Authenticity over perfectionism

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As regular readers will know, I am keen to frequent my local library. So, when I found a brand new copy of Dominque Loreau’s L’art de la Simplicité there, it was a chance to discover a new take on minimalism.

French by birth, Loreau has imbibed oriental philosophies, having lived in Japan for many years. I was very interested to see what she had to say about a topic that’s been close to my heart for a long time, but I have mixed feelings about this book.

What I liked about it

As you would expect, Loreau promotes the idea that less is more. Outer order, she argues, equals inner calm. In the early part of the book, she rehearses the key tenets of minimalism: your stuff owns you; say no to clutter and embrace simplicity with style.

Loreau does a really comprehensive job, as she covers not only the outwardly visible elements of one’s life, but also the inner, personal aspects of mind, body and spirit (including one’s diet). I admire this approach, as it provides a holistic, well-rounded manifesto for someone looking to make changes.

Where she lost me

Where Loreau lost me was in her highly prescriptive approach to what we should – or shouldn’t – own.

For me, the joy of minimalism is that it’s entirely up to you as to how you approach it: what works for you may not work for me, but we can still share a minimalist mindset.

A set of rules

In particular, I was bemused when I realised how rule-driven Loreau’s philosophy was. For example, one’s bag had to have certain characteristics and should contain – amongst other things – a personalised monogrammed handkerchief! With a 16-bullet-point ‘handbag checklist’, I was left feeling a little overwhelmed and glad that my second-hand tiny cross-body bag and backpack serve me just nicely, thank you very much.

Echoes of another best-seller

The author’s didactic tone had echoes of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, so if you read that and liked it, you may enjoy this little book.

Even better, if you are able to enjoy this work in its original form, I suspect it may be a better read. The translation into English created a great many short sentences, which read like a series of disconnected soundbites.

Authenticity over perfectionism

What I felt most strongly was that Loreau was promoting an almost unreachable ideal. Instead of encouraging the reader to enjoy minimalism in its many different forms, she promotes her own perfectionist ideals.

This reminded me of Brené Brown’s: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Personally, I’d much rather strive towards letting go of others’ ideals than to go after the perfectionism that Brown calls an “emotional shield.”

Minimalism is what ever you want it to be

During her visit to the UK, I was delighted to spend some time with the lovely Cait Flanders. Cait and I were discussing different approaches to minimalism and simple living. We resolved that, since everyone’s circumstances are unique, there simply cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

For example, scanning and letting go of physical photographs (aka The Minimalists) may be right up your street. But if you’re like me and you have around a dozen carefully-made albums (with sticky pages onto which your precious only copies sit), you’re unlikely to want to risk peeling them off the page.

My take on simple living

As you may have read in my previous post, I’ve discovered a number of ways to simplify my life. But what I found helpful may not be right for you. I would argue that, whilst we can take inspiration from those who espouse a particular philosophy, it’s always good to take a step back before we rush wholeheartedly into a new way of living.

Trying to emulate how someone else lives their minimalist lifestyle could end up becoming some form of reverse ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Someone else’s  bid for perfection may end up being a straight-jacket for you.

Write your own prescription

Going back to Loreau’s prescription for the ideal bag, I was listening to the Happier podcast yesterday. Presenter, Liz Craft, had been on a quest to find her own ‘perfect black purse’ as part of her “18 for 2018” personal ‘to-do list.’ Listeners had helpfully sent in lots of lovely suggestions, but none of them felt right. It was only when she realised that what she had been looking at wasn’t really “her” that she fell upon exactly the right bag.

So, write your own simplicity prescription and maybe you’ll be an inspiration to others without imposing unattainable ideals. After all, being authentic is so much better than aiming for perfection.


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The beauty of simplicity

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It’s been almost two years since I had my ‘enough is enough’ moment and simplified my life.

Taking a simpler approach to life has so many benefits so I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you.

