The 10/10 material possessions exercise

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Have you tried The Minimalists’ 10/10 material possessions exercise? In a recent article for The Times, Barbara McMahon explains how it works.

Write down those ‘big ticket’ items

Write down the ten most expensive material possessions you have collected in the past decade such as a car, a house or other “big-ticket” items.

Then consider what adds most value to your life

Then, make another list of the ten things that have added the most value to your life. This will include experiences such as watching your children play, enjoying a family meal or watching a sunset with a loved one.
McMahon quotes Joshua Fields Millburn who says, “Quite often you find that zero things overlap on those two lists. The things that people thought were important may not actually be that important.”
I beg to differ on some of these.

My ten most expensive ‘possessions’ in the last decade

House

I don’t really class this as a material ‘possession’. It’s our home. It’s an investment. Is it something we possess? I suppose we own it, but we also live in it. Can you live in a possession? Yes, it requires maintenance and upkeep but I would argue that something you inhabit is more than a mere possession. I’d also say that the house is an enabler; it facilitates social and familial connections, in particular.

Car

OK, you’ve got me on this one. Money expert Dave Ramsay says that our car is the single biggest purchase we make, which also depreciates in value. In fact, I’m planning on going car free next year, using public transport or pedal power for a while. We’ll still share a single family car, but this will be one less material ‘possession’ I’ll own.
Nonetheless, owning a car is – in my mind – a significant enabler. Holidays by the sea, for example, are made possible by virtue of the car we choose to pay for. Likewise, it would be hard to sustain family connections if we didn’t own a vehicle. Local hobbies are also more readily accessible through being able to jump into a car.
Perhaps if you live in a city where transport links are good, you might disagree with this. Here in woody Warwickshire, access to a car is still important (and I’m not yet in the habit of calling up an ‘Uber’).

Dining room furniture

Our 19th Century French dining set was our first decent purchase in our current home. In fact, this table and 6 chairs is probably one of the most expensive single item we have ever bought. It came from a local antique dealer/restorer, who takes regular trips to the continent to acquire beautiful items of furniture to restore and sell. Ours is cherry wood, elegant and beautiful. I love it.
But, does it add value? Well, actually, it does. In the introduction to Nigella Lawson’s current television series, At My Table, Nigella points out that, “A table is not just a piece of furniture, just as food is more than mere fuel.” She continues that the table she first bought was not just to “eat at, but to live around.”
That’s the point. Time with friends and family often occurs round that dining table. In truth, gatherings of this nature don’t happen as frequently as I’d like, but that’s not the point. This weekend, we welcome two house-guests, who are homestay visiting students from China. Around our table, we will get to know our visitors in a way that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t sit down together to ‘break bread’.

Dog

Is a pet a material possession? Like anything you need to maintain (back to the car analogy), you have to feed it, look after it and exercise it. And owning a dog isn’t without cost.
Yet, any dog owner will tell you how much joy dog ownership brings into your life. Indeed, this has been the subject of academic research including a recent work by Nickie Charles at The University of Warwick looking at animal-human interactions, notably how pets become ‘kin’.

I thought you said it was 10?

Well, this is supposed to be ten items, but I am struggling to think of any other significant material possessions we have bought in the last decade that fall into this category.
So, I’m curious. Can you think of 10 ‘big ticket’ material items? Or even just a few? What are they? And do they cross over with the things, people or experiences that add value to your life?
In my case, it seems they do. What about you? I’d love to know your thoughts – let me know by replying to this post in the comments box, below.

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10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

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I have previously written about gifting with grace and love, but I’ve been thinking lately about ways to achieve a clutter-less Christmas.

If you’re a minimalist yourself, you may want to be intentional in your gift giving and emphasize ‘experiences over stuff’. Perhaps you’re hoping that any gift you might receive would support your clutter-free goals. Or maybe you’re just looking for some ideas that won’t involve going to ‘shiny spending places’, which would almost certainly result in both you and your wallet feeling depleted.

Here are my 10 Ideas for a Clutter-busting Christmas

1. Try home-made

I’m baking iced Christmas tree decorations this year. Made with love, these little tokens are inexpensive to make, are low-impact when it comes to packaging, and I can be generous in gifting as many as I like. If you don’t want to hang yours on the tree, that’s fine. You can simply eat it.

Pictured above are my cookie jars from a couple of years ago. Again, these are simple to do, visually appealing and require no gift wrap. Let me know if you want the recipe!

