Wellbeing week and the menopause

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Following my last post, which started a bit of a ‘wellbeing’ theme, I recently attended a seminar on Menopause, Stress & Nutrition.

This session was part of a series of events for Wellbeing Week at the university where I work; it proved to be extremely popular. There were around 100 women in the room and – to his great credit – a single male who had come along to find out how he could support female staff in his team who might be experiencing the menopause.

What is menopause?

We all think we know what it is, but menopause (literally the cessation of menstruation) only lasts a single day. That is, it’s the day of your very last period. What we understand by menopause may fall more squarely into the peri-menopause, the phase leading up to the menopause itself.

Why don’t we talk about it?

I still think menopause is a little-understood – even taboo – phase of life. In the workplace, we generally fail to acknowledge it, but it may affect things like concentration, memory, mood and confidence. Other symptoms may include mood swings (including rage!), the interruption of sleep, weight gain and something the presenter of our session called ‘brain fog’ (e.g. losing keys, forgetting people’s names) (I already did that!!!).

So, whether you’re a manager, team leader, colleague, line report, co-worker, business partner, husband, child or friend, you’ll know  – or be close to – someone who’s right in the thick of it.

Triggers

I didn’t know this, but stress is a key trigger for menopause symptoms. Whether it’s your lifestyle, food, exposure to toxins or exercise that you might consider improving, these things all contribute to stress. So, we were told to choose just one thing that we might want to change and track our habits around that particular issue.

Diet

This is the part where we hear what we already know, but just had to have it from an external source.

The good

“Love your liver,” said our guest speaker, which meant including lots of good things in our diet such as hot water and lemon in the mornings; lots of greens (broccoli, kale, spinach) and foods such as salmon and avocado. In particular, foods containing phytoestrogens are said to be particularly helpful (I note with some enthusiasm that oats – my favourite grain- and coffee (!) are on the list).

The not-so-good

However, any food containing more than 10% sugar is a no-no and caffeine – which takes 72 hours to leave your system – may be a trigger. Alcohol may not be best idea, either, as it raises our core body temperature. Humph!

If that all sounds a bit too ‘goody two shoes,’ there is a positive in all of this: Prosecco is best, as it’s lower in sugar. Who knew?!

Exercise

Running

As I wrote in my last post, I’m in the midst of working through the Couch 2 5K programme. I can’t say I’m finding it terribly enjoyable, but it does tick the box when it comes to exercise. If you have any ideas how to make it more fun, please do tell me. I ran for my first full 25 minutes yesterday, but I am not yet experiencing ‘runner’s elation’.

The dog seems to find the jogging quite good fun, although it’s quite tricky to run when you have a dog lead in one hand, ABBA in your ears and the lovely Jo Wiley encouraging you – via her narration on the BBC app – to “keep going”.

Stretching

Earlier today, I also tried out a new class called Barre. Using a ballet barre, this class is the perfect complement to running, as it incorporates stretches and ballet movements. I enjoyed it! Let’s see if I’m still enthusiastic about this the day after tomorrow (I always find that it’s not the next day it gets you; it’s the day after that).

Of course, both running and stretching require some focus on the breath. That’s fabulous when it comes to the menopause; focussing on lengthening the out-breath at key times can be just what we need, so practising controlling the breath can be a quietly powerful tool.

Sleep

A lot of what we heard in this week’s seminar chimed with what I wrote about in my last post. Getting outside during the day – or even being close to a window – is a very good idea. Likewise, softer lighting in the evening and a darkened bedroom are also what we need to promote good sleep.

Clutter and the menopause

So, what about clutter? As a minimalist, I already know that clutter can contribute to anxiety, so maintaining a minimalist space can be incredibly helpful when it comes to supporting our wellbeing.

On Friday, after a particularly trying week, I decided to take some time at the end of my working day to reduce some no-longer-needed paperwork and straighten up my desk. When I return to the office tomorrow, it’ll be shiny as a new pin, which will set me up for a more positive week ahead.

The M Word

So, if (like me) you’re a woman of a certain age, get out there and use the M word at least once over the next 24 hours. It’s not about singling us out for special treatment, but it’s about mutual support, awareness raising and understanding. And that can go a long way towards engendering a more positive environment for everyone, be that at home or work.


