Student Summer: What to Take to University #2

Food. One of the greatest loves of my life, as you can probably tell from this blog, and it was something I really agonised over before starting university. What food should I take to university with me? What will I cook after lectures? So this post is dedicated to the food shop, what meals you’re likely to be cooking, and what you should try and keep in your cupboards.

I’m lucky enough that my parents do my first shop of the school year, so I really stock up on goods that last then. I’ll also stock up on meat and spend the first few days batch cooking. Doing this really helps to keep my costs down for the rest of the year – generally I spend under £15 a fortnight, but even including my big shop my food spending is actually quite low. Now, in this list I’ve really only listed basics…in terms of this is what I always try to have in. Obviously you’re going to want other bits – green vegetables, other fruit, ready meals if you’re that way inclined…but I find if I have the following I can always make a good meal.

So, what food to take to university? And how long do you cook it for…?

Dried
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  • Pasta – in my big shop, I’ll always pick up a 5kg bag of pasta, usually penne. Then I’ll just grab some spaghetti. Value pasta is absolutely fine, I don’t see the point in spending more. Yes, fresh pasta is delicious, but having money is more important! Most pasta wants 9-10 minutes boiling in salted water, unless you are making One Pan Mac’n’ Cheese.
  • Rice – basmati is my go-to. Value rice is not fine, it is often far too starchy, to the point I’d rather have no rice. Again, 10 minute boiling in salted water is generally how I cook rice, just be careful to watch it as it can boil over.
  • Noodles – plain egg noodles are a must for me, as they are great in stir-fries and soups. I prefer thicker ones as they seem to fill me up more, and I also like to go for ones that just need soaking. I will usually soak mine for 5 minutes (just pour a boiling kettle over), and season with soy sauce.
  • Lentils – lentils seem to take very little time to cook, but they are great for bulking up meals and thickening sauces. A standard packet of red lentils lasts me just over a year – I will simmer a spoonful in with my bolognese or stew.

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  • Chopped tomatoes – if you’re a normal person and not allergic to them that is! They are obviously the cheapest way of making most sauces, so make the most of them if you can eat them!
  • Beans – whilst dried lentils are quick to cook, dried beans aren’t. I do prefer using dried beans, but for convenience’s sake its often easier to buy tinned as they only need heating up, though I tend to simmer with everything in chillis and stews.
  • Sweetcorn – I’m not a huge fan of sweetcorn, but I had a housemate who couldn’t live without it! Either buy tinned or frozen – I prefer tinned as I don’t eat it often enough to aware it freezer space. Again this only needs heating up.
  • Coconut Cream – cooking a lot of single-portion curries, it doesn’t make sense to buy coconut milk. Instead I buy coconut cream and stir a small piece into hot water before adding it to the dish. It’s not as rich, but it saves money and calories!
  • Sauces/pastes – if you have a favourite curry, stock up on the paste or ingredients to make it. I also always pick up soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, and a Wahaca chipotle sauce.
  • Gravy – I’m Northern, gravy is something I have to have. I always have both onion gravy and chicken gravy in my cupboard. For one person – two rough tablespoons in a mug, top with boiling water and stir well. This makes quite a thick gravy, so adjust as required.

Spices

 photo IMAG1089_zps0s7ngtng.jpgA whole paragraph for this one! I’m slowly building up my spice collection, having added to it bit by bit over the last two years. I’d start off with cumin, curry powder, italian seasoning, and cajun seasoning. And salt and pepper, obviously. Then add as and when you can afford – coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cinnamon (really only if you plan on baking), crushed chillies, thyme, ginger…anything else you fancy really. Over my placement year I’m planning on really expanding my spices in an attempt to ‘finish off’ and having something that will let me cook any kind of dishes. I’m heading towards Beef Rendang soon!

Fruit & Veg
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  • Bananas – on days I have porridge for breakfast, I always eat it with a banana mashed in. I also use bananas quite a bit in baking (nutella muffins, anyone?) – they great thing is that if you take them out of the skins, they freeze really well. You wouldn’t be able to eat it whole, but mashed into things they are great.
  • Potatoes – the slight Irishness in me makes it impossible to live without potatoes. I generally stick to mash (I’m not huge on roasties); for the perfect mash peel and quarter potatoes (red ones are the best I find), and boil in salted water for 20 minutes. Drain, add butter, a grind of pepper and a splash of milk, and mash away. Tip: don’t buy a cheap potato masher. I’ve gone through several in university as they seem to bend. And pour boiling water into the pan and over the masher once you’ve served up. Believe me, it makes washing up 10 times easier.
  • Carrots – despite not being a fan of carrots, I virtually always have them. I hate them boiled and served up alongside a roast, but chopped up in sauces, meltingly soft in stews, spicy in stir-fries and raw in slaws – they are great. If you are cooking them as a side, peel, slice into rounds and boil for about 4 minutes.
  • Cabbage – I love cabbage, I buy savoy and red types. I tend to only eat red cabbage raw and in stir-fries, but savoy cabbage wants slicing, and boiling for around 4 minutes.
  • Broccoli – I’m a fan of crunchy broccoli, so boil for 2-3 minutes, but most people go for 3-5.
  • Onions and celery – the basis for most sauces. I love braised celery too – it feels so filling, but has hardly any calorific content.