2. Go uniform

If you can give the same little love token to lots of people, your gift wrap (if needed) can be uniform too. Try brown paper or newspaper tied with ribbon or string. This is less wasteful than buying myriad gift bags or multiple packs or rolls of gift wrap.

3. Embrace digital

I have an annual subscription with jacquielawson.com. This UK based company designs online greetings cards that can be personalised, so you can write an individual message to the recipient. Send as many as you like, save yourself a small fortune at the post office, reduce waste and avoid clutter. I know that some people still like to send physical cards, but if you lead a busy life and want an efficient way to send a meaningful message, this is one option.

4.  Buy experiences

A trip out to a venue such as the cinema or theatre isn’t a cheap night out. So, gifting an experience that will appeal to loved ones is a fabulous clutter-free option. Alternatively, buy them a music, sporting, driving or dance lesson. There’s no clutter involved and you’ll also be gifting a sense of anticipation, as they’ll have something to look forward to once the festivities are over.

5. Adopt a less is more approach

When it comes to decorations, more is not always better. You can achieve a sense of ‘hygge’ (cosyness) just as well by displaying only your very favourite items. A little bit of sparkle is lovely but you don’t need your home to look like an outpost of John Lewis. Equally, if you bring down from the loft decorations that you never use, it’s OK to let them go. Don’t be hard on yourself if you really don’t value Auntie Mabel’s Christmas baubles. You really don’t have to keep them.

6. Be of service

Have you a skill – or maybe some time – you could offer to others? If ‘acts of service’ form a part of your love language, why not offer a massage, a night’s babysitting, an afternoon’s gardening or something home-cooked? When my pal, Michelle, was 50, she asked for a home-cooked meal for her birthday. I was delighted to offer this unusual present; she and her family were pleased to eat it!

7.  Contribute to others

There are some ways to mark the festive season that will add value in ways that can really make a difference to others’ lives. Once again this year, a colleague of mine is coordinating a collection of gifts for looked after children. Local charities such as Helping Hands also distribute hampers across the community to families who will benefit most. Maybe this provides the opportunity to re-gift things you never used, but which someone else might appreciate?

8. Consider a subscription as a gift

Buying someone a subscription is a lovely treat. Perhaps a year’s membership of a group such as the WI, a magazine or music streaming subscription would be appreciated. What about a subscription box of delicious consumables? There are all kinds of subscription boxes available; why not check them out?

9. Consumables are king

This brings to my favourite gift category: consumables. Gifting something you can eat, drink, spray, apply, cook with or (better still) share is a lovely way to celebrate the holidays in a way that means the recipient won’t end up with something that will ultimately end up in the charity shop or – worse – the bin.

10. Ask them what they want

This might seem obvious, but if you’re unsure about what to give someone you love, why not ask them? Knowing you’re buying something that’s genuinely wanted or needed will guarantee they receive something they’ll truly appreciate. And don’t forget, kids love to have their own spending power, so cash (whilst not very imaginative) is often very much appreciated.

So that’s my list, but what about you? Do you have some clutter-busting holiday ideas? If so, please do share by replying below!


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Who do you think you are?

 Connaught Hotel
If you watch the BBC Series Who Do You Think You Are (or any its spin-offs in your own country, if you’re not UK-based), you’ll know that much of the historical insights unearthed by local historians or professional genealogists rely significantly on physical artefacts and official records. Some of these may only be accessible in their original form and it’s amazing when personal items from centuries long ago are revealed.

Physical artefacts and memorabilia tell a story

Artefacts such as records of birth, marriage and death or census records are now readily available online, but many stories featured on the TV programme see celebrities reviewing the personal effects of their ancestors including hand-written letters, certificates, photographs or personal belongings.

Seeing a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? got me thinking. What would someone looking at my stuff in the future discover about me?

What does the stuff you own say about you?

I come from a line of working class folk. One of my great-grandfathers on my father’s side (pictured, below) was a cooper, a maker of barrels and casks.

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On my mother’s side, another great-grandfather was a “licensed victualler” (a formal term for someone who was the landlord of a public house or similar licensed establishment). In fact, as a young man, that particular great-grandfather was the hotel manager of the establishment whose picture is shown at the top of this post.

Family heirlooms

As a family, we have retained very few artefacts from the past. Had we done so, we would might have had a greater insight into the lives of my ancestors who were coal merchants, steel makers, homemakers and teachers (to name but a few).