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Why I’m cracking my circadian code

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It’s been a while since I have done any blogging, but I have a very self-indulgent reason: I have been reading.

What a joy it has been to immerse myself in some very good books. These have included Nicci French’s Blue Monday (cleverly written but disturbing) and Susan Beale’s debut novel, The Good Guy. The former is co-written by a husband and wife partnership, which makes it even more compelling (just how do they do it?).

New Year, New You?

Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye, I’ve been aware of the prevalence of the time-honoured ‘New Year, New You’ theme throughout the month. While I normally carry on as usual throughout January (largely ignoring these messages), my interest was sparked when I heard Liz Earle interview Max Lowery on her popular wellness podcast.

Lowery advocates the idea of eating only 2 meals per day during an 8 hour period,  resulting in a daily intermittent fast. You’ll no doubt heard of approaches like the 5:2 diet, but this method means that 16 hours in any 24 hour period are without food.

The timing of this episode was fortuitous, as it chimed with the ideas of Satchin Panda whose book I am currently reading: The Circadian Code: Lose weight, supercharge your energy and sleep well every night. 

Circadian rhythms

Satchin Panda is an academic whose work he has distilled into a really accessible book. Focusing not only on diet, Panda explores ways to optimise our health through the alignment of our activities with our daily ‘biological clock’ or circadian rhythm.

In the early part of the book, Panda explores how the timings within our schedule are particularly important for our overall well-being. For example, it had never before occurred to me that getting up at a different time at the weekend would effectively create what Panda calls ‘social jet lag.’

Panda suggests that, by altering our schedule by going to bed and getting up later at the weekend, we are all de facto ‘shift workers.’ Instead, he advocates going to bed and getting up at the same time 7 days per week. This avoids the foggy brain and fuzzy head of a weekend morning, which we might previously have experienced.

A little experiment

This has prompted me to do a bit of experimentation. From early January, I’ve been going to bed and getting up at exactly the same time every day. Yes, even on a Sunday. For sure, I take things a little more slowly at the weekend and might even pop back into bed to drink my morning tea. But I am consistently getting up at 06:15 (which means lights out around 22:15 or 22:30).

A friend of mine has a son who has recently returned from the West coast of America. Many days after any genuine jet lag should have subsided, he continues to suggest this as the reason for him not getting out of bed in the morning. On closer examination, the ‘problem’ is easily diagnosed: social jet lag. He is partying late into the night.

Light

Sleep, of course, is intrinsically linked with light. Or rather, the absence of it. This means that we’re more likely to have disturbed sleep if we persist in using electronic devices during the evening when we should be enjoying the soft, warm glow of side lamps.

Panda explains that the blue light from electronic devices triggers a protein within the eye, which tricks the brain to wake up. Since the brain does not expect the stimulation of light at night, the use of bright light disrupts our circadian rhythm.

So, if we want to benefit from a deep, full restorative sleep, we’d do well to revert to an old-fashioned paperback at bed time. That’s handy for me, since my Reading Group (aka wine club) books are always physical books. So, I’m definitely going to carry on with this good habit. I’m not talking about the wine.. and cake.

2 meals per day

The ideas expressed during the Liz Earle podcast (eating just two meals per day) align closely with Satchin Panda’s time restricted eating (TRE).

Panda explains how the science around restricting daily eating to a 12-hour period brings impressive results. Even better, reducing the window to as few as 8 hours can be even more beneficial. The reason is because most of the body’s fat burning happens 6-8 hours after finishing your last meal. It also increases exponentially after a full 12 hours of fasting.

So, if you want to lose some weight, reducing the ‘window’ during which you consume all of your daily calories can reap real rewards (even if you don’t change what you eat).

Again, in the interest of science, I’ve been observing my own behaviours around food. I normally eat a light breakfast before I go to work; a snack mid-morning; a light lunch (normally leftovers); then another small meal when I get home. I might also have my daily fix of natural yoghurt and a couple of squares of dark chocolate after dinner.

I’m basically taking on food from morning through to night. That can’t be doing me any good.

