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 ‘bell curve’ of a minimalist’s home-buying journey

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This year, Mr G and have been married 21 years. Like many couples of our generation, we started small but then our home (and our belongings) grew, as we ‘upscaled’ through our first, second then third home.

I liken this to a classic bell curve. We started little and small, things got bigger, but now we are on our way back down the ‘bell curve hill’. Here’s our story.

A rented flat was home #1

Our first home was a modest rented flat in a purpose-built block that was equidistant from my work and my husband’s studies (he was doing his master’s at the time). I had started my first post-graduate job so was on a teacher’s starting salary. As a result, we didn’t have a lot of money so we managed accordingly.

For a wardrobe, we had a rail. For drawers, we used lidded blue and white striped cardboard boxes (all from Next). Our dining table and chairs were gifted to us, but we actually bought our own sofa (with cash!).

Our first ‘proper’ house came next

As soon as we had viewed our soon-to-be first ‘proper’ home, I remember exclaiming, “That’s my house!”

When I say ‘proper’ home, I mean one with a mortgage. Here in the UK, the obsession with home ownership has persisted over many decades. This has worked in our favour, as we have benefited from historically cheap mortgage rates, but it’s even harder for youngsters to get on the housing ladder these days.

On viewing this particular house, my other half sensibly urged me not to become too excited, but everything eventually worked out. We duly moved in during January 1999 and would own this home for the next 7 years.

This place was a modern two-up, two-down sweet little semi-detached house, set on the side of a hill, which included a large but steep back garden. In terms of living space, we had an entrance hall, kitchen and lounge/dining room downstairs. Upstairs, there were two bedrooms and a bathroom. That was it.

What we did have was a substantial loft space in the roof of this house, as well as a large adjoining garage with its own spacious loft….

The stork came calling

When our daughter, Amy, finally came along (a much longed-for baby), we continued to live in our tiny house until – eventually – we really did more space. We wanted to entertain. We wanted my parents to be able to come and stay over. We wanted a flat garden where our little girl could play. So, we decided to upscale.

Before moving to our next home, we sensibly uncluttered the garage loft of the baby items we no longer needed, but we nonetheless took a lot of stuff with us.

A sunshine house was house #2

Our next home was a 1960 design called a sunshine house. With enormous windows that were set into the corner of the building, it was a light and airy property. This house was a ‘project’, so we lived through the chaos of renovations whilst carrying on with daily life.

Since the man of the house now worked from home, our new third bedroom became his office. A ‘box room’ at the end of the landing was a fabulous space to store…. well… stuff. With shelves floor to ceiling, we could store toys, a filing cabinet, bags, old curtains (why??),  the vacuum cleaner.. and so much more. So, we did.

Our stuff, our little girl and our home was growing.

1800 square feet, anyone?

Whilst our sunshine house was lovely in so many ways, our tastes were changing. The trend to have an open kitchen/dining space was emerging and I certainly didn’t want to be hiding in the kitchen whilst family members were in the living room.

Our sunshine house was unsuitable for alteration or extension and we felt that we’d already improved the property as much as we could.

In addition, my parents – who live 90 miles away – were coming and staying with us fairly regularly. This involved the use of a sofa bed for Amy with us sleeping on her opened-out day bed. My parents occupied our room. But with only one bathroom, thing were pretty tight.

So, when a somewhat unloved, ex-rental property came up in a lovely cul-de-sac just a few minutes walk from our sunshine house, I could see its potential. I remember saying, “I could live here.”

And so, on the last day of Amy’s school summer term in 2012, we moved into our present home where we have lived for the last 6 years.

Enter decluttering

Here’s where my journey towards a minimalist lifestyle began.

When we moved to our current home, we had little need to take a long, hard look at our stuff. We were upscaling, so that meant that everything we brought with us had a home. What we found difficult to accommodate before had its own shelf, its own cupboard, its own drawer. Wonderful!

