Enough

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If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed me mentioning a monthly bread-making group that I now attend.

My friend, Lynne, introduced me to this. So far, I’ve baked Apple and Rosemary Bread, soft rolls and a quick-to-make type of breakfast bread, courtesy of The Hairy Bikers. To my surprise, I found that the Banbury Guardian has the recipe and method on its website, in case you’re interested.

Bread group protocols

We meet around the kitchen table of our host, Caroline on the 2nd Tuesday of the month.

Normally, in the style of Blue Peter’s, “Here’s one I made earlier,” Caroline has already prepared a batch of the dough whose recipe we are to make. This is so that we can knead it before it goes into the oven. This is especially useful if it’s a dough that requires a long time to prove. While this bakes, we get on with making another batch of dough to take home.

Towards the end of our measuring, mixing and kneading (and chatting), the first batch becomes ready for us to enjoy with lashings of butter (straight from the oven).

More than simply yeast-based recipes

At this gathering of like-minded women, we exchange stories and develop friendships as we enjoy fellowship and fun together. This invariably involves sharing news of our children or reporting updates on ageing parents, but our discussions are also wide-ranging.

What would 2018 hold?

This week, we shared Christmas and New Year’s stories and repudiated the idea of ‘dry January’ in favour of ‘damp January’, as we sampled a bottle of prosecco that my mum had given me at Christmas. Thanks, mum!

During the evening, our thoughts turned to the year ahead. None of us had made a New Year’s Resolution but one of our friends, Ruth, had chosen a word for the year. This is an idea I’m seeing increasingly: the selection of a word or phrase that might epitomise – or help shape – the coming 12 months.

Ruth’s word was simple, but incredibly powerful. It was ‘enough.’

Enough

This really struck me. What an inspiring choice!

There are so many ways we could apply ‘enough’ to our lives, which would ensure we lived a more intentional life.

We think of ‘enough’ when we talk about:

  • enough to eat
  • enough to wear
  • enough to live on
  • enough to get by
  • having done enough to pass
  • ‘enough is enough’
  • doing enough

No doubt you can think of many more examples.

Intentionality around ‘enough’

I got thinking about this and realised that Enough is the title of Patrick Rhone’s book. Have you read it? I haven’t yet, but maybe I should.

I took a look on Amazon. In the foreword to Rhone’s book, James Shelly explains how Rhone finds the middle ground between the absolutes of ‘unbridled consumption’ and ‘monastic luddism’.

Do I already have enough?

Asking, “What do I really need?” or “Do I already have enough?” is a very good way to check our natural impulses, especially when we are considering a purchase (particularly if it means bringing additional stuff into our homes).

If you shop online for food, checking if you already have enough of a particular item in the cupboard is a sure-fire way of helping stick to your budget, whilst ensuring you have what you need to make this week’s recipes. You’ll also avoid unnecessary food waste.

Hankering after the latest gadget? Ask what you really need. So many appliances or electronic devices have far more functionality than any of us actually require. It may be more cost-effective in the long term to buy a better quality appliance with fewer functions (like our Miele washing machine) than a fancy piece of kit with lots of features you’ll never use.

When simplicity is ‘enough’

In The Lord’s Prayer, one of the best-loved and most frequently spoken prayers in the whole world, the only thing we specifically ask to be given is:

Our daily bread

Whilst ‘bread’ may be a proxy for our most fundamental basic needs, the simplicity of this is beautiful. The ‘staff of life’ is all we need to sustain ourselves. Anything beyond that may be a luxury, even excessive. Through this prayer, we don’t ask for riches. We ask for enough.

Minimalism is about removing the excess from our lives and paring down to a more simple, fundamental way of life. Anything that no longer adds value can be eliminated, enabling us to focus on what really matters (spoiler alert: that’s not stuff).

How lovely that it was at a bread-making group that ‘enough’ was the word for the year. It’s certainly something I’ll contemplate as the first month of the year unfolds.


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Why setting intentions might be better than making New Year’s Resolutions

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Even before Christmas, social media channels were alive with thoughts of New Year’s Resolutions.

Review of the Year

Certainly, the period between Christmas and New Year is often a good point to kick back, reflect on the past 12 months and anticipate the year to come. And many of us consider the start of a new calendar year a good point to establish new habits, change old ones or strengthen our resolve to achieve particular goals.

Types of New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions tend to fall into a number of discrete categories. Some are about improving physical wellbeing (e.g. to eat more healthily, lose weight, take more exercise or quit smoking). Others are more career-oriented or are about relationships, spirituality or experiences. It’s no accident that post-Christmas advertising space is filled with advertisements for slimming programmes, diet foods or nicotine replacements. We’ve all seen them.

