Declaring email bankruptcy

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There’s something distinctly unfunny about writing a whole blog post on managing emails, only to make a monumental error and lose the whole post. That just happened to me!

So, this feels a bit like having to re-do a piece of homework, but I hope that – on reading this post – you’ll feel it was worthwhile topic of conversation.

Simplifying your inbox

So much of our working lives revolve around composing, reviewing, reading, forwarding, saving, filing, retrieving – or even recalling – those little electronic postcards we call email.

Like me, if you have already been successful in simplifying other aspects of your life, applying some organisational principles to electronic mail is another step towards minimalism.

Emails falling like raindrops

On Bank Holiday Monday (Memorial Day to my lovely US readers), I spent some time that morning sitting at my breakfast bar, catching up on work emails.

Whilst it could be argued that I shouldn’t be doing this, the reality was that I’d had a very full diary during the preceding week, so there were quite a few emails that needed even just a little attention. This quiet couple of hours, with a lovely cup of coffee at my side, meant that I could regain a sense of overall control and feel positive about resuming work the following day knowing that I was on top of things.

Is email ‘real’ work?

If you listen to Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcast, you may have heard the episode in which Laura suggests allotting specific time slots during the day for handling email correspondence.

This is a good idea, as you can then close your mailbox when undertaking other focused activities and avoid the lure of dealing with a quick message as soon as it arrives. In my case, I have switched off notifications and I try to make sure I’ve retrieved anything I need from my mailbox, before embarking on a non-email task.

Interruptions are sometimes welcome, but the reality is that they are such a distraction that we can take some time to recover and re-focus on the task in hand.

That said, email isn’t just ‘noise’. In my organisation, it is “real work” so we can’t ignore it.

Managing the inbox

I’ve written about this before, but when I’m having a proper sprint through my inbox, I’ll intentionally sort received items by Subject. This way, if there’s been a conversation on a particular topic, I can delete all but the very latest message and see the whole trail in one email.

I’m now also much more inclined to press ‘delete’ on as many messages as possible and don’t need to file anything that’s just a casual ‘thank you’ or acknowledgement.

Surely, there are other ways to communicate?

I work in Higher Education, so some of my colleagues with teaching-focussed roles find that handling email becomes even more of a challenge for them, as they aren’t seated at a desk all of the time. Recently, we’ve been discussing how we can improve internal communications to this group of staff, so that they perhaps receive a digest of items on a regular basis, rather than a drip-drip-drip of regular emails.

For my own part, wherever possible, I pick up the phone to speak to someone, rather than sending yet another message.

What do you do in your workplace?

What about personal emails?

I use gmail for personal mail, but I want to avoid it becoming ‘grrr-mail’. I want to read ‘good-mail’!

So, I have deliberately and very intentionally unsubscribed from practically all the marketing emails that I used to receive. This way, the only mail that comes through my virtual letterbox is genuinely useful, informative or necessary.

Listening to one of my favourite podcasts recently, I was struck by a suggestion that a great happiness hack would be to ‘declare bankruptcy’ on a mailbox that had simply got out of hand. Surely, this is the ultimate digital declutter?!  I find the financial analogy amusing but could we (dare we) go that far?

Have you ever done that? However tempting that may be, I don’t think I’d delete an account (or walk away from it), unless I’d really wound it down properly.

P.S.

Of course, the irony of this is not lost on me; I know this post is likely to be coming to you via your own inbox (and I’m glad you’re there!). So drop me a line via email (ha ha!) or reply to this post by clicking on ‘reply’ below. I’d love to hear from you.


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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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Tidying up with Marie Kondo

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We don’t have Netflix at home, but I had the chance recently to take a sneaky peak at Marie Kondo’s new show, Tidying up with Marie Kondo. Have you seen it?

The family whose story I watched were overwhelmed with stuff in their modest (albeit still spacious by UK standards) home.

This certainly wasn’t the worst example you might ever see on the telly; hoarding programmes show far worse examples. Nonetheless, there was stuff on the surfaces; clothes bursting from cupboards; inadequate storage; and mountains of unwashed dishes in the kitchen.

In particular, the couple (with two young children) seemed jaded and disconnected and were generally out of sorts. Could the KonMari Method™ make a difference in their lives?

Spark joy

I’m always surprised when I see the neat and diminutive figure of Marie Kondo on the television or in YouTube clips. Seemingly unconcerned by the sheer volume of the clutter her clients have to deal with, she immediately embraces the task in hand, repeating her tried and tested approach with unwavering positivity. The trick, of course, is that that the families – her clients – are doing the hard work under her expert guidance.

