Rambling along the English Coastal Path

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Craster, Northumberland

We’ve just returned from a week in the most northerly county of England: Northumberland (so called because it is situated on land north of the River Humber).

Having fallen in love with the South West when our daughter was small, my heart has always called me back to Cornwall. However, when Mr G suggested we explore another stretch of British coastline, I agreed to accept the challenge.

We rented our home for the week through Coquet Cottages, an award-winning luxury holiday cottage company. This turned out to be a brilliant choice; it was delightful, as you’ll have seen from some of my most recent Instagram posts and stories.

Heading North

The first difference to the breaks we’d previously enjoyed was that this was a Friday to Friday holiday. This meant that I finished work on the Thursday evening, ready for our drive ‘up North’ the following morning.

Our route was incredibly simple. Once we were on the M1, we headed straight up to Leeds from where we picked up the A1, stopping to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of the Black Bull pub near to Scotch Corner.

On we travelled, arriving at the cottage in late afternoon, before heading off to explore the beach at Warkworth, our nearest village. It was such a thrill to walk over the dunes and find ourselves on stretch of golden sand that extended as far as the eye could see.

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Beautiful beaches

A castle on every corner

From that first moment, we knew we’d found somewhere rather special. With what seems like a castle on every corner, Northumberland combines stunning, unspoilt coastline with countryside to rival anywhere we’d been before. We couldn’t wait to explore.

During the course of the week, we did a lot of walking, which was a complete delight (even in the light rain we endured when doing a circular walk from Hauxley Nature Reserve, via the water’s edge, and back again). This was life lived at a slower pace, simply and with time to notice and appreciate our surroundings.

Wonderful walks

These were the real highlights:

  • Dunstanburgh Castle from Craster (pick up some fresh Kippers for your tea on the way back in Craster)
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Dunstanburgh Castle
  • Seahouses to Bamburgh Castle (and back) (our longest walk at 11.4 km and just under 19,000 steps.
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Bamburgh Castle
  • A circular walk from the beautiful village of Rothbury, about half an hour from the coast and the home of Cragside, owned by the National Trust. Here, you have a real sense that you’re in Border country; the landscape is more dramatic and the stone properties suggest a hardy existence in winter. Plus, we were treated to our very own private air show, as a pair of fighter jets flew right over our heads, as we crossed the moor. 
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Rothbury

We also visited Alnwick (pronounced Ann-ick), home of the famous Alnwick Castle (but not dog friendly, so we couldn’t go inside). Alnwick is best known for two famous Harrys: Harry Hotspur (who features in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part One) and Harry Potter (the castle was one of the film locations for the Harry Potter series).

Nearby Alnmouth (Alun-muth), whose image features on the home page of Coquet Cottages’ website, was another gem. Ollie, our 5 year old cockapoo, was very happy playing catch-ball on the beach there.

Cosy evenings

During the evenings, once I managed to get the logburner going, we settled down to enjoy a glass of wine and a good book. I’ve been reading Raynor Winn’s wonderful memoir, The Salt Path, which charts the journey of Winn and her husband, Moth, as they walk the 630-mile South West Coastal Path. It’s a terrific read (and I’m not going to give the story away – you have to read it!), evoking memories of many of the places we’d visited over the years of holidaying in Devon and Cornwall. Theirs was no afternoon stroll, however; the Winns were wild-camping and completely exposed to the elements, but this book got me thinking about the therapeutic nature of walking.

Walking for health

As humans, we’re meant to walk. It’s kinder to our joints than running but has all the same health benefits (you just have to do it for longer). There’s also something meditative and calming about walking outdoors; the steady, rhythmic aspect of trekking – coupled with clean, fresh air – blows the cobwebs away and allows you to get a different perspective on life.

It seems we’re not alone in thinking that walking is a good idea; it appears we’re right ‘on trend.’ An article in The Guardian suggests that walking is now considered cool.

Walking for good

Not just ‘cool’, walking remains a force for good. Take Becky and Jamie Gunning who’ve just walked 198 miles (coast to coast) in 7 days to raise money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity – and jolly well managed to raise over £20k. You can check out Becky’s Instagram to find out more.

Closer to home, the young people from my daughter’s school recently took part in a gruelling 24 mile walk across the top of the Coventry Way (some did the whole hog at 40 miles), also raising money for a jolly good cause.