Frozen

I don’t tend to buy many frozen things (apart from B&J’s when it’s on offer *shifty glance*) but I do go for frozen peas. Bird’s Eye Garden peas are the only ones I will buy though, again there are some things I would rather spend a little extra on or go without! Other than that I do try and have either fish fingers or fishcakes in the freezer, although that’s definitely not an essential for me!

Bread

1441238_10152069947758516_1130915187_nWhat can I say, I like my carbs! I’m a lover of wholemeal cobs (Leicestershire gal!) – I’ll make up my cobs with butter and ham and freeze for the entire week. Then I will also get a load of the part-baked rolls. These keep in the cupboard for ages, making them a great standby option. You can also make pretty awesome garlic bread with them too…

Meat

Ah meat, if only it wasn’t so expensive! At the start of term I stick to the basics; ham, bacon, sausages, chicken breast, mince. The chicken and mince gets batch-cooked into bolognese, cottage pie, and curry. Bacon and sausage get frozen into individual portions. Cobs are made up with the ham, and frozen.

Other

  • Crisps – I stock up on things like hula hoops (I’m a big child) and tortilla chips at the start of the year. Mainly because I hate buying them and walking home with them, they are so bulky!
  • Biscuits – can’t resist biscuits! To save money, buy a big value pack and keep in a tub to avoid them going stale.
  • Alcohol – obviously a must for most students, I admit I do rarely buy it. But when I do I either like some good vodka, or a nice wine. Yep, middle-aged before my time.
  • Squash – something else to stock up on at the beginning of term, I like to buy big bottles of double strength; one of these will last me a whole 12-week term.
  • Juice – to stop it going off, I buy individual cartons.
  • Tea/Coffee – again, stocking up at the beginning of term.
  • Milk – definitely not something to forget! I also try to keep a bottle of long-life milk in the cupboard too, just in case.
  • Cheese – I will always have a packet of parmesan, but occasionally I also buy mozzarella and cheddar too depending on what my meal plan is looking like.
  • Butter- generally I prefer to use real butter (not spread!) for sandwiches, but also for frying and obviously baking. Yes, not the healthiest, but I don’t care!
  • Cereal – I always go for porridge oats, I make it up with water so its a pretty frugal option!

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Cleaning  Stuff/Household Items

  • All Purpose Spray
  • Dish cloths/sponges
  • Washing-up Liquid
  • Laundry tablet
  • Kitchen Roll
  • Tin Foil
  • Sandwich Bags

So there you are – what food to buy at university. I obviously cook quite a lot – I’ve known people survive on ready meals though so its not anywhere near an essential list. But its what feels essential for me to have ! I also hope that I’ve helped with some of the cooking times!

What food did/do you eat at university?

Blogger Link-Up: Stationery for University

First of all I’d like to thank Chloe for allowing me to write a blog post for her amazing (& yummy blog – seriously the images always make me drool)..

My name is Sarah and I’m a 19 year old university student due to finish university in 2016! I blog over at EverydayConcepts about organisation, beauty, fashion and entertainment as well doing some giveaways so keep tuned!

Since I am really obsessed in love with anything related to organisation and stationery, I thought what could make a better post than where my passions lie?!

Before starting university, I went onto a massive stationery haul and purchased many things I didn’t even need. This caused me to waste a lot of money and just stare at the beautiful writing instruments and gorgeous notebooks I wouldn’t be needing. By the time second year started I sold nearly all of my items on ebay at discounted prices which was bad in terms of me losing money but good in terms of me allowing others to feed their passion and helping them get organised for cheaper!