The key question Kondo asks of every item being considered is this: “Does it spark joy?” She invites the owner to handle every item, consider it, then thank it for its service, before it is placed in the relevant pile (trash, donate, keep).

Gratitude

Gratitude is a practice that brings about a great many positive benefits. Yet, how many of us show appreciation for the homes in which we live (or for the items that serve us)?

Our own house is coming up to being 30 years old, so certain aspects are really starting to show their age. Instead of expressing gratitude for our home, we invariably see the downsides (for example, the shabby kitchen or the myriad areas that need redecorating).

Kondo begins her time with clients expressing gratitude. In the episode I watched, she placed herself in a kneeling position on the rug in the family’s living room. Closing her eyes, and encouraging the family to join her, she performed a little ritual in which she acknowledged the house and said thank you. To the viewer, this can seem a little quirky, but it seemed to create a collective ‘deep breath’ before the family set to work.

Start with your closet

All minimalists say it, but I’ll say it again. Your wardrobe is the very best place to start if you want to lighten the load. Like a room within a room, your closet presents an opportunity to sort through a discrete space and derive some immediate benefits.

I’ve written about this before, so head on over to my earlier blog post if you’d like to follow my step-by-step approach.

Simple techniques

Kondo is very good at demonstrating how it’s useful to store similar things together. In the kitchen, for example, she shows how putting similar sized utensils together helps them sit more neatly in the drawer.

We do a similar thing at home with knives. Sounds a bit nerdy? Maybe, but you’ll find what you need and avoid the frustration of having to rummage through a jumble of objects when you want to find something.

Folding

Kondo’s method of folding items into little rectangles looks, at first, like a type of game-show challenge. Yet, how much more easy it is to locate what you need, when things are stacked neatly into drawers? If you have a lot of items to store, the KonMari™ folding method is certainly a very good way to making more visible what you own.

Instead of stacking items on top of one another, as in the above photo, Kondo’s approach allows you to see everything you own when you open the drawer.

For smaller items, compartmentalising drawers with little boxes certainly helps in this regard; it’s something I’ve done for a while and you don’t need special containers to do it successfully. A shoe box, or a smaller cardboard presentation or gift box can be used to great effect.

By the end of the episode I watched, the whole group was busy folding (a family that folds together stays together!?)

Enjoying the special souvenirs

If clothes are the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of tidying up, then ‘souvenirs’ (as Kondo calls them) or sentimental items are the ones that sit highest on the tree of decluttering.

Wedding DVDs and photographs (for example), can end up being consigned to the garage and never enjoyed. That’s certainly what had happened to the KonMari™ family in the Netflix episode.

In our case, we have a small collection of DVDs that are very precious to us. Kept in a small basket inside the cupboard of our TV stand (and in paper envelopes, not bulky plastic cases), these little videos offer a glimpse of our family’s past.

In particular, my father – an amateur videographer – has captured some lovely moments from when our daughter was little. These priceless momentos take up little room and while we don’t watch them every day, we do enjoy them. So, bring them in from the garage or dig them out of the loft: you’ll never watch them if they’re inaccessible.

Togetherness

In the concluding part of the ‘Tidying up’ episode, it was clear that the outer order generated through the family’s efforts had resulted in a much greater sense of inner calm and togetherness.

It’s hard to know if this was simply a result of the couple’s shared enterprise, or if getting rid of the excess had truly made a difference to the life of the family. I’d like to think it was a bit of both. Just 3 days ago, the New York Times published an article, which cited recent research on the impact of clutter on wellbeing.

So, are you a KonMari™ fan? Does her method of tackling clutter by category work for you or do you prefer to go room by room? Let me know by replying to this post below.

Next up on the blog: Circadian rhythms and 2 meals per day…


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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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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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No learning is wasted

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

Inspiring women

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

Starting out…

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

…At the bottom

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

London life

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

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

Moving forward

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

Loving learning

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

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

What next?

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

Listen to your gut

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

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

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

Living minimally

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

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


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The most poignant kind of decluttering

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

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

Here’s what I learned during the process.

Go for the low-hanging fruit first

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

Sort paperwork away from the space being decluttered

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

Pace yourself

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

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

Get jewellery valued

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

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

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

Don’t forget out-of-sight places

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

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

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

Looking forward

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

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

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

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

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


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