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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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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