How would you define minimalism?

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A college student doing an ethnography project dropped me a line this week with some great questions. I enjoyed answering them, so thought you might be interested to see our Q&A. Here it is!

How would you define minimalism?

I define minimalism as the intentional removal of anything that no longer adds value to your life. It’s the modern day version of William Morris’ assertion, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

How long have you considered yourself a minimalist?

I’ve considered myself to be a minimalist since 2016, when I really started to unclutter my life in earnest (not only removing stuff, but also reducing obligations and commitments).

Why do you think minimalism has been picking up so much steam in the last decade?

Well, they say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. Prominent people in the minimalism movement, such as Joshua Becker, have been champions of simple living for many years. What may have given it more prominence is the advent of social media and podcasts, which have enabled the message to reach a wider audience. Joshua’s Uncluttered course, for example, has seen over 30,000 people take part.

Others including Gretchen Rubin, who writes about happiness, habit and human behaviour, have also legitimised decluttering, making it more mainstream by showing how it can impact positively on people’s lives. There’s also some crossover into other areas of wellbeing such as personal finance, where we have seen the boys from The Minimalists join Dave Ramsey for a segment on his popular podcast. David Sawyer, in his book Reset, also talks about the significant benefits of decluttering.

What are some advantages of living a minimalist lifestyle?

Oh, so many! One’s home is easier to maintain and keep clean; you’ll save money by not buying stuff you don’t need; you can improve your wellbeing by getting out into nature rather than spending your leisure time shopping  and you no longer feel weighted down by stuff you don’t need.

Would you say TV shows like tiny house living/hunters and popular minimalists like Marie Kondo have attracted more people to this lifestyle?

I haven’t seen the TV shows you mention, but I think that Marie Kondo’s quirky ‘spark joy’ mantra is memorable, fun and appealing. Her approach, along with that of The Minimalists, Courtney Carver, Joshua Becker and others, has definitely brought minimalism to the masses.

What are some of the most popular misconceptions about minimalism?
Minimalism isn’t necessarily about living in bare, white spaces. Equally, it’s not about living with ‘X’ number of items or being able to pack all of your stuff into a single holdall. At least, that’s true for most of us.

Living with less – or ‘right-sizing’ your belongings is more the way people I know enjoy minimalism; I call it ‘moderate minimalism’ (especially when you have a family and it’s neither fair nor proper to declutter other people’s stuff).

Why do you think the US has the highest standard of living yet people living here are still unhappy?

Governments – and public policy in general – have been slow to recognise the importance of wellbeing in people’s lives of which I believe minimalism plays a part.

You’ll be familiar with Robert Kennedy’s 1968 speech in which he addressed an election rally, commenting Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of success: “Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.”

I’m certainly not an expert on US culture, but a high standard of living has to be paid for and I’m aware through listening to American podcasts that there’s also a high prevalence of debt in society. That’s a negative when it comes to people’s subjective sense of life satisfaction and happiness.

Do you think Tiny Homes/minimalism in general is a solution to a problem America hasn’t figured out yet?

The Tiny House movement is so interesting, partly because it’s the polar opposite to the growth in the average size of homes seen over the last 4 decades. Tiny Houses may form part of the solution when it comes to providing more affordable housing. They may also help providing social housing, such as the Social Bite Village project in Scotland whose aim is to provide homes to residents who are currently living in temporary accommodation for long periods of time.

Minimalism can support this (and other societal objectives). By seeking to live with less, we naturally consume less (good for the environment), potentially enabling us to live happier, healthier and wealthier lives.

People are starting to rethink what it means to be happy and successful in life, it used to be having a big house and cars and a high paying job even if it wasn’t one you loved…So, how do you think the minimalist movement has changed or altered the idea of what it means to be successful?

Many modern-day movements, such as the FIRE movement, are redefining what success looks like. In some ways, minimalism has brought us back to what our grandparents knew: living simpler, valuing people over stuff, not worrying about what others thinking of us and being grateful for what we have. That said, I’m not sure the same message has reached the youth of today. It worries me that some of the idealised images promulgated on social media are influencing our teenagers and young adults in a negative way. The fast fashion, make-up and styling trends to which they aspire are costing more than just the pounds and pence they spend to keep up.