However, I learnt my lesson. In year two, I stuck with a strict budget and only purchased items I needed:

 photo DiaryOrganiser_zps5969491d.jpg1) Diary/Organiser – This is a definite item all students should purchased. I’ve had a bit of a hassle finding out how to organise myself jumping from well known organisers to self-made diaries. Then, I popped into my local supermarket and found the diary of my dreams for only 70p!!! Advice: Always visit supermarkets first before hitting large stationery outlets.

 photo NotebookArchlever_zpsaf81c7ff.jpg2) Notebooks – I prefer good quality Oxford notebooks. I purchased two A4 ones to see if they lasted me a whole year and luckily they did! I LOVE the paper quality and how smoothly the pen writes on them!

 photo Writing_zpsf2cc1250.jpg3) Pens – Obviously a MUST (unless you use your IPad which I have seen many students use but I’d hate all my work to get lost in a dramatic technology fail!) I use Papermate inkjoys for note-making in my own time and frixion pens for rushy lectures and seminars because then at least I can rub wrong things out! I’ve not really used highlighters because I get carried away and highlight everything , so instead I use sticky notes which brings me onto my next point.

 photo StickyNotes_zps7b2415d1.jpg4) Sticky notes – These have saved me a lot of times. I am forever indebted to you sticky notes! During revision time, I use larger ones which I stick around my room. They are always popping out from my diary reminding me of deadlines and meetings. Finally, they always allow me to further cut down my notes into concise versions which are easier to remember – they are the reason for my success.

5) Arch Levers  – I have two arch levers – one with a copy of all my assignments and grades and another with all my notes. The one with my assignments and grades usually stays put until I print out everything however the one with notes sleeps under my bed! I update the notes throughout the year and collaborate notes from other modules together and develop them with further research. This helps greatly when it comes to revision.

On a final note, don’t splurge on stationery and stick to what you really need, unless of course you use your IPad (or other technology). It’s best to always see what sort of modules your degree entails – if it’s more chemistry/maths based, go overboard with the notebooks and pens! If it’s more hands on, only buy the essentials. As for me, I’m on intercalation for the following academic year, so it will be great to see what I discover however I won’t be able to indulge in stationery much! Also, for the 1st anniversary of my blog (29th July) I will be doing a HUGE stationery giveaway and fundraising for a charity so stay tuned!

Sarah 🙂

Massive thanks to Sarah for writing this post – I know I find organisation really important for university! I’ll definitely be entering her giveaway, and although I don’t want you to ruin my chances keep an eye on her blog here.

What’s your must-have bits of stationery?

Welcome To My Second-Year Room

This post is about two months late, but something I’ve been meaning to do. My landlady paid a visit recently and my room had to be tidied and cleaned (it isn’t usually THAT bad, but I generally have a floor-drobe going on!) and I took advantage of that to take some photos and write this post. Sorry that it’s so picture heavy, but I really feel this gets some of my personality across.

I also hope this will give you tips on how to make a home on the budget; check out my first year post about home-ifying student halls too! Here we go…

Welcome to my room!

2013-11-20 15.57.00I got the ‘big’ room of the house this year (paying the premium for it too!) and I’m very glad as I really enjoy having space.

Here you can see one of my favourite bargain buys for this year – the three canvases on the wall look great, are a neutral colour so can move with me from house-to-house in the future, and were ridiculously cheap at £6.99 from Argos. Most importantly – they are really lightweight so blue-tac onto the wall, with no need for damage! There’s a great cheap selection online, so it’s really worth having a look.

2013-11-20 15.35.32The price for having a bigger room is the fact that I have to share with the boiler. Luckily it’s in its own cupboard, but its slightly noisy, and also has various lights which glow out through the door. And it doesn’t mean my room is warm either, far from it! I have, however, accessorised the boiled with the addition of a five-hook over-door hanger (from Wilkinsons) where I place my coats, belts and bags.

2013-11-20 15.36.36My lovely Leather Satchel resides here too! I am still totally loving my bag, it gets so many comments, fits everything in, and is just perfect. I’m so lucky to have it!

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Now onto my bookcase – I have a LOT of books and folders, and really that’s for another post! Put it this way – the shelves are actually being supported by the folders as they don’t hold up themselves anymore (they were broken when I moved it!).

Now over to my bed…

2013-11-20 15.51.02I love love love cushions, and really think they give my room a home-y feel. I have six, which is probably overkill, but it means I’m nice and warm and cosy when I snuggle in! I also love my sentimental soft toys – the penguins above were one of the first presents my boy bought me, back when we’d been together for about a fortnight. He did well!

2013-11-20 15.51.28Speaking of cuddly toys, this is the adorable Highland Cow my parents bought as an early Christmas present – so cute!

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Now to the realllyyyyy girly part of my room – the dressing table! Here I have the makeup mirror that formed part of my 18th ‘Prep for Uni’ birthday present bundle, and is probably one of the best things you could buy a female prospective student as it ensures a good light to apply makeup. No idea where mine is from, but I’m sure I’ve seen them in Boots.

