The Life Energy Experiment begins

The Life Energy Experiment begins

What value, fulfillment and satisfaction do the items we buy really bring to our lives?

In this month’s Life Energy Experiment, I’m going to be asking this question for everything I buy. Will the purchases I make be truly worthwhile when set against the time I needed to work to pay for them?

You can read about the background to this here, but today I’ll share my ground rules. If you decide to join in, you might vary your approach, but here’s what I’m planning to do.

What I won’t include

– The regular, monthly household costs (our direct debits/standing orders)

– Food and groceries (we have to eat; we shop online; we strive to get the best value for money we can)

What I will include 

I’m focusing on the things I buy, where I actively choose to spend my disposable income:

– Anything that I use my debit card, cash or online payment system to pay for

– Items that I have to dip in my pocket to purchase

How I’ll rate what I buy

I’m using  a 4-score rating:

– High

– Medium

– Low

– Zero

What’s likely to come up in November?

I’ve a few occasions coming up for which I’ll need to spend some cash. Apart from that, there’ll be some Christmas shopping on the horizon (towards the end of the month). Otherwise, let’s see how the month unfolds. And if you want to join me, don’t forget to use the hashtag #LifeEnergyExperiment

p.s. happy Hallowe’en!!!

Minimal make-up

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Prior to starting my #LifeEnergyExperiment in November, I realise that I have bought quite a few things over the last few days. Most items have been gifts. Each time, I have done a mental calculation to consider how much time I had to work In order to make that purchase. In other words, I thought about how much ‘life energy’ was expended to buy whatever it was.

Little luxuries

Today’s small purchases (this time, for myself) reminded me how little I spend on luxuries such as make-up. Although I wear it every day, it takes me a very long time (usually several months, if not longer) to use up the products I buy.

The items purchased today cost just a few minutes of ‘life energy’ and, for me, represent high value in terms of fulfilment gained vs. life energy expended.

A minimalist’s beauty routine

So, what does a minimalist’s beauty routine look like? Mine is super simple and quick: Moisturiser (skip the primer); concealer (for the less-tired look); mineral foundation (whizzed on with a brush); eyebrow pencil; a slick of eyeshadow (always the same colour); mascara; cream blush and a blob of lipgloss. That’s it. Every day.

My inspiration

Years ago, I was inspired when watching an episode of Oprah (when the programme was shown on terrestrial TV in the UK). With a ‘simplify your life’ theme, the programme featured a woman who had pared back her beauty routine to the extent that she no longer wore make-up, kept her hair neat and short, and maintained perfectly trimmed nails.

Could I go that far? Well, no. On days whenever I don’t do my 5 minute make-up routine, I feel under-dressed and somehow unfinished. So, I stick to my approach. It’s a part of my morning preparations and is a way of gently saying to the world that I’m ready to face the day (if you’ll pardon the pun).

And on it goes

This evening, off comes the make-up and the routine repeats itself again tomorrow. There’s something soothing and reassuring about that.

Minimalism and the teenager

Minimalism and the teenager

How is it possible to live a minimalist lifestyle with a teenager in the house?

The teenage brain is all over the place. During adolescence, the brain goes through such significant changes that it’s no wonder that we, the bemused parents, remark on characteristic teenage features including:

  • Untidy bedroom
  • Inability to plan
  • Impetuosity
  • Selfies
  • Being grown up and little – both at the same time

Katie Forster’s article in The Guardian will ring true for many mid-life parents like me.

So, how does it work when mum is a minimalist and there’s at least one teenager in the family? This is where the duality of the teenage brain can be at its most interesting.

In our case, our mid-teen adolescent will have a ‘Konmari’-inspired closet (with a colour-coded sequence of perfectly arranged clothes on hangers). There will also be piles of clothes abandoned beneath on the wardrobe floor.

Likewise, the study space we allocate to said teenager will typically be strewn with papers, books, pens, flash cards and empty mugs. Yet, when a jolly good declutter does happen, we can whisk away several bags of rubbish (or items that no longer add value) without a moment’s glance.

At this stage, I’d say our success will come in instilling values that drive behaviours in the longer term. For example, we can do good work in proposing (gently) an ‘Essentialist’ approach to minimalism. Want a beautiful handbag? That’s great! Maybe you can save for it and buy the loveliest one you can afford (and only that one).

I guess the key to success is to model attitudes and behaviours that may ring true as the teenager becomes increasingly independent, particularly when it comes to finances. I’d rather do this in a gentle way, however, than create a situation where ‘messy’ becomes the response to ‘minimalist’ in a knee-jerk reaction to reject the parental way of life. We know a devoted meat-eater who rejected his own mother’s vegetarianism to become an enthusiastic carnivore.

