The Tools and Techniques of Minimalism

watercolour-1321799_1920

In my last post, I talked about the what‘ of minimalism.

This time, I’m going to focus on the tools and techniques of minimalism. The ‘how’ of minimalism is important if you’re going to gain the full benefit of living an intentional life but with less stuff.

This post is long and contains lots of useful links that you may wish to refer to again. Join my community to get access to a free PDF containing a durable version of this post.

So, where to begin?

Outer work

My ‘Unclutter 2017‘ series of posts back in the New Year are a good place to start.

Throughout this series, we looked at various approaches, as set out below. The links will take you through to previous posts I’ve written on these tactics if you want to find out more:

These are all practical ideas and I’d encourage you to get stuck in, if you haven’t yet discovered the benefits of decluttering, which is a key tenet of minimalism.

Help! I feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering!

Start with your wardrobe

textile-932255_1920 (1)

If you feel totally overwhelmed and really don’t know where to start, I always say to start with your closet. Follow my 4-Step Wardrobe Edit process and you’ll immediately appreciate the benefits of an uncluttered space.

Ask for help

It may be that you really need some support, so don’t rule out the idea of enlisting someone to help or even employing a professional declutterer/organiser.

The Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers (APDO) is a useful place to start if you decide to enlist the help of a professional. Some professional organisers will even do the hard of work of taking unwanted items to the charity shop, thus saving you time and effort.

What about asking a friend to help?

This summer, my daughter and I are offering a decluttering service for friends, as part of her fundraising efforts towards her 2018 expedition to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. We enjoy working together and seeing the benefits of our labours and love helping others.

Get an accountability group or partner

Perhaps you need an accountability group or partner. Members of the Midlands Minimalist Community have access to my group in Better, an app developed as a way of harnessing Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework to create a better life.

Within Better, I’ve set up a Minimalism and Simple Living Group, as a way for us to interact, find mutual support, ask questions, get answers and (if we need it) get some accountability for our goals.

There’s more than the removal of practical clutter, however. There’s also ‘inner work’ to do.

Inner work

spherical-devils-claw-181690_1920

Embracing a simpler, more meaningful way of life means not only an initial purge of stuff, but also a change of mindset.

This may seem like another hill to climb, but if you’ve already had a taste of the benefits, you may feel ready for some habit changing work!

Staying uncluttered

Courtney Carver’s post But I Love Shopping epitomizes the kind of psychological struggle we go through when throwing off old habits. There’s little point in purging a high proportion of the items you own if you’re only going to re-fill the space within a matter of weeks or months.

Remember your ‘why’

Remind yourself of why you’re interested in minimalism and simple living in the first place. It might be that you’re committed to paying down your debt to get your finances in shape. Perhaps you just want to spend less time clearing up and more time having fun?

Living an intentional life requires a good understanding of oneself. For example, if you know that you spend more money on weekends, plan your time so that you’re not placed in a situation where this can happen.

Don’t be afraid to quit

I heard a quote from Oprah Winfrey recently. She said, “There comes a time in your life when you’re no longer where you’re meant to be.” I found this quite powerful.

Sometimes, saying no or intentionally moving on can reap benefits. I wrote about that here.

Where you are will mean different things to different people, but I do believe that it’s OK to change, to quit, to relinquish that which is no longer serving you. It can be hard to move on because that can mean saying goodbye or ‘au revoir’ to people you care about. But sometimes you have to do it.

Know that your life is the sum total of what you focus on

In her book, Rapt, Winifred Gallagher says, “…. the difference between ‘passing the time’ and ‘time well spent’ depends on making smart decisions about what to attend to in matters large and small.

Courtney Carver echoes this: “Usually time is not the problem, it’s priority.”

Consider these alternative realities

If you are prioritising shopping trips over a countryside walk, both your wallet and your Vitamin D levels will be depleted.

If you are continually moving piles of stuff from one place to the next, your life becomes one of clutter management. Get on top of it once and for all and you create space to do other things; things you’ll enjoy.

If you’re on your digital device 24/7, you’re with other people, but you’re not present.

See what I mean?

An intentional approach to life

Minimalism (in whatever form you choose) is a deliberate and intentional approach. The result creates a sense of lightness and freedom. What we do with that freedom is up to us.

That’s rather exciting, don’t you think?


Join us!

Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers. On joining,  your free PDF from this post can be downloaded from my Community Resources page.

button_join-the-community-2


P.S. Let me know if you’ve found this useful and if you’ve tried any of the tools and techniques at home by replying here. Or email me via midlandsminimalist@gmail.com, send me a Tweet (@MidsMinimalist) or connect via Instagram (@MidlandsMinimalist)

What is minimalism?

beach-huts-1811685_1920

My favourite kind of ‘tiny house’ – English beach huts

In July, I celebrated a year of blogging on Midlands Minimalist. With just over 100 blog posts on the site, I have covered a range of topics, answered a number of readers’ questions and connected with some awesome people (both in person and virtually)!

The ‘what of minimalism’

This post brings together a number of insights around the ‘what’ of minimalism for anyone seeking to find out more.

I explore some of the ingredients of a minimalist lifestyle and the ways in which it can be of benefit. I discuss what minimalism is (and highlight some different types) and talk about what it isn’t. I also explain that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’, inviting you to evaluate how minimalism could be of benefit in your own life.

I’ll also point to some great resources for further reading before my next post: Tools and Techniques of Minimalism.

This is a long post so if you would like to download it as a free PDF, join my Minimalist community where you’ll have access to my resources page on which a copy of this article can be found.

So, let’s get started!

Minimalism 101

Minimalism is the intentional removal of anything that no longer adds value to your life. This can mean the elimination of ‘stuff’ (which may be physical, digital and even personal) to allow in new experiences, people, opportunities and possibilities. Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists capture it well: “it’s about “living a meaningful life with less.”

The word ‘minimalism’ was initially associated with the visual arts; it was synonymous with an art movement that originated in the middle part of the 20th Century. Stripping away the embellishments seen in some earlier art forms, minimalism offered a more simple, literal form of artistic expression.

architecture-1087820_1920.jpg

The minimalist design aesthetic remains popular today

As art echoes life, when you embrace minimalism, what follows is a sense of lightness and freedom and the ability to focus on the things that truly matter.

Clutter is not just stuff on the floor – it’s anything that stands between you and the life you want to be living – Peter Walsh

Types of minimalism

Approaches to minimalism

Writing for No Sidebar, Melissa Carmara Wilkins writes beautifully about different types of minimalism. You can read the full article here, but she simply sets out some of the different approaches espoused by those who call themselves minimalists:

  • Essentialists – fewer but better; quality over quantity (less but better)
  • Experientialists – experiences over stuff (but have the stuff if you need it for the experiences)
  • Enoughists – have just what you need but no more
  • Eco-minimalists – less consumption means less impact on the environment
  • Soul-minimalists – simple-living advocates for whom mental and spiritual clutter are minimised

You may identify with one or a combination of these, but you can see that there are a number of approaches that might resonate with you.

Voluntary simplicity

Another take on minimalism is described by Juliet Schor in her book, The Overspent American: Why we Buy What we Dont’ Need. Voluntary simplicity (or simple living) is the idea of down-shifting to reduce pressure on budgets, live more clearly and straightforwardly and may involve spending time to ‘give back’ and make a contribution to the community.

Schor describes how there’s no ‘one size fits all’ with this approach. She notes that simple livers are rich in both “cultural capital” and “human capital”. That is, they are often well-educated and well-networked, which means they can tap into networks of like minded people and benefit from a strong sense of community. Perhaps you can relate to this?

Frugal Minimalism

In her own words, Cait Flanders paid off $30k of debt, tossed 75% of her belongings, and did a two-year shopping ban. Enter the frugal minimalist. Living a frugal life with less stuff and paying off her debt has led to a happier life for Cait, without the weight of personal debt or unnecessary clutter.

This approach can also extend to Tiny House living, which, again, enables advocates to live a life that is not only clutter-free, but which is also debt free. Read about Tammy Strobel’s experience in her book: You Can Buy Happiness – and It’s Cheap: How One Woman Radically Simplified her Life and How You Can Too.

The Minimalist Foodie

The problem of a full closet and overflowing fridge have the same core issue – too many options. Once you pare back to the essentials…it becomes easier to identify what you want to eat. – Brittany, Tiny Ambitions

Dana Schulz, of Minimalist Baker has the answer. With a website devoted to simple cooking, Dana’s delicious recipes require “10 ingredients or less, 1 bowl or 1 pot, or 30 minutes or less to prepare.”

