An update on going car free

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I recently wrote about my first few days of being car-free, which coincided with somewhat challenging weather conditions and me starting a new job.

Things have settled down a little, so I thought it would be fun to update you on what going car-free has meant to me.

Patience is a virtue

‘Hurry up and wait’ is the order of the day when ‘public’ is your main mode of transport. Sometimes, at the end of a day, you turn up at the interchange, jump on a bus and are home within half an hour. Other days, you wait (and wait…and wait).

You have to learn to be laid-back about punctuality or be prepared set off very early if you’re keen to arrive at your destination on time.

Sometimes, the bus doesn’t turn up at all. “Yes,” says the cheerily responsive person representing the bus company on Twitter: “I can see the bus isn’t operating but I don’t know why…” Patience is definitely a virtue.

Every cloud….

Every cloud has a silver lining. If you have to wait, then it’s a chance to read (even if you’re standing at a bus stop in the snow).

Reading on the bus is an absolute joy. So far, I’ve read a whole novel, courtesy of Warwickshire Libraries’ cleverly-named “Libby” app and am almost through my second. Mind you, it’s important to be able to see out of the window in order not to become travel sick. You don’t want to arrive at your destination feeling a bit queasy.

Book recommendations

Bus-bound book recommendations, in case you’re interested, are:

Alex Hourston: Love after Love (a writer who is new to me; I loved her terrific book but was sad about the ending!)

Lian Moriarty: Truly, Madly, Guilty (utterly magnificent story-telling and so brilliantly crafted – a must read!)

I’m also reading:

Virginia Baily: Early One Morning (a WI reading group book – our novel for the month of April).

Podcasts?

I thought I might also enjoy podcasts while travelling (and it’s clear that people do), but the traffic noise would mean having to turn up the volume higher than would be safe for my ears (and I value my hearing). So, I leave the podcasts for other moment. But I must tell you that I have laughed out load to Fi Glover and Jane Garvey’s Fortunately podcast, so do check it out (Episode 42 is a good place to start).

A trip down memory lane

Travelling by bus takes me back in time. I remember going by double-decker down to the market to buy eggs for my mum when I couldn’t have been more than about 11 years old. The fare (in those days) was, “Two, please!” That was 2 pence!!!

With or without eggs (possibly a hazard!), riding upstairs on a double-decker is as fun as it always was. There’s that sense of perilously careering towards obstacles as the bus hurtles along, the branches from overhanging trees smacking against the sides of the vehicle, as it continues on its journey.

A birds eye view

Just as you take in more of your surroundings when you cycle, so you get a different perspective on the world when you take the bus (especially on the upper deck). You can peek into building plots and see the development take shape, whilst also enjoying a birds eye view of walled gardens that would otherwise be hidden from view.

Baggage and footwear

A word about baggage. Back-packs work where handbags don’t, especially when you’re walking 0.8 miles each way between home and bus stop, carrying a combination of lunch, laptop or heels). Talking of shoes, I soon invested in a pair of Nike trainers. They’re light and super comfy and also double up as jogging shoes when I need to trot between buildings on the university campus where I work. Walking to and from the bus must be making me fitter!

The downside?

This all sounds highly convivial. But, is there a downside?

It’s true that there have been one or two occasions when our family car hasn’t been available when I needed it. Quite soon after I gave up my car, my daughter and I both had dental appointments in different places, which required some carefully timed logistics to make it all work. In this case, I pre-booked a taxi. Whilst this was a little expensive, another bus-bound friend and colleague reminded me that the times when you’ll actually need to get a taxi under those circumstances are few and far between. She was right. We’ve only had to do this once.

What next?

Now that British Summertime is upon us and we’ve put the clocks forward by an hour, I’ll be able to cycle to work again, especially when the weather is warmer. So, I’ll be able to combine my public transport adventures with a little energetic pedal power.

And do I miss the car? Not a bit.


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Going car free

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Reading about others’ experiences of going car-free is always inspiring.

Advocates of two wheels

In her book, You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too, Tammy Strobel writes about the positive benefits of cycling around her local community. 

More recently, in her article for The New York Times, Elaisha Stokes describes touchingly how her cycling adventures in NYC helped her through a sad and extremely challenging period in her life.

Getting around under one’s own steam

We recently took the decision to go down to one car,  with the idea that I’d be able to use my bicycle a little more regularly. Indeed, there have already been days during the winter months when I’ve cycled to work. It’s not far: 4.88 miles there and a long, uphill 4.88 miles home.

My alternative mode of transport would be the bus for days when neither the weather nor my legs would countenance transport on two wheels. There’s a regular service to and from work, so the bus and cycling seem to be a good combination.

When the ‘beast’ roared

For me, 1 March was the first day in a new job. It was also one of my first car-free days. However, on this particular Thursday, the UK was in the midst of the ‘beast from the east’, a dramatic and unusually severe weather event that plunged the nation into sub-zero temperatures. On top of this, ‘Storm Emma’ clashed with the polar vortex to create widespread disruption across much of the country.