I also have lots of lovely photos, my make-up bag, my vintage-style alarm clock, my Cath Kidston Salt & Pepper Pots Ornaments (I have a terrier cross, hence the terrier theme with my cushion and ornaments), my bargain wide bowl (£1 in the sale in Marks & Spencer), my key pot (the really lovely butterfly box – a leaving present from work) and various other pretty bits. This is the one area I try to keep work/uni free!
I have also built a ‘bedside table’ out of two plastic storage boxes (storing dried foods I buy in bulk) and a prettier fabric box. In the pretty box go my cooking books, kindle and emergency chocolate supply. Oh, I always recommend a little lamp too – I love mine for giving a soft glow to the room before bed, instead of using the harsh main light.

2013-11-20 15.55.39Here’s my desk. Its a little battered, and rather on the small side, but it isn’t too bad (one of my housemates doesn’t have a proper desk at all!) and now I have another extension lead I can finally charge and use my laptop at the same time!

The academic in me really recommends a wall planner for students – mine really does help me keep track of deadlines, and how long it is until I can go home to a really decent (i.e. expensive) meal.

2013-11-20 15.55.54To hide a really bashed part of my desk, I’ve made an arrangement of my biscuit tins (bought separately, from TK Maxx) and my memory box (filled with letters/card from my boy, birthday cards from my parents, pictures my sister drew me when she was younger, etc – I really recommend that everyone has a box like this!).

And that rounds up the room I’m living in for my second year of university. Of course, I spend less time in it than my room in halls, because I’m living with lovely friends, we have a lovely lounge area, and it’s just a whole lot nicer than my experience of university accomodation (which really wasn’t great for me!).

What’s your way of adding home-y touches to a rented place?

A Love for Slow Cookers

Even I, as a totally abnormal student (we had a house party last Friday, and I played drinking games with a cup of tea…I will add I am taking part in Sober October!), will admit this is an odd post for what is essentially a student lifestyle blog. However I cannot post most of my favourite recipes without proclaiming love for the kitchen gadget that helps me create them, so for the time being we are going to indulge my middle-aged infatuation and talk slow cookers. Or crockpots for those who use that term.

I have no idea where my love for the slow cooker came from. My mum has certainly never used one. My maternal grandmother did…and thats exactly why my mum doesn’t. She is THAT bad a cook that she managed to both dry out the meat and make a watery sauce in a slow cooker. I still shudder with the memories. But for some reason I decided, whilst preparing for university all those months ago, that it would be an essential piece of kit. I was right, and I am SO glad I got one. So glad, in fact, that I now have two…

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Slow Cooker Beef Stew (with mashed potatoes and two types of cabbage)

 

So, why do I love a slow cooker so much. I’ve decided to write you a list! And here it is:

  • Convenience – it means I can fit meal preparation in whenever I’m free, and not have to worry about making a full meal when I get in just before 7.
  • Health/Diet – its a lot easier to hide vegetables when they are soft from slow cooking, so I always get a few extra portions in.
  • Cost – they make the most of cheap ingredients (including cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, as the slow cooking process renders down the fats and makes them soft) and are also low on electricity usage. Its much better to cook a slow for 8 hours in a slow cooker than in the over!
  • Smell – you will walk in to the most delicious smell of cooking food.
  • Cooking dried beans & pulses – I’m becoming a huge eater of these, but having to boil and simmer for a long period of time puts me right off. The slow cooker takes this annoyance away, and makes them a lot more convenient. I will say that I would never cook kidney beans in this way, as they can be toxic without a proper boiling (I always rely on the canned varieties of these!).
  • Cooking with my Tomato-Free Substitutes. I buy these occasionally, but they are thick and dry out easily, so rather than using several jars (as they are expensive) it works well to slow cook the meals using them, and this saves me money. I rather prefer how mince turns out in the slow cooker, although the preparation is actually quite labour intensive.
  • Ease of cooking. Mince type meals aside, I find that it is oh-so-easy to chuck this into my slow cooker, turn it on and go. I’m looking into a timer attachment to make this even better, and easier to work around my very awkward lecture timetable.

 

Student to student, I recommend one with a maximum of a 1.5 litre capacity. In general I can get two portions of a chunkier stew in this, or 3-4 portions of a mince mixture. Really anything bigger would be far too big, and my freezer would be more jam packed than it already is. It’s bad enough chiselling away to get into my drawer now, so more food would NOT be a good idea! If you are bigger family, or even cooking for two people with bigger appetites I would go for around a 3 litre one. I’m already planning to grab a 6l one when I start a family, and that’s a LONG time away. I currently have two of this cooker, and I really recommend it for the excellent price, compactibility, and the wonderful temperature control (so many smaller ones just have ‘off’ or ‘on’).

