Looking after yourself, simple-living style

Mental Health infographic

This month’s World Mental Health Day shone a spotlight on an important issue that, happily, is talked about much more frequently these days.

I received the infographic for this post via a network I belong to. It caused me to reflect not only on these top tips, but on how adopting a minimalist lifestyle can also be a great benefit to our overall wellbeing.

10 practical ways

Eating well, not drinking too much and keeping active seem like a no-brainer. “Everything in moderation,” sounds like something your Grandma would say.

When it comes to diet, there’s been a lot of news in the media about cutting down on meat as a way to benefit both your health and the environment. Some analyses have gone as far as asserting that avoiding both meat and dairy is the single most significant thing you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. Back in the spring, a piece in The Guardian argued that 80% of the world’s grassland was used for livestock, which produced less than 20% of food calories. Now, that just doesn’t make sense.

More recently, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme featured the uncompromising message that no amount of alcohol was beneficial when it came to drinking; a sobering reality? At least, no-one has said that about coffee. There might be a revolt!

On the upside, social prescribing is a more recent phenomenon where healthcare professionals encourage their patients to make connections through activities such as attending clubs or special interest groups. Since loneliness affects people of all ages, this has to be a good thing. The connections we make through social interactions mean that we will be more likely to care for others (which does us good), ask for help and even talk about our feelings.

Finally, 10 minute bursts of intensive exercise – frequently – are said to be really beneficial. Having just been out on my bicycle in the October sunshine, I would readily agree with this.

A minimalist’s ways

I would like add a few more ideas to the above list. If we concentrate and focus intentionally on the things that add value to our lives, we have less room for the things that don’t. Here’s my list:

Become and stay clutter-free

It’s impossible to thrive when you’re weighed down with stuff.

In a recent blog post, Joshua Becker wrote, “It is difficult to fully appreciate how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them.”

I’d say that’s true, having spent several weeks decluttering the home of my late mother-in-law.

Our house certainly isn’t all bare surfaces and devoid of ‘stuff’ (remember, you can’t unclutter someone else’s belongings). But it’s certainly a place where anyone can walk through the door at any time and find it to be a welcoming and relatively clutter-free space.

Inject humour into your day

Every Monday, I pin a small humorous cartoon or aphorism to my office door. It started after the August Bank Holiday with a fun little poem called the Plodders Prayer (I just needed to plod quietly through the week).

After that, the humour became more focussed on the context (academia). Colleagues who pass by will often stop and chat about whatever I have pinned up.

Say no

Saying no is a huge way to maintain your equilibrium. Courtney Carver has a saying, “I will not say yes when my heart says no.” Wise words indeed.

If, like me, your tendency is that of an ‘Obliger’, learning to say no is a very important thing to do.

Last Saturday night, Mr G and I went to see comedian Sarah Millican. Smutty but very funny indeed, one of Millican’s sketches entailed her deploying an uncharacteristically deep, resonant and definitive sounding, “No!”.

“Would you like to perform at the Queen’s Golden Jubiliee?” Millican was asked.
“No!” she replied (she already had a prior ‘booking’ in the form of the arrival of a kitten).

“Would you like to open our new facility?”
Again came the resounding,”No!”

As I listened (and laughed), I resolved to put this into practice. I didn’t have long to wait.

On Tuesday, it was my WI group’s AGM. At the end of the evening, a member of the Committee approached me to ask if I would consider joining the team. Without a moment’s hesitation, out of my mouth erupted a clear and straightforward, “No!”

The lady looked a me a little quizzically, so I rewarded her with an explanation. But I didn’t change my mind.

Be your authentic self

As a natural morning person, I rarely stay up late and it’s usually me who is the first to leave an evening event. Just when everyone is revving up to ‘party on’ into the wee small hours, I usually announce that my batteries are flat and I need to go home (often immediately). No wonder – we are an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ family. In any case, it is said that it’s best to leave a party while you’re still having a good time.

A useful phrase that we enjoy repeating at home is, “Ce n’est pas mon truc!” (That’s not my thing). Practise using it, as often as you like. This builds on the ‘Accept Who You Are’ idea, but makes that self-acceptance real.

Choose simplicity over complexity

If you’ve got a demanding schedule, don’t make life any more complicated than it already is. A good friend of mine has recently started a new job, based in London. She commutes daily, so has very sensibly decided to get ahead with meal prep at the weekends. This will make weekdays a lot more manageable when it comes to getting home and putting a meal on the table (she’s a single mum of 3).