However, in 2014, I began to see that ‘tidy’ didn’t equal ‘minimal’. I wanted to clear the excess, dig into our carefully-stored belongings and see what we really owned.

I wanted to clear the excess, dig into our well-organised clutter and push the bell curve of our lives in the other direction.

Interestingly, when I drew an actual bell-curve in MS Excel to reflect on this journey, I noticed that that the top of the bell curve came around the 15 year point. That’s when my decluttering really began in earnest.

What did I unclutter?

Oh! The stuff you hold onto, just in case! The riding hat and accessories, Dorma quilt, cushion covers, electrical items, clothes, shoes, bags, sheet music, books, sentimental items…. Out it all went.

My ‘enough is enough’ moment

In 2016, my ‘enough is enough’ moment came when I made the intentional decision to change my life for good, following an intense period of stress and overwhelm. My decluttering efforts ramped up and I began blogging about what I was doing, as well as reading every source of useful information on minimalism and simple living.

Fast forward to 2018

Moderate minimalism is where we have settled. ‘Middle minimalism’ if you like.

Our shared living spaces are clutter-free, but our teen can be messy sometimes (although she loves a good declutter when the situation becomes critical).

As a moderate minimalist, I enjoy and appreciate the benefits of a simple living mindset, especially when it comes to domestic chores! But I don’t unclutter other family members’ stuff. Actually, by modelling decluttering myself, I seem to have taken my family members with me. Except the dog. He leaves his tennis balls all over the garden.

The family home-buying bell curve

The story of our home-buying journey has indeed ended up looking like a classic bell curve. We started with very little, then both our home and our stuff swelled, as our little family grew.

When I began to see that more and bigger was not necessarily better, the curve started dropping down on the other side, which is where we are now.

So, what next?

We are about to enter a new and interesting phase, as our daughter has just begun her first year of Sixth Form. When Amy goes off to university in 2 years’ time, maybe we can consider how we live all over again.

What I know is this: when we’re ready, the prospect of presenting our house for sale and actually making the move will be so much easier now. That wouldn’t have been the case if we’d held onto 21 years’ worth of stuff.

We won’t be burdened by needing to find somewhere to accommodate all our belongings. If we need to let stuff go, we will. We’ll be back at the baseline of our home-buying bell-curve and I’m happy that the prospect of that part of our journey is just in sight.


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‘Sex isn’t really what sells. What sells is fear’

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How many times have you glanced at the front cover of a glossy magazine, stared at an image on Instagram or gazed into a shop window and thought how well-curated, stylish and – well – downright sexy everything looks?

Luxury fabrics; girls with pearls dripping from their glossy lips; that ‘must have’ shade of mustard/aubergine/burgundy – it’s all there. But does it make you want to buy it?

Does sex sell?

The oh-so-shiny (and pricy) periodicals are always ahead of the game. Are you just about to sashay into September? The October issue of Vogue/Tatler/Harpers etc. is already on the shelf. Its mission is to persuade you to buy the next thing (and the next thing) and to get it first.

The Sunday supplements then reinforce the message on a weekly basis with their snappy articles entitled: “What’s hot now”; “What to wear this month”; or “The latest colour story for Autumn”.

All of this stuff looks so attractive, cute and highly fashionable. It looks sexy. But, does sex sell?

Well, no.

The title quote from this blog post is taken from Matt Haig’s Notes On A Nervous Planet, which I’m reading at the moment. What Haig says is this:

“Sex isn’t really what sells. What sells is fear.”

Oh.

What is this fear you speak of?

This ‘fear’ we’ve all seen – and been driven by – takes many forms:

  • Fear of not looking stylish, beautiful or fashionable enough
  • Fear of not seeming successful enough (or not appearing to move in the right circles)
  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • Fear of not being enough
  • Fear of loss

You can add your own fear to the list.

Have we succumbed to purchases through fear?

