Maintaining minimalism

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Having recently bought some Christmas stocking fillers online for our teenager, I am now using the cardboard delivery box to do a sweep of our home prior to guests arriving over the festive season.

Simplest is best

It occurs to me that the ‘one in, one out’ rule is arguably one of the most powerful (but simple) tools in our minimalist toolkit. So, why am I finding things to place in that box, if this is something I believe in? It’s because I didn’t stick to the rule! That summer hat I found in Corsica two years ago was to replace the floppy one I wasn’t wearing, but I just found the original in my chest of drawers,….

Keeping on top of your stuff

As I mentioned in my last post in which I reviewed Joshua’s Becker’s The Minimalist Home, achieving a minimalist environment is one thing; maintaining it is another (especially during life’s key transitions, which seem to be associated with moving stuff around!).

As I wrote previously, it’s a bit like deciding to lose weight by going on a low carb diet (for example). All diets work if you stick to them; you’ll benefit from letting go of the excess pounds and will feel physically and mentally lighter. Decluttering is similar. Let go and you’ll enjoy the benefits but unless you have a strategy for maintaining your new-found lifestyle, the chances are you won’t embed it and be able to stick with it.

Going back to ‘one in, one out’

This is where the ‘one in, one out’ rule comes into its own. When we decluttered my late mother-in-law’s house during the summer and early autumn, I brought home a white vase that had belonged to her. When I subsequently chose an even prettier one that no-one else wanted, I actually let the white vase go (and got rid of another one at the same time). So, that was one in, two out!

The hardest part of being a minimalist

Next week, I’m being interviewed by a media student who is making a documentary on minimalism. In our pre-interview correspondence, he has asked me a number of questions, one of which is, “What is the hardest part of being a minimalist?”

My response will be that anyone can live a minimalist life; it’s not hard. However, there was a moment when I realised that because I use and enjoy all of my things, some of them will actually will wear out! The one in, one out rule very much applies then.

The easiest part of espousing minimalism

The easiest part of adopting a minimalist lifestyle is when you receive something you both wanted and needed. Here’s where the ‘one in, one out’ rule really comes into its own.

With Christmas just around the corner, chances are you’ll receive something during the holidays that will replace something you already own. We are so fortunate to live in an age where we can (and do) ask for a ‘new X’ (insert watch, coat, pair of gloves, scarf, laptop… the list goes on). So, consider the ‘one in, one out rule.’ If, like me, you don’t own many items in a particular category, a replacement item of great quality can enable you to let go of the existing item you already own that may be past its best.

A great way to maintain minimalism

So, intentionally review your existing items when you receive something new and stick to the ‘one in, one out’ rule. This way, when you reach for something you need, you’ll find your best and the loveliest things just waiting to be enjoyed. A very Happy Christmas to you.


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How do I look?

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Quiz question of the day:

What’s something we all have, which can inspire both joy and loathing in all of us, but which we can’t live without?

Of course, no prizes for guessing: clothes.

A hotch-potch wardrobe

I’ve been mithering a bit about clothes lately.

In the past year, I’ve bought relatively few things to wear. But, if I’m honest, I feel like I’ve ended up with a ‘hotch potch’ of items. Most I have bought second-hand (and very good purchases they were too). Others were bought in a sale or via a clothing discount store such as HighStreetOutlet. As a result, I’ve maintained my frugal ways, but I never feel particularly stylish. Plus, I’d love to be a little more consistent about what I choose to wear and how I look.

How do I look?

It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. So, I was grateful to have been given a copy of Inger D Kenobi’s How Do I Look: The Year I Stopped Shopping.

This entertaining book is a curious mix of memoir and commentary on fast-fashion,  consumerism and the ridiculous stories we tell ourselves about the clothes we wear (or which call to us from the shop window).

Challenged by a friend to join her in a “shop-stop” year, Kenobi resolved to avoid buying any new clothes for a whole 12 months. The book charts her journey from unintentional clothes buyer to chastened, mindful consumer. Along the way, she provides a number of “Emergency Shopping Guidelines.” These provide a ‘set of rules that will prevent us from making the same stupid shopping mistakes again, and again, and again.’