The concept of tilting – intentionally allowing life to lean in to whatever are the current priorities – enables us to acknowledge the other things that may demand our attention but to find the simplest way to meet those needs.

What about you?

So, what would your ’10 Practical Ways’ look like? Let me know by replying to this post, below.

And if you’re keen to discuss your ideas, why not come along our next minimalist Meet Up? Drop me a line if you’d like to get together with like-minded folk – we have a meet-up coming up soon.


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What should I do with things that I don’t want to sell?

Boots

In the second of this series of mini-posts, I’m addressing a question I received from my friend, Emma. She asked, “Any tips or advice on where I can get rid of stuff I don’t want to just throw away but don’t have the time or energy to sell on eBay?”

Well, you already know that I’ve taken a raincheck on eBay, so these are my suggestions.

Offer to friends and family

When you’re having a clear-out, friends and family members will often swoop in and take things you might have otherwise given away. They say charity begins at home and it’s great to be able to help others that are close to you. What you don’t need might just be what someone else was considering buying (especially when it comes to kitchen gadgets, for example).

Donate

Charities – especially those that support families in need – will often welcome household items that you might otherwise find difficult to shift. We’ve recently become aware of a couple of charities in the Midlands, including Loaves n Fishes. This organisation helps people in poverty or those who need help to get back on their feet after a family break-up. It’s gratifying to know that you can help others just by giving stuff away that no longer serves you.

Re-use, recycle

Don’t forget your local recycling centre; it will inevitably have a ‘tip shop’ where you can donate items that your local charity shop might not choose to stock. So, when you take your items for recycling, you can also leave other things that are still serviceable but which might not be accepted in a high-street charity store.

A penny in the jar

If you have something for which you’d still like to get a few pennies, see if there’s a local community Facebook group that you can join. Ours is Things for Sale in Kenilworth, which attracts interest from towns and villages close by. People on there are looking for a bargain and it’s ‘selling’ but in a low-key, unstructured way. People come and pick up the stuff they’ve agreed to collect and you get a pound or two for the pot.

Cash4Clothes is similar. Your clean and re-useable clothes and shoes are distributed to countries like Ukraine and Romania, so you’re doing some good whilst getting a few pennies (currently 45p per kilo) for your efforts.

Of course, there are networks such as Freecycle that might also enable you to pass things on.

Finally, see if you can find a local group that needs support with fundraising. Often, such groups will welcome things they can sell at car boot sales to help swell their funds.

Throwing Away

There is no such place as ‘away’. Throwing away really means disposing of stuff via landfill. If you can avoid this by identifying alternative options, like the ideas suggested above, so much the better. You’ll maybe put in a little more effort to achieve it, but by doing good, you’ll feel good. Plus, you’ll be a little lighter in the process.


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Roots and wings

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

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

Marking transitions

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

Focussing on the important things

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

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

Desiderata

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

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

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

Anyway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roots and Wings

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

Image result for roots and wings poem

Prom beckons

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

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


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Thoughts on friendship

nature-3042751_1920

When I began this blog almost two years ago, I didn’t know that blogging would enable me to make friends in real life, as well as bring me closer to a worldwide community of like-minded people.

Since you’re reading this, let me tell you this: I appreciate you!

The nature of friendship

I have been reflecting on the nature of friendship over the last few weeks. That may be because our teenager is about to do her GSCEs and move on to a new school for Sixth Form in September.

I know she has been thinking about the friends she’ll leave behind at her old school, as well as the ones who’ll move on with her. Of course, there’ll be new pals for her to make and we all know that strangers are friends you just haven’t met yet.

But how has the nature of friendship changed since we were at school?

When you are young

As a child you imagine that you’ll have the same friends your whole life. Some people do still keep in touch with friends they had at primary school, but I expect that’s fairly rare in today’s upwardly mobile world. Sometimes, childhood friends are re-united when they find one another on social media, or they manage to keep in touch through their parents who continue to live in the home where they grew up.

Make new friends and keep the old: one is silver, the other gold

My oldest and dearest friend is godmother to our daughter. We have been friends for almost 30 years. We met when we both lived in a hall of residence owned by the the high street bank for which we worked in London. This was a subsidised ‘staff perk’ to attract young workers to spend time in the capital. In 1990, this was like being at university but with pay!

I was interested in joining the drama group to which my would-be friend belonged, so I looked her up. We became instant pals and have remained close ever since, even though we haven’t lived in the same place for much of that time.

