Silent Night! Holy night!

Silent Night! Holy night!

If, like me, you have a teenager in the house, chances are you may have gone (or will be going) Christmas shopping together. In the teen shopping world, this probably means going to stores where the pop music is booming and you may not be able to see the merchandise clearly. Mentioning no names, but there is a particular well-known high street store where the customer experience resembles that of a Californian beach party at dusk.

Power down

Just lately, I’ve been deliberately switching off and reducing or eliminating unnecessary noise. It started with my commute. There’s a point where I have to do a tricky right turn on a bend to go over a narrow bridge at Stoneleigh. By switching off the radio, I become more focussed and attentive to what is around me. I also hope that I am safer. By that point in my journey, in any case, I know the news from BBC Radio 4’s Today. I have probably heard the same stories more than once already.

A constant buzz

Have you noticed how many of us fill our lives with constant sound? Earphones and mobile devices facilitate this, of course. However, if you switch off for a few minutes, there is time for the brain to work on things you may not have given yourself space to consider. You might reflect on what has passed, imagine what is to come and hypothesise about particular situations. Ideas may simply pop into your head. There are many possibilities.

The sound of silence

When you switch off, of course, you become more aware of your surroundings. On a Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. the bell-ringers at Leek Wootton have their weekly practice. Imagine the lovely sound of church bells wafting up across the fields, to our little corner of Warwickshire. It’s this kind of magic that I want to conjure up this Christmas.#

The quietest moment

Of course, the time we notice the silence most is on Christmas morning itself. I love that sense of quiet, as though the whole world is sleeping. The same is true after snow fall. A ‘silent night’ (or day) may become a truly ‘holy’ or ‘blessed’ one, as sounds and thoughts re-enter your world. What follows? Sleep – in heavenly peace.

———————————————————————————————————-

Discover the Midlands Minimalist Community

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may wish to join the Midlands Minimalist Community. With newsletter updates roughly twice a month including unique content, click below to come on board!

Note that if you’ve signed up to receive the latest blog posts via email, this doesn’t automatically subscribe you to the Community newsletter, so click on the button below to join.

button_join-the-community-2

The #LifeEnergyExperiment evaluated

The #LifeEnergyExperiment evaluated

Have you ever wondered where your money goes each month? What did you buy that used up all your hard-earned pennies?

In November 2016, I embarked upon a little experiment. Instead of merely recording what I spent, I tracked exactly what I bought. For every purchase (see the rules here), I asked myself a question:How much satisfaction, value and fulfillment did I gain from what I bought, relative to ‘life energy’ expended? That is, for everything I bought, I did a little cost-benefit analysis. Was that item worth an hour of my time? Did I gain sufficient ‘value’ from my purchase, when set against the effort devoted to earning the money to pay for it?

Let’s find out!

Here’s what I bought – in no particular order – (over and above food, groceries and fuel):

  • Coffee – for myself and others (not more than once a week, so greatly enjoyed when purchased)
  • Flowers – a gift for my auntie’s 70th birthday (my second most expensive purchase)
  • Raffle prize, secret santa gift and a thank you present (each involving consumables)
  • Measuring spoons (bought a new set to replace my 1/8th cup measure whose handle I had snapped)
  • Salad spinner
  • Dog shampoo and dog treats
  • A packed tea for my daughter who was going to the theatre straight from school
  • Tap dancing classes
  • Tap shoes (I had been wearing my 14 year old’s shoes thus far!), plus new shoes for said daughter (my biggest single transaction and more than 3 hours’ ‘life energy’ worked to play for them).

What else?

During the month, I also enjoyed a number of yoga classes (purchased in a bundle during October) and paid £11 towards a ‘Come Dine with Me’ meal that was a fundraiser for the chorus of which I had previously been a member.

So, how did my purchasing choices stack up when set in the light of ‘life energy’ expended?

Many of the items costed considerably less than the equivalent of an hour’s work or ‘life energy’. However, some things, if better planned, might have have offered even greater value in proportion to the life energy expended. Take the packed tea: an M&S wrap and accompanying goodies are a treat, but an indulgence when compared to how much the same food would have cost if made at home. That was simply about being more organised, rather than having food in the house but not being bothered to make something.