My most recent ‘fear’ purchase came about through fear of loss. In my last post, I mentioned that I had ‘won’ (bought – doh!) a bag via eBay. In fact, it wasn’t a terribly successful transaction but its motivation was definitely fear.

I had recently returned home to find my bus pass on the road at the bottom of our drive. I mus have pulled it out of my bag when rummaging for something else, but I hadn’t noticed its lightweight form dropping to the ground. I need this pass every day; just imagine if someone else had picked it up or I’d arrived at the bus stop only to discover it was missing?

My intended new bag was designed to mitigate this risk, as it had a small zip-up pocket on the exterior of the bag. In theory, my pass would be the only item to go into that little pocket, which would be zipped up firmly to ensure no future loss! You see? Fear…

Bigger purchases can also be driven by fear

Bigger, more substantive purchases can also be driven by fear.

Worried about turning up at business meetings not looking adequately successful in your old family estate car? That fear can literally drive you to purchasing a brand new, beyond-your-means vehicle that you don’t actually need and that will represent too great a chunk of your monthly outgoings. (Note – Dave Ramsey’s rule of thumb is this: never have anything with a motor that represents – in value – more than half your annual income).

The solution

Examine what drives your behaviour. Behaviour change is key if we’re going to get beyond fear-driven impulse purchases that lead to clutter (and even debt).

Think of all the categories in which you’re likely to spend for fear of missing out; for not seeming pretty enough; for not feeling as well-groomed as you would like; or simply for not being on top of the latest trends. As Autumn is just around the corner, this is another time of transition in how we look and what we wear. So, think about the following categories:

Make up

You know what suits you. Just buy that when it runs out.

If you do fancy a change of product, then do your homework before you buy. I’m about to go and have a make-up session at Trinny London (check out the results on Instagram after next Thursday afternoon!).

The reason I’m doing this is because I have read very good things about Trinny London products but really want to try them out properly before I buy. It’s also a fun thing to do with my 16 year old, before she goes back to school. I once treated myself to some make-up in SpaceNK where the helpful salesperson applied a little bit of product to a square inch of my cheek and declared the colour match to be perfect. It wasn’t.

Clothes

Don’t try and emulate the clothes of a friend whose style you admire. They won’t suit you and you’ll end up passing them onto someone else.

Need a wardrobe boost? Put Project 333 in to practice before you buy more.  In my case, that’s “Project 224” (I tend to change my wardrobe around every 2 months, using normally 24 items or less in that period). The weather – and notably the temperature – changes frequently in the UK. Although we’ve had an unusually prolonged hot spell this year, the end of August has seen temperatures drop back to a more usual level. This has led me to doing my habitual switch-around where summer clothes go and spend the winter in the little wardrobe in our study and the autumn/winter clothes begin to emerge from their enforced exile.

Accessories

Choose accessories that work in any season and buy quality over quantity. I’m not big on accessories, I have to admit. I used to work with a wonderful woman who knew how to wear a chunky necklace and who was never without a fabulous statement belt. That’s just not me. So, buy what you need and only buy what you’ll actually use (not what your ‘fantasy self’ or your best friend might wear.

Be not afraid

So, as the final Bank Holiday of the year becomes a memory, don’t be driven by fear.

Especially if you’re off to college or university or Sixth Form, remember that being you – and being your authentic self – is way better than trying to emulate someone else’s style, looks or bank balance. It’s much better than way and I promise you won’t miss out. So let’s get ‘Fear’ off the list once and for all.


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Things I’ve learned after 2 years of blogging about minimalism

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It’s been more than two years since I began blogging about minimalism and intentional living (and over four years since I began my own ‘Clearout of the Century’).

So, what I have learned in this time?

Stuff accumulates

You have to be relentless in your pursuit of an uncluttered life. Even if you’re being intentional about what you bring into your home or work space, other people still give you stuff. You also acquire stuff.