Jennifer from Simply Fiercely takes a similar approach; her simple eating has brought her a number of benefits, not least reducing food waste, as well as time and effort spent on meal preparation.

Moderate Minimalism, the Midlands Minimalist way

For me, I take the middle ground. Of course I would! I’m a ‘middle Minimalist’!

Seriously, though, my approach one of moderation. Moderate minimalism, if you like.

Because I am married and a mum, I have my non-minimalist family members to consider. Decluttering our home has taken a few years, but we’re pretty much there. Our shared living areas are clutter free, easy to clean and have a light and airy feel. For certain, there are some areas on which I’d like to spend more time, but there comes a point when you’ve done enough. After all, we do this to maximise the time we have.

On a day-to-day basis, I make a point of cooking from scratch; we shop only when we need something (not for recreation) and we keep a close eye on our family budget. With a teenager in the house, there’s the inevitable deluge of school books, paperwork, sports kit and uniform. But this phase will pass all too soon, when we will be empty-nesters, so I can take a pragmatic view now.

Is decluttering minimalism?

Decluttering is often associated with minimalism and rightly so; it’s an essential ingredient of a transition towards a minimalist lifestyle. By intentionally removing the excess items that have accumulated in our lives, it’s possible to cast off the clutter of the past to embrace newer and richer experiences.

I’ll touch on the ‘how’ of decluttering in my next article (Tools and Techniques of Minimalism), but (as I wrote in one of my earliest posts here), it’s only when you take a step back that you can truly see what adds value, what’s worth holding onto and what’s important.

Tiny Wardrobes

fashion-1478810_1280

Vestis virum facit‘ or ‘Clothes makes the man‘ said Erasmus (later echoed by eminent writers such as Shakespeare, Homer and Twain.

It’s true that dressing for the job you want, not the job you have, can make all the difference to our confidence. Psychologically, our performance may be enhanced when we’re dressing right for the occasion (see the first Reference, below).

Indeed, international charity, Dress for Success, understands that looking the part is a vital ingredient in building women’s confidence to help them secure a new job.

However, it is said that the opposite of every profound truth is also true. In this case, clothes ‘maketh the [wo]man’, but they matter less than you think.

Courtney Carver’s phenomenal success with Project 333 is proof that you need fewer clothes than you think you need. Project 333 invites you to dress with 33 items (or less) over a period of 3 months. Underwear and workout gear doesn’t count, but everything else does. If you haven’t yet tried it, I urge you to take part. It’s a wonderful way to help identify your absolute favourites and wear them every day.

Think you won’t have enough clothing combinations? One of Joshua Becker’s correspondents worked out that just 33 items could generate as many as 25,176 unique outfit combinations. With jewellery, accessories and shoes included, that might be pushing the envelope somewhat, but the point is nonetheless well-made. As Joshua writes, there are very good reasons why successful people are choosing to wear the same thing every day.

If you want to slim down your closet, then you might appreciate some help. Join my community and you’ll get access to my wardrobe edit checklist that will help provide a structured way to start your journey into minimalism. Since your wardrobe is like a ‘room within a room’, you can gain a confidence boost by starting there.

Tidying up

Marie Kondo put the magic into tidying up, but is tidying minimalism?

Well, not entirely. Tidying isn’t really minimalism unless you truly adopt the KonMari method as your preferred approach to decluttering.

I am well-known amongst friends for being tidy, but it was only when I began to unclutter with true intention that I was able to let go of clutter that I’d been holding onto for over 20 years.

Here’s the thing about tidying. Tidying is a daily activity but it’s deliberately a ‘light touch, non intrusive’ kind of domestic intervention. Tidying is putting away the items you have (and which you need, because they are beautiful or have a purpose). Tidying is about ensuring that you can go about your business with grace and ease. By keeping things tidy, you can clean your home quickly, find what you need and get on with your day-to-day life.

Decluttering is more in-depth. It’s like peeling the stubborn layers of an onion; as you remove one layer, you go deeper. You unearth artefacts from your personal history that remind you of places, people or past phases in your life. Letting go is part of the process, but, as I wrote here, we shouldn’t confuse yesterday’s relics with treasured memories.

And decluttering is just one of the ingredients in the ‘minimalism mix’ that supports the idea of ‘less being more’. Decluttering is a process, which may take many months if not years. Tidying up is what you do regularly to keep on top of daily life.