There are good arguments in favour of messiness. Check out Tim Harford’s book, messy. If you think that creativity comes from disorganisation, confusion and impetuosity, this may be for you.

I would argue, however, that minimalism isn’t about control, inflexibility or fear. Rather, it’s about removing the ‘clutter’ from our lives to be freer and – if we wish – more spontaneous. I see it as enabling us to enter the realm of the unplanned and unknown freely and without the burden of stuff. What would you wish for your teenage child?

Super speedy superfoods, minimalist style

Super speedy superfoods, minimalist style

In a recent post, I shared my food journey from culinary ingenue to full-on foodie. My plant-based diet is my favourite way of eating. Its straightforwardness aligns with my move towards greater simplicity, so I thought I’d share some of my favourite speedy recipes. There are lots of foody blogs on the web, but not so many devoted to the minimalist kitchen. If you like this approach, let me know and I’ll share some more.

So, ‘Izzy whizzy, let’s get busy!’

Source: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage light and easy’
Title: Parsley, anchovy and walnut pesto
Serves: 4
Ingredients: 7

50g parsley leaves (from c.100g bunch)
50g walnuts
1 garlic clove, chopped
50g tin anchovies in oil (use entire contents of the tin, including the oil)
Zest and juice 1/2 lemon
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Method: Whizz everything in the food processor, adding a little more lemon juice to taste.

Eat with: Warm or cold cannellini beans on crisp Cos lettuce leaves.

Enjoy!

The minimalist kitchen

The minimalist kitchen

Did I mention that, as well as being a minimalist, I am also a real foodie? I love good food and I really enjoy creating lovely dishes to share with others. This wasn’t always the case, though.

In the early days of cooking for myself, food was little more than fuel. My kitchen habits were more about speed, economy and efficiency than good nutrition.

I had experimented a little in the past, but it was the birth of my daughter in 2002 that provided the catalyst for a permanent change to my attitude to cooking and preparing food. With a toddler to wean, I was keen to ensure that the food I served offered maximum nutritional value whilst also being tasty. Annabel Karmel‘s books set me on the right track, followed by a hearty helping of Nigella, as I developed my culinary skills. I also had Delia on standby whenever I wanted to emulate the classic recipes of my youth.

Now, in my 40’s, the culinary zeitgeist has moved on and so have I. We live in an era of superfoods: chia seeds, goji berries and matcha powder abound. Thanks to Ella Mills of ‘Deliciously Ella’ fame and other food writers such as the Hemsley sisters and Amelia Freer, new ways of eating have become mainstream. I have to say, I’m all for it. However, it’s important to discover what works for you. What makes your heart sing when you serve up your favourite recipes? That might not be the same for everyone.

My own husband lost 3st (42 lbs) following the Paleo diet. With this approach, he’s in good company. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) also follow this simple way of eating whose core ingredients are:

– Meat and Fish
– Fruit and Vegetables
– Nuts and Seeds

Others such as Minimalist Baker are more in tune with the type of eating I enjoy. Dana Shultz’s simple approach to good food means that her recipes need just 10 ingredients or fewer. They’ll use just one bowl/pot or take half-an-hour or less to make. Yesterday, we enjoyed her Zucchini lasagne and it was very good indeed.

Jennifer from SimplyFiercely recently tweeted about her approach to eating well but simply. For me, the more I eat a plant-based diet, the better I feel. Angela Liddon’s ‘Oh She Glows’ cookbook has been an inspiration, but my current favourite comes from the creators of ‘The Happy Pear’. Authors Stephen and David Flynn offer a straightforward but memorable mantra: Eat More Veg. In adopting that approach to my own food choices, I know I’m eating better than ever.

So, this particular minimalist’s kitchen is now much more streamlined and my diet primarily plant-based, as I focus on ingredients that make me a part of The Happy Pear “food revolution.” Is it minimalist? Well, if you believe that minimalism is about promoting the things that add value to your life and reducing those that don’t, then I’d say the answer is definitely ‘yes’.

Eating more veg, claim the Flynns, can be “the tipping point to so many good other things.” Adopting a minimalist lifestyle, I would argue, can also be the tipping point to a life of “so many good other things.” So, it seems that the two are well-aligned.

Does your Minimalist aspirations or lifestyle extend to your food habits? How has minimalism changed what comes from your kitchen? I’d love to know!

Minimalism and the dual account budget

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I’ve written before that I’m going to be conducting a ‘Life Energy Experiment’ in November. For everything I buy, I’m going to ask if the value and fulfillment derived from that purchase are worth the ‘life energy’ (time, work effort) spent. Say I earned £10 per hour, it would take a whole hour of my ‘life energy’ to earn the money to pay for a £10 item. That’s going to make me think a whole lot more about what I buy. Follow my experiment using the hashtag #LifeEnergyExperiment and feel free to join in!