The Met Office recorded plummeting temperatures as low as -15C whilst the snow continued to fall, resulting in significant delays on the roads, with some devastating fatalities and severe disruption for many.

My homeward journey

On this particular day (the joint second coldest March day on record), our cockapoo, Ollie, was in doggie day-care. My plan was to return home from work by bus, alighting earlier than usual to collect him from our dog walker’s home (she lives on the east side of town; we’re on the south side). Ollie and I would then walk the rest of the way home together.

The reality was a little different.

Trudging through the storm

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After alighting the bus, as planned, I descended a steep hill before walking up the other side of the valley to fetch Ollie.  This 10-minute walk was along snow-covered pavements, with the biting wind beginning to pick up, making progress was more challenging than normal.

Following a few brief words of grateful thanks, I grabbed Ollie to catch another bus that was due imminently. This one would take a route across town, dropping us nearer to home. This worked well; the bus arrived within minutes and both pooch and I were somewhat protected from the elements. By this time, the snow was really coming down blizzard-style and the traffic had built up.

Eventually, after proceeding through Kenilworth in very slow-moving traffic, we got off at our usual stop on the south side of town.

We then took our 10-minute walk to our house in what I can only describe as Siberian conditions. The whole trek took just under 2 hours… for a 5-mile journey.

What have I done?!!

This experience forced me to remind myself why we’d made the decision to relinquish our second vehicle:

  • No car payment, road tax, fuel costs, insurance or servicing fees
  • Better for the environment
  • An efficient and cost-effective bus service runs between home and work
  • Cycling to work is fun!
  • We really don’t need two cars, having previously resolved that our teen would take the bus to school for the remainder of her secondary schooling

Day 2

The next day (Friday) proved to be a little more straightforward. There was no doggie daycare to factor in, which made my journey simpler. In spite of the overnight covering of new snow, I jumped on the morning bus at 07:55, arriving in my office at 08:18. That’s more like it!

So, I’m going to carry on. We’re doing this for the right reasons. But it didn’t feel so at the time.

Have you taken the decision to ‘trade down’ in transportation? Perhaps you cycle, use an electric vehicle or have a public transport alternative to a car that works for you? I’d love to know how you get around if you, like me, are now car free!


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Why we should declutter our ‘to do’ lists

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For someone (like me) who is extremely task driven, ticking items off my ‘to do’ list delivers a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. Be they work tasks or household chores, that literal or virtual “tick” against each item infers productivity, usefulness and a sense of moving forward. Right?

In today’s society, being goal-oriented is usually something to be admired. If we have goals and targets, we know where we’re heading. Even better, breaking down larger projects into manageable chunks makes a larger or audacious goal more attainable.

We’ve all heard the old joke:

How to you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…..

Productivity addicts

What happens, though, if we allows this ‘productivity mindset’ to seep into every aspect of our lives? What if every day becomes a 24/7 ‘to do’ list?

I’m currently reading Tiffany Dufu’s Drop the Ball. It’s a book I’d resisted for a while, as I felt uncomfortable with its key tenet: that women were shouldering more of the domestic burden than men and that, to redress the balance, women needed to ‘drop the ball’. Nonetheless, I was intrigued. Plus, Warwickshire libraries delivered the e-book version to me in the click of a button so here we are. I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t tell me how it ends!

Jot it all down

In Chapter 5, Dufu addresses the issue of the never-ending ‘to do’ list. She describes a coaching exercise she leads in which she asks women to jot down every single thing they expect to achieve in the coming 24 hour period. That includes every achievement, no matter how small, such as making breakfast or scheduling an appointment.

Before you read on, you may like to try this.

Participants are then invited to do the maths to calculate how long they think all of these achievements will really take.

Tried it?

Dufu’s declaration that she has never encountered anyone who could realistically complete all of her tasks in less than 24 hours is unsurprising. As she writes, “The point of the exercise is to show that just making lists and trying to get everything on them completed is not a winning strategy. Trying to do it all guarantees only one result: burnout.”

The endless ‘to do’ list

Are you, like me, a sucker for a nice ‘to do’ list? In a professional setting, it’s natural and desirable to use a variety of tools to help keep all the plates spinning. Indeed, my highly-productive and efficient colleague, Cheryl, even has the following mantra on her office mug: Get Stuff Done.

But do we need to adopt this sort of mindset at home, particularly at weekends?

For sure, there are times when you absolutely need a list. Imagine you’re organising a family gathering or planning something significant like a wedding. You’re going to need to need to approach it like you’re about to embark upon a military operation in a theatre of war! Especially where family is involved…

What’s a Weekend?

/wiːkˈɛnd,ˈwiːkɛnd/
noun
Saturday and Sunday, especially regarded as a time for leisure

In the wonderful Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess, delivers one of her classic lines, “What is a weekend?”