As a hobbyist and foodie, it’s clear to see where my spending priorities lie. The tap dancing classes and shoes together represented around £100 of spend (and therefore several hours’ ‘life energy’) but offered so many more hours of fun, fitness and camaraderie. The shoes will certainly last for years.

When I look at my buying categories, gifts feature quite a lot. Giving to others was important but I made a point of not buying stuff. Instead, the flowers and wine were intended to be enjoyed or consumed but not kept.

The things to be kept (salad spinner, measuring spoons) are the ‘essentialist’ tools of someone who loves to eat and cook!

So, as I review these purchases in the round, how much satisfaction, value and fulfillment did I truly gain from what I bought, relative to ‘life energy’ expended? I’d say – overall – the virtual life energy barometer would be nudging towards HIGH.

I have made intentional purchases over the month, which have enabled me to enjoy experiences over stuff; show my appreciation and love for others; and prioritise food and friendship. You can’t put a price on that.

Upholding your values, especially in the festive season

Upholding your values, especially in the festive season

What are your personal values? That is, what are the guiding principles that form the cornerstone of how you live your life?

Often, we think of values as they apply to the corporate world. We see words such as ‘integrity, ‘quality’, ‘leadership’ or ‘entrepreneurial’, aimed to foster certain behaviours and guide the actions of those who work in a specific organisation. Yet whilst we all have personal values, they are seldom expressed outwardly. If you were to think of yourself as an’organisation’, what would your core values be?

Everyone’s journey towards minimalism is different, but if you’re looking to live a life with more intention, less stress and (even) less debt, living by your values can help you stay true to your principles. The question is how can you uphold those values and be authentic in your day-to-day activities, especially in today’s “Super-fast Starbucks* Shiny Society?”

A few months ago, a longstanding friend got in touch to invite me to meet up with her one evening. Perhaps, she suggested, we might have a bite to eat or a glass of wine in a local restaurant? At the time, although delighted by her invitation, I was trying hard to stick to a budget, so I asked her whether or not we could possibly meet at home instead (either hers or mine). Imagine my surprise when she expressed great relief that she, too, was watching the pennies and would be much happier with that solution. So, we met at her home and enjoyed a relaxed evening together, which we both enjoyed.

In making this arrangement, we were true to ourselves and acknowledged what mattered: seeing one another was more important than any amount of fine dining or Sauvignon Blanc.

How many times do we agree to go somewhere, do something or spend time in a way that is contrary to the values that we hold dear? This may be particularly challenging during the festive season when there are myriad opportunities to spend more money, acquire (or give) more stuff, attend drinks parties or nights out, support ‘winter fairs’ and participate in the revelry of Christmas cheer?

So, as we romp towards the holidays, remember what’s important to you. Prioritise the things that matter most. By all means, support the school fair, or your godchildren’s Nativity play, but don’t deny yourself the opportunity to kick back or enjoy a time of reflection.

Courtney Carver’s ’31 Days of Gifts You So Deserve’ (see BeMoreWithLess) and other projects such as the Kindness Advent Calendar from maketodayhappy are the order of the day. They help us take time out from busyness and turn our attention away (perhaps just momentarily) from seasonal sparkle towards some self-care and more reflective activities.

What will you do to uphold your values this Christmas?

*Not having a go at Starbucks or any of its competitors. I quite like a gingerbread-spice decaff latte, thank you!

Don’t confuse your possessions for treasured memories 

Don’t confuse your possessions for treasured memories 

For years, I kept a collection of so-called treasured possessions in a plastic trunk in the loft. ‘So-called’ because if these were really loved and admired belongings, then why weren’t they being used or displayed in my home? This was a classic case of ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ With every house move (four different homes over the last 20 years), along came my tidy but bulky red and blue trunk. It was almost like I was carrying around physical representations of my childhood, teenage years and early 20’s.

This year, as part of my final push towards true independence from ‘stuff’, I cleared and emptied the trunk completely. What did I find in there? What did I do with it? How did it feel to let go?

In the trunk:

Photo albums, scrapbooks, toys, a school report book, some trinket boxes, a decorative plate, a book of Rupert Brooke poems, my undergraduate dissertation, some greetings cards… and a few other things that now I can’t even remember.