Intentional living

If you don’t have time to do what matters, stop doing things that don’t. – Courtney Carver

Often, the trigger that causes us to adopt a ‘more meaningful life with less’ is that moment where ‘enough is enough’. Overwhelm is a key facet here. Sometimes, you just wish you could make everything and everyone go away. This is where you know that you need to make some significant changes in your life.

Intentionality is key to this. If you align your everyday actions to your long-term goals, things are going to change for the positive.

Want to get out of debt? Don’t go shopping. Take steps to pay down your debt. Ask if what you bought was worth the ‘life energy’ (work effort) devoted to get it.

Want to spend more time with your family? Resolve to eliminate the commitments, obligations and non-essential activities that are preventing you from achieving your goal.

Slow living

Slow living is – in many ways – very similar to simple living. Slow living emphasizes mindfulness and the notion of ‘being present’ in whatever we’re doing. Its connection to minimalism is that it emphasizes intentionality.

The slow movement has a number of strands, one of which is slow food. If you’re in touch with the origins of your food, the seasonality of ingredients and the pleasure of cooking from scratch, then this idea will chime with you. Other strands are slow travel, slow books and even slow cities.

Slow living is about purpose, intention and focus. It’s about awareness and being present, rather than dashing from one thing to the next at 90 miles per hour. One of its more well-known advocates is Brooke McAlary who, along with husband Ben, is host of The Slow Home Podcast and author of Destination Simple.

Conclusion

As you can see, minimalism comes in many forms and it’s a flexible concept. Advocates adopt those aspects of minimalism and simple living that appeal to them. A mix and match approach works well, depending on what adds value to your life now.

What’s meaningful when you’re a 20-something single will undoubtedly differ from that of a couple in their 30s, or a mid-life mom with family and work commitments in her 40s.

The point is that minimalism is really – actually – about maximalism: optimising the time we have on this earth to live the best life we can, sharing that with the best people we love.

I’ll take that!

Further reading

Check out quarterly new digital publication, Simplify Magazine
Also, discover a round-up of useful articles via: http://simplicityvoices.com/

Join us!

Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers. Get your free PDF via my resources page here too.

button_join-the-community-2

Why I’m joining the WI

floral-936414_1920.jpg

It’s been a year since I decided to make a significant shift in my life and remove some time-consuming commitments that were creating serious amounts of overwhelm. One of these was having a key role within a ladies chorus; its weekly rehearsal commitment (along with committee obligations, section rehearsals, extra training, competition and so on) played an important part of my life for over 14 years.

A year on, I’ve achieved more of a balance but there’s something I miss.

I miss belonging to a social group

I miss the regular interactions with like-minded women. I miss belonging to a social group. In his book, The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer, Bertil Marklund’s tenth tip emphasises the positive benefits of a good social life. Marklund explains that time with friends not only reduces stress but decreases inflammation in the body thus strengthening the immune system, leading to a longer life with more fun in it!

So, what to do?

My friend, Lynne, suggested a reading group. Re-joining the gym was a possibility but less likely to offer the kind of personal connection I was seeking. However, there was something else I had in the back of my mind: The Women’s Institute. Would this provide the kind of social network (an actual social network) that I would enjoy?

Could I find a WI locally?

I consulted Google to see if there was a WI in my local area. To my surprise, there were three. Two existed in my home town of Kenilworth but there was one in the next village – Leek Wootton – that was just 5 minutes away. In fact, that’s nearer than going into town.

I realised that this group met monthly on a Tuesday evening at 7.45 p.m; a perfect slot for me. So, I clicked on the group’s website. What should I see there but a photograph that included the image of my lovely neighbour, Gill! There was a meeting coming up in a few days’ time, so I tapped on Gill’s door to see if I could go along with her. Unbeknown to me, Gill regularly gave a lift to our mutual neighbour, Lesley, so we became instantly “The Cul-de-Sac Three”.

What’s the WI all about?

At this first meeting, I gained a small insight into the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) whilst also seeing – at first hand – how my local WI operated. Back at home, my research enabled me to discover more.

Did you know that the WI actually originated in Canada in 1897, only starting in Britain in 1915 as a way to encourage countrywomen to get involved in growing and preserving food, as part of the war effort? During the Second World War, the WI earned its association with jam-making, as members preserved nearly 12 million pounds of fruit that might otherwise have been wasted.

