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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The Tools and Techniques of Minimalism

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

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

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

So, where to begin?

Outer work

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

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

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

Help! I feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering!

Start with your wardrobe

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

Ask for help

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

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

What about asking a friend to help?

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

Get an accountability group or partner

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

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

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

Inner work

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

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

Staying uncluttered

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

Remember your ‘why’

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

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

Don’t be afraid to quit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider these alternative realities

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

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

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

See what I mean?

An intentional approach to life

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

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


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

What is minimalism?

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

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

The ‘what of minimalism’

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

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

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

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

So, let’s get started!

Minimalism 101

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

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

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The minimalist design aesthetic remains popular today

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

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

Types of minimalism

Approaches to minimalism

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

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

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

Voluntary simplicity

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

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

Frugal Minimalism

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

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

The Minimalist Foodie

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

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

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

Moderate Minimalism, the Midlands Minimalist way

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

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

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

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

Is decluttering minimalism?

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

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

Tiny Wardrobes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidying up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intentional living

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

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

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

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

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

Slow living

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

I’ll take that!

Further reading

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

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