Clutter-free living

Decluttering the home (or office, for that matter) makes life a whole lot simpler. Don’t get me wrong: we still have much of the paraphernalia of family life, but we all appreciate living a in a relatively clutter-free zone.

It’s currently exam time in our house, as our daughter has just finished her first week of GCSEs. Our shared study currently looks like a paper recycling facility but I’m not stressing about this; it’s only superficial ‘mess’ and we’ll soon restore it to its tidier usual self.

Talking of recycling, when you adopt a minimalist mindset, it’s much easier to get into the habit of removing the excess from your life. I keep an empty drawer in the bedroom into which clothes and accessories go when it’s time to let them go. We regularly visit the local recycling centre and anything that might be of value goes to the charity shop or is sold online.

Financial benefits

Adopting a more intentional approach to life means your bank balance may also benefit. If you’re making more deliberate decisions about when to spend and what to buy, you’re less likely to overspend. That means you can build an emergency fund quickly and even perform ‘plastic surgery‘ on your credit card.

In my case, one financial benefit of a simpler life has been to go car free. These days, I use the bus to travel to and from work.  I ride my bike around town and still occasionally do the 10-mile round trip to the office if I’m feeling energetic. Giving up the car has saved a wodge of cash each month.

Even better, when I visited the hairdresser earlier today (the morning of the Royal wedding), I was able to indulge in a little bucks fizz, which did not preclude me from riding home on two wheels!

Take a chill pill

Talking of going car free, I’m now completely comfortable with getting around by public transport. The slightly random nature of the timetable means that you simply can’t get harassed about wherever you are going. You’ll get there when you get there.

My initial bus journeys coincided with the coldest weather we had experienced in a long time. All of a sudden, however, the UK was transformed when below-freezing temperatures gave way to a balmy summer heatwave in what felt like a matter of days.

This spell of gorgeous weather has made the daily commute considerably more enjoyable. In the afternoons, I’ll sit at the bus stop and read my book, as I wait for the Number 11 to arrive. More often than not, I’ll see colleagues who are also heading home, so the journey can often be unexpectedly sociable!

Foody simplicity

Taking a more relaxed approach to the daily commute means you simply don’t have time to cook a complicated meal when you get home. That’s where some ‘foody simplicity‘ can help. Quicker meals, simply produced, take less time and (if you’re lucky) generate even less washing up. That’s a win-win for me.

At the weekend, however, especially on a Saturday, I really love to spend time in the kitchen. Today, I’ve rustled up some Happy Pear beetroot and feta burgers (featured here on the ‘Grow it Yourself’ website). I’ve also prepared a vegetarian moussaka for a special visitor tomorrow; getting ahead with the (admittedly fiddly) prep’ means we can enjoy each other’s company without being tied to the kitchen sink.

A simple dress code

Worrying about what to wear can be time-consuming and costly if you can’t settle on a style that works for you in lots of different situations. Kirstie Allsopp famously wears only dresses and it’s an approach to clothes that I have adopted for work. When you have a dress, you have an outfit and one that works for almost every occasion. My brand of choice is UK-based Onjenu. I continue to buy their easy-to-wear dresses because they wear, wash, hang to dry and wear again. No ironing whatsoever. That’s simple dressing for you!

There are so many ways to simplify and create more space in your life. Maybe you’ve discovered something that’s worked for you? Do please share by replying below.

Right now, I’m off to sit on the patio with a cold glass of elderflower cordial over ice. A beautiful drink for a simply lovely way to end the day.


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How to Declutter and Detoxify Your Cleaning Routine

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This is a guest post by Emily Folk

Decluttering your space makes life feel like a new start, whether you’ve moved into a new home or have lived at your current residence for years. A blank slate frees up the rest of your time and attention to focus on what matters to you  that’s the heart of leading a minimalist lifestyle.

Cultivate healthy habits that enrich your life and make it feel less complicated. The perfect place to start is with decluttering and detoxifying your cleaning routine in a way that works with and for your life — not against it.