The WI has a political agenda

As the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK, activism has played a key role in the life of the NFWI. I was particularly struck by one of its current resolutions, Food Matters, which is to ‘avoid food waste, address food poverty.’ Recent campaigns have also included issues such as Fast Fashion and Packaging and Waste. All of these speak very much to the minimalist heart.

With a pro-active Public Affairs team, the NFWI is not only a political organisation, but an effective one it seems! Indeed, the NFWI’s continued use of ‘Jerusalem’ as its anthem signals the organisation’s ongoing links with the wider women’s movement and its commitment to improving rural life.

An organisation committed to developing people

The idea that the WI offers development opportunities to its members is very appealing, as are the cultural and social activities enjoyed at local level throughout the year. Offering education to women and the chance to build new skills, the NFWI also has its own cookery school in Oxfordshire where craft and lifestyle courses are also delivered.

At the Leek Wootton WI, members of the craft group are busy making tiny knitted cotton octopuses, which will be offered to our local neo-natal unit. Apparently, the babies’ tiny hands perceive the octopus tentacles to be like the mother’s umbilical cord. This spurs me on to improve my knitting skills, as those of you who know me well may remember that I’ve been knitting a scarf for about 3 years now. My husband calls it my Brexit scarf, as the UK will have left the EU before I finish it….

My second visit

A month after my first visit to the WI, I returned for a second time on Tuesday. The evening’s theme proved to demonstrate what a lively and fun group I had discovered. The theme was belly dancing! After a demonstration from our fabulous guest, we were warmly encouraged to get up and have a go. Everyone – of all ages – had a great deal of fun trying the various moves, before relaxing over a rather lovely Pimms and lemonade.

As a visitor, I was warmly welcomed by this friendly bunch and had another very pleasant evening. So, after the summer break, I’m going to join and I look forward to trying new things and having the opportunity to broaden my horizons a little. Local friends, do come along with me if you are free on the third Tuesday of the month!

What about you?

Do you belong to an established organisation? Or have you created a group that brings like-minded people together for a particular reason? Let us know by replying to the post below!


Join us!

Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers.

button_join-the-community-2

Holiday living and minimalism

IMG_6662
How the other half live: the port at Bonifacio

I’m writing this from the beautiful French island of Corsica, which is situated close to its Italian neighbour, Sardinia.

It is very hot; the beach is full of young families enjoying the turquoise sea; and the summer season is well and truly open for business. Here, we are channelling previous trips to Greece and Spain, as bougainvillea lines the path to the shore and there are large cacti close by. Our 15 year old is working on her tan (in spite of me issuing her with SPF 50, of course!) and we are enjoying swimming in warm Mediterranean waters.

As I type, I’m enjoying some quiet time in the shade on the deck of the duplex apartment where we are self-catering for the week. We are very fortunate to be here: these lovely holiday lets are pretty upmarket, beautifully kept and – like the well-known Stella Artois advertisement – ‘reassuringly expensive’. That’ll be beans on toast for a while when we get back, then!

Interestingly, while we hear a few British voices here, this is a place where the French actually come for their summer holidays. The locals speak little English so I get to practice my rusty Français!

We all need relatively little to get by

As often when away, I am struck by how little you need to get by. Actually, we are not merely getting by; we are living well.

Of course, we don’t need the paraphernalia associated with everyday life whilst on vacation. Work ‘stuff’ is superfluous here, especially for our teenager who has been able to leave behind her school uniform, sports kit, text books, papers, flash cards and – thankfully – revision. School’s out for summer!

What we bring on holiday represents just a proportion of the life left behind at home, but the necessities we carry with us demonstrate how little we actually need on a day-to-day basis.

That includes clothes…

Colin Wright famously travels the world with only the items he needs inside a carry-on bag. The discipline of fitting everything into one small item of luggage forces you to prioritise: bring only what you will wear and only items that work with everything else.

This holiday, I packed light, knowing that we’d enjoy hot and sunny weather. Check out my Instagram post for the full list of what I brought. Everything mixes and matches and my little suitcase weighed just a modest 9kg against my 20kg allowance (inclusive of toiletries but without my books, which I carried with me).

I packed just 12 items of clothing (including shoes) and travelled in Reebok canvas trainers, lightweight jeans, t-shirt and navy jacket in a soft, jersey fabric.

For a week, you need little else. It follows, then, that we need far less on a day-to-day basis than we actually think.