Different approaches to money management

I have been thinking (and reading) about money for a few months now. There are some great ideas and minimalist approaches to managing money that are well worth a read. Check out caitflanders.com, daveramsey.com and posts such as this from The Minimalists.

Set up two accounts

One thing that definitely works for me is something I haven’t seen anyone write about in the books or blog posts I’ve read. You may have come across it or even tried it yourself.

Instead of trying to manage all of your bills and monthly outgoings from a single account, set up two accounts.

The first account is the one we use to pay our regular bills (via direct debit and standing orders). We never have to worry about remembering to make these payments, as they happen automatically. Each payday, we transfer the required amount of money into that account and let the technology do the work. We monitor the account, but we don’t have to watch our spending, as we anticipate the bills that are to come and make sure there’s enough money in there to cover them (plus a bit more).

The second account is where the money we’ll need throughout the month sits. This money is for our actual spending e.g. our weekly shopping, groceries, fuel etc. For this account, I establish a flexible, monthly budget in anticipation of the expenditure we’ll have during that period.

Concern yourself with your discretionary spends

Because the household bills are dealt with in the first account, we only have to concern ourselves with the spending we control during the month. That makes budgeting and tracking our spending so much more straightforward and simple. The amounts and categories are up to you, but the principle is always the same.
Throughout the month, we keep a track of what’s in the account and what’s due to go out.
That way, we always know what we *really* have left! We also track expenditure against our pre-established budget.

Keep on top of your finances

Managing our finances this way really helps to track our spending during the month and ensures we keep on top of our finances, rather than our finances getting on top of us.

Ask me for a copy of the dual account budget spreadsheet

If you’d like a working copy of the spreadsheet we use, just drop me a line via my contact form and I’ll send it to you. You can paste your own amounts into the relevant cells and set up your budget for the month. Add in new columns to expand your categories, but make sure the totals all add up. There are lots of ways to manage your finances and some great apps, if you prefer to work that way. If you’re new to budgeting, however, maybe this ‘dual account’ approach will be of use.


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A minimalist’s birthday

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Autumn is a beautiful time of year. It is a transitional season, as we look over our shoulder longingly at summer and anticipate the possibilities of ‘hygge’ throughout winter. For me, it also bring a personal transition, as I celebrate my birthday.

Happy birthday to me

This year, my lovely family has taken my minimalist message to heart. I have written about gifting before (here) and they know my philosophy on ‘stuff’. As a joke, they wrapped an empty, white box and handed it to me in a fit of giggles.

Thoughtful gifts

Actually, their real gifts were thoughtfully chosen. In line with my ‘food, fun, flowers’ mantra, they had picked out chocolates (rose and violet creams), an iris planter that will grow on my windowsill (and smell gorgeous) and a (very unexpected) bottle of perfume. So, I suppose I had better add ‘fragrance’ to my list of ideal gifts: food, fun, flowers, fragrance.

Consumables

My point is that these gifts are consumable. I will enjoy them very much, but they do not contribute to the burden of material things that I’ve been actively reducing in my life.

I would urge you to think about this now that the holiday season draws near. What will you choose to give as gifts? What might you hope to receive? I’d love to know.

The ‘life energy experiment’

And don’t forget, in November, I’ll be conducting my own experiment as I consider and evaluate whether or not the items I buy are truly worth the ‘life energy’ expended to acquire them.


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10 ways to avoid re-cluttering our lives

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I’m nearing the end of what has been over 2 years’ decluttering. It started in a low-key way at first. I’d empty a cupboard and maybe sell some stuff on eBay. Next, I’d have a jolly good sort out, followed by a trip to the charity shop. I’d then pass on some unworn or unwanted clothes to my best friend or do a trip to the tip. I had always relished a good sort-out.

That was just the start.

Lightening the load

Since the early days of lightening my material load, I’ve also been reducing my metaphorical load, re-evaluating commitments and obligations to re-emphasise what’s important in my life. You can read about some of this here.

Now, this previously ‘tidy’ person has become much less cluttered in both a physical and mental way.

So, as I am now refining and reducing the final few items that no longer add value to my life, I have experienced the dawning realisation that the root cause of the excess was down to me. That clutter, in fact, was probably 80% mine. I’d like to blame the dog, but he only likes shopping for treats. My husband is a bibliophile, but the books he acquires are usually related to his business. My daughter has (mercifully) gone beyond the trinkets and toiletries stage and any excess resides only in her room.

So, that clutter… well, it was virtually all mine.

Avoid re-cluttering

What this shows me is just how much we bring into our homes or workplaces that we really don’t need. So, let’s consider ways to put a stop to the clutter once and for all.