Do you think minimalism is a radical lifestyle?

Minimalism could be radical; it’s certainly a countercultural lifestyle. But I suggest it’s for everyone. Being more intentional about what we own and what we buy can bring positive benefits for anyone. It’s also a more sustainable way to live.

How can minimalism positively impact families?

Minimalism helps families in so many ways. Family life is simpler when everything has its place; it’s easier to locate the things you need; you have more space in your home and you may even experience what Gretchen Rubin calls ‘outer order, inner calm’. This is particularly true for kids with special needs for whom an uncluttered environment can be especially beneficial.

Discover more

If you’re curious about how living with less can make a difference to your life, the autumn session of the popular Uncluttered course ends this weekend, so don’t miss out! The course begins on Tuesday, so click here to find out more.


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Rambling along the English Coastal Path

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Craster, Northumberland

We’ve just returned from a week in the most northerly county of England: Northumberland (so called because it is situated on land north of the River Humber).

Having fallen in love with the South West when our daughter was small, my heart has always called me back to Cornwall. However, when Mr G suggested we explore another stretch of British coastline, I agreed to accept the challenge.

We rented our home for the week through Coquet Cottages, an award-winning luxury holiday cottage company. This turned out to be a brilliant choice; it was delightful, as you’ll have seen from some of my most recent Instagram posts and stories.

Heading North

The first difference to the breaks we’d previously enjoyed was that this was a Friday to Friday holiday. This meant that I finished work on the Thursday evening, ready for our drive ‘up North’ the following morning.

Our route was incredibly simple. Once we were on the M1, we headed straight up to Leeds from where we picked up the A1, stopping to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of the Black Bull pub near to Scotch Corner.

On we travelled, arriving at the cottage in late afternoon, before heading off to explore the beach at Warkworth, our nearest village. It was such a thrill to walk over the dunes and find ourselves on stretch of golden sand that extended as far as the eye could see.

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Beautiful beaches

A castle on every corner

From that first moment, we knew we’d found somewhere rather special. With what seems like a castle on every corner, Northumberland combines stunning, unspoilt coastline with countryside to rival anywhere we’d been before. We couldn’t wait to explore.

During the course of the week, we did a lot of walking, which was a complete delight (even in the light rain we endured when doing a circular walk from Hauxley Nature Reserve, via the water’s edge, and back again). This was life lived at a slower pace, simply and with time to notice and appreciate our surroundings.

Wonderful walks

These were the real highlights:

  • Dunstanburgh Castle from Craster (pick up some fresh Kippers for your tea on the way back in Craster)
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Dunstanburgh Castle
  • Seahouses to Bamburgh Castle (and back) (our longest walk at 11.4 km and just under 19,000 steps.
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Bamburgh Castle
  • A circular walk from the beautiful village of Rothbury, about half an hour from the coast and the home of Cragside, owned by the National Trust. Here, you have a real sense that you’re in Border country; the landscape is more dramatic and the stone properties suggest a hardy existence in winter. Plus, we were treated to our very own private air show, as a pair of fighter jets flew right over our heads, as we crossed the moor. 
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Rothbury

We also visited Alnwick (pronounced Ann-ick), home of the famous Alnwick Castle (but not dog friendly, so we couldn’t go inside). Alnwick is best known for two famous Harrys: Harry Hotspur (who features in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One) and Harry Potter (the castle was one of the film locations for the Harry Potter series).

Nearby Alnmouth (Alun-muth), whose image features on the home page of Coquet Cottages’ website, was another gem. Ollie, our 5 year old cockapoo, was very happy playing catch-ball on the beach there.

Cosy evenings

During the evenings, once I managed to get the logburner going, we settled down to enjoy a glass of wine and a good book. I’ve been reading Raynor Winn’s wonderful memoir, The Salt Path, which charts the journey of Winn and her husband, Moth, as they walk the 630-mile South West Coastal Path. It’s a terrific read (and I’m not going to give the story away – you have to read it!), evoking memories of many of the places we’d visited over the years of holidaying in Devon and Cornwall. Theirs was no afternoon stroll, however; the Winns were wild-camping and completely exposed to the elements, but this book got me thinking about the therapeutic nature of walking.

