Why I’m joining the WI

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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!


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Holiday living and minimalism

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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?


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What the French can teach us about simple living 

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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


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Moderate Minimalism for People who Love Stuff

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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.

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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.

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Ten minimalist’s tips for summer travels

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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.


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