What happened to the things I had?

My soft baby toys were so dirty and worn that they went in the bin.

A decorative plate I had acquired on a trip to Canada in 1990 went to a car boot sale to support a local good cause.

A wooden lidded box that had belonged to my grandmother is now playing a useful role as a place to store chargers for our various devices. It conceals their messiness and looks good on my shelf.

A Wedgwood 1953 Coronation souvenir (another lidded container) is home for small bedside bits and pieces, such as lip balm and emery board.

The photo albums are now on the shelf with my small collection of photo albums and books.

And so on.

The point is that by unearthing these old possessions, I have been able to create more space in my home and make use of things that I owned but which were hidden from view. I truly don’t miss the things I let go, but the memories from that time persist. The reality was that I was holding onto this stuff, as though my memories were bound up in these physical artefacts. By letting go of these material goods, I am not deprived of my past because I no longer have the mementos. Rather, I am unburdened of dust-gathering, yellowing and use-less items and freed from the tyranny of being defined by what I possess, rather than who I am.

 

5 top tips for moving house

5 top tips for moving house

You’re moving house, not moving clutter!

Some very good friends of ours moved house last month. A month on, this lovely family is still working hard on finding a place for its belongings, in spite of the fact that a great deal of decluttering was done prior to moving day itself.

At this time of year, on top of developing plans for the holiday season, people often strive also to complete a house move. How many times have you heard, “It’s OK. We’ll be in by Christmas!”?

So, what if you were thinking of a move, but hadn’t yet set the wheels in motion? Maybe you’re thinking about a move next spring? Here are my top 5 tips for moving house:

  1. Declutter before you even put the house on the market
  2. Keep it clean
  3. Spend less time and money on packing and removals
  4. Enjoy a more productive start to life in your new home
  5. Focus on the things that add value, not on the things that don’t

 

Declutter before you put the house on the market

You’ll make your home more appealing to potential buyers and, critically, your space will be ready when the promotional photographs are taken. Attracting people to come and view is your goal; make it a no-brainer for potential buyers.

Keep it clean

Less clutter means you’ll find it so much easier to keep your home clean for viewings.

Spend less time and money on packing and removals

Less clutter means less packing = reduced removals cost. The more boxes you move, the more it costs. Removal companies will size up your stuff when costing their quote. Make it easy for them and reduce the overall cost for you.

Enjoy a more productive start to life in your new home

Spend less time unpacking, sorting and shelving and more time enjoying your new space. If you have thought long and hard about what to take with you, it’ll be so much easier to find your belongings a new home when you finally arrive there.

Focus on the things that add value, not on the things that don’t.

Remember your ‘why’. Why did you move in the first place? To have a bigger garden? To enable the kids to have more space? To enjoy a different layout or spend more time enjoying home-cooked meals and time with friends?

Some time spent decluttering upfront will really reap benefits later, so think about it now. Maybe you might even look differently upon your existing home, as you uncover a life you really love beneath the clutter.

The festive season and the Life Energy Experiment

The festive season and the Life Energy Experiment

Although the John Lewis Christmas promo’ is arguably the most eagerly-anticipated television advertisement of the festive season, it’s the Marks and Spencer one that has made the bigger impact on me. With its film-quality production values and multi-layered messages, it works on a number of levels and is a very clever piece of advertising.

If you haven’t seen it, simply check out #MrsClaus on Twitter and you’ll find it.

Actually, the particular advert I’m referring to appears to be one of a little series. It depicts the wily Mrs Christmas providing a last-minute gift solution in answer to a letter from a little boy whose tearful sister has lost her best shoes… to the dog.

The advertisement is clearly aimed at women, who are still the most likely members of any family unit to be doing the bulk of the Christmas shopping (even in 2016). There’s the clever product placement in the clothes Mrs Claus wears and the mince pies she eats, as well as in the gift she delivers. Let’s face it, Mrs C is stylish, sophisticated and she would probably have a trolley if she shopped in M&S (the ultimate sign for my family that you had “made it” when I was growing up in t’ North).