Walking for health

As humans, we’re meant to walk. It’s kinder to our joints than running but has all the same health benefits (you just have to do it for longer). There’s also something meditative and calming about walking outdoors; the steady, rhythmic aspect of trekking – coupled with clean, fresh air – blows the cobwebs away and allows you to get a different perspective on life.

It seems we’re not alone in thinking that walking is a good idea; it appears we’re right ‘on trend.’ An article in The Guardian suggests that walking is now considered cool.

Walking for good

Not just ‘cool’, walking remains a force for good. Take Becky and Jamie Gunning who’ve just walked 198 miles (coast to coast) in 7 days to raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity – and jolly well managed to raise over £20k. You can check out Becky’s Instagram to find out more.

Closer to home, the young people from my daughter’s school recently took part in a gruelling 24 mile walk across the top of the Coventry Way (some did the whole hog at 40 miles), also raising money for a jolly good cause.

So, an idea is forming (with a little nudge from my friend, Rae). It is said that when men experience a mid-life crisis, they buy a fast car. Women go walking. Well, I may not be in crisis, but I have a zero birthday not too far ahead. Maybe I’ll give myself a little walking challenge of my own. I’d certainly like to return to lovely Northumbria; a few more ramblings along the English coastal path would be just lovely.


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Slow-down hacks for a simpler summer

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It’s been a whole month since my last post, so I’ve been desperate to get back to the blog. How are you all?

The reasons for my silence are twofold: Mr G has been jetting around Europe for work (Warsaw twice; Prague once), so life’s a bit different when he’s not around (all you single parents out there, you have my utmost respect).

Plus, I’ve been spending some extra time during the evenings, sitting alongside our 17-year-old in the car, to enable her to practise her driving skills. Having past her theory test, she now has her practical booked for next month, so we’re keeping everything crossed.

Happily, after what has also been a very intense period at work, I’m really looking forward to the summer. It’s a great time to slow down and simplify life a little bit, so here are some hacks for you that I’m going to be putting into practice once school’s out.

Switch your mode of transport

Even when you’re at work over the summer, if your journey permits it, try changing your mode of transport. My workplace is just 5 miles away, so I’ll be dusting off my bicycle and whizzing to the office via the cycle paths. I don’t want to cycle all year round (the route is not fully lit), but when the mornings and evenings are filled with sunlight, it’s lovely being able to arrive at the office feeling oxygen-filled and energised by a bike ride.

I met another Sixth Form parent on Thursday who told me that she’d recently taken part in the school’s 100 mile charity bike ride in France; she suggested I go along next time. I don’t know about that, but I might just manage 10 miles a day!

Eat simply

Did I tell you that I’m loving Madeleine Shaw’s cookbook, Ready Steady Glow (recommended to me by fellow blogger, Glamour in the County). Full of easy-to-make, tasty and nutritious recipes, Shaw’s way of cooking has me getting meals on the table – from start to finish – in less than half an hour. Even better, I’m going to be choosing her simple salads to throw together during the week this summer. That will leave the weekends for some more self-indulgent and time-consuming culinary creations.

Dine outside

Talking of food, we love eating out when the weather is fine. Last year’s heatwave saw us making very good use of our patio set. This year, so far, we’ve had a very wet June but I live in hope that the weather during the school holidays will be kind to us.

Today is going to be the hottest yet and I am – unusually – at home entirely alone. Mr G has taken our teen to a university open day and Ollie-bobs (cockapoo) is at the groomer’s.

Invite others

I’m hoping to follow in the footsteps of inveterate people-gatherer Sarah Harmeyer of www.neighborstable.com whose story I read about in the latest issue of Simplify Magazine.

Harmeyer’s welcoming ethos is an inspiration to us all; keeping it simple, but extending the hand of friendship to all-comers is something I’m going to try to do more of during the holidays.

Get those jobs done

This week saw the start of a series of household jobs we’ve been meaning to get done for some time. Somehow it seems easier to be doing work on the house when the weather is fine.