So, an idea is forming (with a little nudge from my friend, Rae). It is said that when men experience a mid-life crisis, they buy a fast car. Women go walking. Well, I may not be in crisis, but I have a zero birthday not too far ahead. Maybe I’ll give myself a little walking challenge of my own. I’d certainly like to return to lovely Northumbria; a few more ramblings along the English coastal path would be just lovely.


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Slow-down hacks for a simpler summer

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It’s been a whole month since my last post, so I’ve been desperate to get back to the blog. How are you all?

The reasons for my silence are twofold: Mr G has been jetting around Europe for work (Warsaw twice; Prague once), so life’s a bit different when he’s not around (all you single parents out there, you have my utmost respect).

Plus, I’ve been spending some extra time during the evenings, sitting alongside our 17-year-old in the car, to enable her to practise her driving skills. Having past her theory test, she now has her practical booked for next month, so we’re keeping everything crossed.

Happily, after what has also been a very intense period at work, I’m really looking forward to the summer. It’s a great time to slow down and simplify life a little bit, so here are some hacks for you that I’m going to be putting into practice once school’s out.

Switch your mode of transport

Even when you’re at work over the summer, if your journey permits it, try changing your mode of transport. My workplace is just 5 miles away, so I’ll be dusting off my bicycle and whizzing to the office via the cycle paths. I don’t want to cycle all year round (the route is not fully lit), but when the mornings and evenings are filled with sunlight, it’s lovely being able to arrive at the office feeling oxygen-filled and energised by a bike ride.

I met another Sixth Form parent on Thursday who told me that she’d recently taken part in the school’s 100 mile charity bike ride in France; she suggested I go along next time. I don’t know about that, but I might just manage 10 miles a day!

Eat simply

Did I tell you that I’m loving Madeleine Shaw’s cookbook, Ready Steady Glow (recommended to me by fellow blogger, Glamour in the County). Full of easy-to-make, tasty and nutritious recipes, Shaw’s way of cooking has me getting meals on the table – from start to finish – in less than half an hour. Even better, I’m going to be choosing her simple salads to throw together during the week this summer. That will leave the weekends for some more self-indulgent and time-consuming culinary creations.

Dine outside

Talking of food, we love eating out when the weather is fine. Last year’s heatwave saw us making very good use of our patio set. This year, so far, we’ve had a very wet June but I live in hope that the weather during the school holidays will be kind to us.

Today is going to be the hottest yet and I am – unusually – at home entirely alone. Mr G has taken our teen to a university open day and Ollie-bobs (cockapoo) is at the groomer’s.

Invite others

I’m hoping to follow in the footsteps of inveterate people-gatherer Sarah Harmeyer of www.neighborstable.com whose story I read about in the latest issue of Simplify Magazine.

Harmeyer’s welcoming ethos is an inspiration to us all; keeping it simple, but extending the hand of friendship to all-comers is something I’m going to try to do more of during the holidays.

Get those jobs done

This week saw the start of a series of household jobs we’ve been meaning to get done for some time. Somehow it seems easier to be doing work on the house when the weather is fine.

Plus, we’re doing some jobs that really should be done in the summer months. First up, we’re replacing our home’s 30 year old gutters and drainpipes and repairing a part of the roof. We’ll be glad we did this come the autumn.

Get your sea fix

This year, we’re visiting the Northumbrian coast for the first time. Fellow cockapoo owners have recommended some dog-friendly places to visit (and eat) and we’re staying in a cottage that’s managed by an award-winning lettings agency. It’s my dream to one day visit places such as New England. In the meantime, we’ll take the simpler route of jumping in the car in ‘old England’ and heading north. We should be there in around 4-5 hours and are looking forward to the slower pace of coastal living.

Dress simply

The loveliest thing about summer is being able to slip on a dress, dig your feet into sandals (or trainers if the weather’s a bit inclement – I’m loving the white trainers trend), grabbing a bag then heading out of the door. I don’t know about you, but I also think that summer is a time when you can afford to dress a little more casually; be comfortable; and be a little more sartorially relaxed.

What are your favourite summer hacks? Do let me know by replying in the comments below!


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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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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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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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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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Email me via catherineelizgordon@gmail.com, send me a Tweet @CathElizGordon