So, I’m going to experiment a little and see if skipping that evening meal will result in better sleep and a greater appreciation of the food I am eating. If you think about what that 8 hour window means in practice, it means breakfast (for me) at around 07:00 then my final bite of the day no later than 15:00. That’s quite a change for me.

A time for everything

It follows that, since all the cells of the body have their own ‘circadian rhythm’, there’s a time for doing certain things during each day. If you eat from the moment you wake through to that last snack of the evening, your body will be in constant ‘digestion mode’.

By creating a gap between the last bite of the day and the time we prepare to sleep, the body can have disposed of its food-related responsibilities before it goes into rest, repair and rejuvenation mode. Equally, our bodies aren’t designed to exist in a well-lit environment throughout our entire period of wakefulness; when then sun goes down, so should our overhead lights.

If we are more intentional about our activities, we may enjoy myriad unexpected benefits.

So, I’ll read on and explore what other lifestyle choices I can make that might positively align with my natural circadian rhythm. I’m currently on Week 5 of Couch to 5K, so knowing the best time to run (for example) might spur me on and keep me running well – and with some enjoyment – throughout the programme.

But what about you? Are you aware of your own ‘circadian code’? Have you ever experimented with TRE (time restricted eating) and do you dim those lights during the evening? Do let me know by replying below.


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Life lessons from 2018 and a brief glimpse forward

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2018 was a quite a mixed year for our little family. Like us, I expect you’ll have experienced the ups and downs of everyday life during the last 12 months.

Taking a look back at the year as a whole, I realise that a bit of perspective on what we experience makes all the difference in the world. Here’s how our year panned out, with some of the life lessons we learned along the way.

Warm conversations during a chilly winter

Once the holidays were well and truly over, the first part of 2018 saw me settling into a regular routine of visiting our local nursing home as a volunteer with Pets as Therapy. Our little dog, Ollie (a 5 year old cockapoo), brightens the day of the residents every time we visit and I enjoy the conversations with the lovely people I meet there. Although a small number of the residents have indeed died during the year, my overriding sense is what a privilege it has been to enjoy their company; blessings all round!

Life lesson #1:

Giving (time) to others brings as much reward to you as it does to them (especially when there’s a furry friend in tow!).

East meets West

In February, we welcomed our second pair of international ‘homestay’ students, who stayed with us for the whole month. From Ritsumeikan University in Japan, the latter part of the students’ visit coincided with the ‘Beast from the East’ – a bitterly cold spell of weather that resulted in the girls’ return journey being postponed for a few days.

It was enriching to spend time with these young undergraduates and we realised that, in spite of some interesting cultural differences, we had far more in common than we might originally have thought.

Life lesson #2:

Opening your home to others can enable you to develop some wonderful, unexpected friendships, whilst enjoying a unique and mutually beneficial intercultural experience.

Spring forward

Just as the students returned to Japan, I started a new job. Having had a very modest salary increase with my new role, as well as going car free, we were now able to make some serious inroads into paying off debt. During the previous autumn, we had discovered an unexpected personal tax liability of several thousand pounds. So, 2018 became the year when we became ‘gazelle intense’ over our finances. That made a real difference as the year progressed.

Here, I have to acknowledge the approach of Dave Ramsey about whom I’ve written often. During 2018, I also discovered Pete Matthew’s Meaningful Money podcast and have enjoyed his first book: The Meaningful Money Handbook. Pete’s just established a Facebook community, too, so check that out if getting on top of your finances is part of your 2019 goals.

Life lesson #3:

Actually, there’s more than one life lesson in this particular segment:

  1. You don’t need a car as much as you think you do.
  2. You do need an Emergency Fund for when life slaps you in the face. Save £1000 if you’re paying off debt, then build a fully-funded Emergency Fund of 3-6 months of expenses once you’re debt free.
  3. You can learn a lot from listening to podcasts that provide sensible, consistent and free advice. Find the ones that speak to your situation and become an avid listener.

Long, hot summer

Summer saw our daughter, Amy, join her school friends on a four week visit to Costa Rica with Camps International. After two years of fundraising, she had a truly amazing experience, which involved a huge variety of activities. These ranged from building a septic tank to scuba diving in the Pacific Ocean!