Get to Know Your Inner Cleaner

Guilty of procrastination over picking up, or do you obsess over every nook and cranny when scrubbing away? Found a happy balance yet? Most people tackle cleaning in bite-sized sections while others make it a marathon.

Sometimes the best bet is the middle road. Give yourself small maintenance tasks to tackle during the week, such as washing the dishes or taking out the trash. Save the weekend or a weekend day to tackle the whole house or a particular floor.

What does your inner cleaner say is best, and how can you negotiate to cultivate better habits? The job will get done when you do it in a way that works best for you.

Start High, End Low

It feels easier to pick a random surface and scrub it, but you end up creating more work for yourself. Don’t do that.

Start higher up and work your way down. For example, dust out the cabinets and scrub the grime off all the counters in the kitchen, knocking the pieces of food on the floor. You’ll sweep and mop it up. You’ve saved time and can redirect your energy into waging war on the nooks and crannies, instead of tracking a stray crumb like an assassin on assignment.

Natural Cleaning

Get rid of the bleach and blue dye glass cleaner. Your pantry holds natural cleaning products that won’t leave the toxic chemical smells and potential burns that can result from cleaning. Expose your family to safer cleaning methods:

  • Use a salt and baking soda paste to clean out the grime between tiles.
  • Leave the same paste in your oven overnight and give it a grub scrub the next day with hot water. Vinegar adds that middle school volcano science action into the mix for super greasy, grimy scrubbing efforts.
  • Use diluted vinegar and newspaper for streak-free window and mirror cleaning. Just use the newspaper like you would normal paper towels, minus the annoyance.
  • Some people add a drop of dish soap to clear waxy build up.
  • A little dish soap and vinegar go a long way to a sanitized floor, while baking soda will get the floor grime free.
  • Include a squeeze of lemon for antibacterial properties into most of these mixes and get a fresh scent without the chemicals.
  • Use natural cleaning products from your pantry to save you time, money and space. It’ll also improve your health since you’re not exposed to toxic chemicals for prolonged periods.

Waste vs. Needs and Keepsakes

Get real with your clutter and yourself. You don’t need most of this junk. Choose your weapons of dispense such as plastic containers, cardboard boxes, trash bags or a mix.

Go drawer to drawer, room by room. Hold the object in hand and decide if it’s waste or fulfills a need. In the last two years, honestly, how often have you used it? Is it an heirloom?

Can it be repurposed and will you make an effort? With enough effort, some families move toward zero-waste by following five rules — refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot, in that particular order. Can you start small? Answer wisely, or you’ll keep enabling yourself as a waste hoarder.

Recycle and donate what you can. Get a friend to help haul things off if you’re too attached. If you need more time, stow a few items away, and if you don’t miss them after three months — let them go. Don’t forget to return borrowed items to friends and family, and refuse to store items that belong to others, within reason.

Move Toward a Minimalist Lifestyle

Decluttering and detoxifying your cleaning routine frees up time and space to focus on what holds meaning in your life. When you move toward a minimalist lifestyle, you’re not as dependent on the whims of wants and understand more about your true needs.

Work with your cleaning style, and go minimalist to motivate growth and healthy habits in your life.

About Emily:

Emily is a sustainability blogger who has been in the process of decluttering in order to live a simpler and eco-friendly lifestyle. You can read more of her work on her blog Conservation Folks.


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Thoughts on friendship

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When I began this blog almost two years ago, I didn’t know that blogging would enable me to make friends in real life, as well as bring me closer to a worldwide community of like-minded people.

Since you’re reading this, let me tell you this: I appreciate you!

The nature of friendship

I have been reflecting on the nature of friendship over the last few weeks. That may be because our teenager is about to do her GSCEs and move on to a new school for Sixth Form in September.

