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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Maintaining minimalism

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Having recently bought some Christmas stocking fillers online for our teenager, I am now using the cardboard delivery box to do a sweep of our home prior to guests arriving over the festive season.

Simplest is best

It occurs to me that the ‘one in, one out’ rule is arguably one of the most powerful (but simple) tools in our minimalist toolkit. So, why am I finding things to place in that box, if this is something I believe in? It’s because I didn’t stick to the rule! That summer hat I found in Corsica two years ago was to replace the floppy one I wasn’t wearing, but I just found the original in my chest of drawers,….

Keeping on top of your stuff

As I mentioned in my last post in which I reviewed Joshua’s Becker’s The Minimalist Home, achieving a minimalist environment is one thing; maintaining it is another (especially during life’s key transitions, which seem to be associated with moving stuff around!).

As I wrote previously, it’s a bit like deciding to lose weight by going on a low carb diet (for example). All diets work if you stick to them; you’ll benefit from letting go of the excess pounds and will feel physically and mentally lighter. Decluttering is similar. Let go and you’ll enjoy the benefits but unless you have a strategy for maintaining your new-found lifestyle, the chances are you won’t embed it and be able to stick with it.

Going back to ‘one in, one out’

This is where the ‘one in, one out’ rule comes into its own. When we decluttered my late mother-in-law’s house during the summer and early autumn, I brought home a white vase that had belonged to her. When I subsequently chose an even prettier one that no-one else wanted, I actually let the white vase go (and got rid of another one at the same time). So, that was one in, two out!

The hardest part of being a minimalist

Next week, I’m being interviewed by a media student who is making a documentary on minimalism. In our pre-interview correspondence, he has asked me a number of questions, one of which is, “What is the hardest part of being a minimalist?”

My response will be that anyone can live a minimalist life; it’s not hard. However, there was a moment when I realised that because I use and enjoy all of my things, some of them will actually will wear out! The one in, one out rule very much applies then.

The easiest part of espousing minimalism

The easiest part of adopting a minimalist lifestyle is when you receive something you both wanted and needed. Here’s where the ‘one in, one out’ rule really comes into its own.

With Christmas just around the corner, chances are you’ll receive something during the holidays that will replace something you already own. We are so fortunate to live in an age where we can (and do) ask for a ‘new X’ (insert watch, coat, pair of gloves, scarf, laptop… the list goes on). So, consider the ‘one in, one out rule.’ If, like me, you don’t own many items in a particular category, a replacement item of great quality can enable you to let go of the existing item you already own that may be past its best.

A great way to maintain minimalism

So, intentionally review your existing items when you receive something new and stick to the ‘one in, one out’ rule. This way, when you reach for something you need, you’ll find your best and the loveliest things just waiting to be enjoyed. A very Happy Christmas to you.


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The Minimalist Home

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When I was invited recently to preview Joshua Becker’s latest book, The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Focused Life, I was keen to oblige.

Now seems a very good to time to consider how the items we bring in to our home have an impact on our lives, especially as the ‘season of excess’ is truly upon us. Only on Saturday morning, the speaker on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day quoted, “We are all choking on the fumes of excess.”

I was particularly curious to see what Joshua Becker had to say in The Minimalist Home, especially since he has already written a number of books on the subject. This work is a distillation of Becker’s knowledge and expertise gained over the last 10 years. So, if you’re keen to read (or gift) a book on minimalism during the holidays, this is an excellent place to start.

Case studies

Becker describes not only the benefits of minimalism experienced in his own life (and in the lives of those closest to him), but he also shares real case studies (some of them gleaned from members of his Uncluttered online course community).

Imagine if you could find a more fulfilling purpose in life, simply by letting go of what no longer serves you. In the book, we read of the nurse who, freed of the burden of ‘stuff,’ is able to use her skills to help others in Honduras. There’s the couple who discover unexpectedly the benefits of living in a smaller space when the husband is deployed to an air base in California. And there’s the woman who simply states, “I cannot work or be creative in a cluttered environment.” This one really very much resonates with me.