Circumstantial friends?

I am very lucky to still have contact with friends I made during my undergraduate and postgraduate years at university. I also still have good friends I made in the early years of living in Warwickshire and later as a mum.

Happily, some of these friendships have persisted beyond those specific circumstances. Although I originally met my friend, Lynne, at a local parent/toddler group, we have since enjoyed many years singing together. These days, we meet monthly at a bread-making group, which I wrote about here.

Some connections that you make through work or hobbies also continue via social media (especially via Facebook which is the only reason I don’t delete my account). It’s lovely to keep in touch with people who mean a lot to you and there’s the added bonus that we do meet up (either regularly or from time-to-time).

Minimalism and friendship

I have been really fortunate to make new friends through the contacts I’ve made with those connected to the world of minimalism and simple living.

My lovely friend, Rae, hosted the London leg of Courtney Carver’s Tiny Wardrobe Tour two years ago. I realised, after the event, that were both Warwickshire-based and it’s been an absolute delight to get to know her.

Lindsey and I met, as part of my quarterly meet-ups. She’s been a great friend with whom it’s fabulous to compare simple living notes, as we compare and discuss our minimalism journey.

I’ve also begun to make friends around the globe (some in person and others virtually). What’s heart-warming and encouraging is how virtual friends can become real friends when you reach out to one another.

New ways to make friends

Connection is so important. It’s one of the four ingredients of Robert Lustig’s book that I wrote about here.

Listening to Liz Craft and Sarah Fain on Happier in Hollywood this weekend, I was reminded of the challenge of making new friends in a new location. In this ‘Listener Questions’ episode, one of the questions discussed was how to make friends when you move to a new area.

You may not want to be alone or even in that particular situation but this may still be a time when you can make connections. In his book, Resurrection Year, Sheridan Voysey calls this “ministering to others.” You may not relish being alone in a new place, but if you’re willing to put yourself out to serve others, you’ll no doubt reap the personal benefits of so doing.

That said, as the hosts of Happier in Hollywood suggested, “Put yourself out there but choose people who want to be with you.” As the pair remind us, you want, “volunteers not recruits” when it comes to friendship.

Special interest groups

If you do put yourself out there, it’s worth noting that natural friendships can take time to emerge. It may take a while to become established in a new group, especially if you join a longstanding community of people who’ve know each other a long time.

One possible way in is to join a sub-group. Last year, I wrote about my decision to join the WI. My ‘way in’, in terms of getting to know people, has been to join the WI Reading Group. We meet monthly at someone’s house over wine and nibbles, often followed by cake (of course!) and tea or coffee. Whilst we do spend a good amount of time discussing the book for that month, we also connect in ways that aren’t possible when you’re in a monthly WI meeting of 50+ members.

So, find your ‘tribe’ and you may make some unexpected friends.

And remember, it’s said that a dog is ‘(wo)man’s best friend’. You always have a friend when you have a dog.


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Why I’m supporting Uncluttered 2018

still-uncluttered-blog

Over 16,000 people have taken Joshua Becker’s Uncluttered Course and I’m one of them.

Already well on my way to becoming a fully-fledged minimalist (and having already started my own blog), I had the chance to join the course back in 2016.

Taking the Uncluttered programme incentivised me to go to the next level when it came to removing the excess from my own life.

Getting started

If you’re still looking to get started on your journey to leading a life of more with less, the Uncluttered course could be for you.

Feel like you’re buried under a mountain of things that need to be organised and maintained? Want to downsize, but live with a ‘maximalist’ and/or kids, or just can’t seem to get there on your own?

You may have embraced the idea of minimalism and read a great deal about it, but still felt unable to take the next step. The Uncluttered course may just be what you need.

Practical, useful and inspirational

A 12-week online programme, the course includes videos, articles, weekly challenges and an online Facebook community.

Before you can declutter, you have to believe it’s possible. Created by my friends over at Becoming Minimalist, Uncluttered helps you visualise the home you want, then takes you step by step towards achieving that goal. 

Every Monday, participants receive fresh content straight into their inboxes, providing a fresh impetus week-by-week for the decluttering journey.

Accountability with community

Once you’ve registered for the course, you’ll benefit from being a part of the Uncluttered online community. People sometimes struggle with letting go but the online Facebook community offers a non-judgemental, supportive and friendly environment where you can share both your successes, as well as your challenges.