Minimal make-up is just perfect

Stylist and colour expert Karen Blanc inspired me to try House of Colour’s 90 second make up. With a brush of mineral foundation, a sweep of blusher, a quick application of mascara and my ‘wow’ lippie, that’s really all I need.

So, maybe I can scale back a little back at home, too.

Habitual clock watching stops

Here’s a simple pleasure that really does add value to your day: leaving your watch at home. Not being driven by the clock is really lovely. If we want to enjoy the cooler part of the day and stay on the beach until almost 7 p.m., there’s nothing to stop us.

At home (and specifically at work), we are guided by the clock. There are signs of what time it is everywhere: wall clocks, personal hand-held devices, digital screens, personal computers and wrist watches.

Here, if we get hungry, we’ll walk back for something to eat. That brings me to simple eating.

Simple eating is the name of the game

Leaving behind cookbooks and shopping lists, here we buy whatever is in season. We combine locally-produced ingredients with whatever is available from the supermarket. As Jennifer of Simply Fiercely advocates, we enjoy ‘food assembly’ as opposed to following recipes. This is simple eating at its best and eating this way more frequently back at home seems appealing (and would save time when it comes to food preparation).

Holiday minimalism 

This kind of minimalism – ‘holiday minimalism’ – is a privilege that not everyone can afford. I know that.

But it reminds me that there’s so much in life that we hold onto, when we need little more than the items we carry with us on our EasyJet flight.

Simplifying our daily routines even further might just create more time and result in less expense. I’ve certainly been inspired to go back and give our home the final decluttering sweep I’ve been meaning to do.

What does holiday living teach you?


Join us!

Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers.

button_join-the-community-2

What the French can teach us about simple living 

IMG_6663

Beautiful Bonifacio, Corsica

The second epidsode of Kristin Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg’s By the Book podcast offers listeners a full-on, no holds barred insight into the best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano.

Meinzer and Greenberg baulk at Giuliano’s ‘don’t get fat’ rules, especially her initial ‘rebalancing’ weekend, whose leek broth is found by the pair to be both unappetising and punitive. Indeed, Meinzer and Greenberg remark upon the way in which the book evokes memories of their past issues and struggles with food.

This doesn’t sound terribly healthy or chic, does it?

Ode to a French lifestyle

In fact, FWDGF is more an ode to the French lifestyle than a diet book per se. In it, Giuliano extoles the virtues of ‘la vie en rose,’ reminding us that a life lived well – but without excess – is the best life of all.

Indeed, Molière is reputed to have written:

Great is the fortune of he who possesses a good bottle, a good book and a good friend.

This reminds me that there’s something else the French can teach us: living simply also means living well.

Living simply also means living well

My oldest friend and her husband own a traditional French house in the Limousin region of France. In a small hamlet on the edge of Cussac, my friends enjoy long spells in this quiet, beautiful and unspoilt part of the country. Here, the pace of life is in sharp contrast to that of the British suburbs.

Life at a slower pace

In the rural district that is the Haute Vienne, there is a great deal less rushing around. Admittedly, this is likely to be the case because the industry and commerce that drive the engine of France are situated elsewhere. Nonetheless, there’s something about the Limousin way of life from which we can all learn.

The sharing economy, French style

In Cussac, neighbours share home-grown vegetables and fruits, as they enjoy a glut of fresh produce in the summer months. It is not unusual to arrive home to find a bowl of fresh cherries or bag of green beans on the doorstep. In the same vein, when my friends first ventured into their cellar (la cave), they discovered ancient jars of bottled vegetables and fruits, evidence of the tradition of preserving and bottling that is commonplace.

Further, neighbours come together occasionally in the evening to share a glass or two of ‘pineau de Charente’ and to share family news of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

If you can’t get the petrol mower going, someone will no doubt step in. Likewise, the ruby geraniums on the windowsill will not go unattended if you are away for a few days. And don’t forget to close the shutters! The daily ritual of opening and closing shutters is ‘très important’.

Make do and mend comme les Français

Here, consumerism is far less in evidence, as the make-do-and-mend culture is deeply embedded. This is especially true when it comes to home decor and clothing. Here, the nearest IKEA is some kilometres away in Bordeaux and no-one has heard of H&M, Top Shop or New Look. Fast fashion seems ridiculous when living modestly and living well is the name of the game.

