Why I’m taking the doyogawithme 30 day challenge

img_0539I’ve written before here that I came back to yoga in 2016. My desk-bound job means that I remain seated daily for much longer than is healthy. So, it’s very good to stretch out those muscles and remind my joints that I’m still there.

Do Yoga With Me

I discovered DoYogaWithMe.com via Twitter and have been dipping into its classes almost every day since. Even with only 20 minutes to spare, this focussed practice led by my own virtual instructor has proved to be a tremendous blessing over the holidays. So, I am curious to see how the 30-day challenge will pan out. Will it improve my flexibility, help with the transition back to work after the Christmas break or simply enable me to just be?

Since Ollie the Cockapoo (pictured) has a much better downward facing dog than I do, any progress will be a bonus!

Have you set yourself a new challenge or goal for 2017?

If yours includes a life with less clutter and more simplicity, look out for my January #Unclutter2017 posts, which contain some handy tips and ideas to help you make lasting changes to your life.

#Unclutter2017 – Start here

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Unclutter your life in 2017

In January, we anticipate a whole new year ahead and the chance to achieve some exciting new goals.

Strive towards permanent changes

This isn’t about New Year’s resolutions. Instead, seize the opportunity to make some longer-lasting changes whose impact you’ll appreciate through the year and beyond.
During January, I’m going to post a number of ways to help you towards uncluttering your life in 2017. Through a series of short blog posts, I’ll highlight a number of different approaches to help you shed the excess that no longer adds value to your life.

Start here

Whether you have a huge decluttering project ahead of you or just want to scale back your possessions, throughout the month, I’ll be getting back to basics with a series of tried and tested ideas designed to help you on your journey towards minimalism.
Join in the conversation on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #Unclutter2017 – And look out for my upcoming posts to help you #Unclutter2017
Happy New Year!!!

#Unclutter2017: The Power of 5

high-five-cat

A conversation on Instagram last week prompted me to share my growing realisation that 5 is a powerful and useful number for those looking to ‘right size’ their possessions.

Here are a few examples:

Shoes

I have 5 pairs of shoes in my winter wardrobe:

  • Black work court shoes with a heel
  • Grey casual lace-ups
  • Reebok trainers
  • Knee-high boots
  • Walking shoes

In summer, I trade court shoes for ballet pumps and flip-flops and sandals for lace-ups.

Living in a climate where it’s perfectly possible to enjoy temperatures in the teens one day and below zero the next, it’s useful to have a variety of shoes for all weathers and situations. These shoes cater for all types of events and I simply don’t need any more.

Cookery books

Having cut down the number of cookery books I own, I also realise that I’m nearing my perfect five, as there are six books remaining in the kitchen. There’s just one book on the shelf about which I’m still unsure. I use a small number of its recipes very occasionally but these might be better scanned and saved, so that I can pass the book onto someone who’ll appreciate it more. The remaining few have now been resigned to the “box that will go to the second-hand bookstore”. If I don’t open the box for 30 days, out it will go!

Bags – from small to large

I have one tiny cross-body bag for when I only need to carry my keys, my small purse and my phone. Next size up is a neat, black messenger bag that I use daily. The largest handbag I own is a Dune tote that has seen better days (but I won’t buy a replacement until I have the perfect one!). Next comes a Cath Kidston floral shopper in a wipeable vinyl fabric, followed by a soft brown bowling bag that’s neat enough to carry as hand luggage and perfect for a few days away. And that’s it. And there you have another 5…

The list goes on, but it may be that this handful of examples provides a guide for when you’re asking the question, “What’s the right number?” Answer? Gimme 5!!

Do you have a perfect number of a particular item? Can you count the number of possessions in a particular category on one hand?

 

Is there a place for routine, even in the holidays?

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Recharge, relax and unwind

It’s at this time of the year that your normal routine goes out of the window. Kids break up from school, so there’s no school run to do. Teenagers sleep in late. Once you have finished work, you begin to forget what day it is. We need this time to recharge our batteries and unwind.

It’s Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Holidays are here!!

Is there a place for routine, even in the holidays?

When our daughter was a baby, we followed a structured routine. Called the EASY routine, its essence lay in establishing a structured pattern of activity: Eat, Activity, Sleep, then time for You. This worked incredibly well, set an expectation about what would come next, and was the cornerstone of our activities in those early years.

As our little girl grew, the period of activity lengthened and the sleeps became fewer in number, but the routine stood the test of time until well into toddlerdom. We liked it. She liked it. It provided a structured but flexible approach to family life.

So, could establishing an agreed pattern work at other times, such as the holidays?

