Give warm greetings and farewells

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Each time I finish a book, I find invariably that there’s something that particularly stands out or that resonates with me. There’s that one thing – sometimes just a small notion – that sticks in my mind.

When I read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, it was McKeown’s exhortation to “Do less, but better!” that stayed with me. Likewise, James Wallman’s Stuffocation left me with this simple but perfect mantra: “Experiences over stuff.”

A ‘sticky’ resolution

So, I wasn’t surprised when I finished Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home and found myself musing over one of her many resolutions. It was this:

“Give warm greetings and farewells.”

In spite of Rubin’s sensible acknowledgement that you can only change yourself, she made an exception when proposing this resolution to her family.

She wanted to ensure that family members felt acknowledged and welcomed when returning home. Further, she wanted these brief but important moments of connection to be extended to saying farewell whenever a family member left for his or her daily trip to work or school or wherever they were going.

How important are these moments of connectedness!

How connected are we really?

We live in a connected world. As of June 2017, Facebook is said to have had 2.01 billion active users; Twitter 328 million and Instagram 600 million. Today’s technology enables us to reach people in myriad ways, whenever we feel like it. Our teenagers are ultra-connected, with an almost constant flow of SnapChat snippets and ‘streaks’ to keep them – and their network – tethered by wifi.

And yet, when our loved ones walk through the door, do we lift our heads from the iPad, put down the virtual pencil or look up from whatever we are doing? Not always. Why? Because we are distracted. We are drowning in busy-ness. We’ll be there in a minute.

This won’t be new, but I suppose we have to disconnect to reconnect.

Who greets you first?

The late, great Nora Ephron wrote:

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Many a true word said in jest….

I once attended a family gathering at which the children of the host acknowledged their grandparents’ arrival with something akin to mild indifference. Witnessing the grandparents’ confusion and hurt made me resolve that, within our own family, we would always ensure that we made our own parents feel truly welcome.

Spark those connections

Reading Rubin’s resolution reminded me of the importance of this daily ritual, as we acknowledge the daily comings and goings of loved ones.

So, now, within our little family of three (plus dog!), we now observe this resolution in our own day-to-day interactions and remind each other, “Warm greetings and farewells!” It really does make a difference.

Do you have a mantra or resolution to help you maintain those family connections? What’s your way of sparking and maintaining a connection with loved ones? Let me know by replying below!


 

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Sustainable shopping: tumble dryer wool eco-balls

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As the weather continues to get cooler (and certainly a lot wetter), there are some items in our laundry for which we use the tumble-dryer. These are notably things like towels, which would otherwise take a long time to dry.

Tumble drying isn’t energy efficient

Now, I know that the tumble dryer uses a lot of energy so it’s an expensive way to dry our laundry. Indeed, I certainly don’t tumble dry clothes because it’s too wearing on the fabric. I discuss the other methods of drying we use here.

Ways to combat downsides of tumble drying

To offset the energy-efficiency issue, we only dry during the hours when our electricity is at its cheapest rate. We have a tariff, which offers a reduced rate at off-peak times (according to where we live).

To improve the tumble-drying process, we bought some wool dryer balls. These are not only reusable, but they save 15-30% drying time, thus saving energy too.

Eco-friendly balls

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These 100% New Zealand Wool eco-friendly balls tumble in the dryer, along with the laundry, pulling excess water out of the items to reduce drying time.

These are also gentle on the skin, as they contain nothing but pure wool (we never use fabric conditioner).

They work in two ways:

  1. They absorb some of the water, thus taking the water out of the items to be dried.
  2. They help separate the items in the dryer, creating pockets of air so that the items don’t clump together.

From New Zealand?

Balls

I looked for a UK-made version online, but haven’t found one yet. Maybe there is one, in which case it would be good to know.

In the meantime, we continue to use these balls, which certainly give the weekly washing a bit more bounce!

Just don’t let the dog anywhere near…


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Sticking to your budget – week by week

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For a while now, I’ve been using my dual account budgeting system for our family finances. In case you haven’t read about this before, I use two separate accounts. One is for all of our regular standing orders and direct debits, the other for discretionary spending including food, fuel, clothing and so on.

Use two accounts

Splitting out our two major spending groups means we never have to worry about our bills. These are paid automatically. Plus, we make sure there’s always the money we need in the first account to cover this planned, regular expenditure.

Track with an app

As well as my dual account budget spreadsheet, I’ve been using an app called Spending. This helps me work out what proportion of my overall expenditure is devoted to the different categories I have specified. By seeing the percentages in Spending’s pie chart, I know that I’m allocating the correct proportion of our overall household budget to each category.