Coffee the French way

Coffee is a straightforward pick-me-up in Cussac. No latte-mocha-frothy-syrup-two shot-grande-whipped cream extravaganza here. You might get a cappuccino and you’ll certainly enjoy a glass of water with your elevenses. That’s it.

Community life

There is a strong sense of community, as you would expect.

The library is the place to go for ‘L’internet’ and where you catch up on village news. The bread man arrives in the hamlet on a Tuesday morning with fresh baguettes for 1 Euro. On other days, a walk up the gentle incline to the village brings you to the boulangerie or supermarket (take your own bag for the bread and your shopping trolley to wheel everything back).

In the summer, local fetes bring the community together when table-top sales and ‘vide greniers’ (literally “empty lofts” ) co-exist with stalls selling local honey, vintage cotton, sausage and potato meals, and home-grown produce and plants. Merry-go-rounds for the little people offer a pastime enjoyed by kids for time immemorial. In the holidays, there are firework displays, live entertainment and picnics when the sun goes down.

These gatherings take place in locations with beautiful sounding names: Oradour sur Vayres, Champagnac la Rivière (my favourite village name), Rochechouart (amazing Chateau and fabulous local restaurant, Le Roc de Boeuf) and Saint-Mathieu.

Rose tinted spectacles?

This all sounds idyllic and it is. Romantic, even. And, yes, I’m painting you a rosy picture. But this is real, too, for the people who live and work in this little corner of la belle France. The gentle daily routine of French folk is now enjoyed by quite a few ‘Anglais’ who also now inhabit this peaceful spot. These English neighbours know a good thing when they see it.

What can we learn from this slower way of life?

The time spent lovingly tending gardens is tremendously good for us. The gentle business of hoeing and mowing fills up our ‘Vitality bucket’ (as Jonathan Fields* calls it), giving us a daily dose of nature’s health-giving vitamin D and some gentle exercise. The result of those labours – dark green and boldly coloured veggies – can’t do us any harm either, especially when food miles is no miles at all. We can perhaps dispense with the leeks, if you prefer.

Neighbourly cooperation fills up our ‘Community bucket’ and time for mutual support and kinship tops up our ‘Contribution bucket’.

Enjoy the slow rhythms of life

So, as my friends prepare to depart for their summer ‘en France’, it’s good to remind oneself that the slow rhythms of a French summer can be enjoyed wherever you are.

Set the table for a leisurely lunch. Hang your clothes to dry on the washing line, instead of reaching automatically for the tumble dryer. Walk into town to go to the market. Write a thank you note for a friend. Stop by and chat to a neighbour as you pass by. And enjoy the best that life has to offer.

Just enough; not too much. It’s the French way.

*Author of How to live a Good Life: Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom


Join us!

Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers.

button_join-the-community-2

Moderate Minimalism for People who Love Stuff

does-clutter-make-you-feel-bad

This is a guest post by Lisa Cole of www.less-stuff.co.uk

I’m not a minimalist, I never was one and I’m unlikely to become one, so it may surprise you to know I run a website about decluttering.

Decluttering doesn’t have to mean paring down your belongings to fit into one small bag. It doesn’t even mean pulling everything you own out of your wardrobe and having stressful days dealing with it all. Decluttering to me is a way of pruning and editing your things so you end up with stuff that makes you feel great about yourself.

Why do we have too much stuff?

There is no doubt we are at peak stuff. Birthdays and Christmas bring new waves of more new things from friends and family. Shopping trips can be made from your sofa, at any time of day or night. You can buy from countries all over the world without even speaking to another human being. Supermarkets have aisles full of interior decorating treats for bored shoppers. Even a cultural day out to a museum ends up in the gift shop. Buying new things can make us happy in the moment at least.

Curating your home

Think of your home as a museum of yourself with you as the curator. Spend just 5 minutes a day picking out a few things you really do not need or want.  Pretty soon you will start to see open spaces that were previously filled with clutter. Start with the small, start with the obvious. Ask yourself:

  • Is it rubbish?
  • Does it work? If not, am I ever going to fix it?
  • Does it bring up any bad memories?
  • Do I actually like it?

Daily small decluttering

You can use 5 minute decluttering sessions anywhere in your home. I like to use the dead time when I’m waiting for something to happen. I might pick through a kitchen drawer and get rid of 5 things while the kettle is boiling, or the washing machine is finishing the spin cycle. If you get rid of 5 things a day for 5 days a week that will be over a thousand bits of clutter in a year. All removed without any fuss or hassle.