Life lesson #4:

Step out of your comfort zone once in a while; you will have the time of your life.

During Amy’s first week away, we spent a few days on the Norfolk coast. Remember, this was one of the hottest years on record, but we ended up in the only cool corner of England that week. It was so chilly, we had to invest in new jackets. My mother reminded me that we had holidayed on the East coast in the intense summer of 1976 when the temperatures at the seaside had also plunged. So, if you ever need a cool spell during a heatwave, just follow me!

Life lesson #5:

Expect the unexpected (particularly with English weather) and never leave the house without a coat!

Sunsets and farewells

Sadly, things back at home took a turn for the worse when my mother-in-law died during the second week of Amy’s trip. My father-in-law had died only 15 months before, so this was an especially sorrowful time for everyone. My mother-in-law had been a gregarious, larger-than-life character, so it was especially sad to see her becoming more and more frail towards the end of her life.

We postponed the funeral until Amy’s return, then began the long process of decluttering the family home to prepare it for sale. This was a lengthy job and pretty hard work. However, a lovely and unexpected benefit throughout this whole process was the growing bond I have enjoyed with my lovely sisters-in-law.

Life lesson #6:

Through every sad situation, there will always be a ray of sunshine (I promise).

After this experience, I asked my own mother to do something that I’d heard of during Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast: Make a Facts of Life document. This is where you set out some basic information about your life: details of accounts, policies and other information that your loved ones should need ‘in case something happens’. This is how we in the UK euphemistically describe illness or death. Happily, my mum had already done this, so it was much easier to have that conversation with her than I thought.

August also brought GCSE results for Amy. The big deal with these qualifications was whether or she’d passed her maths (she had!!).

Life lesson #7:

Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best (things can and do work out).

Transition into autumn

Autumn saw yet more changes, as Amy embarked upon A levels and enjoyed another school trip. This time, she visited Marle Hall in Wales where she took part in a number of outward bound activities including coasteering. As far as I can tell, this involved moving along a rockface, then jumping in the sea periodically. That is not for me (especially in October!).

As a couple, we completed the intense period of paying off our debt. It’s wonderful to be going into 2019 knowing that this is behind us.

And back to winter

Around 3 weeks ago, our little pup became unwell. On careful investigation, the vet found a ‘foreign object’ in Ollie’s stomach. This turned out to be a whole and perfectly intact peach stone in his small intestine. A good deal of worrying, one surgery and over £1500 later, Ollie is now on the mend but has what looks like a little zip in his tummy as a ‘souvenir.’ Thank goodness for Emergency Funds and pet insurance.

Life lesson #8:

Take advice as soon as something happens that worries you (and – again – get that Emergency Fund in place!).

Today, as I write, my own mother (she who had sensibly created her ‘Facts of Life Document’) has just had surgery to remove a tumour from her stomach! We await to hear if more treatment will be needed, although we are hopeful that this won’t be the case. It’s strange that there should be yet another bump in the road during a time when we are reflecting on the year gone by and looking forward to what lies ahead in 2019. No more foreign objects in tummies, please!

Word of the Year 2019

Rather than make New Year’s Resolutions, we have decided to set out some goals for 2019. We may even adopt a personal ‘word’ for the year.

If I look back at 2018, I realise that taking the long view – and having a bit of distance to give perspective on your experiences – is a very good thing.  The life lessons we learned along the way in the last 12 months will stand us in good stead, as we embark upon another year.

As Courtney Carver once said, “Don’t write about it when you’re in it.” So, I didn’t blog about all the twists and turns of 2018. There have been a great many ‘ups’, as well as a number of ‘downs,’ but we live and learn and move forward.

What has 2018 been like for you? What life lessons has 2018 taught you? What does 2019 hold? And will you make New Year’s Resolutions or even adopt a Word of the Year? Do let me know by replying below.

Wishing you very Happy New Year 2019.


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No learning is wasted

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Just over a week ago, I was fortunate to be able to attend a talk given by Emma Kennedy. An all-round high-achiever, Kennedy is arguably best known for her work as a writer, actor and author, but she is also the winner of both Celebrity Masterchef and Mastermind. She is also a self-confessed conkers expert!