Try breaking expenditure into weekly totals

In spite of paying a lot of attention to budget tracking, August seemed like a very long month in money terms. The long summer holidays meant our usual spending patterns shifted and there seemed to be too much month left at the end of the money.

So, I decided to take my ‘what gets measured gets improved’ philosophy a step further. I opted to divide my monthly budget amounts into weekly totals. This way, I could pace our expenditure, and track our overall monthly finances at the same time.

Here’s how I did it

I quickly worked out the number of weeks in the month. It’s easy if every month is February (28 days/7 days in a week = 4 weeks in the month). But, what about a month in which there are 31 or 30 days? Well, a 31 day month has 4.43 weeks and a 30 day month has 4.29. So, that’s the maths out of the way.

An example

Imagine you’re allocating £575 per month to your family food and groceries and you’re in a 31 day month, that gives you £129.84 to spend per week on your weekly shop. Seeing this amount as a weekly total really helps you focus when you’re doing your online shop. I have found that if I spend a few more moments comparing prices and making substitutes, I can keep within the weekly amount.

When it gets tricky

Other items are a little more tricky to manage on a week-by-week basis. For example, a single tank of fuel can exceed the weekly budget, but I know that we only fill up around once a fortnight. For this category, I might allocate fortnightly amounts.

I also think it’s OK to vire between budgets (get me with my finance terminology!). For example, if I know that there are no school lunches to buy during vacation time, I can boost another ‘pot’ if that would be helpful or allocate those funds to savings.

What next?

So, I’m going to continue for the remainder of the month and see whether or not this ‘pacing’ of expenditure makes a difference. At least, I’m not buying stuff we don’t need. That’s such a blessing in so many ways.

How about you? What helps you stay on track? Do you use an envelope system and pay for everything in cash? Do you have a favourite app? Do share!


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Sustainable shopping: eco-wrap from the honey bee

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Abeego’s beeswax wrap

Since launching the blog, I’ve written on a variety of topics from decluttering to simple living, intentionality, frugal living, the slow home and more.

My passion for minimalism has sparked a number of new but related interests. For example:

  • How can we live in a more sustainable way?
  • Can I be more ethical as a consumer?
  • How can we eat simply but well?

Sustainable Shopping

Having consulted members of the Midlands Minimalist community, it’s clear that some of you agree. So, in the coming months, I’m going to expand into some topics that relate to these themes, one of which will be ‘Sustainable Shopping’.

This first ‘Sustainable Shopping’ post focuses on a new-to-me product, Abeego’s reusable beeswax food wrap.

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Food wrap redesigned

In our house, most of our cooking is from scratch so we often enjoy leftovers the next day. As a result, anything we don’t eat straight away may remain in its cooking pot or dish, but sometimes I want to decant a single serving into a smaller container. Here’s where years of conditioning have us unintentionally reaching for the cling film. But there is a better way.

Abeego’s beeswax food wrap offers a genuine alternative to the ‘use-it-once’ plastic film to which we are all accustomed.

My pack came from Ethical Superstore whose service was quick and efficient. However, there is a large ‘but’ coming…..

Wrap within wrapping x 4

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The Abeego wrap comes in its own cardboard packaging, which provides useful information about the product and its various benefits, as well as offering tips on how to get the best out of this washable, malleable beeswax wrap.

So far, so good.

But I found Ethical Superstore’s excessive packaging (2 layers of bubble wrap and an outer layer of grey plastic) really disappointing. How cushioned does a cardboard pack of beeswax wraps need to be?

The proof was in the wrapping

I was dubious as to how effective this product would be, but what a revelation! Just as Abeego promises, the wrap is a little tacky to the touch and malleable so you can push the wrap into the shape you want (as I did in the photo at the top of this post). Once in the fridge, the wrap stiffens, keeping itself firmly in place.

To keep it clean, a quick wash with cold water is all you need.

The MidsMins thumbs up 

So, I recommend Abeego to you. I’d estimate that – over the course of this product’s ‘lifecycle’, it may not actually save you any money, but it’s one less item going into landfill. For me, that’s reason enough to invest.


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3 Autumn Essentials

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The latter part of August seemed very autumnal indeed. This was in spite of a late surge of warm sunny weather (which, for once, coincided with the Bank Holiday weekend).

Last week brought misty mornings, alongside ripe blackberries to enjoy in the now-harvested wheat fields close to our home. So, with ‘back to school’ just around the corner, my thoughts are turning towards autumn.

My Autumn Essentials

If – like me – your wardrobe follows the Project 333 approach, you might be thinking of the 33 items you’ll wear over the next 3 months.