Emergency Shopping Guidelines

I thought it would be interesting to bring Kenobi’s rules together and to consider them in the light of my not-particularly-well-curated but minimal ‘capsule wardrobe’.

Don’t buy anything you can’t wear tomorrow

Well, I’ve failed at the first hurdle here. We all buy stuff to wear for a special occasion, although I try and avoid this.

In my experience, clothes bought for a particular event don’t always translate into ‘real life’. For my friend, Zoe’s, 50th birthday party in September, I bought a lovely pair of black trousers and floaty shirt to wear over a black camisole. To go with said outfit (which cost all of £11 from the charity shop), I purchased some suedette kitten heels from John Lewis. I wore them for 2.5 hours.

I haven’t worn the clothes since and have already sold the shoes….

Don’t buy anything you don’t need

How often have you gone out to buy a particular item, only to come back with something entirely different?

Here’s where ‘heart’ purchases often trump ‘head’ purchases. I do have the loveliest, seldom-worn but beautifully soft faux-fur jacket. It is absolutely gorgeous. I acquired it a long time ago when looking for something else in my local (now defunct) dress agency. I rarely wear it, but I keep it as something really special, knowing that I won’t wear it tomorrow (see above!) but will enjoy it during the holiday season.

These days, I’m much more inclined to think really hard about anything I buy. I keep a ‘wish list’ in Evernote, which helps me consider – slowly – if a want is also a need.

I also do a lot of research online. It’s easy to forget that there are so many (too many) places where you can buy what you need. A clever search can help you find what you need at the best price, so shop around.

You have to be you. Figure out who you are and dress accordingly

Oh, gosh. Who am I when it comes to what I wear?

Style consultants categorise women into a number of ‘boxes’. Are you an Audrey Hepburn ‘ingénue’ or more ‘sporty’ or ‘natural’ when it comes to your signature style?

Well, I’d love to fall into the ‘glamorous’ category – and really admire others who pull of this look – but that’s really not me.

Over the years, I have – with some considerable enthusiasm – declared myself to be an advocate of a particular brand, in an attempt to simplify and narrow down the available choices.

There was my short-lived (but fun while it lasted) Gudren Sjoden phase. My family pointed out that if you’re going to make this work (it’s quite ‘out there’ when it comes to style and colour), you have to go the whole hog.

There has also been my ‘Duchess of Cambridge’ phase. I am, after all, another Catherine Elizabeth. This clothing personality has been, arguably, my most enduring. I once spent the most I have ever spent on clothes (even more than my wedding dress) when I purchased an LK Bennett suit for an interview. I didn’t get the job, but (at least) I got the suit. Many years later, it’s still my ‘high days and holidays’ outfit when I need something super smart. And I wore it for my current job whose interview took place around a year ago.

My latest obsession is Cos. I love the Scandinavian simplicity and clean lines. I have yet to purchase anything.

If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

Oh, this is so true. You already know that I previously performed ‘plastic surgery’ on my credit card, so there is no risk that I will ever splurge on something I can’t afford. Indeed, I have spent so little on clothes in the last year that this has not been an issue. But I know it is for some of you.

Recently, a work colleague was describing to my husband that she had lots of clothes on which she had spent so much money, she was embarrassed to admit that she cut off the labels of the unworn items before giving them away. Let’s not be like this.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

I’m all for this and it works really well. Project 333 makes sense on so many levels, especially if you mostly shop at thrift stores (another of Kenobi’s Emergency Shopping Guidelines).

Here’s something I have noticed, however (and Kenobi observed this, too). Clothes worn often do actually wear out. This is where it helps to buy quality over quantity. Less but better is the way forward.

Invest in experiences, not possessions

Yes, yes and yes!

This is where we have to put clothes in their rightful place. Clothes can play a part in our experiences. Love to ski? You’ll need some kit. But they shouldn’t be an end in their own right. Clothes as ‘stuff’ have a negative impact, both on the environment and on our finances. So, let’s see them as a part of our overall day-to-day lives but not to the detriment of other things, which are way more important.