Further, there’s no need for traditional methods for our heroine, unlike her bearded husband who departs in the usual way on Christmas Eve with sleigh and reindeer. With a magical vault of ready-prepared gifts (ready-meal, anyone?), Mrs Claus moves fast, using skidoo, helicopter and fast car to reach her destination. She eschews the chimney in favour of a more magical entrance and beats Father Christmas back home to the North Pole, her secret kept safely to herself. As the advertisement mirrors life (and gift-giving), we have a tension between ‘tech vs. traditional’ where technology wins hands down. We also see the savvy woman beating her man at his own game, but letting him think that he’s done it all himself.

In spite of evoking the spirit of Christmas, I can’t help feeling that, for some, this type of advertising might not resonate quite as much as intended. In 21st Century Britain, the nuclear family has evolved. It now takes many forms. The formulaic 2.4 kids and dog is still prevalent in my part of the world but I would wager that this wouldn’t be the case thoughout many cities and towns across many parts of the UK. Hard-working partners will also remind their spouses that whilst they might not be doing the actual shopping, they’re certainly contributing to the actual paying.

Yet, as I watched the advertisement, it still brought a tear to my eye, as I remembered Christmases past with loved ones no longer with us. Will it make me rush out to Marks and Spencer to buy presents? No, of course not. But as my own husband reminded me, we give and receive gifts as tokens of love. We shouldn’t be so cynical if we remember that the John Lewis and Marks and Spencers of this world do perform a service for weary workers who appreciate a quick gift solution this Christmas.

As for Minimalist me, I have written about gifting here before. I’d urge you to think carefully about your Christmas shopping this year. Who made the gifts you’re buying? Will the presents on which you spend your hard earned cash bring you or their recipients value, fulfilment and satisfaction? Join me in my Life Energy Experiment this month, as I continue to ask this question of everything I buy.

Why understanding self is key to intentional living

Why understanding self is key to intentional living

Among its various psychological types, The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) helps people identify whether they have an extroversion preference or an introversion preference.

Each time I’ve undergone the process (I’ve done it twice), my ‘type indicator’ has been the same: I am an extrovert.

This suggests that I would gain my energy through interactions with others, when an introvert might recharge his/her batteries through time set aside to be alone. I have to say that acknowledging and understanding my extroversion preference has helped me enormously in how I approach others. Indeed, I have found it to be very powerful. The first time I did the survey instrument, I realised that my (then) boss had a strong introversion preference. Her natural approach was to sit back, to reflect and to take stock before making a decision. My inclination at the time was to go with my instinctive, initial reaction to a problem and jump right in.

However, as I get a little older, I think I’m changing. Or perhaps I am becoming more self-aware and reflective? My preferences seem more fluid. Maybe it’s my desire for more simplicity and the growing influence of minimalism on my life? Maybe I always had to work a bit too hard to be the life and soul of the party?

My husband works from home. Because he’s home alone all day (albeit with the dog, whose conversational skills are a bit limited), he sees my return as an opportunity to share (even offload) the things he has experienced that day. At that point in my day, particularly if I’ve had a long journey home, I need to kick back, be quiet and simply be. I certainly get a sense of relief when I walk through the door in the evening and find everything just as I left it that morning. It’s not always like that, however!

When it comes to personality types, there are (of course) a great many more potential tools available to help develop self-awareness. It is good to explore these with a critical eye. Tests such as these have been criticised for their reliability but may still be worth considering as you develop a greater self-awareness. Just today, a colleague of mine told me about 9 personality type descriptions, as described by the Enneagram Institute:
https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-descriptions

Whether you subscribe to this approach or not, you may be curious to peak at the descriptions to see if any of them chime with your own thinking. Is your basic (predominant) type that of ‘helper’, ‘achiever’, ‘reformer’, or ‘challenger’, for example?

I wonder if aspiring minimalists would identify with one personality type more than another? Do you have an extroversion preference or an introversion preference? I’d love to know.

Understanding self is key. Knowing and accepting your true self will help you identify your ‘why’ as you journey towards greater simplicity. This self-knowledge will allow you to make intentional choices, as you shed the things that no longer serve you and become – just maybe – a little more ‘minimalist’.

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3