For me, this is pretty straightforward, as much of what I wear in summer will transition well into autumn with a few tweaks. Sandals are replaced by opaque tights and boots. A warm wrap around my shoulders provides an extra layer on chilly mornings, which can be thrown off when the warm afternoon sun breaks through. My trusty tote continues to be my ‘go anywhere’ bag.

So, here are my 3 autumn essentials, all from great British companies:

OSPREY LONDON Khaki tote

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There was once a time when I used to carry a messenger-type bag, as well as my lunch bag and separate shoe bag, into the office. With my khaki tote, my first ‘autumn essential,’ I can fit everything into one bag.

I prefer to take the essentialist approach when it comes to bags: I buy one good bag and use it every day.

This one is lovely: its soft leather is a pleasure to carry around. Even better – its various compartments ensure that everything has its place: keys, phone, purse, tablet, book, umbrella, sunglasses and toiletries bag each have their own space within this useful tote. I wouldn’t be without it. And no, perhaps the contents of my bag aren’t especially minimalist, but I use them daily!

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Catherine Robinson cashmere wrap

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In autumn and winter, I struggle to add a layer like a cardigan over what I’m wearing to keep warm; I find the cuffs get in the way. As I prefer a 3/4 length sleeve, I always end up pushing up the sleeves of a jacket or cardigan, which adds bulk and feels uncomfortable.

Instead, in the last year, I have worn a Uniqlo ultra light down gilet on very cold days. However, this pragmatic solution doesn’t always look especially smart.

Here’s where my Catherine Robinson Cashmere wrap offers the perfect solution. It is warm, lightweight and super stylish, adding a soft hug to the day’s proceedings and it can be worn in a variety of ways. Better still, my gorgeous cashmere wrap – made in Mongolia – arrived with a scented cameo to hang in my closet, making everything smell beautiful. This is a luxury product, beautifully crafted, and I know it will last me for years.

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FLY London knee-high boots

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This autumn will be the third year I have worn these old favourites. And well-worn they are, as you might guess from the photo! From FLY London, these boots go with everything and their hardwearing soles have stood the test of time; this will be my third autumn/winter wearing these boots.

I always have a pair of boots for autumn/winter (and only one – essentialism again!). Whilst it may cost a little more to buy a good quality pair, I will typically wear them over 3 or 4 years, making these a value-for-money purchase.

How about you?

Do you refresh your wardrobe selection or add layers, as the days become cooler? Is there a ‘must have’ in your closet? Do reply below. I’d love to know your autumn wardrobe essentials.


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Being (happy) where you are 

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Kynance Cove in beautiful Cornwall

My husband hit the nail on the head: “You always want to be somewhere else.”

On holiday earlier this summer, I imagined that I could take a boat across the sea to visit Italy (specifically to visit Rome, a place I have not yet visited).

How could I be in such a lovely holiday destination with my head somewhere else? What follows are the thoughts that were swirling through my mind.

This is where I’m coming from

I’m physically present but my mind is elsewhere. Back at home, we live in the heart of England. Our region is as far away from the coast as you can possibly get. So, where would I rather be? You’ve got it. I would rather be by the sea.

What is this sense of unrest? Is it curiosity, wanderlust or just plain dissatisfaction?

When I’m by the sea….

When I am by the sea, my heart sings. I experience a strong emotional reaction when I see (and smell) the crashing waves for the first time. Here, the calm turquoise waters of our holiday resort do not evoke the same feeling. This is not “my sea.” I appreciate its appeal and its beauty; it is picture postcard perfect. But it’s not mine.

My sea

My sea is different. It changes with the weather and can be dark and brooding one day, then calm as a duck pond the next. My sea is foamy, icy cold and dramatic. Dolphins play in the shallows, leaping through the surf in perfect arc formations. I have seen this at Sennen, in far west Cornwall, and it is the most exhilarating sight.

My sea requires wetsuits, surfboards and windbreaks. Dogs run along the water’s edge, shaking themselves in a sandy, spiral. Little ones wearing legionnaires’ caps make sandcastles while grown-ups turn their faces to the sun from deckchairs planted in the wet sand.

My fantasy self

In my fantasy, we have a beach hut of our own where we shelter from high winds, enjoying mugs of steaming tea and eating ripe melon and juicy peaches in the August sunshine.

Out of season, we wrap up warm in woolly hats and wellies to experience the joy of walking on quiet stretches of sand, watching the brave and hardy windsurfer catch the wave across the shore.

Curiosity or wanderlust?

So, perhaps it’s neither curiosity nor wanderlust. It’s not dissatisfaction either. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to travel more and I’m grateful when I get the chance to enjoy somewhere new. Being away (as you’ll see from my earlier posts) deepens my sense about what simple living is all about.

Where I belong

For me, this is just a deep sense of knowing where I feel happiest. For a long time, I have talked about living by the sea. It’s been my long-standing aspiration.