However, the majority of us who set New Year’s Resolutions find it difficult to keep them and, instead of sustaining success, we find that our ‘get up and go’ has soon got up and gone.

When New Year’s Resolutions don’t work

So, what’s to be done?

I’ve been thinking about this for a little while and I reckon there might be a different way. Instead of going all out on a concrete ‘all or nothing’ resolution, I wonder if setting an intention might be a gentler, kinder way to move towards a desired state?

For me, an intention suggests something fluid, dynamic and ongoing, whereas a resolution seems, to me, all or nothing.

Setting an intention

Setting an intention is deliberate, but rather than being a rigid absolute, it’s about moving towards a goal (continually and repeatedly). So, if you falter, you get right back onto whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

To reduce sugar

For me, I have a sweet tooth and, in theory, love the idea of quitting sugar as a New Year’s Resolution. The trouble is, this can be a very difficult thing to do when social situations throughout the year often revolve around food in the form of sweet treats (mince pie, anyone?).

Instead, I like the idea of setting an intention to reduce my overall sugar intake, rather than eliminating sugar as an absolute goal. So, yesterday, I experimented a little.

It was Boxing Day morning and we had stayed over at my parents’ home, following a lovely day together for Christmas Day. Mum offered croissants for breakfast but, instead of slathering mine with jam, I had a little butter on my pastry along with my decaff’ latte and enjoyed the naturally sweet taste and texture of this holiday treat.

Likewise, following our return home some hours later, we enjoyed a late lunch at The Almanack, one of Kenilworth’s best-loved and much-frequented gastropubs. Normally, I would have ordered dessert after my main course (I normally eschew a starter because they are too filling) but, instead, opted for an espresso macchiato as the ‘full stop’ to a very enjoyable meal. As you can tell, I’m not giving up coffee any time soon!

To get more exercise

Similarly, you might want to take more exercise, but would baulk at resolving to run 10 miles per week by the end of the month. Instead, set an intention to put on your trainers and step outside the door. You don’t have to wait until 1 January either. What happens after that is up to you, but it’s a move in the right direction.

Some people find it easier and more empowering to embark upon a new activity with someone who can act as an accountability partner. For others, thinking about their future self might be enough to motivate themselves towards a healthier, fitter self. Consider – honestly – what might work for you and set an intention to move towards this new goal.

Resolutions come with a health warning

Whatever we decide, we do need to be careful about the goals we pursue.

In the introduction to her book America the Anxious: Why Our Search for Happiness is Driving Us Crazy and How to Find It For Real, Ruth Whippman cites a University of California, Berkeley study in which participants were asked to rate how highly they valued happiness as an explicit goal and also how happy they were with their lives.

As Whippman writes, the ones who rated happiness as a distinct personal ambition were less happy in their lives in general and were more likely to experience symptoms of dissatisfaction and even depression.

This reminds me of Robert Lustig’s most recent book, which I wrote about here. Don’t confuse pleasure with happiness, says Lustig. It’s easy to conflate the two.

My intentions for 2018

So, I’m going to set my intentions around moving towards a small number of achievable goals, rather than proclaiming a New Year’s Resolution on 1 January 2018. Indeed, I like the idea of experimenting and I might well enjoy a few simple living experiments in the coming year.

But don’t forget, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Keep it simple. As Leo Babauta says, “Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest.” That might help us stay focussed on what’s important.

Happy New Year!


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Christmas commitments

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This Christmas, I will…

Mend a quarrel
Dismiss suspicion
Seek out an old friend
Share good news
Encourage someone
Listen
Apologise if I’ve been wrong
Be patient and understanding
Re-examine my demands on others
Think first of others
Show appreciation
Be kind
Be gentle
Laugh more
Express gratitude
Welcome a stranger
Gladden the heart of a child

(Author Unknown)

Happy Christmas!

Thank you for being a part of my minimalism journey and for all your support and comments during the year. A very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year 2018. See you on the other side!

Catherine x

Letting go and new traditions

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We have said farewell to ‘meteorological autumn’ and, to borrow a well-sung phrase, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

A day off

I took a rare day off earlier this week to spend the day with my mum. We went out for a spot of lunch at Carluccios (thanks, Mum!) and we did some intentional shopping (me: 4 eggcups and my Secret Santa present; she: some napkins and something to drink from Marks and Spencer).

Mum and I commented that we rarely spent time together like this and resolved to do it more often.

Conspicuous Christmas

We got chatting about Christmas, since the shops are already trimmed to perfection (see above!) and the inevitable mountain of ‘themed merchandise no-one actually needs’ was clearly in evidence.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy gift giving but when Christmas seems to equal ‘conspicuous consumption’, my heart sinks a little.