Home is where the heart is

Starting with that evocative line from The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home,” Becker reminds us of the importance that ‘home’ plays in our lives. He suggests that if you make-over your home, you ‘make-over’ yourself, all of which is without the help of a Sarah Beeny or a Kirstie Allsopp.

As a minimalist myself, I don’t disagree; I have experienced what Becker calls ‘the minimalist dividend’. This is the unexpected bonus you’ll enjoy through adopting a minimalist home. For me, I’ve freed up time and have more capacity to enjoy a variety of activities, rather than spending time chasing after stuff or (worse) managing the stuff I already own.

I’ve also found, like others quoted in The Minimalist Home, that minimalism and money go together in a positive way (I’m in the process of editing my own little e-book on this very subject, so watch this space!).

Step by step

Rather than declutter by item type (e.g. the KonMari Method™), Becker’s method takes us room by room. I particularly like this approach, as there are some quick wins to be achieved by decluttering shared family spaces first.

Becker’s checklists also help the reader know when they’ve achieved all of the potential benefits of decluttering each room or space.

Experimentation

Experimenting is a very good way to evaluate how living with less can add value to your life; Becker suggests doing some mini-experiments to gauge the extent to which you might actually have a real need for something.

The temporary removal of things you may no longer need (a classic minimalism tip) is a terrific way to deal with something over which you’ve been procrastinating. Not sure if you want to keep it or if you truly need it? Box it up, wait for 29 days, then let it go if you haven’t retrieved it.

Reflecting on my own approach

Becker’s easy-going prose is not at all directive in style, but some of his suggestions caused me to reflect and question my own approach. Too much screen time a concern? Becker suggests removing a TV or games console. I would argue that it’s the truly personal devices (that controversial smart phone, especially) that consumes our attention and impacts negatively on our real-life relationships.

Becker also asserts that keeping items visible – and conveniently close to where they will be used – creates a visual distraction. He calls this ‘The Convenience Fallacy’. I would submit that not keeping things in a convenient location is what Gretchen Rubin calls a ‘happiness stumbling block’. So, whilst I concur with the idea that unnecessary clutter is counter to the minimalist ethos, I do advocate keeping items where they will be used.

I also found puzzling the inclusion of two recipes for natural cleaning products. Whilst they might be a complementary idea to reduce the variety of items you might use for cleaning or laundry, I felt this small addition was a little incongruous.

As with any book on minimalism and simple living, it’s useful to consider to what extent ‘The Becker Method’ chimes with your own thinking. Indeed, as any minimalist would advocate, I’d evaluate then adopt the things that resonate with you, but let go of anything that doesn’t.

Maintain

For me, where the book really comes into its own is the section that considers how we maintain a minimalist home. Including this aspect is important; it’s a bit like a maintenance plan for the successful dieter: how to lose the weight and keep it off. In this case, the ‘weight’ is excess stuff without which you will feel lighter.

Becker also encourages the reader to consider how we live throughout our changing lives, especially during life’s important transitions. Here, he also includes some thoughts on how we can ‘right size’ our homes and gain in the process, perhaps experiencing the joy of less work; fewer financial commitments; and more time.

Rest

I particularly love Becker’s idea that a minimalist home supports our well-being and helps us get a good night’s sleep. A home that, “… promotes peace, serenity, relaxation, calmness and sleep…,” has got to be worth pursuing.

So, as you look forward to some down time over the festive period, consider putting your feet up with Joshua Becker’s new book. By reading it and in adopting its core principles, I’m sure you’ll also nurture gratitude whilst being more generous with your time, your money and your attention. Your presence, not presents, may be just what’s needed this Christmas.