I also have another list to share with you, this time of tips on how to get the best out of your slow cooker:

  • You don’t always have to precook ingredients and brown meat. It doesn’t hurt the dish to do so, and in some cases it does look a little better if you do, but its not necessary.
  • If cooking with mince, brown off first, drain off the oil AND blot any grease with loads of kitchen paper. I didn’t do this step once, and the spooned off a whole cup full of oil off the finished dish. It kind of put me off!
  • Cut vegetables into as even pieces as possible.
  • For cooking dried beans – rinse the beans under the cold tap to get rid of any dust and grit, and add to slow cooker with approx 3x their volume of water. Cover and turn onto low, and cook for around 8 hours. Halfway through add some seasoning – I tend to go for vegetable stock, onion and garlic. If I’m cooking black beans to refry, I’ll start adding paprika and cumin at this point too. Don’t add salt or seasoning too early as the beans won’t soften.
  • If you are adapting a regular recipe, just use about 1/3 of the amount of liquid, but try to keep proportions of liquid the same.
  • If you do end up with something that is too watery, cornflour is your friend. Mix to a paste in a mug with some cold water, and slowly add to the slow cooker whilst stirring constantly. Stir regular, with the heat on high and lid off, until ready to serve. I like to ‘cook out’ my cornflour for around half an hour for the best texture.
  • I find I always have to add more seasoning to slow cooked meals, particularly spices. But obviously taste and do so to your own preference.
  • I prefer my meals to be serve with fresh vegetables, so will always do a pan of those alongside.
  • To clean your slow cooker, empty it (after cooling), freezing any leftovers, squirt in some washing-up liquid, add boiling water and soak overnight. It should come off easily when you wash up the next day.

So, there’s my preliminary list of slow cooking tips. I will add more periodically when I come across them. As part of my Student’s Survival Menu I am planning on publishing a lot of recipes in the next few weeks, and quite a few will be made in a slow cooker (though they can be adapted to ‘normal’ cooking methods), so please do keep an eye on my blog for these.

 

Does anyone own a slow cooker? What’s your favourite recipe?

 

Finding my “Impossible To Find Necessity” – Part One

After writing this post here, and continuing to do a lot more research and contacting companies to find out more, I decided that the first company I would try was The Leather Satchel Co.

This company really appealed to me because of the excellent customer service reviews, and the possibility of huge customisation – I really wanted a unique bag. Not to mention that this company also make the Original Filofax (I am now the proud owner of an A5 in patent black, which will be reviewed over the next few days). What’s not to love – you could have a matching bag and Filofax!

I sent off for some leather samples, which arrived about 18 hours after I emailed my choices. To me, this was excellent customer service, and the person I was first in email was extremely friendly. You can view their colour choice here, but nothing compares to viewing them, feeling them (I found some had a different texture) and putting swatches together to decide on colour combinations.

Here are the colour swatches I ordered:

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The image quality here is really poor – no matter what I did I couldn’t get them to photograph in their true light. I suggest that if you are interested in purchasing from this company, you ask for some swatches. I believe that this service is currently free, although I definitely wouldn’t begrudge paying postage costs.

I knew, before receiving the colour samples, that I’d want a two-colour design, rather than just the use of one colour all over. The question was which colours!

Before receiving the leather samples, I was pretty much set on having neutral brown colours. I wanted something classic, and wearable. Something that would go with everything. Although I was tempted by the green, particularly seeing this blog post here. All that changed when I saw one particular colour! I completely and utterly fell in love with the Patent Oxblood Red, satchels in which you can see on the company’s Facebook page, and on blog posts here, here and here. I decided to pair this with a non-patent leather, as I thought the buckles would be easier (having received my bag, I believe this to be true), and after tossing between the darkest brown (top left) and black (top right) I went for the black.

 

Then there was the question of the other customisations I would require. This company became my favourite due to the huge amount of choice they have available – you can buy a truly bespoke bag. If you look at this page of their website, you can see how flexible they are. AND if you speak to them direct, they can do even more. Looking on their Facebook page they have created some amazingly unique bags.

I went for this two-tone colour pattern, with the first colour being the Oxblood, and the second being the Black. I added a black handle, which from reading reviews seemed a necessity, and a black strap. Thinking practically (for once) I realised I’d need a shoulder pad, so decided on one in Oxblood (unfortunately, this detail was misread, and I ended up with one in black, rather than what I stated) as this would make carrying the bag for comfortable. Size-wise, I know I carry a LOT so went for a 15″ Tallboy satchel, with an extended gusset of an extra 33%. This makes for a very tall, wide and bulky bag, with plenty of space! I went for traditional buckles (nice and secure, plus they probably allow a little more space for tall items), and a standard length shoulder strap. On reflection, I probably should have asked for one shorter than standard, but with it on the shortest length it is just about right.