I love Catherine’s idea of daily pockets of freedom and I think it is very good to reward ourselves. You could plan a little pocket of freedom after you have done a 5 minute declutter as a great way to reinforce a good habit.

i-decluttered-sticker

Keeping things because we ought to like them

Gifts from loved ones are tricky to say goodbye to, even if we hate the present itself. It may have been given with love but there is no reason why you should have to live with it.  Larger charity shops will send donations out of the area, if you are worried about it being spotted for resale. Kids drawings hold a similar hold over us and I find it easier to get rid of potentially sentimental items sooner, rather than later. With children’s stuff I save the best from each term in a special folder. My son will thank me when he is older for not presenting him with evidence of learning from his entire school life.

Keeping things we love but others hate

Your space, your rules. If you love it, no matter how ugly, broken, smelly or useless it is, then keep it. Your home is your museum and you can put what you want in it. If this bothers other people, just keep it hidden 🙂 If you find it difficult to part with everything and you think you are hoarding, please see your doctor. Hoarding can be a sign of depression and there is lots of help out there.

Do you want to know more about moderate minimalism?

www.less-stuff.co.uk is all about gentle decluttering, simple living, frugal ideas and eco-friendly life.  If you have previously gone through radical declutters and need to keep on top of things, my decluttering prompts will help. If you are new to reducing your belongings, starting small is less scary than huge purges.

Sign up for Lisa’s newsletter (which is infrequent and will not clutter up your inbox) to get a free decluttering calendar, an A-Z of leftover food ideas and a money off voucher for the less-stuff bookshop.

less-stuff-logo-tag


Join us!

Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers.

button_join-the-community-2

Ten minimalist’s tips for summer travels

IMG_2358

The summer holidays are almost upon us, so our thoughts turn to what we need to pack to take with us on vacation.

You’d be surprised if I didn’t pack lightly when going on summer holiday, so here are 10 top tips to travel minimally:

Ten top tips

1. Choose a combination of clothes that work well in lots of situations. A soft jacket worn to the airport will double up as a ‘keep warm’ over a dress when the sun goes down.

2. Don’t take any more than you can fit in luggage the size of a small carry-on suitcase or squishy bag. You don’t need any more. Mix and match, wearing what you bring more than once before you wash it.

3. Toiletries often take up the most room in your luggage. Take multi-purpose items if you can (i.e. shampoo/bodywash combined) or buy what you need when you arrive. Small, travel sized items can be very useful.

4. If flying to your destination, use your beach tote as hand luggage for all your documents, reading material and in-flight essentials. I use a Cath Kidston wipeable tote that a friend bought for me, leaving my leather handbag at home.

5. Travel in your heavier clothes or shoes, leaving space in your luggage for lighter items such as flip-flops. This can be an advantage when going to the airport for an early flight, as it can often be chilly then. Likewise, it’s often cold on board the aircraft so having some soft, extra layers can be useful. The opposite may be true when you arrive, but I don’t mind shedding layers if I need to; I just hate to be cold!

6. Roll your clothes to avoid creasing, KonMari style! This makes them easier to find in your bag.

7. Be mindful about taking anything that would be vulnerable to being banged around i.e. eyeshadow. A beauty editor’s tip is to place a cotton pad or tissue inside the case, thus providing some gentle cushioning for your favourite product.

8. We synthesise Vitamin D through exposure to the sun, so a little bit of what you fancy really does you good. However, wherever you go (and whatever time of year), you must apply sunscreen. I apply SPF 50 to my face every day all year round; it’s part of my morning routine. Wellbeing and beauty expert Liz Earle recommends a mineral based sunscreen. Look out for one containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide.

9. A hat is essential but it doesn’t have to be fancy, bulky or expensive. Last year, we visited mainland Greece. My husband and I took a trip to Paxos and Antipaxos, which included an exhilarating journey by boat across the sea. A simple cotton square, folded into a triangle, made a retro style bandana for me, keeping the sun off my head whilst staying firmly in place.

10. Our pre-departure holiday mantra really says all you need to know: “Money, tickets, passport!” If you have the means to get to your destination and buy provisions when you arrive, that’s really all you need.

Whether you’re going away or enjoying a staycation, I hope you have a truly lovely summer. Let me know what travel tips you have here by responding to this post, below.


Join us!

Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers.

button_join-the-community-2