Inspiring women

The talk was part of an ‘Inspiring Women’ series, arranged by the Careers & Skills team at the university where I work. Although aimed at female students, Kennedy’s message applies to anyone who has tried, failed and tried again: follow your instinct; explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.

Starting out…

In a number of ways, Kennedy’s journey resonated with me a great deal. Like me, Kennedy left school at 16. Her first job was a washer-upper in a local hotel (later, she was promoted to vegetable peeler). Mine was for a well-known high street Bank where I ultimately worked for 4 years.

…At the bottom

My very first task in the Bank involved sorting what my supervisor called ‘rems’ and ‘giros’ into specific pigeonholes. I didn’t have a clue what a ‘rem’ was. It turns out, a ‘rem’ was a ‘remittance’ – a cheque/check to you and me. A ‘giro’ was a paying in slip. So, I was effectively handling ‘money out’ and ‘money in’ for customers, albeit in proxy (paper) form. These slips of paper, once sorted, would be collected for onward distribution to their respective banks. Exciting, huh?

London life

By the age of 20, I had moved to London where I worked for 8 months prior to embarking on my next life adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and honestly remember London as a city of blue skies and sunshine. My experience was a bit like being at university, but with the bonus of a monthly salary.

In those 8 months, I did a lot of growing up. I learned about cultural differences and customer service, improved my mental arithmetic, got a bit drunk at the Long Island Ice Tea Bar in Covent Garden, and developed an idea that meant I might actually resume my academic studies and eventually go to a real Higher Education Institution (as opposed to the university of life).

Moving forward

After a gap year in Switzerland, I returned home where I became the oldest 6th former in town. My pals at college had come straight from GCSEs. I arrived with 5 years’ experience, 7 O Levels (ranging from the very good to the mediocre) and an exceedingly good Swiss-French accent. Most importantly, I was ready to learn.

Loving learning

Like me, Emma Kennedy took a little longer to achieve her ultimate goal of going to university. She had been unwell during her A Level studies and it was through the encouragement and tutoring of her former English teacher that she managed to secure a place at Oxford. In my case, it was through the inspirational teaching of my own wonderful English tutors, which meant that I was finally able to get myself a place at university.

Like Kennedy, along with own sister, I was ‘first in family’ to go to university. Although my parents (and grandparents) had been teachers, their route into this profession had not been via Higher Education. My own parents had gone to teacher training college before embarking upon their careers.

What next?

On completing my degree, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do next. So, I decided to follow in family members’ footsteps and train to be a teacher. For me, teaching wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it wasn’t going be my life’s work either. Like Kennedy who decided to leave her post-university profession as a lawyer, I worked out quite soon that there were other things I wanted to do.

Listen to your gut

This time, I started to truly follow my instinct and that’s when my career trajectory changed. I was suddenly able to flourish, to develop and to try new things. I wasn’t on an obvious career path, but I started to enjoy myself.

Each job I’ve had post-teaching has enabled me to develop and grow. Like Kennedy, I may not have ‘failed’ at what I tried, but I developed a self-awareness that meant I knew when I was a square peg in a round hole.

Along the way, I have learned an incredible amount from my experience and from the terrific people I have met along the way (many of whom are still good friends). I always say this – especially to those I mentor professionally – no learning is ever wasted.

Living minimally

Now, minimalism is an integral part of my life and I wouldn’t go back to living in a way that was unintentional. That said, my career trajectory could not really be described as ‘intentional’. It was more a series of experiments. Try something? Not sure it works for you? Then, try something else. In some ways, it takes courage and resilience to make these changes, but nothing worth doing was ever easy.

With minimalism and simple living, there are many different ways you can adopt a more intentional approach to life. Take a look at my previous post on the types of minimalism you might consider. The point is that you can take some time to experiment; to learn; to follow your instinct; to explore the things about which you are curious; be prepared to try (and fail); and never give up.


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Looking after yourself, simple-living style

Mental Health infographic

This month’s World Mental Health Day shone a spotlight on an important issue that, happily, is talked about much more frequently these days.

I received the infographic for this post via a network I belong to. It caused me to reflect not only on these top tips, but on how adopting a minimalist lifestyle can also be a great benefit to our overall wellbeing.