Change your hair, not your clothes

For someone who has limited options when it comes to hair (short, blow-dryed, that’s it), I can’t espouse this guideline. However, lots of women (especially) enjoy experimenting with different hair colours or styles (in her book, Kenobi reveals her expertise in plaiting, braiding and in ‘up-dos’). A colleague of mine rocks a wonderful short wig and looks amazing in it. But that’s not for me.

One of my own

Beware the Diderot effect

Remember those black trousers I bought for Zoe’s party? To wear them again, I would need more tops. This is an example of a phenomenon known as the Diderot Effect. This is where the purchase of one beautiful item leads to dissatisfaction with the other things you already own. In my case, I don’t own anything suitable to go with the trousers, so do I invest or let them go? This is something that Juliet Schor mentions in her book, The Overspent American, about which I wrote a post here.

Stop mithering

Since reading Kenobi’s little book, I’m glad to say that I’ve stopped mithering about clothes. But I think I need to be a bit more intentional – as in other areas of my life – when it comes to what I buy to wear.

And whilst Shakespeare wrote that ‘clothes maketh the man (woman)’, there is another truth that’s worth remembering. There are only some occasions in life when this really matters. How do I look? No-one really cares.


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Why I’m calling it a day with eBay

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When you’re in the early stages of decluttering, it’s very likely you’ll discover lots of near-perfect items (or ‘gently used’ ones), which easily be sold online.

From clothing and accessories to electronics or children’s toys, sites such as eBay can be a brilliant way of moving stuff along to a home where it will be used and enjoyed. Plus, you’ll make a bit of cash in the process.

For my part, I’ve been a member of eBay for almost exactly 15 years. In that time, I’ve sold far more than I’ve bought, although I have purchased a few things. And it’s true that some have been better than others….

My eBay dashboard

My eBay profile tells me that I have 284 ratings and a mint green star. When it comes to gamification, I really don’t care very much what colour it is, but that star suggests I’m doing OK.

Nonetheless, I have made some mistakes over the years. I share them here, so that you can avoid them if you’re considering selling via this channel. If you’re a well-established e-Bayer, read on and enjoy a wry smile or two at my expense!

Mistakes I’ve made

Selling

  • Wrong description  – I once listed a well-used but perfectly decent laptop, believing that the box my husband had given me was the actual box for the device. It wasn’t. Instead, I had used the box of the device that had superseded the one to be sold.Lo and behold, my poor buyer (who was tech-savvy when I am not) realised my mistake and we quickly reached an amicable solution: He kept the machine but we agreed a sensible price for what it actually was versus what I thought I’d sold….
  • Inadequate packaging – If you’re going to send something breakable, make sure you use a lot of packaging. I tried to send an Orla Kiely ceramic bread bin to a buyer.  It should have been triple-wrapped in a wodge of bubble wrap, lovingly encased in several boxes, before being parcelled up in brown paper (taped a gazillion times with sturdy parcel tape). Instead, I sent it with only scant wrapping and a prayer in would arrive in one piece. Of course, it didn’t. 

    I should have been more accomplished at this stage in my eBay career. Needless to say, my buyer was justifiably disappointed and I swiftly provided a full refund. Here’s where you get hit by a ‘double whammy;’ eBay still charged its commission.

  • Accepting a buyer’s plea to have me despatch a bulky and large item by courier was another example of ‘not a terribly good idea’. We owned an electric piano, which was already secondhand when it came to us, but we sold it for a reasonable price on the basis that this would be Collection Only.
    The problem came when I discovered our winning-bidder was in Brighton. Did she realise that Kenilworth to Brighton would be a round-trip of over 300 miles? Our buyer, however, had other ideas. If she paid, would I send the instrument? Reluctantly, I agreed to do it, but there followed a rather chaotic sequence of events.

    First of all, the piano had to be despatched in two large packages. Cue Julie Andrews singing ‘My Favourite Things’. These packages were, indeed, brown paper and tied up with string. They were also extremely heavy, exceeding both the courier’s weight and size guidelines. Still, we (buyer and me) agreed to take the risk.

    Off went the parcels and we waited to see what would happen. By some miracle, some days later – in two separate consignments – the piano arrived at its destination. It turned out my buyer had been a past contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest, so I was bemused to have been able to contribute to her potential future musical adventures.