Although the concept of ‘weekend’ has been part of our culture for many decades, full time workers may still ask themselves, “What weekend?” when they return to the workplace after a busy two days at home.

Setting yourself (or others) a set of tasks, or weekend jobs, runs counter to the idea that a weekend is supposed to be for doing what you enjoy; recharging your batteries; having a slow start; or – dare I suggest it – doing nothing at all?

I was always a woman on a mission when it came to weekend planning. I’d have my iPad at the bedside with the notes app primed to receive my usual set of household chores. I’d sometimes ring the changes and jot tasks down on pen and paper. Either way, there’d always be a list.

Letting go

Just lately, I’ve decided to let go. And whilst each weekend day follows more of a meandering path, jobs still get done. Meals get cooked. Washing is washed, dried, ironed and put away. The recycling is put out. The dog is walked twice a day. And I no longer feel the urge to go about my day in an energy-driven frenzy of activity, no matter how rewarding this might feel.

Reading the message behind Tiffany Dufu’s exercise reminded me that I’m on the right track. There’ll never be enough hours in the day, so why beat yourself up if you haven’t ticked off everything on the list you created for yourself?

Going a step further

Courtney Carver’s Soulful Simplicity introduced me to the Italian notion of dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing. I haven’t mastered that particular art just yet, but my virtual ‘to do’ list can take a hike.


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Do you know the difference between pleasure and happiness?

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Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness? Can you explain how reward differs from contentment? Robert Lustig certainly can and his latest book, The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science behind the Corporate Takeover of our Bodies and Brains, has something powerful to say about happiness and wellbeing.

About Robert Lustig

Robert Lustig MD is perhaps best known for his bestseller, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.

These are not minimalist book titles!

Lustig is a professor of paediatrics, as well as being chief science officer of EatREAL, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. His latest work argues that the corporate world has manipulated us specifically to get us to buy junk we don’t need. It’s an argument you may have come across before, but here we are offered the science behind the message.

We have been ‘manipulated’

Lustig argues that business has conflated pleasure with happiness and “with clear-cut intent” to get us to engage with behaviours that result in society feeling, “…fat, sick, stupid, broke, addicted, depressed and most decidedly unhappy.”

Recognise that rush of pleasure when you:

  • bite into something super sweet and delicious?
  • purchase something shiny and new?
  • see a notification on your smartphone?

That rush is one of dopamine, bringing fleeting reward or pleasure, but this is only ever short-lived and ends up with you wanting more. These things are genuinely addictive.

There is another way

By contrast, Lustig argues that the ‘happy chemical’, serotonin, provides longer-term contentment. He explains the difference between the dopamine effect, which creates, “That feels good. I want more.” versus the seratonin effect that brings about a sense of, “That feels good. I have enough.”

As Lustig says, it’s about understanding the difference between chasing fleeting reward and longer-lasting contentment.

How do we achieve this?

With clear scientific evidence to back up his argument, Lustig argues that real contentment is to be found through his 4 C’s, which increase serotonin in the brain to promote well-being. 

They are:

  • Connect
  • Contribute
  • Cope
  • Cook

I’ll use these themes as categories on future blog posts, so be sure to look out for them.

What it means in practice

Connect

Actively participate in actual social interactions. Social engagement or emotional bonding correlates with contentment, says Lustig.

Facebook (by way of an example) does not count here. Lustig explains the more people use Facebook, the less “subjective well-being” they experience. Just as a diet of processed food fails to support our well-being, so our daily “digital diet” is also doing us harm.

Contribute

By contributing to society (perhaps through work, volunteering or other activities), this (again) increases contentment through feelings of self-worth. Ever read stories of people who gave up their Christmas Day to help at a shelter for the homeless? These volunteers’ feelings of well-being can be directly attributed to the feel-good factor associated with contribution.

Cope

This is mega important. Sleep better, be more mindful, exercise more. These coping strategies are essential to our well-being.

Simply:

  • Get your 8 hours
  • Don’t multi-task
  • Be more mindful or intentional in how you approach your day-to-day activities
  • Take exercise

Cook

The JERF (Just Eat Real Food) message has been around for a while but Lustig makes a particular case for cooking for ourselves, for our friends and for our families. If we do this, we’ll not only be eating foods that can boost that happy chemical, serotonin, but we’ll also be contributing and connecting as well. And sugar is a no no. Period.

All together now

Taken together, these 4 C’s provide the essential support we need to move away from transient moments of reward (pleasure) to a more contented state (happiness).

As a minimalist, reading this book gave me an insight into why we know – instinctively – that more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness. When it comes to more, it’s more of the 4 C’s we really need.

Lustig’s work is based on solid science; it’s not an easy read, but if you’ve ever battled with overcoming negative habits or been concerned that your time spent on social media isn’t adding to your subjective well-being, this book explains why.


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