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

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

Review of the Year

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

Types of New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

When New Year’s Resolutions don’t work

So, what’s to be done?

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

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

Setting an intention

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

To reduce sugar

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

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

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

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

To get more exercise

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

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

Resolutions come with a health warning

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

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

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

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

My intentions for 2018

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

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

Happy New Year!


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Letting go and new traditions

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We have said farewell to ‘meteorological autumn’ and, to borrow a well-sung phrase, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

A day off

I took a rare day off earlier this week to spend the day with my mum. We went out for a spot of lunch at Carluccios (thanks, Mum!) and we did some intentional shopping (me: 4 eggcups and my Secret Santa present; she: some napkins and something to drink from Marks and Spencer).

Mum and I commented that we rarely spent time together like this and resolved to do it more often.

Conspicuous Christmas

We got chatting about Christmas, since the shops are already trimmed to perfection (see above!) and the inevitable mountain of ‘themed merchandise no-one actually needs’ was clearly in evidence.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy gift giving but when Christmas seems to equal ‘conspicuous consumption’, my heart sinks a little.

Happily, here in the UK, we don’t forget the ‘reason for the season’ plus we still enjoy a great many Christmas traditions. Children visit Santa; schools enjoy festive fairs and nativity plays; and we love the ceremonial switching of the lights in our home town.

Holiday traditions

Some traditions, however, seem to be waning a little. Do you send Christmas cards, for example? Mum reminded me, “You haven’t sent cards for years!” That’s not strictly true, but I don’t always send cards, especially as the postage is now prohibitively expensive.

For me, it’s fine to let go of traditions, expectations or social mores that no longer serve us. Some things we love and invest time on them, such as dressing our Christmas tree. Other things, we can let go.

Before completing this post, I listened to Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft’s Happier podcast. Like me, they were considering holiday habits they loved to embrace, whilst admitting that there were a number of traditions they’d happily let go. Check out episode 145 to listen.

Letting go

Here’s my personal list of ‘let go’ items:

  • Home-made mince pies (we don’t eat them; I certainly don’t want to make them!)
  • Sending Christmas cards
  • Bought gifts for grown ups
  • Keepsakes
  • Going Christmas shopping

New traditions

Instead, this year, I’ve decided to embrace some new ‘traditions’ of my own:

  • Gingerbread biscuits (to share, to eat, to hang on the tree)
  • e-cards plus a donation to charity
  • Home-made gifts – watch out adults!
  • Consumables
  • Buying online (for our teenager’s gifts, which are experiences and consumables – yay!)

Since it’s only the start of December, we need to pace ourselves so that by the time the holidays are truly here, we can enjoy them and not collapse in an exhausted heap.

So, I’d encourage you to let go. Perhaps just one thing – one obligation or long-standing tradition that you might secretly (or not so secretly!) wish to relinquish. What will it be?


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Sustainable shopping: tumble dryer wool eco-balls

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As the weather continues to get cooler (and certainly a lot wetter), there are some items in our laundry for which we use the tumble-dryer. These are notably things like towels, which would otherwise take a long time to dry.

Tumble drying isn’t energy efficient

Now, I know that the tumble dryer uses a lot of energy so it’s an expensive way to dry our laundry. Indeed, I certainly don’t tumble dry clothes because it’s too wearing on the fabric. I discuss the other methods of drying we use here.

Ways to combat downsides of tumble drying

To offset the energy-efficiency issue, we only dry during the hours when our electricity is at its cheapest rate. We have a tariff, which offers a reduced rate at off-peak times (according to where we live).

To improve the tumble-drying process, we bought some wool dryer balls. These are not only reusable, but they save 15-30% drying time, thus saving energy too.

Eco-friendly balls

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These 100% New Zealand Wool eco-friendly balls tumble in the dryer, along with the laundry, pulling excess water out of the items to reduce drying time.

These are also gentle on the skin, as they contain nothing but pure wool (we never use fabric conditioner).

They work in two ways:

  1. They absorb some of the water, thus taking the water out of the items to be dried.
  2. They help separate the items in the dryer, creating pockets of air so that the items don’t clump together.

From New Zealand?

Balls

I looked for a UK-made version online, but haven’t found one yet. Maybe there is one, in which case it would be good to know.

In the meantime, we continue to use these balls, which certainly give the weekly washing a bit more bounce!

Just don’t let the dog anywhere near…


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3 Autumn Essentials

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The latter part of August seemed very autumnal indeed. This was in spite of a late surge of warm sunny weather (which, for once, coincided with the Bank Holiday weekend).

Last week brought misty mornings, alongside ripe blackberries to enjoy in the now-harvested wheat fields close to our home. So, with ‘back to school’ just around the corner, my thoughts are turning towards autumn.