10 practical ways

Eating well, not drinking too much and keeping active seem like a no-brainer. “Everything in moderation,” sounds like something your Grandma would say.

When it comes to diet, there’s been a lot of news in the media about cutting down on meat as a way to benefit both your health and the environment. Some analyses have gone as far as asserting that avoiding both meat and dairy is the single most significant thing you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. Back in the spring, a piece in The Guardian argued that 80% of the world’s grassland was used for livestock, which produced less than 20% of food calories. Now, that just doesn’t make sense.

More recently, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme featured the uncompromising message that no amount of alcohol was beneficial when it came to drinking; a sobering reality? At least, no-one has said that about coffee. There might be a revolt!

On the upside, social prescribing is a more recent phenomenon where healthcare professionals encourage their patients to make connections through activities such as attending clubs or special interest groups. Since loneliness affects people of all ages, this has to be a good thing. The connections we make through social interactions mean that we will be more likely to care for others (which does us good), ask for help and even talk about our feelings.

Finally, 10 minute bursts of intensive exercise – frequently – are said to be really beneficial. Having just been out on my bicycle in the October sunshine, I would readily agree with this.

A minimalist’s ways

I would like add a few more ideas to the above list. If we concentrate and focus intentionally on the things that add value to our lives, we have less room for the things that don’t. Here’s my list:

Become and stay clutter-free

It’s impossible to thrive when you’re weighed down with stuff.

In a recent blog post, Joshua Becker wrote, “It is difficult to fully appreciate how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them.”

I’d say that’s true, having spent several weeks decluttering the home of my late mother-in-law.

Our house certainly isn’t all bare surfaces and devoid of ‘stuff’ (remember, you can’t unclutter someone else’s belongings). But it’s certainly a place where anyone can walk through the door at any time and find it to be a welcoming and relatively clutter-free space.

Inject humour into your day

Every Monday, I pin a small humorous cartoon or aphorism to my office door. It started after the August Bank Holiday with a fun little poem called the Plodders Prayer (I just needed to plod quietly through the week).

After that, the humour became more focussed on the context (academia). Colleagues who pass by will often stop and chat about whatever I have pinned up.

Say no

Saying no is a huge way to maintain your equilibrium. Courtney Carver has a saying, “I will not say yes when my heart says no.” Wise words indeed.

If, like me, your tendency is that of an ‘Obliger’, learning to say no is a very important thing to do.

Last Saturday night, Mr G and I went to see comedian Sarah Millican. Smutty but very funny indeed, one of Millican’s sketches entailed her deploying an uncharacteristically deep, resonant and definitive sounding, “No!”.

“Would you like to perform at the Queen’s Golden Jubiliee?” Millican was asked.
“No!” she replied (she already had a prior ‘booking’ in the form of the arrival of a kitten).

“Would you like to open our new facility?”
Again came the resounding,”No!”

As I listened (and laughed), I resolved to put this into practice. I didn’t have long to wait.

On Tuesday, it was my WI group’s AGM. At the end of the evening, a member of the Committee approached me to ask if I would consider joining the team. Without a moment’s hesitation, out of my mouth erupted a clear and straightforward, “No!”

The lady looked a me a little quizzically, so I rewarded her with an explanation. But I didn’t change my mind.

Be your authentic self

As a natural morning person, I rarely stay up late and it’s usually me who is the first to leave an evening event. Just when everyone is revving up to ‘party on’ into the wee small hours, I usually announce that my batteries are flat and I need to go home (often immediately). No wonder – we are an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ family. In any case, it is said that it’s best to leave a party while you’re still having a good time.

A useful phrase that we enjoy repeating at home is, “Ce n’est pas mon truc!” (That’s not my thing). Practise using it, as often as you like. This builds on the ‘Accept Who You Are’ idea, but makes that self-acceptance real.

Choose simplicity over complexity

If you’ve got a demanding schedule, don’t make life any more complicated than it already is. A good friend of mine has recently started a new job, based in London. She commutes daily, so has very sensibly decided to get ahead with meal prep at the weekends. This will make weekdays a lot more manageable when it comes to getting home and putting a meal on the table (she’s a single mum of 3).