In her recent ‘Happier’ podcast, Gretchen Rubin provided a great ‘holiday hack’ that prompted me to think about the notion of ‘routine’ even though there will be no little ones in our family grouping this Christmas.

Rubin’s idea was simple, but it may just help you. It was this:

Everyone has quiet time on his/her own after lunch.

I can really see the value of this. Sometimes, you need to have some space, especially if you’ve been in ‘entertaining-mode’ and feel as though you’ve been feeding the 5,000.

You may get a post-lunch slump. That’s your body’s cue: take a nap.

During quiet time, kids may get to use their mobile devices unimpeded and may even (who knows?!) read a book, do a jigsaw or get creative with new colouring pencils.

Grandparents might be glad of a little respite, too. Creatures of habit, they may be used to a slower pace of life or just their own company. Suggesting ‘time out’ for everyone might be welcomed.

Come back refreshed

When you all come back together, you’ll feel refreshed and ready, once again, to be on your best ‘Christmassy’ behaviour.

What routines or structure will you adopt this holiday time?

The simple Christmas kitchen 

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I’ll be serving ice-cream at Christmas

My parents are coming to stay this Christmas, and I’ve been planning our festive menu.  I’ve been thinking about what they’d enjoy while they are with us.

I realise how much my ‘simple living’ approach has spilled over into what I cook and serve in the festive season.

As I wrote here before, my culinary tastes have turned towards plant-based whole foods.

Eat more vegetables

I eat a much wider variety of vegetables whilst consuming flavours and textures inspired by the cuisine of myriad cultures. This food is easy to prepare, visually appealing and delicious. In addition, it’s usually cost-effective, as I have more than enough to keep me going at lunch time, too.

Today’s lunch, for example, was Nigella’s sweet potato, black bean and avocado burrito. I had made enough for dinner last night, plus leftovers, resulting in a cost-effective and healthy way to refuel during the day.

Simple kitchen, simple cleaning

The other thing I notice about my simple kitchen is that it’s easier to keep clean.

Last weekend, my husband made – for himself and our daughter – a traditional English cooked breakfast. They enjoyed it, but he vowed afterwards that they’d go out to eat this in the future; the preparation and clearing away took up half the morning.

My ‘Happy Pear‘ inspired porridge has no such downside. Quick to cook, with a variety of toppings to add texture, taste and extra nutrients, the pan goes straight in the dishwasher and away we go!

Healthy mind in a healthy body

The other benefit is that of health and wellbeing. I have noticed that I am able to avoid the common cold when it does the rounds at work. I feel better than ever, maintain a steady weight, and don’t crave the type of foods that wouldn’t constitute a healthy diet. I have even become that woman who enjoys a couple of squares of very dark chocolate in the evening!

So, back to Mater and Pater. Dad is a meat and two veg’ Yorkshireman. My vegetarian burrito is not for him!

Having said that, he is partial to real Italian pizza. He claims that it is, after all, just fancy cheese on toast. But what to feed the family when I have vegetarian leanings, my husband eats Paleo and our guests have more traditional food preferences?

Keep Christmas cooking simple

I’m going to prepare (in advance) some plant-based sweet treats for me, but will also make some simple meals to keep everyone happy without stressing the Head of Catering (me).

  1. A baked ham for Boxing Day, with fresh salads and baby new potatoes, will appeal to everyone after the previous day’s traditional Christmas lunch
  2. Fresh clementines and medjool dates
  3. Luxury home-made ice-cream (yes!), will make light work of holiday desserts and keep my father happy
  4. Chocolate Florentines and Lily O’Briens chocolates will satisfy the sweet-toothed

So, because baking mince-pies or fretting over fancy menus isn’t for me, I choose the simpler route. After all, it’s about spending time with loved ones and enjoying the holidays that matters most.

How do you decide on your holiday catering?

Do you take a simple living approach or go the whole hog? I’d love to know! What’s your must-have holiday foodie treat?

Do what you enjoyed when you were 10 years old

img_0730Are you looking to make some changes in your life in 2017?

Want to reinvigorate your social life or find a new pastime? Maybe you’re even looking for a different career path? Well, the suggestion I recently read in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project really made me sit up and think:

Do what you enjoyed when you when you were 10 years old.

This is such a great piece of advice and I can tell you that reconnecting with your 10-year-old self is a lot of fun!

This summer, my daughter’s dance teacher announced that she was going to be teaching an adult tap class. Since I had recently given up a longstanding and very time-consuming hobby, I had now the space and time to give this a go. So, I said yes.

Rediscover your childhood hobby

I borrowed my daughter’s tap shoes and went along to my first class in September. Could I remember my shuffle-hop-steps or my step-ball-changes? Well, some 30+ years since first putting tap shoe to floor, I have to report that I could! Some of my fellow tappers were complete novices. Others had some experience.