Instead, the things I own are mainly in digital form. Photographs and video snippets we upload to online repositories such as Flickr could form an historical record of our present day lives for future generations (assuming they can access them!).

What you wouldn’t want your stuff to say about you

For my part, I wouldn’t want my children or grandchildren – or their children – to find evidence of money squandered on a load of old tat. Much rather, they might see photos showing a life well lived, full of rich experiences.

Hopefully, most of us will not leave an ‘archive’ of unwanted belongings. Indeed, there have been many articles in recent times, such as this one,  illustrating that grown up children certainly don’t want their parents’ stuff.

The virtual ‘stuff’ of today

I would suspect that the vast majority of future ‘historical evidence’ from our present-day lives will lie not in our physical belongings, but more in our digital footprint. That is, the ‘trail’ of data that we leave as we visit websites, submit our details online, share stories via social media and so on.

Indeed, we may leave a trail that could reveal a much greater level of detail for future generations to consider and evaluate. What will they make of it? What will they learn about us? What will the comments, the tweets, the insta’ stories, online profiles and blog posts we submit today say about us in the future? What would you want it to say about you? And just who do you think you are?


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How minimalist environments can help people with ADHD

ADHD article

This is a guest post by Jane Sandwood.

We all know the minimalist movement emphasizes removing clutter from your life; clearing spaces of unwanted distractions that can make one feel drowned by the effects of consumerism.

However, for people with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), decluttering is not simply a choice, but a necessity. For many with the condition, it is the only way to feel secure, relaxed and safe at home.

How clutter affects people with ADHD

Imagine that you have a big exam coming up, and you have problems concentrating. You are immersed in your books, but every time you look up, you see furniture piled up, glasses and crockery on your desk, or loud colours that seem to bore into your brain; you would be tempted to leave to go to a quieter spot, wouldn’t you?

ADHD manifests itself in different ways, making children and adults with the condition more impulsive, disorganized and easily distracted. They may also have more trouble doing ‘boring’ tasks such as tidying up, which is why it is important that the areas they live in are well organized.

A room full of unnecessary furniture can lead to frustration. Only essential pieces should be present; there should always be enough space in a home to balance out any furniture items.

Specific tips for home design

Strategy and storage space are the key elements of good design for an ADHD household.

Organisation

When planning a kitchen, for instance, the person preparing a meal shouldn’t have to run to another room to access items from the pantry, or have to find items they need for a meal from drawers on opposite sides of the kitchen.

Breakfast items, for instance, should be in one ‘space’ – cereal, bowls and cutlery could all be in one drawer. Additionally, all cooking utensils (chopping boards, knives, ingredients) should be more or less in the same corner of the kitchen.

Storage

All rooms should have adequate storage furniture, even bathrooms. Consider having a separate ‘space’ for each family member, somewhere they can keep their robe, rubber ducky (if they are kids), special soap, etc., which is easily accessible and most importantly, out of sight until they need it.

Quiet spaces

A minimalist ‘quiet space’ works well for both children and adults with ADHD. It might just be a small room with lovely natural light, and just a soft seating area and sound system, so they can put on their earphones and disconnect, feeling grander in the space rather than overwhelmed by the clutter that surrounds them.

Minimalism is more than a design choice

Minimalism embraces the dialogue with our inner selves but also drowns out the maddening outer ‘noise’ that exists when too many things vie for our attention.

In the case of people with ADHD, decluttering is more than a design choice; it is a life line that makes the difference between a prison and a home.

Jane Sandwood is a professional freelance writer with over 10 years’ experience across many fields. She has a particular interest in topics relating to health and wellbeing. When Jane isn’t writing, she is busy spending time with her family. She also enjoys music, reading and travelling whenever she can.


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Do you know the difference between pleasure and happiness?

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Do you understand the difference between pleasure and happiness? Can you explain how reward differs from contentment? Robert Lustig certainly can and his latest book, The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science behind the Corporate Takeover of our Bodies and Brains, has something powerful to say about happiness and wellbeing.

About Robert Lustig

Robert Lustig MD is perhaps best known for his bestseller, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity and Disease.

These are not minimalist book titles!

Lustig is a professor of paediatrics, as well as being chief science officer of EatREAL, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to reversing childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. His latest work argues that the corporate world has manipulated us specifically to get us to buy junk we don’t need. It’s an argument you may have come across before, but here we are offered the science behind the message.