The concept of tilting – intentionally allowing life to lean in to whatever are the current priorities – enables us to acknowledge the other things that may demand our attention but to find the simplest way to meet those needs.

What about you?

So, what would your ’10 Practical Ways’ look like? Let me know by replying to this post, below.

And if you’re keen to discuss your ideas, why not come along our next minimalist Meet Up? Drop me a line if you’d like to get together with like-minded folk – we have a meet-up coming up soon.


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The most poignant kind of decluttering

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I’ve been a bit quieter on the blog over recent weeks. During the time when I would normally have been writing, I’ve been involved in what is arguably the worst – and most poignant – kind of decluttering. Along with family members, I’ve been clearing the home of my late mother-in-law who died in July.

Whilst I know you can get professional companies to do house clearance for you, as a family, we decided to get stuck in ourselves. Last Sunday (“Skip Sunday”) was the final event in a series of days when we finally felt we had achieved our goal.

Here’s what I learned during the process.

Go for the low-hanging fruit first

There are some obvious things you can do early in the process. These require relatively little thought and can be done quite quickly. Cans of food in the cupboard? Get them straight to a Shelter or take them home and eat the contents. Take clothes to the charity shop (check pockets first!) and return any borrowed items. In doing these tasks, you’ll make a solid start and create a bit of space in the process.

Sort paperwork away from the space being decluttered

It’s worthwhile sorting out paperwork at home in your own time. I brought back papers to be sorted, laid them on our dining room table and went through them with care and attention. This is important; you don’t want to shred or throw away something that you might need later. For example, we had an invoice that needed to be paid. I didn’t know that it hadn’t been paid until we received a reminder, but I was able to deduce that it hadn’t been paid from the document I had held onto.

Pace yourself

House clearance is really hard going. I have huge respect to those who do this for a living; it’s physically demanding work. Plus, for those who have an emotional stake in the items being decluttered, it can be tough emotionally.

Give yourself (and others) time to consider what you might need to keep (at least, in the short term). If you’re not sure about something, it’s worth consulting with other family members in case there’s a good reason you might need it.

Get jewellery valued

If you find a little bit of jewellery – even something like a 9ct gold dress ring – don’t assume it’s worthless. You may get £20 scrap value for each item, which might perhaps generate a little bit of surprise pocket money for the children. Check out your local jeweller who will be able to give you a price on the dot.

Do as much good as you can with the stuff you have

My most recent post considered what to do with stuff you don’t want to sell. Here’s where you have the chance to do something good with the belongings that you aren’t going to retain. That said, be prepared to reach a point where the only things you have left will (unfortunately) need to go into landfill. For us, this required a skip, which enabled us to give our house-clearance project a final push.

Don’t forget out-of-sight places

When we first sat down to consider the task that lay before us, a couple of us had clocked that we were going to need to shine a light into some dark corners that maybe hadn’t been looked at for quite some time. The words ‘shed’ and ‘loft’ were uttered.

The loft yielded a surprising amount of stuff, including some dining room chairs that had originally belonged to my own parents and which we had used when we first got married.

It’s likely that anything you find in the loft may have been what I call ‘Procrastination Pieces’. These are things that are unlikely to be needed (because no-one has been using them), but you’ll have to go through them nonetheless.

Looking forward

At least, with a project like this, there’s the end goal to look forward to. This was an intense period of time, but it’s behind us now.

Still, while we’re looking forward, it’s worth considering how you manage your own space.

In a recent ‘Happier’ podcast, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft proposed the creation of a very useful item – a Facts of Life document. How much easier would it be for those around you (if/ when something happened) to have access to a folder or simple document that detailed ‘Facts You Need to Know’? This saves family members going on a metaphorical voyage of discovery at a time when they could do without playing detective.

In addition, consider the impact of your own stuff on those who might have to deal with it after you die. You may have heard of a more recent phenomenon in the decluttering space; Swedish Death Cleaning. It’s certainly worth considering and there are lots of articles out there that tell you how. If you want to read more, I’ll leave you with a post from my friend, Angela, over at Setting My Intention.