All of us wanted to try something new and were amazed when we got straight into our first routine, a jazzy number to a fabulous tune: Pencil Full of Lead.

Share your passion with others

Some weeks in, we began to put the whole piece together and our teacher suggested we might like to perform in the school’s annual charity dance event. At that stage, we were hardly ‘show standard’, but we agreed because the event always raises money for cancer charities. This year, the proceeds went to Pancreatic Cancer Action.

This Sunday, the mums finally got to perform in front of children, husbands, friends and colleagues. What a blast! We had such a lot of support from the audience, who clapped and cheered as we danced along to the music.

Now, believe me when I say that I’m no Darcey Bussell, but I do acknowledge what a lot of enjoyment this experience has been.

Don’t wait to be 10 again

So, don’t wait until the New Year to get in touch with your inner child. What can you embrace, once again, that you enjoyed when you were 10? Who knows how re-discovering a former passion might shape your future?

Notes on Minimalism: A documentary about the important things

Notes on Minimalism: A documentary about the important things

Have you watched the Minimalist’s film yet?

Called Minimalism: A documentary about the important things, the film is available through Netflix from 15 December, but can already be purchased via other channels such as iTunes. This release is a timely reminder of why our consumer-orientated culture doesn’t ultimately bring ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ to those who embrace a ‘spend now, pay later’ ethos. Indeed, we hear from contributors such as Dan Harris that we’re spending money faster than we’re earning it, but are wired to become dissatisfied. No wonder there’s a growing interest in a life unencumbered by the trappings of contemporary living.

In the film, it’s interesting to hear Joshua Fields Millburn explain, “Every possession serves a purpose or brings me joy.” This is reminiscent of 19th Century architect, writer, artist and designer, William Morris, who said:

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

The documentary describes how, in the mid-1990’s, the US went on a ‘buying spree’ when products such as fashion, electronics, and household goods flooded the market. Owning material goods positioned people in status terms. That’s certainly true. I remember when extended family members showed off their snazzy mobile phones in the latter part of that decade when neither my husband nor I had even contemplated buying one. We felt like second-class citizens, well before FOMO had even been thought of 0f.

In Australia, the country with the largest average home size in the world, the average size of a home has grown from 162.2m2 in 1984 to 241.1m2 in 2012/13 (source: ABS via Amelia Lee, http://undercoverarchitect.com). Yet, we learn in the film that (on average) most people use only 40% of the space in their home.

So, what have we done with the space?

You got it!

We filled it with stuff we don’t need, bought with money we can little afford, to impress people we don’t even like. If I recall correctly, that’s a phrase used by minimalism advocates such as Joshua Becker. Doesn’t that ring true?

The documentary implores us to ask ourselves how much we really need, when we know that happiness only increases up to a certain point as our standard of living improves. After that, it’s up to us. Ask yourself what what really matters. I’ll bet it won’t be having yet another sweater in the closet, a ‘better’ smart phone or some new ‘designer’ shoes. In any case, the film challenges us with the following question:

“What do you sacrifice by being constantly busy, constantly working?”

Surely, you have to work as hard as you do, for the hours you do, just to pay for the stuff you choose to buy.

The conclusion of the film brings a ray of hope. It suggests revising the American dream, turning towards:

– Community
– Equality
– Responsibility towards the planet

That has to be a better way to live.

Listen to your gut instinct: it will serve you well

Listen to your gut instinct: it will serve you well

How many of us feel our gut instinct or hear what our heart is telling us, but fail to act upon it? In today’s blog post, I’m going to encourage you to listen to your gut, to your heart or to your inner voice (or all three).

Often, the answer to a question lies within ourselves.

A conversation this lunch time reminded me how grateful I should be for a decision I made in the early part of 2015. That decision led me to my current job, where I have been for the last 17 months. Whilst my current role perhaps doesn’t play to all of my strengths, I know that I made the right choice and there will be longer-term career opportunities for me in the organisation where I work.

A short while ago, I wrote about why quitting may not be such a bad thing after all. You can read that post here.

Indeed, making the decision to change is often the hardest thing of all, but once your mind is made up, you can move forward with all the steely resolve you’ll need. Your decision might stem from the desire to move away from pain or towards pleasure. Either way, once you’ve decided, you’ll be much more motivated to make that change.

How many times have you heard people say, “My heart’s just not in it, anymore.” That’s their inner voice, giving them a little prod, telling them to be proactive and to take action. Listening to one’s own heart is a very good way to gauge what decision you need to make.