  • Calculating postage costs can be problematic. You have to be very focussed when it comes to understanding not only weight, but also volume. eBay provides estimates and guidance on this, but you can have some ‘fun’ trying to weigh a bulky item. My usual trick is to balance a large mixing bowl on my kitchen scales, then place the item to be posted on top of that. This way, you can usually view the weight easily. Remember to weigh the item once it has been wrapped; packaging can add to weight and volume.
  • Finally, seeing other stuff to buy when I should have been focussing on the selling has also been a feature of my experience with eBay. This leads me onto Buying.

Buying

  • Getting too attached to an item is a foolhardy thing to do. Some years ago, a “pine” wardrobe – located just up the road – turned out to be a terrible bit of tat (I should have “viewed it, before bidding…). Don’t get into a bidding war. Assess your item, put in your maximum bid and walk away. If you win it, you’ll find out soon enough.

More recently, I bought something whose quality was inadequately described, resulted in a ‘to and fro’ dialogue with the seller to persuade them to accept the item as a return. To me, this felt like a case of obfuscation; the item was in very poor condition and I was dismayed to see this on unpacking it. Happily, I have been able to return it with the (reluctant) agreement of the seller. Let’s hope I get my money back!

  • Clothes can be a mixed blessing when you buy them via eBay. I do advocate second hand but I should point out that there are some caveats associated with this. There are a great many reputable commercials sellers on there (who also sell directly via their own websites) e.g. Carobethany whom you can trust, as well as many super sellers of their own stuff. Look carefully at their feedback if you’re going to buy and only purchase brands whose quality and fit you can rely on.

Taking a rain check

So, to coincide with the change of British weather, I’m taking a raincheck with eBay. For now. Since we all acquire stuff we don’t need, it’s likely I’ll return to it some time in the future. But, for moment, we’ll let the sun set over this useful but rather complex way of letting go of stuff.

What’s your best way to get rid of clutter? Do you simply let go via the charity shop or doorstep collection? Perhaps you prefer a local selling platform such as Facebook? Do please share below. It would be fantastic to know what works for you.


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Authenticity over perfectionism

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As regular readers will know, I am keen to frequent my local library. So, when I found a brand new copy of Dominque Loreau’s L’art de la Simplicité there, it was a chance to discover a new take on minimalism.

French by birth, Loreau has imbibed oriental philosophies, having lived in Japan for many years. I was very interested to see what she had to say about a topic that’s been close to my heart for a long time, but I have mixed feelings about this book.

What I liked about it

As you would expect, Loreau promotes the idea that less is more. Outer order, she argues, equals inner calm. In the early part of the book, she rehearses the key tenets of minimalism: your stuff owns you; say no to clutter and embrace simplicity with style.

Loreau does a really comprehensive job, as she covers not only the outwardly visible elements of one’s life, but also the inner, personal aspects of mind, body and spirit (including one’s diet). I admire this approach, as it provides a holistic, well-rounded manifesto for someone looking to make changes.

Where she lost me

Where Loreau lost me was in her highly prescriptive approach to what we should – or shouldn’t – own.

For me, the joy of minimalism is that it’s entirely up to you as to how you approach it: what works for you may not work for me, but we can still share a minimalist mindset.

A set of rules

In particular, I was bemused when I realised how rule-driven Loreau’s philosophy was. For example, one’s bag had to have certain characteristics and should contain – amongst other things – a personalised monogrammed handkerchief! With a 16-bullet-point ‘handbag checklist’, I was left feeling a little overwhelmed and glad that my second-hand tiny cross-body bag and backpack serve me just nicely, thank you very much.

Echoes of another best-seller

The author’s didactic tone had echoes of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, so if you read that and liked it, you may enjoy this little book.

Even better, if you are able to enjoy this work in its original form, I suspect it may be a better read. The translation into English created a great many short sentences, which read like a series of disconnected soundbites.

Authenticity over perfectionism

What I felt most strongly was that Loreau was promoting an almost unreachable ideal. Instead of encouraging the reader to enjoy minimalism in its many different forms, she promotes her own perfectionist ideals.