My Autumn Essentials

If – like me – your wardrobe follows the Project 333 approach, you might be thinking of the 33 items you’ll wear over the next 3 months.

For me, this is pretty straightforward, as much of what I wear in summer will transition well into autumn with a few tweaks. Sandals are replaced by opaque tights and boots. A warm wrap around my shoulders provides an extra layer on chilly mornings, which can be thrown off when the warm afternoon sun breaks through. My trusty tote continues to be my ‘go anywhere’ bag.

So, here are my 3 autumn essentials, all from great British companies:

OSPREY LONDON Khaki tote

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There was once a time when I used to carry a messenger-type bag, as well as my lunch bag and separate shoe bag, into the office. With my khaki tote, my first ‘autumn essential,’ I can fit everything into one bag.

I prefer to take the essentialist approach when it comes to bags: I buy one good bag and use it every day.

This one is lovely: its soft leather is a pleasure to carry around. Even better – its various compartments ensure that everything has its place: keys, phone, purse, tablet, book, umbrella, sunglasses and toiletries bag each have their own space within this useful tote. I wouldn’t be without it. And no, perhaps the contents of my bag aren’t especially minimalist, but I use them daily!

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Catherine Robinson cashmere wrap

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In autumn and winter, I struggle to add a layer like a cardigan over what I’m wearing to keep warm; I find the cuffs get in the way. As I prefer a 3/4 length sleeve, I always end up pushing up the sleeves of a jacket or cardigan, which adds bulk and feels uncomfortable.

Instead, in the last year, I have worn a Uniqlo ultra light down gilet on very cold days. However, this pragmatic solution doesn’t always look especially smart.

Here’s where my Catherine Robinson Cashmere wrap offers the perfect solution. It is warm, lightweight and super stylish, adding a soft hug to the day’s proceedings and it can be worn in a variety of ways. Better still, my gorgeous cashmere wrap – made in Mongolia – arrived with a scented cameo to hang in my closet, making everything smell beautiful. This is a luxury product, beautifully crafted, and I know it will last me for years.

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FLY London knee-high boots

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This autumn will be the third year I have worn these old favourites. And well-worn they are, as you might guess from the photo! From FLY London, these boots go with everything and their hardwearing soles have stood the test of time; this will be my third autumn/winter wearing these boots.

I always have a pair of boots for autumn/winter (and only one – essentialism again!). Whilst it may cost a little more to buy a good quality pair, I will typically wear them over 3 or 4 years, making these a value-for-money purchase.

How about you?

Do you refresh your wardrobe selection or add layers, as the days become cooler? Is there a ‘must have’ in your closet? Do reply below. I’d love to know your autumn wardrobe essentials.


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Being (happy) where you are 

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Kynance Cove in beautiful Cornwall

My husband hit the nail on the head: “You always want to be somewhere else.”

On holiday earlier this summer, I imagined that I could take a boat across the sea to visit Italy (specifically to visit Rome, a place I have not yet visited).

How could I be in such a lovely holiday destination with my head somewhere else? What follows are the thoughts that were swirling through my mind.

This is where I’m coming from

I’m physically present but my mind is elsewhere. Back at home, we live in the heart of England. Our region is as far away from the coast as you can possibly get. So, where would I rather be? You’ve got it. I would rather be by the sea.

What is this sense of unrest? Is it curiosity, wanderlust or just plain dissatisfaction?

When I’m by the sea….

When I am by the sea, my heart sings. I experience a strong emotional reaction when I see (and smell) the crashing waves for the first time. Here, the calm turquoise waters of our holiday resort do not evoke the same feeling. This is not “my sea.” I appreciate its appeal and its beauty; it is picture postcard perfect. But it’s not mine.

My sea

My sea is different. It changes with the weather and can be dark and brooding one day, then calm as a duck pond the next. My sea is foamy, icy cold and dramatic. Dolphins play in the shallows, leaping through the surf in perfect arc formations. I have seen this at Sennen, in far west Cornwall, and it is the most exhilarating sight.

My sea requires wetsuits, surfboards and windbreaks. Dogs run along the water’s edge, shaking themselves in a sandy, spiral. Little ones wearing legionnaires’ caps make sandcastles while grown-ups turn their faces to the sun from deckchairs planted in the wet sand.

My fantasy self

In my fantasy, we have a beach hut of our own where we shelter from high winds, enjoying mugs of steaming tea and eating ripe melon and juicy peaches in the August sunshine.

Out of season, we wrap up warm in woolly hats and wellies to experience the joy of walking on quiet stretches of sand, watching the brave and hardy windsurfer catch the wave across the shore.

Curiosity or wanderlust?