In the meantime, I am perfectly happy where I am. I’m not yearning to be somewhere else. But I know that “my sea” is waiting for me.

On this late Summer Bank Holiday weekend, where is your happiest place? Wherever you are, I hope you have a good one.


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Intentional living

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This week saw the release of A level results here in the UK.

By the time ‘6th formers’ awoke on Thursday morning, notification of whether or not they had secured their preferred university choice had already been posted online by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Most students learned their grades on picking up their results from their schools. By then, they already knew if the next few years would be as they had intended or if they would need to ‘reframe’ future plans.

What is ‘intentionality’?

This got me wondering about the idea of intention. I’ve been planning (intending!) to write a piece on this topic for a while.

This week’s inspiration, which was close to my heart, spurred me onto consider this further.

You probably already know that proponents of minimalism and simple living refer a great deal to the notion of intentionality. It is the idea of making mindful, thoughtful choices in our lives.

What does it really mean if you’re a would-be college student?

Intentionality at A level

When students embark upon their 2 years of study at ‘Advanced Level’, what’s their intention? Indeed, what do any of us consider when we start a course, project or initiative? What’s our intention, aim or plan?

When aspiring towards a qualification, is the intention or aspiration to learn new things, acquire advanced skills or increase our understanding of a particular subject?

Perhaps the qualification is – in itself – the goal?

For A level students, their courses (and specifically the grades) are a means to an end i.e. they are the ticket to the next part of their academic and professional journey. Nonetheless, one would hope that learners might also enjoy the process.

Enjoying the journey

Writer Gretchen Rubin in Happier at Home reminds us that an atmosphere of growth is important to our well-being. She writes, “It’s not goal attainment but the process of striving after goals – that is, growth – that brings happiness.”

Still, 2-year A Level courses are soon over. There’s a transience associated with studying towards qualifications such as these. The time certainly passes in a lightning flash.

Setting your intention

When embarking on anything new, setting an intention can help us to focus, as we look to develop (and sustain) new, positive habits.

In his book, The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav (who was brought to prominence by Oprah Winfrey) devotes a whole section of his book to the notion of intention. I have to say that I found Zukav’s writing style difficult to follow, but I dipped in to see what he had to say on the topic.

Zukav’s key idea on intention is as follows:

“Every action, thought and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect.” (Emphasis mine).

Essentially, Zukav is reminding us that what we reap is what we sow, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Whether our intention is explicit or barely acknowledged, how we approach something new will impact on the outcome. Students embarking upon undergraduate study may already have learned this truth.

However, one fundamental matter exists in the context of transitions in education: students’ intentions may be thwarted by external factors outside of their control. If their plans don’t come together because of a missed grade point or a single blip in a test score, there has to be an immediate period of reframing. Happily, very soon, things adjust and settle. Plans are redrawn. Life goes on.

In everyday life

For those of us well past A levels and university, setting an intention for a small and seemingly insignificant part of our day can nonetheless make a big difference. We don’t necessarily need to be striving towards major life goals to benefit from this practice.

Angela’s story

Angela from Setting my Intention was my ‘go to’ person when it came to this topic.

Angela told me, “I had been going to yoga classes prior to starting my blog and loved how the yoga instructor would suggest setting an intention for the time we would be practicing. I knew that I needed to start intentions off the yoga mat in order to get focused and have peace in my home and life. It’s been life-changing.”

Notice that. By setting intentions off the yoga mat, Angela changed her life.

Just being a little more mindful when going about our day-to-day lives – more intentional – is bound to make us think, pause, breathe and consider our actions before we act.

Mindful moments

Even if we pause for only a fraction of a second before we select what to eat, how to act, what to write, or how to respond to others is going to be impactful. If we are intentional in our choices, we’ll act with our long-term goals or values in mind.

Serious about losing weight? Pause and think of that important goal before you find yourself ‘off guard’, making spur-of-the-moment choices that aren’t going to support your aim.

Want a deeper engagement with your kids? Intentionally choosing to have some ‘tech-free-time’ might be transformative. Here, the intention contributes directly to the effect. And you have the power to make the change.

For Angela, by mindfully setting an intention in her life, she experienced a dramatic change, as she was able to overcome her experience of feeling (in her own words),  “…harried and overwhelmed as a mom.”

Becoming more deliberate

If we become more deliberate, mindful and intentional about the moments, minutes, hours and days of our lives, then the resultant effect is bound to reap rewards.

These effects or outcomes may not come in the form of degree certificates or academic plaudits, but they have the potential to make changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

And if you’re off to college or university soon, set your intention. Enjoy making new friends and having new experiences.

Oh, and get some work done.


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