Happily, here in the UK, we don’t forget the ‘reason for the season’ plus we still enjoy a great many Christmas traditions. Children visit Santa; schools enjoy festive fairs and nativity plays; and we love the ceremonial switching of the lights in our home town.

Holiday traditions

Some traditions, however, seem to be waning a little. Do you send Christmas cards, for example? Mum reminded me, “You haven’t sent cards for years!” That’s not strictly true, but I don’t always send cards, especially as the postage is now prohibitively expensive.

For me, it’s fine to let go of traditions, expectations or social mores that no longer serve us. Some things we love and invest time on them, such as dressing our Christmas tree. Other things, we can let go.

Before completing this post, I listened to Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft’s Happier podcast. Like me, they were considering holiday habits they loved to embrace, whilst admitting that there were a number of traditions they’d happily let go. Check out episode 145 to listen.

Letting go

Here’s my personal list of ‘let go’ items:

  • Home-made mince pies (we don’t eat them; I certainly don’t want to make them!)
  • Sending Christmas cards
  • Bought gifts for grown ups
  • Keepsakes
  • Going Christmas shopping

New traditions

Instead, this year, I’ve decided to embrace some new ‘traditions’ of my own:

  • Gingerbread biscuits (to share, to eat, to hang on the tree)
  • e-cards plus a donation to charity
  • Home-made gifts – watch out adults!
  • Consumables
  • Buying online (for our teenager’s gifts, which are experiences and consumables – yay!)

Since it’s only the start of December, we need to pace ourselves so that by the time the holidays are truly here, we can enjoy them and not collapse in an exhausted heap.

So, I’d encourage you to let go. Perhaps just one thing – one obligation or long-standing tradition that you might secretly (or not so secretly!) wish to relinquish. What will it be?


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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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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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Gifting with grace and love 

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The tradition of gift giving is one of the many threads that binds the generations throughout the centuries. We give gifts for symbolic reasons, for celebrations, to mark important occasions, to say thank you or simply as an expression of love.

Sparkle and shine

The Bible describes how, following the birth of Jesus, Wise Men from the East brought gifts to worship the new-born King. The careful selection of these rare and valuable items (gold, frankincense and myrrh) denoted the importance of the Christ Child to the magi.

Modern day gifting

Modern-day gifting is certainly a different story when you consider the historical meaning of the word itself. The Old Norse word ‘gipt’ corresponded with Old English ‘gift’ meaning ‘payment for a wife’. Anyone who has purchased a diamond solitaire for an engagement ring might still agree!

However, the giving of gifts in the 21st Century is a minefield, especially when the world is full of things to buy.

  • How much should I spend?
  • Will they like it?
  • Might they already have one?
  • Do they even need it?

Wise is the couple celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary who politely tell their guests: ‘No presents, please; just your presence.’

Experiences over stuff

In late August, my thoughts turn to birthdays, as we have a number in our family that fall in September. Increasingly, I ask myself if it’s possible to buy an experience rather than an item.

My philosophy is to buy fun (i.e. an experience), food (consumables) or flowers (a beautiful but affordable luxury). For example, for their birthday last year, my twin godsons enjoyed a day out with their family members (an experience, using leisure vouchers) rather than another toy to add to their collection. Everyone enjoyed it; the family was making memories together.

The gift happens in the giving and receiving

In a live meet-up held on Saturday via Facebook, Courtney Carver of said something that really made me think:

‘The gift happens in the giving and receiving’.

It’s the act of giving itself that we should consider carefully. Maybe that’s why we often hear, ‘it’s the thought that counts.’ Courtney is right. It’s not the gift itself that matters; it’s the intention behind the giving *and* receiving that matters most.

Receiving with grace

For a minimalist, the other side of the coin is the question of what to do when receiving a gift (especially a decorative item) that doesn’t really fit in your home or which truly doesn’t ‘spark joy’ in the Marie Kondo sense. Again, this is where the act of receiving – and the grace in so doing – is in your hands.

Minimalists take a pragmatic approach to unwanted gifts. The mantra ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ is not for nothing! Some like to keep a gifts box into which unwanted items go.

This provides a useful source of raffle prizes or stock for fundraising car-boot sales. Once full, some of us happily take the contents of the gift box to the charity shop where someone else can grab a bargain to help a good cause. There is no shame in doing this; once in your hands, the gift becomes a part of your belongings over whose destiny you have ultimate control.

Happy holidays

So, as summer breezes into autumn, think about your gifting strategy. Think about it now, before the summer holidays become ‘Happy Holidays’.

Remember this: it’s the gifts that are made, offered and received with grace and love that mean the most.


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