So, perhaps it’s neither curiosity nor wanderlust. It’s not dissatisfaction either. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to travel more and I’m grateful when I get the chance to enjoy somewhere new. Being away (as you’ll see from my earlier posts) deepens my sense about what simple living is all about.

Where I belong

For me, this is just a deep sense of knowing where I feel happiest. For a long time, I have talked about living by the sea. It’s been my long-standing aspiration.

In the meantime, I am perfectly happy where I am. I’m not yearning to be somewhere else. But I know that “my sea” is waiting for me.

On this late Summer Bank Holiday weekend, where is your happiest place? Wherever you are, I hope you have a good one.


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Intentional living

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This week saw the release of A level results here in the UK.

By the time ‘6th formers’ awoke on Thursday morning, notification of whether or not they had secured their preferred university choice had already been posted online by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Most students learned their grades on picking up their results from their schools. By then, they already knew if the next few years would be as they had intended or if they would need to ‘reframe’ future plans.

What is ‘intentionality’?

This got me wondering about the idea of intention. I’ve been planning (intending!) to write a piece on this topic for a while.

This week’s inspiration, which was close to my heart, spurred me onto consider this further.

You probably already know that proponents of minimalism and simple living refer a great deal to the notion of intentionality. It is the idea of making mindful, thoughtful choices in our lives.

What does it really mean if you’re a would-be college student?

Intentionality at A level

When students embark upon their 2 years of study at ‘Advanced Level’, what’s their intention? Indeed, what do any of us consider when we start a course, project or initiative? What’s our intention, aim or plan?

When aspiring towards a qualification, is the intention or aspiration to learn new things, acquire advanced skills or increase our understanding of a particular subject?

Perhaps the qualification is – in itself – the goal?

For A level students, their courses (and specifically the grades) are a means to an end i.e. they are the ticket to the next part of their academic and professional journey. Nonetheless, one would hope that learners might also enjoy the process.

Enjoying the journey

Writer Gretchen Rubin in Happier at Home reminds us that an atmosphere of growth is important to our well-being. She writes, “It’s not goal attainment but the process of striving after goals – that is, growth – that brings happiness.”

Still, 2-year A Level courses are soon over. There’s a transience associated with studying towards qualifications such as these. The time certainly passes in a lightning flash.

Setting your intention

When embarking on anything new, setting an intention can help us to focus, as we look to develop (and sustain) new, positive habits.

In his book, The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav (who was brought to prominence by Oprah Winfrey) devotes a whole section of his book to the notion of intention. I have to say that I found Zukav’s writing style difficult to follow, but I dipped in to see what he had to say on the topic.

Zukav’s key idea on intention is as follows:

“Every action, thought and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect.” (Emphasis mine).

Essentially, Zukav is reminding us that what we reap is what we sow, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Whether our intention is explicit or barely acknowledged, how we approach something new will impact on the outcome. Students embarking upon undergraduate study may already have learned this truth.

However, one fundamental matter exists in the context of transitions in education: students’ intentions may be thwarted by external factors outside of their control. If their plans don’t come together because of a missed grade point or a single blip in a test score, there has to be an immediate period of reframing. Happily, very soon, things adjust and settle. Plans are redrawn. Life goes on.

In everyday life

For those of us well past A levels and university, setting an intention for a small and seemingly insignificant part of our day can nonetheless make a big difference. We don’t necessarily need to be striving towards major life goals to benefit from this practice.

Angela’s story

Angela from Setting my Intention was my ‘go to’ person when it came to this topic.

Angela told me, “I had been going to yoga classes prior to starting my blog and loved how the yoga instructor would suggest setting an intention for the time we would be practicing. I knew that I needed to start intentions off the yoga mat in order to get focused and have peace in my home and life. It’s been life-changing.”

Notice that. By setting intentions off the yoga mat, Angela changed her life.

Just being a little more mindful when going about our day-to-day lives – more intentional – is bound to make us think, pause, breathe and consider our actions before we act.

Mindful moments

Even if we pause for only a fraction of a second before we select what to eat, how to act, what to write, or how to respond to others is going to be impactful. If we are intentional in our choices, we’ll act with our long-term goals or values in mind.

Serious about losing weight? Pause and think of that important goal before you find yourself ‘off guard’, making spur-of-the-moment choices that aren’t going to support your aim.

Want a deeper engagement with your kids? Intentionally choosing to have some ‘tech-free-time’ might be transformative. Here, the intention contributes directly to the effect. And you have the power to make the change.

For Angela, by mindfully setting an intention in her life, she experienced a dramatic change, as she was able to overcome her experience of feeling (in her own words),  “…harried and overwhelmed as a mom.”

Becoming more deliberate

If we become more deliberate, mindful and intentional about the moments, minutes, hours and days of our lives, then the resultant effect is bound to reap rewards.