Right now, my intention is to put my feet up and take it slowly this weekend. After all, we’ve earned it.


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Why setting intentions might be better than making New Year’s Resolutions

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Even before Christmas, social media channels were alive with thoughts of New Year’s Resolutions.

Review of the Year

Certainly, the period between Christmas and New Year is often a good point to kick back, reflect on the past 12 months and anticipate the year to come. And many of us consider the start of a new calendar year a good point to establish new habits, change old ones or strengthen our resolve to achieve particular goals.

Types of New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions tend to fall into a number of discrete categories. Some are about improving physical wellbeing (e.g. to eat more healthily, lose weight, take more exercise or quit smoking). Others are more career-oriented or are about relationships, spirituality or experiences. It’s no accident that post-Christmas advertising space is filled with advertisements for slimming programmes, diet foods or nicotine replacements. We’ve all seen them.

However, the majority of us who set New Year’s Resolutions find it difficult to keep them and, instead of sustaining success, we find that our ‘get up and go’ has soon got up and gone.

When New Year’s Resolutions don’t work

So, what’s to be done?

I’ve been thinking about this for a little while and I reckon there might be a different way. Instead of going all out on a concrete ‘all or nothing’ resolution, I wonder if setting an intention might be a gentler, kinder way to move towards a desired state?

For me, an intention suggests something fluid, dynamic and ongoing, whereas a resolution seems, to me, all or nothing.

Setting an intention

Setting an intention is deliberate, but rather than being a rigid absolute, it’s about moving towards a goal (continually and repeatedly). So, if you falter, you get right back onto whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

To reduce sugar

For me, I have a sweet tooth and, in theory, love the idea of quitting sugar as a New Year’s Resolution. The trouble is, this can be a very difficult thing to do when social situations throughout the year often revolve around food in the form of sweet treats (mince pie, anyone?).

Instead, I like the idea of setting an intention to reduce my overall sugar intake, rather than eliminating sugar as an absolute goal. So, yesterday, I experimented a little.

It was Boxing Day morning and we had stayed over at my parents’ home, following a lovely day together for Christmas Day. Mum offered croissants for breakfast but, instead of slathering mine with jam, I had a little butter on my pastry along with my decaff’ latte and enjoyed the naturally sweet taste and texture of this holiday treat.

Likewise, following our return home some hours later, we enjoyed a late lunch at The Almanack, one of Kenilworth’s best-loved and much-frequented gastropubs. Normally, I would have ordered dessert after my main course (I normally eschew a starter because they are too filling) but, instead, opted for an espresso macchiato as the ‘full stop’ to a very enjoyable meal. As you can tell, I’m not giving up coffee any time soon!

To get more exercise

Similarly, you might want to take more exercise, but would baulk at resolving to run 10 miles per week by the end of the month. Instead, set an intention to put on your trainers and step outside the door. You don’t have to wait until 1 January either. What happens after that is up to you, but it’s a move in the right direction.

Some people find it easier and more empowering to embark upon a new activity with someone who can act as an accountability partner. For others, thinking about their future self might be enough to motivate themselves towards a healthier, fitter self. Consider – honestly – what might work for you and set an intention to move towards this new goal.

Resolutions come with a health warning

Whatever we decide, we do need to be careful about the goals we pursue.

In the introduction to her book America the Anxious: Why Our Search for Happiness is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It For Real, Ruth Whippman cites a University of California, Berkeley study in which participants were asked to rate how highly they valued happiness as an explicit goal and also how happy they were with their lives.

As Whippman writes, the ones who rated happiness as a distinct personal ambition were less happy in their lives in general and were more likely to experience symptoms of dissatisfaction and even depression.

This reminds me of Robert Lustig’s most recent book, which I wrote about here. Don’t confuse pleasure with happiness, says Lustig. It’s easy to conflate the two.

My intentions for 2018

So, I’m going to set my intentions around moving towards a small number of achievable goals, rather than proclaiming a New Year’s Resolution on 1 January 2018. Indeed, I like the idea of experimenting and I might well enjoy a few simple living experiments in the coming year.

But don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple. As Leo Babauta says, “Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” That might help us stay focussed on what’s important.

Happy New Year!


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