Plus, we’re doing some jobs that really should be done in the summer months. First up, we’re replacing our home’s 30 year old gutters and drainpipes and repairing a part of the roof. We’ll be glad we did this come the autumn.

Get your sea fix

This year, we’re visiting the Northumbrian coast for the first time. Fellow cockapoo owners have recommended some dog-friendly places to visit (and eat) and we’re staying in a cottage that’s managed by an award-winning lettings agency. It’s my dream to one day visit places such as New England. In the meantime, we’ll take the simpler route of jumping in the car in ‘old England’ and heading north. We should be there in around 4-5 hours and are looking forward to the slower pace of coastal living.

Dress simply

The loveliest thing about summer is being able to slip on a dress, dig your feet into sandals (or trainers if the weather’s a bit inclement – I’m loving the white trainers trend), grabbing a bag then heading out of the door. I don’t know about you, but I also think that summer is a time when you can afford to dress a little more casually; be comfortable; and be a little more sartorially relaxed.

What are your favourite summer hacks? Do let me know by replying in the comments below!


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Why it’s important to let our teens fail

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In our family, we have a running joke about timekeeping, which came about because our daughter has always operated in a way that is more lastminute.com than ‘early bird catches the worm.’

The joke is that our teen should never join the emergency services because the siren would sound and she’d be calling, “I’ll be there in a minute!”

Being under-prepared

There is, though, a serious point here. Being unprepared or disorganised not only puts the individual concerned under pressure; it can also place a burden on others.

If your child is late for school and you’re driving her, you’re going to risk being late yourself. At the other end of the day, her having forgotten to take her key means you have to leave work early to go home to let her in.

There are other examples. I wonder if they are familiar to you?

  • Not having the necessary PE kit ready (which puts pressure on others to lend theirs)
  • Discovering the list of ingredients required for a cookery class only on the way to the supermarket to purchase them the night before they are required (meaning we duplicate what we already have in the cupboard because we don’t have time to go home first and measure out the quantities)
  • Having to pay a next-day-delivery charge for a new item of clothing (adds unnecessary cost to a purchase that could have been done many days before)
  • Forgetting to send a calendar invitation for an appointment, then finding that the parent you were relying on to take you now has other plans

In spite of reminders that are intended to be helpful, we still seem to sort things out at the 11th hour. Why?

Safe fails

Yesterday, I was with a very dear friend whose twin boys I am privileged to call my Godsons. As the mum of an older daughter who also has a teenager in the same year as my own, my wise pal pointed out an obvious truth that hadn’t previously occurred to me. That is, every time you sweep in and solve a problem for your offspring, you’re preventing them from having a learning experience.

We need to let our kids fail in a safe environment, so that they are better equipped to cope when we aren’t around to pick up the pieces.

Helicopter parenting

As a working mum, I’ve never hovered over my child, anticipating her every need. However, in wanting to be supportive, it could be argued that I’ve been a little bit too eager to step in to facilitate or solve a problem. In so doing, I’m potentially preventing my teenager from learning a valuable lesson.

Living with the consequences

So, what’s the worst thing that can happen if she doesn’t have her PE kit? In the lower school, she’d have got a detention. In Sixth Form, she might be resourceful, but she’d still have the inconvenience of sorting out the problem herself.

What if she doesn’t have her cooking ingredients? She’ll have to explain herself. This is potentially embarrassing but might make her think twice about not being adequately prepared.

Independence is not neglect

When our daughter was little, we adopted a little saying, “Independence is not neglect.” But I seem to have forgotten this now that she is older. I wonder why?

In spite of this, I am occasionally (pleasantly) surprised. Today, she tells me that she not only completed the short piece of research for her French homework, as required. She printed it 7 times (one for each member of the class and a copy for the teacher). She also provided an English translation on the reverse of each sheet and hole-punched each one so it would slot into everyone’s folder. This was totally unprompted and no-one else in the class had done it. If you can figure that out, you are a better person than I.

Maybe the highly-organised gene hasn’t completely skipped a generation. I’ll live in hope.

Plus, maybe I’ll let the odd thing slip from now on. After all, if we don’t make mistakes, we don’t make anything. And that’s a valuable lesson for us all.


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