily opt to go to, you’re both starting on the same clueless and neutral footing. Pick a film at the cinema that sounds like something you’d usually ignore, watch a play by the local am-dram circuit or wander around a random exhibition at an art gallery. You may both love it, both hate it or have different opinions. Whatever the reaction, it’ll get you talking and experiencing something new together.

11. Complete a computer game together

crash3Video games are not just for boys. Game-fearing girls, now is your chance to impress. Grab the second controller, speed-read the manual and let your other half guide you through the imaginary pixel world that stole his heart years before you were on the scene. Once you know what you’re doing (or even just kind-of get it), kick digital butt together. You’ll probably find you have your own special role in the tag team. I like collecting things and running away from the baddies on platform games (pacifist/sucker for animated trinkets).

12. Visit an animal sanctuary

2604954713_9c0859548d_b“So cute!” “So cuddly!” “Awh, look at his face!” You too could find yourself cooing over fluffy friends with your other half. Feel the fuzzy excitement and mushiness that comes from perusing corridors of big-eyed pets calling out for an owner. A word of advice: leave your bags at home, or else risk the urge to sneak off with a kitten on your way out.

13. Get crafty for each other

Gather some crafty bits from your old art cupboard (or some items with crafty potential out of the recycling bin, like cardboard or bottles), Google an easy craft project and follow the tutorial together. Your lucky partner will be the proud owner of your masterpiece and vice versa, so even if it’s ugly as roadkill it doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that counts, right?

14. Set up camp

marshmallowIt’s relatively easy to book an overnight stay in a nice hotel, but it’s also costly and somewhat traditional. Go off the beaten track to a luxurious campsite – one with running water and hot showers. Here you can bond while putting up your tent, heating a hearty meal on the fire and snuggling up under the stars. Bring plenty of yummy food and travel games to keep it fun, and lots of wet wipes so that you both feel fresh.

If you find success with any of these, or if you have your own recommendation for a humdrum-free date, share it with a comment below or tweet @Creative_Hacks. Spread the love!

Amy sig

Six tips to stay warm without turning up the heating

10928697_10155214679020455_2109763045_n
Oh, winter. The season of sipping hot drinks beside a roaring log fire while watching the snowflakes fall. It can also be the most expensive season in terms of heating bills. Nobody likes being cold in their own home, but rather than turning the thermostat to a tropical 30 degrees, try some of these easy, low cost tricks to stay cosy without it costing the earth.

1. Insulate yourself

The first thing to do if you’re feeling chillsome is to wrap yourself up. Put loose layers on top of loose layers to give yourself maximum insulation. Girls, pop a pair of tights under your leggings or jeans, and guys, layer up socks and sweaters. By keeping the layers loose, you trap more heat and allow blood circulation, meaning heat will spread around your body better.

2. Jump around

Jack Russell Terrier dogs jumping with ball
Exercise may not be the most appealing activity when you’re cold and grouchy, but just thirty star jumps can give you a quick and free heat boost. You can also do simple things like running on the spot, lunging or practicing your dance moves ahead of the weekend.

3. Mind the gaps

Take a few minutes to look carefully at your windows, doors and walls. If you have a gap between the bottom of your doors and the flooring, plug it with a draught excluder (or, for a makeshift version, the leg of a pair of tights that has been stuffed with socks). Make sure all windows are tightly shut and sealed. If there are any little holes in your walls or small gaps where cold is coming in from outside, use duct tape as a temporary sealer. In the long run, you may want to think about sealing these air holes properly.

4. Central eating

Hot chocolate with cream and sprinkles in teacup
Nothing seems better than hugging a mug of freshly made tea, coffee or hot chocolate when the weather turns. Make your own, or head out for a treat in a local café every now and again (cafés are a source of free central heating too, so look for one with steamy windows!) Some people report feeling much warmer in winter after they have eaten something really cold; if you can brave a sub-zero ice cream, give the theory a try.

5. Grab a hottie

Cuddle up to a hot water bottle, a microwavable heat pack or a human hottie. The heat from them will transfer to you and the air around you, so your shivers will stop in no time. You could also pop a thick blanket on top of you and your hottie to further raise the temperature.

6. Cook up some warmth

Baking pumpkin pie with pastry leaf decoration
Like you need an excuse to get a tray of cookies or fudgy brownies on the go! Not only will baking deliver delicious warmth right to your core, the heat from the oven will transfer all around the room. Did someone say cake?