Stuff (of all kinds) lands on your doormat most days. This is a constant truth, no matter how vigilant or mindful you may be. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so ‘stuff’ will seek its way into your home like a weed filling a crack in the pavement.

Decluttering is an ongoing de-layering process

I always describe decluttering as though you are peeling the layers of an onion. Once you’ve removed the outer layers, you may need to maintain some momentum to keep that sense of lightness and freedom that you’ve begun to enjoy.

So, when a charity collection bag drops through your letterbox, go to your ‘goods out’ drawer and fill it ready for collection.

Your needs change over time

You’ll remember that, back in the winter, I took the decision to go ‘car free‘. Instead of carrying a leather tote bag from car to office, I switched to a rucksack, also using my handy cross-body bag for my purse, bus pass, phone and so on.

Have I used my trusty leather tote? Of course not. And I’m not going to, so I’ve listed that on eBay. You need stuff to function, but if it’s not being used, let it go.

Things need a consistent home

Recently, I have been helping clear the home of a relative who has died. I was struck by how similar the contents were of many of the drawers that we emptied. Why hadn’t there been one drawer for X and another for Y? The answer to this will never be clear, but this experience taught me that:

  • Having one location for similar things means you won’t forget what you already have and end up buying duplicates (or triplicates!)
  • You’ll maximise the space you have if you keep similar things together; they sit well alongside each other in the drawer (especially if you store them using the KonMari method)
  • You won’t lose important documents, keys or information if you have a single place for items that go together. Check out my 3 S’s of Paperwork for some ideas about how to approach this.

Labelling avoids confusion and saves time

This reminds me. Keys must be labelled!

How often do you rummage through a drawer and come across a key for something…. but what? Label those keys, keep similar ones together (i.e. window keys) or use a distinctive key ring that everyone in the family recognises for a particular door or cupboard.

Go ‘all out’ or potter about – it’s up to you

For our recent foray into familial decluttering, there were 6 of us  working consistently to a plan. In the space of a few hours, we went all out to declutter 3 downstairs rooms. If one of us had been doing it, you can imagine that this task would not only have been daunting; it would have taken a whole working week. In fact, I spoke to a colleague of mine who had been doing a similar task in her parents’ bungalow; it had taken her 20 whole days…..

Since you may or may not have 5 family helpers on hand at any one time to declutter your home, I recommend the slower route. Pottering about the house can achieve very good results, but in a more mindful or leisurely way. American cousins, I believe you call this ‘puttering’. Whatever – you’ll achieve your goals and enjoy seeing your space free of clutter.

What you own really does own you

Whether it’s a work outfit that needs dry-cleaning or a car that needs fuel, new tyres or its annual service, the old adage is true: what you own owns you. The less you own, the less you have to worry about.

I can’t tell you what a joy it’s been to walk to the bus each morning, hop on, read my book or catch up with colleagues, then simply hop off on reaching work. Earlier this week, for my 5 mile journey, the bus arrived in Kenilworth at 07:41. I was on campus at the University where I work at 07:56. Brilliant! No need to find a parking space, no need to worry about traffic. Wonderful!

Minimalism impacts positively on other areas of your life

Whether it’s money, personal development, living in a more environmentally-conscious way or helping others, adopting a minimalist lifestyle can really make a difference in all areas of your life.

As I have written in previous blog posts such as this one, external clutter can point to something going on in your life beneath the surface. When you find you are able to let go, it’s possible to discover that living a life with less can really mean a whole lot more.


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The No Spend Weekend

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In the last few years, there have been a number of high-profile proponents of the full-on, no- holds-barred shopping ban.

A whole year of buying nothing

One of the most well-known is Cait Flanders who wrote about her year of buying nothing in her best-selling memoir, The Year of Less. I discussed Cait’s book when I compared the idea of a shopping ban to a written budget in a previous blog post here.