 

Having decided on my bag specifications, I was then stuck. I couldn’t afford the bag, and my birthday isn’t until December (just as a hint for all you readers…). I was content, however, to struggle through with my current bag and wait until I could persuade someone to treat me. But then Keith from the company got in touch and, amazingly, offered me a bag to review. A bag completely to my specifications, with the added bonus of embossing. To say I was shocked is an understatement, and I was also incredibly grateful. And a little nervous – I certainly hope my writing and photos shows off this bag to its best. So, I sent off my specifications, and waited. My bag is now here, and it’s virtually perfect. But that’s another blog post! I will be a doing a review of the delivery, packaging, and first impressions of my bag shortly, along with posts in a few months time as to how my bag is lasting. Because after-all, the main reason for reviewing it on this blog is to see how long it lasts with use at school, college or university. For now, I’m going to sit and stare and stroke and sniff my beautiful leather satchel. And if you want a sneak peak at it, look at my Facebook page!

 

I have become an affiliate with The Leather Satchel Co. Currently there is no referral code due to is being shared outside of this site, but I will update with more info in the first few months of 2015.

Please note, I haven’t done this for my own personal gain – I wanted to truly see whether it is worth spending the money on a bag, to see if it will last, and to work out the best specifications for a student. All opinions on the company will be 100% honest, and I will be happy to answer any specific questions from readers.

Making Halls into a Home

This post is again one I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. It follows on from here, where I talk about essentials for taking to university. I will continue to update that post, and probably do a less bulked up version, something easy to print out and take to the shops.  Here, I will show you pictures of my room in halls, how I organised it, what my essentials were, and what my tips are.

This blog post has been inspired by similar ones written by Apt Pupil (a blog I’d forgotten about until now!) and Rachel at Handbags and Cupcakes (which is quickly becoming a favourite). Thanks girls – your rooms look great by the way!

I got lucky with my university halls accommodation. I chose the cheapest available (and yep, it still exceeded my loan) for financial reasons, and was prepared to live in a box for nine months. I really wasn’t expecting it to be nice, big, comfortable or even very sturdy. But I was very, very wrong! Firstly, I ended up in a massive room, easily twice the size of my room at home, and much bigger than friends in the same halls. Secondly, the painting matched the colour scheme that I’d already decided on before university (so everything I’d bought matched…well apart from the hideous curtains and carpet!). Thirdly, it has recently been refurbished, and so the desk, shelves, drawers and bed were new, and completely functional. And my desk was hugeeee…it’s the thing I will miss most!

The next few photos were taken as I was unpacking, all the way back in September:

2012-09-15 17.23.522013-06-11 16.23.022012-09-15 17.24.23

As you can see, I had a LOT of stuff. To the extent that when we packed up the car, we had to make my mum and sister take the train. And daddy had to up-size his car when they came to pick me up last week. In my defence, he wanted a bigger car anyway…

I had pre-decided on a colour scheme of pink and green, mainly as those were the folders I had left from A-Level. I found two perfect duvet covers in Tesco (I really recommend them – cheap enough to throw away at the end of the year, but sturdy enough to last the fate of washing washed by the inexperienced!). I bought “velvet” cushions from H&M. These were about £5, but considering I had to buy the fillers they turned out quite expensive. I also bought extra pillowcases (plain ones) and pillows cheaply, as I love making a fort for myself to sleep in. My bed was also extra long (and those who know me will immediately say that that is completely unnecessary for me!) so I liked the cushions to make it look more like a normal size.

I bought everything to match, even the pop-up washing basket you can see in the photos, an extra waste-paper basket, and desk stationary (such as hole punch, stapler, tape dispenser, pen holder etc). One thing I really, really recommend is purchasing an additional lamp – the ones provided are often very, very bright, and I like a nice soft light to have on before bed, as it helps me to chill out. I bought mine from Tesco. I used my parents club-card vouchers, in a double-worth event, so ended up getting a lot of items very cheaply (i.e. I think we paid £1.50 for £50 worth of stuff). I bought one similar to this, but in green. I also recommend, particularly if you expect to have partners staying often (my boyfriend came around twice a term for a weekend), getting a double quilt for a single bed, or an extra blanket. I bought a fleece style throw, which I loved – it was definitely a necessity as my boy tends to steal the covers!

Now, onto the littler stuff, which made my room my home for the nine months I was there. Here’s a few pictures of my shelves, taken just before I started packing last week.