I know she has been thinking about the friends she’ll leave behind at her old school, as well as the ones who’ll move on with her. Of course, there’ll be new pals for her to make and we all know that strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet.

But how has the nature of friendship changed since we were at school?

When you are young

As a child you imagine that you’ll have the same friends your whole life. Some people do still keep in touch with friends they had at primary school, but I expect that’s fairly rare in today’s upwardly mobile world. Sometimes, childhood friends are re-united when they find one another on social media, or they manage to keep in touch through their parents who continue to live in the home where they grew up.

Make new friends and keep the old: one is silver, the other gold

My oldest and dearest friend is godmother to our daughter. We have been friends for almost 30 years. We met when we both lived in a hall of residence owned by the the high street bank for which we worked in London. This was a subsidised ‘staff perk’ to attract young workers to spend time in the capital. In 1990, this was like being at university but with pay!

I was interested in joining the drama group to which my would-be friend belonged, so I looked her up. We became instant pals and have remained close ever since, even though we haven’t lived in the same place for much of that time.

Circumstantial friends?

I am very lucky to still have contact with friends I made during my undergraduate and postgraduate years at university. I also still have good friends I made in the early years of living in Warwickshire and later as a mum.

Happily, some of these friendships have persisted beyond those specific circumstances. Although I originally met my friend, Lynne, at a local parent/toddler group, we have since enjoyed many years singing together. These days, we meet monthly at a bread-making group, which I wrote about here.

Some connections that you make through work or hobbies also continue via social media (especially via Facebook which is the only reason I don’t delete my account). It’s lovely to keep in touch with people who mean a lot to you and there’s the added bonus that we do meet up (either regularly or from time-to-time).

Minimalism and friendship

I have been really fortunate to make new friends through the contacts I’ve made with those connected to the world of minimalism and simple living.

My lovely friend, Rae, hosted the London leg of Courtney Carver’s Tiny Wardrobe Tour two years ago. I realised, after the event, that were both Warwickshire-based and it’s been an absolute delight to get to know her.

Lindsey and I met, as part of my quarterly meet-ups. She’s been a great friend with whom it’s fabulous to compare simple living notes, as we compare and discuss our minimalism journey.

I’ve also begun to make friends around the globe (some in person and others virtually). What’s heart-warming and encouraging is how virtual friends can become real friends when you reach out to one another.

New ways to make friends

Connection is so important. It’s one of the four ingredients of Robert Lustig’s book that I wrote about here.

Listening to Liz Craft and Sarah Fain on Happier in Hollywood this weekend, I was reminded of the challenge of making new friends in a new location. In this ‘Listener Questions’ episode, one of the questions discussed was how to make friends when you move to a new area.

You may not want to be alone or even in that particular situation but this may still be a time when you can make connections. In his book, Resurrection Year, Sheridan Voysey calls this “ministering to others.” You may not relish being alone in a new place, but if you’re willing to put yourself out to serve others, you’ll no doubt reap the personal benefits of so doing.

That said, as the hosts of Happier in Hollywood suggested, “Put yourself out there but choose people who want to be with you.” As the pair remind us, you want, “volunteers not recruits” when it comes to friendship.

Special interest groups

If you do put yourself out there, it’s worth noting that natural friendships can take time to emerge. It may take a while to become established in a new group, especially if you join a longstanding community of people who’ve know each other a long time.

One possible way in is to join a sub-group. Last year, I wrote about my decision to join the WI. My ‘way in’, in terms of getting to know people, has been to join the WI Reading Group. We meet monthly at someone’s house over wine and nibbles, often followed by cake (of course!) and tea or coffee. Whilst we do spend a good amount of time discussing the book for that month, we also connect in ways that aren’t possible when you’re in a monthly WI meeting of 50+ members.

So, find your ‘tribe’ and you may make some unexpected friends.

And remember, it’s said that a dog is ‘(wo)man’s best friend’. You always have a friend when you have a dog.


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