Writer Ann Patchett also had a year of no spending, which she wrote about in The New York TimesPatchett’s year without shopping enabled her to learn to live with “…the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more.” She realised that she already had more than enough and was startled to realise how much time she could save by not actually shopping at all.

A shopping ban can be a really useful way to curb your spending, whilst helping you appreciate what you already have. If you’re paying down your debt Dave Ramsey style, it’s also an excellent way to throw extra money at Baby Step 2.

The “Allowed” list

When you decide to instigate a shopping ban, it helps to devise a set of rules. London-based journalist, Michelle McGagh, bought nothing in a 12 month period: no coffee, no cinema, no clothes and even no transport costs. She pressed her bicycle into service and lived on next to nothing for an entire year.

Writer Gretchen Rubin famously abstains from eating carbohydrates; if she doesn’t eat carbs, she doesn’t have to think about them. A little bit of something in moderation isn’t her style.

So, if you go down the road of a complete ban, you decide your own rules in terms of what is permissible and what is banned from your spending list. 

All or nothing

If you’re someone who needs to take an ‘all or nothing’ approach, a shopping ban might help if you’re trying to be more intentional with your spending.

If you can’t go out shopping without returning home laden with bags of merchandise you hadn’t planned to buy, the ‘all or nothing’ approach might be beneficial. Even better, by announcing your intention, you can also get accountability for your goals: your supporters will spur you on and help keep you on track.

What goes on your essential list is up to you, but it may provide a structured framework to your shopping ban if you decide to give it a go. Cait Flanders decided to allow herself to buy some useful (and very practical) things, including  – in the second year of her experiment – replacement items, essential toiletries and gifts for others.

No spend drawbacks

Initiating a shopping ban for such a lengthy time might bring some drawbacks, however, as Cait discovered during her year of less.

For example, so-called well-meaning ‘friends’ would try and tempt Cait to buy something she didn’t need, or which wasn’t on The Approved List. They reasoned that ‘she deserved it’ or that a little retail therapy was no bad thing. In fact, this was tantamount to offering a reformed smoker a cigarette, a dieter a wedge of chocolate fudge cake, or an alcoholic ‘just one’ drink. Happily for her, a handful of true friends were on hand to help keep Cait on track.

Another potential drawback of a shopping ban is that you also have to deal with situations that could send you off course. That is, if you’re working to achieve a specific financial goal, you’d need to avoid putting yourself in situations where you might blow your budget. For an abstainer, it has to be all or nothing.

As Cait writes, “The toughest part… was having to confront my triggers and change my reaction to them. It always felt like the minute I forgot about the shopping ban was the same minute I felt like shopping again.”

The no spend weekend

Is there another way, though?

You could try a ‘No Spend Day’ where you literally spend nothing, apart from essentials that are already in your budget. That may be relatively easy to do. But many of us, like me, are at their most spendthrift at the weekend.

As Hilly Janes admits in her book Latte or Cappuccino: 125 Decisions That Will Change Your Life, “We spend all week earning our crust so there’s nothing like a bit of retail therapy at the weekend to make those hours spent toiling at work seem worthwhile.”

Even if you’re not buying ‘stuff’ it’s still possible to fritter away your hard-earned cash if you’re not being intentional. So, I propose a ‘No Spend Weekend’ (which has a nice ring to it).

What happens on a ‘spendy’ weekend

Imagine that time period between Friday evening and Monday morning. What might you spend, if you weren’t being deliberate and intentional with your money?

At the end of a busy week, will you get dinner out or maybe purchase a meal deal from M&S or Waitrose? That’s at least £10 (or more) gone.

Saturday sees you nipping into town, where you pick up a few things you need. Oh, and there’s that coffee stop and the parking charges. Before you know it, you’ve spent a few more (tens of) pounds. You see where I’m going with this.

Sunday is probably the day when you go online at some point. It might be the day when you do your weekly food shop online or when you list things on eBay. But there’s always the risk that you’ll also ‘add to basket’ something that you see as you go about your business.