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As you can see from the first picture, I kept all of my cooking stuff in my room. My housemates weren’t the cleanest (that’s another blog post) and after a bought of food poisoning early on in the first term, everything stayed upstairs. With the amount of space I had, it wasn’t an issue, and next year I’m living with three other wonderful girls who I know I won’t have the same problem with.

After realising that I needed to store EVERYTHING in my room, I bought lots of jars, one of which you can see in the first photo filled with rice. These are lovely, pretty jars, and were extremely cheap at 99p each, from the local 99p Store. I was so proud of these bargains, and I know I’ll use this for years to come. The pink pot was a plant pot I painted myself, as I couldn’t find anything else big enough to hold my excessive (but totally necessary  – and I DID use them all) amount of cooking utensils. Almost all of my utensils came from Aldi, with  few silicone ones from a more expensive range stocked in department stores (all I can say is thank goodness for staff discount!). I also have a shop local in my home town which sells discounted branded home items, and this serves to occasionally fuel my addiction to Le Creuset kitchenwear. I love it! It lasts for such a long time, takes everything I throw at it, and is the perfect size – the only dish I currently have is wonderful for a single serving of pasta bake, or lasagne. I’d love more, but my student budget won’t allow it! *sad face*

Also in the top photo is my wonderful vintage-style alarm clock, also from Tesco. They’re currently selling similar versions like this one, but be warned; their ring is VERY loud. I have my knives, which I bought ridiculously cheaply in Switzerland last year. I can’t remember how much they cost, but it was so little I had to go and buy more chocolate to spend the rest of my currency before coming home. I also keep a little “ladies” Swiss army knife handy – it has a file, knife, and scissors, as well as tweezers and toothpick, and is wonderful for going into the handbag for dealing with clothes snagging and broken nails. You may wonder what the dog ornaments are – they are actually Cath Kidston Salt and Pepper pots which my parents bought for my birthday, as the brown one is the spitting image of my adored dog at home. That also explains the cushion on my chair in earlier posts – that also looks very much like him.

The second shelf was just above where I sat on my desk, so that mainly housed textbooks and stationary items. And a teapot, with a spout so dreadful it was impossible to use to make tea. I’m currently thinking of what it can store, as I don’t really want to throw it away! By the way, if anyone is studying maths at university, I highly reccomend the Schaum’s Outlines series of maths books – they are excellent. I have about 10 currently, and will be buying more. So helpful, with lots of worked examples! Also on this shelf are my two favourite perfumes – A Scent by Issey Miyake and the orginal Paul Smith woman. I desperately want See by Chloe this summer, but we’ll see if the budget allows it!

Also filling my room was storage in the way of lots of stackable boxes. Mine were actually from ASDA, but they are a pretty generic product that’s available just about everywhere. In these, I kept shoes, spare refills of pens and paper, toiletries, items of food I didn’t need at the time, belts, and just about anything I didn’t want cluttering up my room – they were also invaluable for packing up my room at the end of the year (and I hate the sound of cardboard boxes, it sets my teeth on edge) so I’d definitely suggest investing in some.

I bought over-door hooks, like these, which were another item that proved invaluable. I could hang my bulky coats on these, saving precious wardrobe space, and I also invested in some hanging cosmetic bags, which provided a cute way of storing everyday items – cleanser, toner etc. These were also great for hanging towels on after showering to let them dry – saved having to get my giant airer (which I hardly used) out and up.

One of my biggest points, however, is to make sure you have photographs. I’ll freely admit that most of mine are of my boyfriend and dog (although a talking point when university friends first came into my room was a prom photo – me in a fireman’s lift by eight guys) but they make me feel so much at home. One of my favourite sentimental objects was an I.O.U that my boyfriend gave me just after we started university, for our second anniversary of being together. I pinned it on the board in front of my desk, and it gave me an instant boost everytime I saw it:

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My top tips for making the most of your university halls are:

  • Try and co-ordinate everything
  • Don’t take too much (check it all fits in the car!)
  • Buy useful storage options, such as hooks and boxes
  • Be organised – have set places for everything. For instance I kept a space to the left of where I sat at my desk just for my Filofax. You have to be able to know where to find everything quickly.
  • Buy nick-nacks and homey things
  • Use photographs

If you liked this post, I suggest reading this and this.

The Impossible-To-Find Necessity

You would think a bag is a pretty simple thing to find. I mean, virtually every shop will sell some kind of bags.

As a typical girl, I do love my bags, and freely admit to having quite a few. My lovely (and rather expensive) Hidesign Eton Leather Workbag  (available now from John Lewis, I bought it at a local saddler’s several years ago considerably cheaper than it is now advertised) was bought for sixth form. I do love this bag, I really do. Its stylish, simple, and most important good quality. But it isn’t quite big enough. Sure, it sits a folder in, but then not a lot else. For the moment it’s been relegated to my laptop bag. For this bag in the closest colours to the one I have, look here.