About Joshua Becker

Joshua Becker is the founder of Becoming Minimalist, a community of 1 million + monthly readers and Simplify Magazine (100,000 subscribers). He’s a national bestselling author and his new book The Minimalist Home: A Room-By-Room Guide to a Decluttered, Focused Life releases December 18 and is available to pre-order now. Joshua is a contributor to FORBES and has been featured in Real Simple, Wall Street Journal, CBS Evening News and more.


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10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

It’s time to remind ourselves what a clutter-free Christmas might look like….

Catherine Elizabeth Gordon

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I have previously written about gifting with grace and love, but I’ve been thinking lately about ways to achieve a clutter-less Christmas.

If you’re a minimalist yourself, you may want to be intentional in your gift giving and emphasize ‘experiences over stuff’. Perhaps you’re hoping that any gift you might receive would support your clutter-free goals. Or maybe you’re just looking for some ideas that won’t involve going to ‘shiny spending places’, which would almost certainly result in both you and your wallet feeling depleted.

Here are my 10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

1. Try home-made

I’m baking iced Christmas tree decorations this year. Made with love, these little tokens are inexpensive to make, are low-impact when it comes to packaging, and I can be generous in gifting as many as I like. If you don’t want to hang yours on the tree, that’s fine. You can simply…

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How do I look?

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Quiz question of the day:

What’s something we all have, which can inspire both joy and loathing in all of us, but which we can’t live without?

Of course, no prizes for guessing: clothes.

A hotch-potch wardrobe

I’ve been mithering a bit about clothes lately.

In the past year, I’ve bought relatively few things to wear. But, if I’m honest, I feel like I’ve ended up with a ‘hotch potch’ of items. Most I have bought second-hand (and very good purchases they were too). Others were bought in a sale or via a clothing discount store such as HighStreetOutlet. As a result, I’ve maintained my frugal ways, but I never feel particularly stylish. Plus, I’d love to be a little more consistent about what I choose to wear and how I look.

How do I look?

It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. So, I was grateful to have been given a copy of Inger D Kenobi’s How Do I Look: The Year I Stopped Shopping.

This entertaining book is a curious mix of memoir and commentary on fast-fashion,  consumerism and the ridiculous stories we tell ourselves about the clothes we wear (or which call to us from the shop window).

Challenged by a friend to join her in a “shop-stop” year, Kenobi resolved to avoid buying any new clothes for a whole 12 months. The book charts her journey from unintentional clothes buyer to chastened, mindful consumer. Along the way, she provides a number of “Emergency Shopping Guidelines.” These provide a ‘set of rules that will prevent us from making the same stupid shopping mistakes again, and again, and again.’

Emergency Shopping Guidelines

I thought it would be interesting to bring Kenobi’s rules together and to consider them in the light of my not-particularly-well-curated but minimal ‘capsule wardrobe’.

Don’t buy anything you can’t wear tomorrow

Well, I’ve failed at the first hurdle here. We all buy stuff to wear for a special occasion, although I try and avoid this.

In my experience, clothes bought for a particular event don’t always translate into ‘real life’. For my friend, Zoe’s, 50th birthday party in September, I bought a lovely pair of black trousers and floaty shirt to wear over a black camisole. To go with said outfit (which cost all of £11 from the charity shop), I purchased some suedette kitten heels from John Lewis. I wore them for 2.5 hours.

I haven’t worn the clothes since and have already sold the shoes….

Don’t buy anything you don’t need

How often have you gone out to buy a particular item, only to come back with something entirely different?

Here’s where ‘heart’ purchases often trump ‘head’ purchases. I do have the loveliest, seldom-worn but beautifully soft faux-fur jacket. It is absolutely gorgeous. I acquired it a long time ago when looking for something else in my local (now defunct) dress agency. I rarely wear it, but I keep it as something really special, knowing that I won’t wear it tomorrow (see above!) but will enjoy it during the holiday season.

These days, I’m much more inclined to think really hard about anything I buy. I keep a ‘wish list’ in Evernote, which helps me consider – slowly – if a want is also a need.