In particular, if you’ve taken Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz and you know you’re an Obliger (like me!), taking a course like Uncluttered provides the external accountability you need to achieve your goals.

A worldwide phenomenon

I love the fact that, by taking this course, you’ll also get to interact with people all over the world. The team at Becoming Minimalist have created a map of the world, so you can add yourself and view where other Uncluttered participants are based (locally, nationally and internationally).

A quick look at the map today showed that there are Uncluttered folks in the UK as far north as the Shetland Isles and as far south as Plymouth!

It’s not about tidying up

If the idea of tidying up puts you off, then good. Because this programme isn’t about tidying up; it’s so much more than that.

Owning less is definitely better than organising more. The freedom and lightness you feel when you let go of the excess in your life brings so many rewards. It could even boost your bank balance, as you lose the urge to keep on buying more and more stuff you don’t actually need.

Giving back in ways both small and big

I’ve previously written about ways in which embracing minimalism can help you help others. Remember my post on The love that flourishes when you let go of stuff?

I am especially pleased to support Uncluttered since I know that embracing minimalism has given Joshua Becker a platform to make a huge difference to people’s lives – and not just in the minimalism space.

As founder of The Hope Effect, Becker, along with his team, is working to establish a new model of orphan care, which emphasises family-based solutions for children in care. This means that children will be raised in a family-style unit, which research shows can influence positively a range of developmental milestones.

Want to know what others think?

Here’s what others have said about Uncluttered:

“The term life-changing gets thrown around a lot, but this course really is. I went into it with a lot of shame and anxiety. Joshua gently guided us in a way that made lasting change seem possible. My home is much improved, but my mindset is also clearer.”

—Kathryn W., Los Angeles, CA

“The power of this shared experience is hard to explain to people, it is so overwhelmingly positive. It not only provides the incentive to keep going, but reminds you there are good people out there. You find yourself rooting for complete strangers. Together, there is a momentum that drives you through the course. It was completely unexpected and so overwhelmingly helpful.”

—Tanya S., Webster, NY

“I am a better mother, a better wife, a better housekeeper, a better budgeter, a better teacher, a better neighbor and a better friend. I’m still a work in progress, but it feels good to be where I am at.”

—Pam L.

“My credit card statement came today. $1,000.00 under my typical monthly balance! Thank you Uncluttered community. I’ve been at this for years; however, it’s clear I truly needed this group to get to that next level.”

—Cheyanne M., St. Paul, MN

Check it out

So, head on over to the Uncluttered website itself or discover more via Becoming Minimalist. And let me know if you decide to join!

A quick, final tip for you: If you buy Joshua Becker’s book, The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, you’ll find a 25% discount for Uncluttered in the back of the book, saving you money off the usual $89 course fee. And it’s cheaper to buy the book and use the discount code than it is to pay full price—the option is yours.

Happy uncluttering!


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Making room for giving back

Ollie

One of the key tenets of minimalism is the elimination of things that no longer add value, in order to make way for the things that do. When you’re not chasing ‘the next thing’ all the time, you have the chance to reflect on how to live your life.

Last year, one question I asked myself was whether or not I could make some space to give back to the community. Could I add value in someone else’s life?

Pets as Therapy

For some time, I had been aware of the charity Pets as Therapy. Established 35 years ago, Pets as Therapy exists to provide joy, comfort and companionship to people who appreciate being able to engage with a friendly and sociable pet. Usually, the visits are to establishments where a pet isn’t normally present, such as a residential home, nursing home, hospice, school or even a prison.

‘PAT’ Dogs

Around once a term, the ‘PAT Dogs’ (as they are known) visit the library of the university where I work. The students love meeting the dogs (who come in all shapes and sizes) and their visit has become a much-anticipated feature in the academic year calendar.

(I must say that when I was at university, we had a library cat. He was named, appropriately, LC.)

Last summer, I popped over to check out the PAT dogs for myself and talked to their owners. I was curious as to whether or not our loving but impish little Cockapoo might have a suitable temperament to be accepted as a ‘PAT dog’ himself. In fact, the only way to find out was to request an assessment, so we arranged this with the local area
co-ordinator, Kate.

Our assessment

Pets as Therapy protocols require the assessment to be completed away from the family home. This is understandable; if you’re going to be visiting an establishment with your pet, you need to be able to demonstrate that your pooch can behave himself in public.

We agreed to meet at Pets at Home. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, Pets at Home is the superstore for all things related to pets. From cat food to guinea pigs, Pets at Home has it all.