What a ‘no spend weekend’ could look like

Assuming you work a regular Monday – Friday week (sorry if you don’t), Friday evening could be a very good time to unwind at home, particularly if the weather is good and you can enjoy a meal al fresco. Historically, we always cleaned the house on a Friday evening, but have since resolved to bring this forward to Thursday, leaving Friday night for a more gentle slide into the weekend.

Saturday could therefore be a day to take things a little easier. We typically do a reasonably long dog walk, receive our online food shopping and enjoy some cooking (Enchiladas or Burritos are our favourite Saturday lunch these days). Every other week, I also volunteer with our little dog when we visit our local nursing home (we are Pets as Therapy volunteers). After all that, we usually chill out in the afternoon. See – no room for shopping!

On Sundays, my thoughts turn towards the working week. It’s great to get ahead with preparation for the days ahead but Sundays are also great for family time. And, depending on when your Sabbath falls, using a ‘no shopping on the Sabbath’ rule could support this initiative. And stay away from online shopping sites!!!

If you are going to spend

Remember that buying something or buying an experience will both give you a lift, but it’s the experience whose happy memories will stay with you long after you’ve forgotten anything you could have bought along the way. Buying something for someone else will also promote greater feelings of happiness than if you spent the money on yourself (great news if you’re not looking to bring more stuff into the home). And stick to a shopping list. That way, you’ll avoid impulse purchases.

Paying by cash is also a much better way to curb your spending. Going back to Hilly Janes’ Latte or Cappuccino, Janes reminds us that our brains register fewer negative feelings when using a card than when parting with physical cash. That’s why the envelope system for budgeting works well for people: you can literally see and feel how much you have left.

So, as you head towards this weekend (and I’m hoping you’re not going to be stuck in holiday getaway traffic this ‘frantic Friday’), will you consider a No Spend Weekend?


 

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Make your stuff work for you

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I’ve just finished reading Jojo Moyes’ novel, Still Me. I was a book I thoroughly enjoyed, putting aside the other two books I am also reading to immerse myself in this wonderfully-crafted story.

The third in the Me Before You trilogy, this novel takes Moyes’ heroine, Louisa Clark, on a New York adventure (I can see another movie emanating from this one!).

As both minimalist and avid reader, I’m always on the alert for references to clutter in fiction. How do people handle it? What does it symbolise to them? Can they let go of stuff to live a life of more but with less? Is the stuff they’re holding onto serving a particular purpose?

Margot De Witt

One of Moyes’ fabulous American characters, introduced to the reader in this book, is Margot De Witt. The former editor of a fashion magazine, De Witt’s Manhattan apartment is a veritable treasure trove of immaculately preserved and cared-for clothing.

With an incredible, vast collection of vintage fashion including haute couture items, this “style queen, fashion editor extraordinaire” has held onto everything she has ever owned. As a result, her home has become a rainbow-filled walk-in wardrobe, housing a collection including even the smallest of items such as elaborate brooches, pill-box hats and boxes of buttons and braids (in case anything needs repairing).

For vintage-loving Louisa Clark – the novel’s main character – the Fifth Avenue apartment is a little bit of retro-fashion heaven.

Holding on

But why do we hold onto things that no longer fit or which seemingly have no practical purpose?

In her case, De Witt’s quasi-hoarding of decades’ worth of clothes is a way of blocking out the pain of having been separated from her son – her only child – over many years. Moyes addresses this very directly as she reveals that the character “…had built a wall, a lovely, gaudy, multi-coloured wall, to tell herself that it had all been for something.”

Making sure your stuff works for you

Your stuff really needs to work for you. That is, it needs to work on a number of levels: aesthetically, practically or even monetarily.

Remember, everything you see around you right now used to be money. When you look at it that way, you’re going to want to get the most bang for your buck. So, if your belongings are literally stuffed into a drawer and not serving any useful purpose, why hold onto them?