I also do a lot of research online. It’s easy to forget that there are so many (too many) places where you can buy what you need. A clever search can help you find what you need at the best price, so shop around.

You have to be you. Figure out who you are and dress accordingly

Oh, gosh. Who am I when it comes to what I wear?

Style consultants categorise women into a number of ‘boxes’. Are you an Audrey Hepburn ‘ingénue’ or more ‘sporty’ or ‘natural’ when it comes to your signature style?

Well, I’d love to fall into the ‘glamorous’ category – and really admire others who pull of this look – but that’s really not me.

Over the years, I have – with some considerable enthusiasm – declared myself to be an advocate of a particular brand, in an attempt to simplify and narrow down the available choices.

There was my short-lived (but fun while it lasted) Gudren Sjoden phase. My family pointed out that if you’re going to make this work (it’s quite ‘out there’ when it comes to style and colour), you have to go the whole hog.

There has also been my ‘Duchess of Cambridge’ phase. I am, after all, another Catherine Elizabeth. This clothing personality has been, arguably, my most enduring. I once spent the most I have ever spent on clothes (even more than my wedding dress) when I purchased an LK Bennett suit for an interview. I didn’t get the job, but (at least) I got the suit. Many years later, it’s still my ‘high days and holidays’ outfit when I need something super smart. And I wore it for my current job whose interview took place around a year ago.

My latest obsession is Cos. I love the Scandinavian simplicity and clean lines. I have yet to purchase anything.

If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

Oh, this is so true. You already know that I previously performed ‘plastic surgery’ on my credit card, so there is no risk that I will ever splurge on something I can’t afford. Indeed, I have spent so little on clothes in the last year that this has not been an issue. But I know it is for some of you.

Recently, a work colleague was describing to my husband that she had lots of clothes on which she had spent so much money, she was embarrassed to admit that she cut off the labels of the unworn items before giving them away. Let’s not be like this.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I’m all for this and it works really well. Project 333 makes sense on so many levels, especially if you mostly shop at thrift stores (another of Kenobi’s Emergency Shopping Guidelines).

Here’s something I have noticed, however (and Kenobi observed this, too). Clothes worn often do actually wear out. This is where it helps to buy quality over quantity. Less but better is the way forward.

Invest in experiences, not possessions

Yes, yes and yes!

This is where we have to put clothes in their rightful place. Clothes can play a part in our experiences. Love to ski? You’ll need some kit. But they shouldn’t be an end in their own right. Clothes as ‘stuff’ have a negative impact, both on the environment and on our finances. So, let’s see them as a part of our overall day-to-day lives but not to the detriment of other things, which are way more important.

Change your hair, not your clothes

For someone who has limited options when it comes to hair (short, blow-dryed, that’s it), I can’t espouse this guideline. However, lots of women (especially) enjoy experimenting with different hair colours or styles (in her book, Kenobi reveals her expertise in plaiting, braiding and in ‘up-dos’). A colleague of mine rocks a wonderful short wig and looks amazing in it. But that’s not for me.

One of my own

Beware the Diderot effect

Remember those black trousers I bought for Zoe’s party? To wear them again, I would need more tops. This is an example of a phenomenon known as the Diderot Effect. This is where the purchase of one beautiful item leads to dissatisfaction with the other things you already own. In my case, I don’t own anything suitable to go with the trousers, so do I invest or let them go? This is something that Juliet Schor mentions in her book, The Overspent American, about which I wrote a post here.

Stop mithering

Since reading Kenobi’s little book, I’m glad to say that I’ve stopped mithering about clothes. But I think I need to be a bit more intentional – as in other areas of my life – when it comes to what I buy to wear.

And whilst Shakespeare wrote that ‘clothes maketh the man (woman)’, there is another truth that’s worth remembering. There are only some occasions in life when this really matters. How do I look? No-one really cares.


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