There have been times in my life when I have been about to make a bad decision. Making that really bad decision would have had longer-term ramifications that would no doubt have impacted my long-term future. In my first year at university, after having worked before returning to full-time study, I thought about leaving to take up another job.”Wrong call!” pronounced my body, as my gut instinct delivered its message in the form of a migraine.

Did I listen? Yes, thank goodness, I did.

In his 2013 book, Intuition, Elijah Chudnoff describes intuition as a form of “intellectual perception” that enable us to perceive “abstract reality” rather than concrete, tangible objects. It’s that intuition that serves us well when we need to:

  • leave a job that no longer serves us, in terms of career development or personal wellbeing
  • change careers altogether
  • step down from a personal commitment
  • end a relationship
  • say no to activities, invitations or unwanted obligations

So, take some time to listen to your inner voice over the holiday season. You don’t need to make a rash decision, but ask yourself some key questions:

Why do I feel this way?
What’s my gut instinct telling me to do?
How might it feel if I make this change?

Imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve made that choice. Will you feel a sense of relief or wish you had left things as they were?

Taking time out to reflect and review will enable you to make that choice, so listen to your gut instinct. It will serve you well.

When what you teach is really what you need to learn yourself

When what you teach is really what you need to learn yourself

What do we teach by our actions, by what we write or what we say? Are we somehow teaching ourselves, as well as others?

In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes, “They say that people teach what they need to learn.”

This really struck me. If Rubin’s observation is true, then what I have been sharing and writing about may well have been what I needed to learn during 2016. In today’s blog post, I consider what lessons have I learned this year. More specifically, I think about what lessons I needed to learn.

This has been a year of change. For many, it has been a year of turmoil. I don’t just mean Brexit and Trump (Brexit +++!!) but developments in our own lives.

Love and loss 

In July, I turned to writing to self-soothe, to reflect and to articulate my thinking about the way forward in my own life. Being able to share my minimalism journey was a way to do this.

The previous month, my grandma had died at the age of 97. Although it was her time to go, I realise now (looking back) that I had been saddened greatly by her passing. In her life, she had been stoical, practical and outwardly unsentimental. However, she felt things deeply; in her later years, she opened up to my uncle to share her perspective on all sorts of things. In particular, she missed my grandpa terribly; he had died 6 years earlier at the age of 92 (just days before their 70th wedding anniversary). Their resilience, strong work ethic and non-materialist approach to life was a fine example of a life lived well. We can all learn from that. When my mum asked if I would like to speak at her funeral, I didn’t hesitate. When it came to it, however, I knew I couldn’t deliver the speech myself (my dad stepped in). If you’re curious about what I wrote, I have shared it on my personal blog.

From sadness to serendipity

I also made some personal changes in my life, as I wrote about here. Taking a step back and saying ‘no’ allowed me to say ‘yes’ to new and interesting things.

For example, back in April, I happened to see that Courtney Carver was bringing her Tiny Wardrobe Tour to London. Only an hour away on the train from Coventry, I was able to head down to Euston after work. I found the event a great inspiration, enjoyed hearing from like-minded women and – even better – made a local friend whom I now meet up with regularly.

I also re-kindled my love of yoga, as I wrote about here. To my dismay, I am a lot less flexible than I was when I last did yoga regularly on my 30’s. Life lesson? If you know it does you good, keep on doing it. I also took up tap-dancing after a break of 30 years. Happily, I can still do it and now find myself tapping every Wednesday evening.

Physician, heal thyself!

In 2016, I also embraced the opportunity to take part in Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered course. My zest for non-fiction grew, as I read not only Becker’s latest book, but also other work from the likes of Tammy Strobel, James Wallman, Francine Jay and Marie Kondo. Each had a different take on minimalism, which I was able to assimilate, share and model for others. As an accomplished declutterer, my blog allowed me to share my knowledge. It also allowed me to break up with ‘stuff’ once and for all, as I neared the completion of a 2 year decluttering programme, culminating in the letting go of personal mementos that I’d hauled around for over 2 decades.

Financial independence

This year, I also needed to get my finances in shape. This is a work in progress, but I have now stopped using a credit card completely and am managing to save a little every month. This is in spite of rising living costs and a static income. If you’re interested in finding out how I did this, let me know and I’d be happy to write about it. My Life Energy Experiment in November allowed me to take a long, hard look about what I was buying and helped me evaluate if what I bought was really worth the ‘life energy’ expended to enable the purchase.

Even though 2016 has had its ups and downs, we have to see beyond the temporary hitches and glitches and remember that we’re in this for the long haul. The season of Advent reminds us that what goes around comes around. After darkness, there will always be light. If we can learn that together, then we’re doing OK.

What lesson did 2016 teach you? What did you need to learn?