Letting go

In spite of having decluttered so much of my own stuff, there are still some items in my house for me to let go. My ice-cream maker, seldom used, even in summer, now needs to find a new home.

Of course, a kitchen gadget is a small item, but if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I decided to let go of my car back in the winter. Going without a car has been incredibly liberating, has saved me money each month and has set me free from the burden of vehicle ownership. This reminds me of the adage that is well-rehearsed in minimalist circles: “What you own owns you.”

Investment items

Of course, there are some items you’ll keep because you may genuinely only use them once in a while. They might be investment items, such as a lovely winter coat that you’d wear over many years. Still, much of what we retain in our homes may be stuff for which we no longer have any useful purpose.

Putting your stuff to work

In Louisa Clark’s case, she is able to make Margot De Witt’s collection work for her in a professional sense. At the suggestion of the old lady, Clark is encouraged to start an enterprise hiring out her amazing outfits.

What’s interesting is that, as soon as her son reappears, De Witt walks away from her collection without so much as a backward glance. When it no longer serves a meaningful purpose, it’s so much easier to walk away.

Ask the right questions

So, take a long hard look at your stuff and ask, “Does this work for me? Could I let go of it or even monetise what I currently own?”

These questions are especially useful if you’re working to get out of debt and building your emergency fund.

You may love what you own, in which case simply enjoy it. Even minimalists have to have some belongings. So, take the advice of Margot De Witt and see your stuff for what it is: “Do with [them] what you want – keep some, sell some, whatever. But….. take pleasure in them.”

Note

Still Me is Jojo Moyes’ latest novel, published in 2018 by Penguin Random House UK. Find out more here.


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Roots and wings

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Friday saw a milestone in the life of our little family, as we attended our daughter’s Year 11 Thanksgiving Service at the senior school she has attended for the past 5 years.

On the day after the final GCSE exam, this occasion brought students, parents and staff together to acknowledge the hard work and dedication that had gone into the last few years. We also looked ahead to the future.

Marking transitions

As you can imagine, this was a pretty emotional time. Our girl is leaving a community that she has been a part of since was just 2 years, 8 months old. Starting in nursery, she went all the way through primary school and onto the senior school, still with many of the friends she has had since she was a little tot.

Focussing on the important things

What I loved about the celebration was its focus not on material success but on leading a values-driven life, full of family, laughter, good times and friendship. It wasn’t about the accumulation of possessions, which might seemingly denote success these days. Instead, it was about giving thanks for what had been given to our young people in abundance.

Of course, there was a scripture reading from The Bible (The parable of the hidden treasure and the costly pearl – Matt 13: 4-46). But we also heard three readings that I felt chimed as much with the parents as they did with the students. So, I thought I’d share them with you.

Desiderata

If you haven’t taken a moment to read this wonderful poem before, do take a look (it is repeated in full here).

Written by American writer, Max Ehrmann, in 1927 but not published until 1948, Desiderata (Latin: “desired things”) is an incredible code for life.

Even when things seem pretty bleak (and we continue to see “bleak” in the media every single day), Desiderata‘s timeless message provides a sage but simple way to look at the world, concluding with: Be Cheerful. Strive to be Happy.

Anyway

Another reading, which particularly struck me, was Anyway, which St Teresa of Calcutta reportedly had written on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta.

   People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

Roots and Wings

This final poem was A poem to parents…. from their teenage child:

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Prom beckons

Tomorrow sees the occasion of the year, as the young people head to Warwick Castle for their Year 11 Prom. It’s a jamboree of prom dresses, tuxedos, hired stretch limousines and borrowed sports cars (not forgetting the spray tans, hair-dos and make-up).

It’s my hope that, when all the festivities are over and life returns to normal, the kids remember some of the key messages they heard in Chapel on Friday. We’ll certainly place the order of service in our daughter’s treasures box; she may not look at it immediately but maybe in the future she’ll look back, remember and smile.


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