These effects or outcomes may not come in the form of degree certificates or academic plaudits, but they have the potential to make changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

And if you’re off to college or university soon, set your intention. Enjoy making new friends and having new experiences.

Oh, and get some work done.


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The Tools and Techniques of Minimalism

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In my last post, I talked about the what‘ of minimalism.

This time, I’m going to focus on the tools and techniques of minimalism. The ‘how’ of minimalism is important if you’re going to gain the full benefit of living an intentional life but with less stuff.

This post is long and contains lots of useful links that you may wish to refer to again. Join my community to get access to a free PDF containing a durable version of this post.

So, where to begin?

Outer work

My ‘Unclutter 2017‘ series of posts back in the New Year are a good place to start.

Throughout this series, we looked at various approaches, as set out below. The links will take you through to previous posts I’ve written on these tactics if you want to find out more:

These are all practical ideas and I’d encourage you to get stuck in, if you haven’t yet discovered the benefits of decluttering, which is a key tenet of minimalism.

Help! I feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering!

Start with your wardrobe

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If you feel totally overwhelmed and really don’t know where to start, I always say to start with your closet. Follow my 4-Step Wardrobe Edit process and you’ll immediately appreciate the benefits of an uncluttered space.

Ask for help

It may be that you really need some support, so don’t rule out the idea of enlisting someone to help or even employing a professional declutterer/organiser.

The Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO) is a useful place to start if you decide to enlist the help of a professional. Some professional organisers will even do the hard of work of taking unwanted items to the charity shop, thus saving you time and effort.

What about asking a friend to help?

This summer, my daughter and I are offering a decluttering service for friends, as part of her fundraising efforts towards her 2018 expedition to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We enjoy working together and seeing the benefits of our labours and love helping others.

Get an accountability group or partner

Perhaps you need an accountability group or partner. Members of the Midlands Minimalist Community have access to my group in Better, an app developed as a way of harnessing Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework to create a better life.

Within Better, I’ve set up a Minimalism and Simple Living Group, as a way for us to interact, find mutual support, ask questions, get answers and (if we need it) get some accountability for our goals.

There’s more than the removal of practical clutter, however. There’s also ‘inner work’ to do.

Inner work

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Embracing a simpler, more meaningful way of life means not only an initial purge of stuff, but also a change of mindset.

This may seem like another hill to climb, but if you’ve already had a taste of the benefits, you may feel ready for some habit changing work!

Staying uncluttered

Courtney Carver’s post But I Love Shopping epitomizes the kind of psychological struggle we go through when throwing off old habits. There’s little point in purging a high proportion of the items you own if you’re only going to re-fill the space within a matter of weeks or months.

Remember your ‘why’

Remind yourself of why you’re interested in minimalism and simple living in the first place. It might be that you’re committed to paying down your debt to get your finances in shape. Perhaps you just want to spend less time clearing up and more time having fun?

Living an intentional life requires a good understanding of oneself. For example, if you know that you spend more money on weekends, plan your time so that you’re not placed in a situation where this can happen.

Don’t be afraid to quit

I heard a quote from Oprah Winfrey recently. She said, “There comes a time in your life when you’re no longer where you’re meant to be.” I found this quite powerful.

Sometimes, saying no or intentionally moving on can reap benefits. I wrote about that here.

Where you are will mean different things to different people, but I do believe that it’s OK to change, to quit, to relinquish that which is no longer serving you. It can be hard to move on because that can mean saying goodbye or ‘au revoir’ to people you care about. But sometimes you have to do it.

Know that your life is the sum total of what you focus on

In her book, Rapt, Winifred Gallagher says, “…. the difference between ‘passing the time’ and ‘time well spent’ depends on making smart decisions about what to attend to in matters large and small.

Courtney Carver echoes this: “Usually time is not the problem, it’s priority.”

Consider these alternative realities

If you are prioritising shopping trips over a countryside walk, both your wallet and your Vitamin D levels will be depleted.

If you are continually moving piles of stuff from one place to the next, your life becomes one of clutter management. Get on top of it once and for all and you create space to do other things; things you’ll enjoy.

If you’re on your digital device 24/7, you’re with other people, but you’re not present.

See what I mean?

An intentional approach to life

Minimalism (in whatever form you choose) is a deliberate and intentional approach. The result creates a sense of lightness and freedom. What we do with that freedom is up to us.

That’s rather exciting, don’t you think?


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P.S. Let me know if you’ve found this useful and if you’ve tried any of the tools and techniques at home by replying here. Or email me via midlandsminimalist@gmail.com, send me a Tweet (@MidsMinimalist) or connect via Instagram (@MidlandsMinimalist)