Here are 10 ways to avoid ‘re-cluttering’ our lives:

1. When you get the urge to splurge, write down what you were thinking of buying. Review your list in a month’s time. Do you still crave that item? Chances are you don’t.
2. Spend your leisure time in places where you don’t need your wallet. The mall (be it actual or virtual) isn’t one of those places.
3. Let loved ones know your gifting preferences. Would you rather have an experience than a material gift? Let them know. Remember, flowers, food or fun can be your mantra.
4. Say no to opportunities if they’re not going to add value to your life. Thanks, but no thanks.
5. Switch off, delete, unplug, swipe away, breathe….
6. Treat yourself kindly, but not with something that comes in a pretty gift bag with toning ribbon.
7. Get outside. Move your body. Smile.
8. Re-gift, donate, pass it on, let it go.
9. Unclutter it if you haven’t used it within 12 months.
10. Relish the space and sense of freedom your uncluttered life brings. Now, you wouldn’t want to go back on that, would you?


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When the next level up might be a double-edged sword

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Last week, I overheard two colleagues talking, as I passed them on my way to another building. One had shared some information, perhaps about a new job or house. The response from the person receiving the news was, “Oh, that’s good. Is it a level up?”

This struck me. If a new job or a new house is ‘up a level’, what are the benefits? What are the implications?

Stepping up

In respect of the former, a ‘step up’ in career-terms might bring more money, status and recognition. It might be the culmination of years of hard work and study to achieve a long-held goal. Great! Yet, what else might be in store at the next level up? More responsibility? Longer hours? More stress?

If the latter, a new house can mean more space, a new environment, a place to welcome friends and the sense of being ‘a level up’ on the housing ladder in investment terms. The converse is that a new house might bring more debt, more house maintenance and the need to do more paid work, as we service the needs (and costs) of a bigger, more expensive place to live.

Pros and cons

So, if you are thinking about going up a level, take a long, hard look at why. Do the pros really outweigh the cons?

If you consider that your job is fundamentally an exchange of your ‘life energy’ for pay, you might see the prospect of the next grade differently when you reflect that you have the chance to gain a sense of personal satisfaction from the other things you do outside of work. You are not your job. Your job is just one of the things you do. Yes, by all means maximise your earning potential but not at the expense of the things that matter to you (e.g. time with loved ones or a home-cooked meal).

The alternative

You might want more space, but do you really want more debt, higher bills and a commitment that can’t easily be aside. Instead, consider if the process of decluttering might just help you see your existing home through fresh eyes. Do you really need more room or just less stuff?

So, the next level up may be a double-edged sword. Be clear about what you’re getting into. Maybe being where you are right now isn’t such a bad thing after all.


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It’s not what you spend, but what you buy that matters

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I’m reading a book* about our relationship with money. As I read, I realise that a lot of what we learn about money management suggests that tracking our spending will help us ‘tell our money where to go.’

We all know that if we look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. Right?

Was what you bought really worth it?

Whilst establishing (and sticking to) a budget works for a great many people, the authors offer a fresh perspective. They argue that, if you first work out your proper hourly rate of pay, you’ll then be able to consider how many hours of work (translated into life energy’) you expended in order to buy something. Then you can ask if what you bought was really worth it.

When you look at your spending in this way, it takes on a whole new perspective. It might even impact on the choices you make about how you spend your hard-earned cash.

For example, if you earn £10 per hour, that £5 glossy magazine has effectively cost you half an hour of ‘life energy’. When you know this, you can then ask:

“Did I receive fulfilment, satisfaction and value in proportion to life energy spent?”

If not, then you might think twice about purchasing a similar item again next time you’re presented with the opportunity.

Why we spend

In the book, we read that US organisation Debtors Anonymous asserts that we go into debt to avoid feelings, especially feelings of deprivation. Like other addictions, debt allows us to deny pain, sorrow, loss, anger, loneliness and despair. I would say that you are more likely to be struggling with debt – or on a very tight budget – if your spending doesn’t align with your values or bring you real satisfaction.

So, I’m curious.

I’m going to conduct an experiment: a ‘Life Energy (Expenditure) Experiment.’ I’ll do this for the whole of next month.

My ‘life energy experiment’

Rather than tracking my spending or recording ££’s spent, I’m going to track what I buy and ask what value, fulfilment or satisfaction I derived from these purchases. I don’t have any particular plans to buy anything in November (no Christmas shopping for me – see my earlier post on gifting here).  So, I’ll be curious to see how the month unfolds. I’ll be posting my purchases on Twitter, along with their related ‘fulfilment factor’.

Will you join me? What will we notice? How might our future buying habits change by conducting this real-life experiment?

Follow the story using #LifeEnergyExperiment

And let me know how you get on!

*”Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century” by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez, Monique Tilford.


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