This reminded me of Brené Brown’s: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Personally, I’d much rather strive towards letting go of others’ ideals than to go after the perfectionism that Brown calls an “emotional shield.”

Minimalism is what ever you want it to be

During her visit to the UK, I was delighted to spend some time with the lovely Cait Flanders. Cait and I were discussing different approaches to minimalism and simple living. We resolved that, since everyone’s circumstances are unique, there simply cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

For example, scanning and letting go of physical photographs (aka The Minimalists) may be right up your street. But if you’re like me and you have around a dozen carefully-made albums (with sticky pages onto which your precious only copies sit), you’re unlikely to want to risk peeling them off the page.

My take on simple living

As you may have read in my previous post, I’ve discovered a number of ways to simplify my life. But what I found helpful may not be right for you. I would argue that, whilst we can take inspiration from those who espouse a particular philosophy, it’s always good to take a step back before we rush wholeheartedly into a new way of living.

Trying to emulate how someone else lives their minimalist lifestyle could end up becoming some form of reverse ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. Someone else’s  bid for perfection may end up being a straight-jacket for you.

Write your own prescription

Going back to Loreau’s prescription for the ideal bag, I was listening to the Happier podcast yesterday. Presenter, Liz Craft, had been on a quest to find her own ‘perfect black purse’ as part of her “18 for 2018” personal ‘to-do list.’ Listeners had helpfully sent in lots of lovely suggestions, but none of them felt right. It was only when she realised that what she had been looking at wasn’t really “her” that she fell upon exactly the right bag.

So, write your own simplicity prescription and maybe you’ll be an inspiration to others without imposing unattainable ideals. After all, being authentic is so much better than aiming for perfection.


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How to avoid decluttering going too far

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In my most recent Community newsletter, I described an interesting article in the New Zealand Herald which had recently caught my eye.

In anticipation of The Minimalists‘ ‘Less is Now’ tour dates, journalist Chris Schulz had decided to explore if espousing a minimalist lifestyle might make a difference in his life. Did he need stuff that had been lying around in cupboards untouched for years? Of course not. But Schulz’ article does sound a cautionary tale: it is possible to go too far.

Schulz realises that you might get so carried away with decluttering that you potentially let go of items that might be of value in future years. So, here are a few ideas on how to avoid taking your enthusiasm for decluttering going a step too far.

Take it slowly

You’re less likely to relinquish a valued treasure if you take things slowly. Always start with the non-contentious, non-emotive stuff: the easy to declutter. As you peel away the layers, you’ll become increasingly intentional and deliberate about what you keep and what you get rid of. Take your time to decide on the things that may have sentimental value.

Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Don’t unclutter other people’s stuff. You can model decluttering behaviours and will – undoubtedly – inspire those around you. But don’t make decisions about belongings that aren’t yours. For shared items, you can certainly moot the idea of letting go, but this has to be a joint decision.

Create a treasures box

For years, I dragged around a plastic trunk with my so-called treasures inside. Shaped like a treasure chest and in bright primary colours, this storage container was so heavy that we had to heave it into our loft when we move into our current home. I seldom looked inside it.

As part of my final decluttering, I got to grips with exactly what was in that container. What remains is a very small (shoe-box sized) collection of some lovely sentimental items that I will never part with. Our daughter keeps a similar box; again, this is very small.

Become your own curator

Adopt the mindset of a curator. Your home isn’t a museum, but imagine you have the role of the creative lead on a fabulous project. What selected items would mean the most to you? Which items would form a part of an artistic or historical collection were you to create a display about your own life? What has meaning and adds value in your home? What is frankly just a collection of miscellaneous tat? Keep and enjoy the former; declutter the latter.

Consider your loved ones

We all know that grown-up children don’t want their baby boomer parents’ stuff. But is there a particular item you’d like to keep to pass onto your daughter or granddaughter in future years? On my mother’s side of the family, we love a pretty ring. Keeping a ring (or another small piece of jewellery) may be a lovely thing to do; it might give someone pleasure in the future.

Store and save virtually

An image of something will spark a conversation or trigger a memory that you may enjoy in the future. As I’ve said previously, your treasured possessions aren’t memories. But images of items you once owned may suffice if you want to recall a piece of art you created as a teenager or remember something crafted by a loved one.