If you have any more ideas on how to keep warm without cranking up the heating, let us know in the comments below or drop us a tweet @Creative_Hacks.

Amy sig

Café Pure: guilt-free indulgent food in Cardiff Bay

dumbell
If healthy eating summons up images of protein-guzzling hulks downing their powdery shakes during a relentless gym sesh, it’s time you paid Café Pure a visit. This Cardiff Bay eatery has a varied menu of super nutritious breakfasts and lunches, packing barrowloads of flavour into every portion.

Good health and good eating are combined here. Every meal on the menu is accompanied by a clear indication of its nutritional information, with a massive grid at the back indicating the presence of common allergens. If only all restaurants were this considerate.

paleo

This labeling system also means you won’t necessarily feel guilted into going for the salad after a particularly gluttonous Christmas period – more or less everything on the menu makes for a well-balanced treat. That said, salad was the first choice for both of us. I’m not usually one to go for leafy greens over a burger or pizza, but the Paleo Fuel option mixed up loads of my favourite things in one massive salad – topped with a tuna steak and served with a sweet teriyaki dressing on the side, it was seriously scrummy.

superfood
Amy’s Superfood salad with tofu and ‘Café Pure Sauce’ (a surprisingly nice blend of berries and balsamic vinegar) went down just as well – it’s always refreshing to eat somewhere with an abundance of choice for vegans, and she wasn’t disappointed here.

smoothies
Both our meals were washed down with vitamin packed drinks – the Berry Beauty smoothie and Tutti Fruitti juice jar were filled with anti-oxidants and meant we both had the majority of our five a day in a single delicious drink.


Feeling brave after such a wholesome lunch, we both decided to try one of Café Pure’s signatures before leaving: wheatgrass shots, squeezed from blades of the plant grown on-site and served with a juicy slice of orange to counteract the bitterness. Each shot contains the same nutritional clout of 2.5 pounds of dark green vegetables. It wasn’t the tastiest of tipples – Amy definitely wasn’t keen on the earthy tang or potency – but it did leave me feeling energised and ready to face the bracing Bay weather outside.

upstairs
A quote on the back wall of Café Pure reads “You are what you eat, so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.” A visit here means you can fill yourself up with a nutritionally balanced meal made from fresh ingredients, prepared with care and full of natural flavours.

Matt

How to make spicy root vegetable and lentil one-pot


January can be a bit of a miserable month. When it’s wet and windy outside and Christmas is just a memory, sometimes all you want after work is a warm home and some delicious food to cosy up with.

This is the perfect recipe for those nights – a warming one-pot casserole (or stew, depending on how runny you like it) with loads of spicy flavour and wholesome seasonal veg. The lentils bulk it out, add moreish taste and hearty texture. Matt loves his with a dollop of plain yoghurt sprinkled with paprika, but tomato ketchup or balsamic vinegar would also go well with this dish. One thing is a must – a good chunk of wholemeal bread for dipping and mopping up every last bit.

Ingredients

(makes four servings)
4 carrots
4 parsnips
1 swede
1 large brown onion
100g dried red lentils, rinsed
1 vegetable stock cube
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp dark soy sauce
3 bay leaves
3 tsp dried mixed herbs
3 tsp curry powder
Ground black pepper and salt
Plain flour

Method

choppedveg1. Peel and roughly chop all of the vegetables.

2. In a large saucepan or casserole pot, lightly fry the onion on a medium heat for four minutes or until brown. Toss in the chopped vegetables and garlic, stirring every 30 seconds to stop them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Keep this up for about four minutes.

3. While the vegetables are cooking, dissolve the stock cube in a pint jug of boiled water. Add the tomato puree, soy sauce, bay leaves, mixed herbs, curry powder, salt and pepper to the stock and stir.

4. Pour the stock mixture and lentils into the saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the stew to a boil then turn it down to a low to medium heat. Allow it to simmer for around 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

cooking5. After simmering, the vegetables and lentils will be soft and full of stocky flavour. If you want to make the consistency thicker, sieve a tablespoon of plain flour into the saucepan, stir and continue to simmer for three minutes. If it’s still not as thick as you’d like, just repeat this step. To thin down the stew, add a small amount of boiled water and allow to cook for three minutes. Serve in big bowls with warm bread for dipping. Don’t forget to fish out the bay leaves (they’re not edible!).

We hope you enjoy this winter warmer as much as we do, especially if you’re embarking on the Veganuary challenge! Let us know if you have any suggestions for other delicious wintery recipes – we’d love to try them out and share them here on the blog.

Amy sig