I also have an excellent-quality-for-the-price purple shopper. It was from Pepe Jeans around six years ago, has travelled to numerous countries, and acted as a school bag for many academic terms. It sadly took it’s last holiday last summer, where its zips gave up on a train somewhere between Zurich and Interlaken. I am looking into the replacement of the zips, but at a quoted cost of £40 to do so, I’m wondering whether it might be a good idea to indulge myself and look for a new bag.

(of course, I do have several “pretty” bags…my Zara bowler bag, lovely, unfortunately doesn’t fit A4…my fake LV, in lavender purple, which I went to great lengths to haggle to a good price in a shop off Side’s main high street…my over-sized Henry Holland clutch, bought purely (obviously) because I needed something to take to a wedding/prom and house my diabetic boyfriend’s insulin stuff…)

Anyway, I promise this post is student and university related!

For years, I have really struggled to find a stylish, elegant, decent-quality bag that will comfortably fit at least one A4 folder, along with pencil case, lunch, and maybe some textbooks. I really don’t think this is too much to ask.

The solution I am currently relying on is a felt-style black beaded bag, bought by my Nan many years ago and never used. It fits all my stuff in (just) but it has has a popper fastening, which doesn’t do anywhere near up when ‘full.’ So it’s not particularly secure, it’s hideously uncomfy on my shoulders, and yep, it’s falling apart after just seven months of use.

I’ve tried the satchel style bags from River Island back in my sixth form days. The strap broke, landing the bag in the middle of a very busy road, after two days.

I’ve tried rucksacks, cheap and pricey. One, I really don’t like the traditional hiking style ones (and the fashionable ones aren’t nearly big or strong enough) and, two, it’s just really impractical to use if you’re out shopping and want to grab your purse. Plus, I want something timeless and stylish.

At the moment, I’m currently searching for some kind of bag to use as my university bag for at least my second year, and hopefully beyond. It’s seeming impossible.

I found a close contender on a stall at Fosse Park. It was huge, compartmented, and made of strong PU leather. It was very lovely to look at, and I would have loved it. I opened it up and the flap hid a zip two-inches less wide than the bag. No A4 folder would fit. Damn.

I spent a whole day (even I don’t do whole-shopping-days!) looking for bags in Leicester last week. John Lewis, House of Fraser, Debenhams, TK MAXX, Primark, M&S, BHS. You name it, I looked there. The closest I found was this but it just didn’t seem strong enough.

So, at the moment, I’ve turned to the internet, and searching through word of house to find a bag big enough, strong enough, stylish enough, timeless enough, and just nice enough to justify the price tag….

I’ve looked at the Cambridge Satchel Company. I just adore the style of these, but I just can’t stand the feel. The leather is just too stiff, too inflexible, and they’re also getting a little too mainstream. I want something a little different, but still in the classic leather colours (preferably dark brown or tan).

I’ve looked at Zatchels, a slightly different alternative. Their executive style in brown would be perfect for me, but I just can’t justify the price tag. *sigh* £185, or £195 is just way out of my budget right now. If I can hang on until December, with my birthday and Christmas, then this would be a serious contender. Yet I can’t see my current bag lasting until next academic year, yet alone several months into it.

This weekend I saw an advert at my boyfriend’s university halls  from Chivote. I was really intrigued by this company, so I suggest you check them out!

Then, I found a company which has quickly become my favourite – The Leather Satchel Company here looks an excellent and slightly cheaper alternative, especially with the huge amount of customisation. And they are the original company offering satchels – which the Cambridge company is NOT despite what the majority of people believe.

I had thought, up until this weekend, that these companies were pretty much the ones I was going to be limited to. They are, after all, ones I’ve had recommended in terms of quality and customer service, and I’m pretty sure, almost, that they’d be big enough. But I’m not 100% sure enough to pay out that amount of money (and hey, my student loan doesn’t turn up til next week…).

To anyone who knows anything about bags; here is a list of what I want/need from a bag, so if you have any product or brand recommendations, please comment, or tweet me!

  • Leather, or leather style-plastic
  • Ideally a nice natural neutral colour – brown, tan or red
  • Big enough to fit A4 folder PLUS other items
  • Big enough for 15.6″ laptop (but not completely necessary as my current Hidesign does this well)
  • Ideally with compartments to separate stuff out
  • Outside pockets for easier access to essential items
  • Proper fastening – zip or buckle
  • Strong
  • Extremely long-lasting
  • Comfortable
  • Classically styled

I’m hoping that’s not to hard an ask…I guess the proof will be if I find a suitable bag in the next few months!