Kate took us through a series of assessments, ticking off the criteria on the charity’s application form as we went along. Would Ollie walk nicely to heel? How would he respond to a stranger stroking him (including his tail). Would he react badly to Kate dropping a walking stick behind him?

We spent around 40 minutes in the store. Ollie was good as gold, although the sound of the squeaky toys was almost too much to bear. Seated at my feet, he would lean over slightly, ears alert, straining to hear what was going on. It was as though he was saying, “I would like a squeaky toy!!”

The outcome

One application, two references and some time later, we were accepted to be PAT volunteers. As soon as I heard the news, I was back onto area co-ordinator, Kate, to see if there was an establishment we could visit. There were three, one of which was just a 15 minute walk from our house.

Our nursing home establishment

The establishment Kate suggested was a small nursing home whose PAT dog had sadly died. As a result, the home was awaiting a new volunteer.

I went along (without dog) to find out more and met the nursing home’s activities co-ordinator, Joy. Over a cup of coffee and biscuit (thanks, Chef!), we agreed that Ollie and I would visit for an hour, once a fortnight. Joy explained that I should expect to be known as “Ollie’s mom” and that Ollie might – from time-to-time – be invited as VIP to special events.

Our first visit

For our first visit, there was snow on the ground, as we in the midst of the awful weather wrought by ‘the beast from the East’. Joy had wondered if we might cancel, but we were determined to make it, albeit we had to remove wellies and other winter clothing on arrival, leaving a heap of belongings in the hall.

We had top billing as visitors that morning; Joy had even printed a flyer (with a picture of a little black cockapoo that looked very much like Ollie) to remind people that we were coming.

Top of the bill

Our first gathering in the lounge was really lovely. I have to confess to feeling a bit nervous but our visit brought people together, as residents came down from their rooms to see what all the fuss was about.

Some were too frail to come down that morning, notably Hilda (104 years old!). So, instead, for part of our time, we went and had a chat with people wherever they happened to be. It was so lovely to see the delight on people’s faces when they realised that I had brought Ollie to see them. To my great relief, Ollie wasn’t overwhelmed; he rather enjoying all the attention (especially as this included dog treats that I had brought with us).

Getting into a routine

Now that we are ‘regulars’, we continue to have our morning coffee gathering, but we also make time to pop and visit those who aren’t able to come down to the lounge. To my surprise, we occasionally bump into people we know whose parents are staying at the home for a short period of respite.

As promised, we (Ollie) were special VIP guests at the Easter fair when “Ollie” helped with the raffle and “Ollie’s mom” enjoyed meeting family members who had come to visit residents.

Mission accomplished

Now that I have time to step back and muse on the subject, I ask myself if we are making a difference and achieving our intended aim. I suppose only the residents at the nursing home can answer that. But there’s something else: I always come away feeling that we did the right thing. Being kind to others is one of the best things we can do. It’s said that when you do good, you’ll feel good. I really agree with that.


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One purchase, one tree

Arhaus_onepurchase_onetree_mm (1)

The team at Arhaus was recently able to showcase my advice on an infographic they were developing (pictured), which includes ways to make our homes more environmentally friendly. Spot the community tip!

Eco-minimalism

A concern for the environment is one of the reasons why people choose to live a more intentional life. We’ve talked about sustainability on the blog before:

You might remember Cheryl Magyar’s helpful great piece on reducing everyday disposables. My own recent post on why second hand should become second nature also sparked some great comments.

We all need to consider if what we buy is promoting sustainability or contributing negatively to the environment (especially if what we buy is replacing something we already own). Arhaus uses reclaimed and sustainable materials as often as they can. For example, many of their dining and kitchen tables are sourced from reclaimed wood.

One purchase, one tree

I liked the idea of a store planting a tree for every purchase. I wonder if you know of other organisations who do this?

Plant a tree anyway

This reminded me that planting a tree is a lovely way to give a “non-stuff” gift. When my twin godsons were christened, the godparents got together and planted a pair of trees on their behalf. As the trees grew, so would the boys (indeed, the twins are now 9 and shooting up!).

During the year in which my husband Andrew turned 50, he also planted a tree in memory of my late grandmother who died during the month after his birthday. I think that’s a lovely memorial and an appropriate way to remember a long life, well-lived. W

When might you plant a tree?

Have you ever planted a tree, or supported a tree-planting scheme? And what sort of purchase (especially for the home) might prompt you to do this in the future? I’d love to know if this idea appeals to you.


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