We have been ‘manipulated’

Lustig argues that business has conflated pleasure with happiness and “with clear-cut intent” to get us to engage with behaviours that result in society feeling, “…fat, sick, stupid, broke, addicted, depressed and most decidedly unhappy.”

Recognise that rush of pleasure when you:

  • bite into something super sweet and delicious?
  • purchase something shiny and new?
  • see a notification on your smartphone?

That rush is one of dopamine, bringing fleeting reward or pleasure, but this is only ever short-lived and ends up with you wanting more. These things are genuinely addictive.

There is another way

By contrast, Lustig argues that the ‘happy chemical’, serotonin, provides longer-term contentment. He explains the difference between the dopamine effect, which creates, “That feels good. I want more.” versus the seratonin effect that brings about a sense of, “That feels good. I have enough.”

As Lustig says, it’s about understanding the difference between chasing fleeting reward and longer-lasting contentment.

How do we achieve this?

With clear scientific evidence to back up his argument, Lustig argues that real contentment is to be found through his 4 C’s, which increase serotonin in the brain to promote well-being. 

They are:

  • Connect
  • Contribute
  • Cope
  • Cook

I’ll use these themes as categories on future blog posts, so be sure to look out for them.

What it means in practice

Connect

Actively participate in actual social interactions. Social engagement or emotional bonding correlates with contentment, says Lustig.

Facebook (by way of an example) does not count here. Lustig explains the more people use Facebook, the less “subjective well-being” they experience. Just as a diet of processed food fails to support our well-being, so our daily “digital diet” is also doing us harm.

Contribute

By contributing to society (perhaps through work, volunteering or other activities), this (again) increases contentment through feelings of self-worth. Ever read stories of people who gave up their Christmas Day to help at a shelter for the homeless? These volunteers’ feelings of well-being can be directly attributed to the feel-good factor associated with contribution.

Cope

This is mega important. Sleep better, be more mindful, exercise more. These coping strategies are essential to our well-being.

Simply:

  • Get your 8 hours
  • Don’t multi-task
  • Be more mindful or intentional in how you approach your day-to-day activities
  • Take exercise

Cook

The JERF (Just Eat Real Food) message has been around for a while but Lustig makes a particular case for cooking for ourselves, for our friends and for our families. If we do this, we’ll not only be eating foods that can boost that happy chemical, serotonin, but we’ll also be contributing and connecting as well. And sugar is a no no. Period.

All together now

Taken together, these 4 C’s provide the essential support we need to move away from transient moments of reward (pleasure) to a more contented state (happiness).

As a minimalist, reading this book gave me an insight into why we know – instinctively – that more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness. When it comes to more, it’s more of the 4 C’s we really need.

Lustig’s work is based on solid science; it’s not an easy read, but if you’ve ever battled with overcoming negative habits or been concerned that your time spent on social media isn’t adding to your subjective well-being, this book explains why.


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Consider convenience 

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Do you ever feel that you’re rushing from one thing to the next? Perhaps your children’s social lives put you in a perpetual spin? Maybe you feel obligated to go to a particular hairdresser, doctor, dog groomer, dentist (and so on) just because you remain steadfastly loyal?

Some people are perfectly happy to travel significant distances to access certain services and I don’t blame you, if you are one of them. However, for day-to-day or regular activities, an alternative approach could help you slow down, simplify your routine or make a necessary chore feel a little less onerous.

Consider convenience

Episode 137 of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast made me see how important it is to consider convenience.

In this particular episode, Rubin and her sister and co-presenter, Liz Craft, explain how using particular services that are close by can provide a significant happiness boost.

By coincidence, we’d recently made a family decision that fitted well into the category of this particular ‘happiness hack’.

The story of my morning rush

Since our daughter was very small, I’d always taken her to nursery (then school) myself. This was our routine and we enjoyed this time together.

During her primary school years, the journey to school was on the way to my workplace, so this worked well. Once the secondary school years arrived, we continued the drive to school, as my place of work had changed and was now just a few miles further on from my daughter’s senior school.

In the early part of those secondary school years, we could leave as late as 07:50, drop the dog off (if he was going to doggie day care) and I could still be at my desk for 08:45.

Then I changed jobs again.

All change

At first, in my new role, I could still play ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and manage to be at my desk by around 08:30. But then the traffic started to get busier. And busier…. Plus, changes to parking arrangements at work meant that we needed to start leaving the house even earlier to arrive on time and find somewhere to park.