Bring some of your personality into the workplace

I’ve recently joined a new department to take up a new post within the organisation where I work. I am privileged to have my own office, so this provides an opportunity to display one or two decorative items that wouldn’t otherwise have a place at home.

My maternal grandmother was a prolific craftswoman. Among her creations are a number of small pictures, intricate and beautifully crafted with embroidery. I have had 3 of these little pictures hung on my office wall; they are a talking point for people who come to see me and they provide a little visual reminder of family, as I work at my desk.

Another friend uses her grandmother’s favourite china cup and saucer as a scented candle, which she keeps on her kitchen table.

Stop when you’re not sure what to unclutter next

Unless you are staging your home for sale (when home life takes on an artificial impression of familial perfection), it’s fine to take some time out or to stop altogether. You might take a pause or cease decluttering completely. Good for you. After all, it’s worth harking back to the reasons we started this in the first place – our ‘why’ or purpose. Living with less allows us to be so much more. So, get out there and enjoy! That’s why we do it in the first place.


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Why we all need an emergency fund

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Happy New Year 2018!

January’s blog post theme

During the month of January, I’m going to be thinking about money, as we have set some specific financial goals for our family in 2018.

It follows that my blog posts may follow a bit of a financial theme in this first month of the new year.

Holiday listening

In particular, I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast over the holidays. Ramsey’s consistent, straight-talking and sound advice has benefited thousands of people worldwide and his simple series of Baby Steps has helped his readers, listeners and YouTube watchers get a grip on their finances and – in Ramsey’s words – “Change their family tree.”

Baby Steps

The Baby Steps help break down Ramsey’s plan into manageable chunks and build momentum. Indeed, the small wins that can be achieved early on in the programme through these Baby Steps help psychologically with motivation.

Baby Step 1

The very first of the Baby Steps is to start an emergency fund of $1000 (or, in the case of us Brits, £1000).

This should be done as fast as you can.

If you’re already a seasoned declutterer, you may find this easier than you think. A good rummage through your garage, wardrobe or loft may yield some excess stuff you no longer need, so you may soon be able to pull together the funds to get started.

If, like me, you’ve already learned to let go of stuff, freeing up unwanted items to contribute to this initial £1k may not be too much of a challenge. It may take only the effort of cleaning them up, photographing them, then listing them online on sites such as ‘Things for Sale in Kenilworth’ (our local community site on Facebook) or eBay.

Why Baby Step 1?

Ramsey’s approach is to establish this beginner’s emergency fund so that if you have a genuine and unforeseen expense, you won’t have to go into debt to pay for it. In a later Baby Step (#3), a fully-funded emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses is put in place, but this starter fund is where we begin.

When you need an emergency fund

Between Christmas and New Year, we had a sudden and unwelcome fall of slushy, grey snow. We came down for breakfast the morning after Boxing Day and noticed something was odd about the hedge that usually sits against the wall by the side of our kitchen window. The supports to the hedge had given way in the wind and snow, so the prickly shrub had lowered itself forward over the border, covering all of the smaller plants and herbaceous perennials beneath.

Thankfully, with some significant effort (and 6 hours’ commitment), my lovely husband managed to shore up the woody stems, drill new supports into the wall, and push the hedge back into place.

However, this unexpected job reminded me that we weren’t quite as lucky when the fence blew down.

When the fence blew down

On the other side of the garden, we share a boundary with our next door neighbours.

One very stormy night two or three years ago, our shared fence decided it was no longer fit for purpose, leading to an unexpected but essential replacement. This cost about £375 per family, which our emergency fund was able to cover easily.

The point of this is that, whilst you’re taking steps to get your finances into good shape, the last thing you need is a mini-emergency to set you back.

In 2016, research by the charity Shelter found that 37% of working families in England could not cover housing costs for more than a month in event of job loss. Ramsey’s approach is designed to mitigate against this and putting an emergency fund in place is a first step in the right direction.

Do you have your emergency fund in place?

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to get your emergency fund in place.

So, when the metaphorical fence blows down, you’ll have the financial resources to deal with it. Plus, there’ll be no call on your emotional reserves either, as you won’t be stressed about how you’re going to pay for it.