By the end of this busy phase, we were leaving home at 07:10 and I was arriving at work already feeling worn out and somewhat frazzled. Plus, our teen probably wasn’t getting as much sleep as she needed. And teenagers need a lot of sleep.

Enter the school bus

In the early days, the school bus was a potential option, but it was terribly inconvenient.

Its route involved various pick-ups, including a detour into the city centre, before it finally journeyed to its destination. This wasn’t ideal and the cost seemed prohibitively high in view of the drawbacks.

Then, the service changed, so our small town became the penultimate stop before the onward bus journey to school. Even better, the service now departed at 08:00 from our local stop, so this looked like a much more attractive option altogether.

Try this at home

At the start of the new term, my lovely husband suggested we try the bus. It would enable me to spend a lot less time in the car (as well as less time in traffic), plus the cost of the termly bus pass would be counterbalanced by the saving in fuel.

He was right.

I cannot tell you how much less stressed and more happy I feel as a result of this change. I am now able to drop our daughter at the bus stop and be at my desk within about 20 minutes. The previous round-trip could take as much as an hour.

I’m sure that our teenager would much prefer to be driven (who wouldn’t?). But this arrangement is a common-sense, practical solution to a problem that did need to be solved. And, now that our teenager is heading towards her 16th birthday, I also remind myself of an old mantra:

Independence is not neglect.

It is clear to me that choices that were once convenient don’t always remain so. And that’s worth thinking about.

What change can you make through considering convenience?

Convenience can make a big impact if you want to simplify your life.

As Rubin suggests in the podcast episode, “Making something more convenient will make it more likely that you’ll follow through.”

So consider this:

  • Is there a gym close to your place of work or home? You’ll be more likely to go, if you choose this option.
  • Can you walk or cycle to your workplace to combine exercise and transport?
  • Could you switch to a service provider that offers a late opening or a more local service, thus saving you precious time and resources?

Just try it!

Perhaps, like me, you’ll find a surprising amount of value (even beyond what you might have hoped for) through considering convenience in your daily choices.

And if you’ve made a convenient choice that has created more space in your life, please do share by replying below.


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10 reasons to act now in the season of letting go

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I love autumn, not least because it’s my birthday month, but also because in colour-analysis terms, I am also an ‘Autumn‘. Win win!

To me, Fall is the perfect season for letting go.

If we’ve been pre-occupied with summer or holiday pursuits until now, there’s a chance that, as the nights draw in, we can resume our goals. After all, September is considered to be the new January and the start of the academic year is well and truly here.

Your goals

Maybe you really want to get your family room decluttered? Or perhaps you’ve been putting off that paperwork? The kids are well and truly back at school, so now’s the time to get stuck in.

Or perhaps you’re keen to slough off some mental baggage or unhealthy habits that you know aren’t serving you?

Do this now, before the ‘silly season’ is upon us.

Here are 10 reasons to act now

  1. Christmas – the season of acquisition – is just around the corner. There, I’ve said it. Unclutter your space before you start to add to it (either with holiday decorations or new purchases).
  2. There is only now. Consider what you can declutter in the next 10 minutes. Find 10 things in just 10 minutes and put these in your ‘goods out’ location. Go!
  3. A little progress can make a big difference, so try just tackling one drawer, one shelf or one cupboard. Small wins will spur you on.
  4. There are lots of useful tricks and techniques to help you. Check out my Unclutter2017 series for inspiration or join my Minimalism and Simple Living Group via Betterapp.us to get some accountability for your goals.
  5. Worry and busyness can cause us to lose sight of what’s important. We end up living in a constant state of anxiety when we’re continually focussing on the next thing. Let go of your ‘to do’ list (especially at weekends) to enjoy the day unfold.
  6. It’s OK to let go of others’ expectations and to start saying no. Maybe you need to put yourself first.
  7. Holding on can prevent you from moving forward. “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” – Jan Glidewell
  8. Social media channels are not only time-sucking phenomena; they can also impact negatively on how we (and our kids) feel. Use just the one (or two) that bring you the most enjoyment. Dare to delete an app or even the entire account. I promise you won’t miss it; you might even feel a sense of relief.
  9. Let go of late nights. Shorter sleep equals shorter life, as this recent article in The Guardian explains. Autumn is the perfect time to go to bed early and make sure you get your full 8 hours.
  10. Letting go might just enable you to add value to someone else’s life through a book you pass on, a piece of clothing you donate or time devoted just talking with someone else.

So, what’s holding you back? And what will you let go of this autumn?


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