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Why setting intentions might be better than making New Year’s Resolutions

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Even before Christmas, social media channels were alive with thoughts of New Year’s Resolutions.

Review of the Year

Certainly, the period between Christmas and New Year is often a good point to kick back, reflect on the past 12 months and anticipate the year to come. And many of us consider the start of a new calendar year a good point to establish new habits, change old ones or strengthen our resolve to achieve particular goals.

Types of New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions tend to fall into a number of discrete categories. Some are about improving physical wellbeing (e.g. to eat more healthily, lose weight, take more exercise or quit smoking). Others are more career-oriented or are about relationships, spirituality or experiences. It’s no accident that post-Christmas advertising space is filled with advertisements for slimming programmes, diet foods or nicotine replacements. We’ve all seen them.

However, the majority of us who set New Year’s Resolutions find it difficult to keep them and, instead of sustaining success, we find that our ‘get up and go’ has soon got up and gone.

When New Year’s Resolutions don’t work

So, what’s to be done?

I’ve been thinking about this for a little while and I reckon there might be a different way. Instead of going all out on a concrete ‘all or nothing’ resolution, I wonder if setting an intention might be a gentler, kinder way to move towards a desired state?

For me, an intention suggests something fluid, dynamic and ongoing, whereas a resolution seems, to me, all or nothing.

Setting an intention

Setting an intention is deliberate, but rather than being a rigid absolute, it’s about moving towards a goal (continually and repeatedly). So, if you falter, you get right back onto whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

To reduce sugar

For me, I have a sweet tooth and, in theory, love the idea of quitting sugar as a New Year’s Resolution. The trouble is, this can be a very difficult thing to do when social situations throughout the year often revolve around food in the form of sweet treats (mince pie, anyone?).

Instead, I like the idea of setting an intention to reduce my overall sugar intake, rather than eliminating sugar as an absolute goal. So, yesterday, I experimented a little.

It was Boxing Day morning and we had stayed over at my parents’ home, following a lovely day together for Christmas Day. Mum offered croissants for breakfast but, instead of slathering mine with jam, I had a little butter on my pastry along with my decaff’ latte and enjoyed the naturally sweet taste and texture of this holiday treat.

Likewise, following our return home some hours later, we enjoyed a late lunch at The Almanack, one of Kenilworth’s best-loved and much-frequented gastropubs. Normally, I would have ordered dessert after my main course (I normally eschew a starter because they are too filling) but, instead, opted for an espresso macchiato as the ‘full stop’ to a very enjoyable meal. As you can tell, I’m not giving up coffee any time soon!

To get more exercise

Similarly, you might want to take more exercise, but would baulk at resolving to run 10 miles per week by the end of the month. Instead, set an intention to put on your trainers and step outside the door. You don’t have to wait until 1 January either. What happens after that is up to you, but it’s a move in the right direction.

Some people find it easier and more empowering to embark upon a new activity with someone who can act as an accountability partner. For others, thinking about their future self might be enough to motivate themselves towards a healthier, fitter self. Consider – honestly – what might work for you and set an intention to move towards this new goal.

Resolutions come with a health warning

Whatever we decide, we do need to be careful about the goals we pursue.

In the introduction to her book America the Anxious: Why Our Search for Happiness is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It For Real, Ruth Whippman cites a University of California, Berkeley study in which participants were asked to rate how highly they valued happiness as an explicit goal and also how happy they were with their lives.

As Whippman writes, the ones who rated happiness as a distinct personal ambition were less happy in their lives in general and were more likely to experience symptoms of dissatisfaction and even depression.

This reminds me of Robert Lustig’s most recent book, which I wrote about here. Don’t confuse pleasure with happiness, says Lustig. It’s easy to conflate the two.

My intentions for 2018

So, I’m going to set my intentions around moving towards a small number of achievable goals, rather than proclaiming a New Year’s Resolution on 1 January 2018. Indeed, I like the idea of experimenting and I might well enjoy a few simple living experiments in the coming year.

But don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple. As Leo Babauta says, “Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” That might help us stay focussed on what’s important.

Happy New Year!


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