Why we should declutter our ‘to do’ lists


For someone (like me) who is extremely task driven, ticking items off my ‘to do’ list delivers a feeling of satisfaction and achievement. Be they work tasks or household chores, that literal or virtual “tick” against each item infers productivity, usefulness and a sense of moving forward. Right?

In today’s society, being goal-oriented is usually something to be admired. If we have goals and targets, we know where we’re heading. Even better, breaking down larger projects into manageable chunks makes a larger or audacious goal more attainable.

We’ve all heard the old joke:

How to you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…..

Productivity addicts

What happens, though, if we allows this ‘productivity mindset’ to seep into every aspect of our lives? What if every day becomes a 24/7 ‘to do’ list?

I’m currently reading Tiffany Dufu’s Drop the Ball. It’s a book I’d resisted for a while, as I felt uncomfortable with its key tenet: that women were shouldering more of the domestic burden than men and that, to redress the balance, women needed to ‘drop the ball’. Nonetheless, I was intrigued. Plus, Warwickshire libraries delivered the e-book version to me in the click of a button so here we are. I haven’t finished it yet, so don’t tell me how it ends!

Jot it all down

In Chapter 5, Dufu addresses the issue of the never-ending ‘to do’ list. She describes a coaching exercise she leads in which she asks women to jot down every single thing they expect to achieve in the coming 24 hour period. That includes every achievement, no matter how small, such as making breakfast or scheduling an appointment.

Before you read on, you may like to try this.

Participants are then invited to do the maths to calculate how long they think all of these achievements will really take.

Tried it?

Dufu’s declaration that she has never encountered anyone who could realistically complete all of her tasks in less than 24 hours is unsurprising. As she writes, “The point of the exercise is to show that just making lists and trying to get everything on them completed is not a winning strategy. Trying to do it all guarantees only one result: burnout.”

The endless ‘to do’ list

Are you, like me, a sucker for a nice ‘to do’ list? In a professional setting, it’s natural and desirable to use a variety of tools to help keep all the plates spinning. Indeed, my highly-productive and efficient colleague, Cheryl, even has the following mantra on her office mug: Get Stuff Done.

But do we need to adopt this sort of mindset at home, particularly at weekends?

For sure, there are times when you absolutely need a list. Imagine you’re organising a family gathering or planning something significant like a wedding. You’re going to need to need to approach it like you’re about to embark upon a military operation in a theatre of war! Especially where family is involved…

What’s a Weekend?

Saturday and Sunday, especially regarded as a time for leisure

In the wonderful Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith’s character, the Dowager Countess, delivers one of her classic lines, “What is a weekend?”

Although the concept of ‘weekend’ has been part of our culture for many decades, full time workers may still ask themselves, “What weekend?” when they return to the workplace after a busy two days at home.

Setting yourself (or others) a set of tasks, or weekend jobs, runs counter to the idea that a weekend is supposed to be for doing what you enjoy; recharging your batteries; having a slow start; or – dare I suggest it – doing nothing at all?

I was always a woman on a mission when it came to weekend planning. I’d have my iPad at the bedside with the notes app primed to receive my usual set of household chores. I’d sometimes ring the changes and jot tasks down on pen and paper. Either way, there’d always be a list.

Letting go

Just lately, I’ve decided to let go. And whilst each weekend day follows more of a meandering path, jobs still get done. Meals get cooked. Washing is washed, dried, ironed and put away. The recycling is put out. The dog is walked twice a day. And I no longer feel the urge to go about my day in an energy-driven frenzy of activity, no matter how rewarding this might feel.

Reading the message behind Tiffany Dufu’s exercise reminded me that I’m on the right track. There’ll never be enough hours in the day, so why beat yourself up if you haven’t ticked off everything on the list you created for yourself?

Going a step further

Courtney Carver’s Soulful Simplicity introduced me to the Italian notion of dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing. I haven’t mastered that particular art just yet, but my virtual ‘to do’ list can take a hike.

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more-2553134_1920 (1)

What drives us to yearn for ‘more’ or ‘better’ when we know that the more we consume, the more we deplete both our own, and the earth’s, precious resources?

As I have considered before, there are a variety of reasons we buy more than we actually need. They include:

  • Wanting to make a certain impression
  • Keeping up with the Joneses
  • Fear of missing out (especially on a ‘bargain’)
  • Having something ‘just in case’
  • Believing that ownership will make a real difference to our lives or even our happiness

The ownership myth

Ownership is a privilege but with it comes responsibility. You not only have to pay for the thing, but you have to maintain, upgrade, insure, clean and take care of it.

Worse, as Courtney Carver warns in her book, Soulful Simplicity, “If you use a credit card, the item might not even be yours. It’s possible that you are literally walking around in someone else’s shoes because you’re still paying them off…”

We own stuff for so many reasons. As Carver advises, “Once you acknowledge why you buy and what you think your stuff is doing for you, you will be more intentional about what comes into your home and life, and you will have more clarity about what needs to go.”

When can ‘more’ actually make a difference?

In her terrific book, America the Anxious: Why our Search for Happiness is Driving us Crazy and How to Find it for Real, Ruth Whippman cites a much-misquoted study about the relationship between happiness and income.

Whippman explains that the study, by Daniel Kahneman, is reported as showing that money makes no difference to happiness above an income of $75k per year.

In fact, Whippman explains that money over and above this level still makes a difference to a person’s overall satisfaction. And, of course, a person’s overall financial picture has a huge bearing on one’s life. As Whippman shrewdly observes, “Unsurprisingly, the further down the income scale you go, the more important it is.” That said, most of us in the western world already have more than enough.

Cultivating a sufficiency mindset

No matter what your income level, living on less than you earn brings enormous benefits. As Dave Ramsey repeats each time his radio show airs: “Live like no-one else so that, later, you can live (and give) like no-one else.”

Bestselling author of The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist, reminds us that when we let go of chasing what we don’t really need, it frees up energy to enable us to make a difference with what we already have. Having recently heard Twist in discussion with Oprah Winfrey in Supersoul Conversations, I am particularly struck by her philosophy that a sufficiency mindset is so much greater than a scarcity mindset. We already have enough. We are enough.

When more is more

When you adopt a minimalist lifestyle, it’s possible to pursue the things that really add value and that make a difference, not only to your own life but (hopefully) to the lives of others. Here, I come back to the ideas of connection and community, which I touched upon in my last post.

When it comes to connection and contribution, I’m about to embark upon a new adventure. Along with our Cockapoo, Ollie, I’ve recently been accepted as a volunteer with Pets as Therapy. This UK charity aims to foster connections with people through pet visits to establishments where pets are otherwise not available. I’m hoping to visit a local retirement or care home where the regular visit from me and my waggy-tailed chum might bring a ray of sunshine into someone’s day. Here’s when more is definitely more!

It’s not about stuff

No amount of ‘stuff’ is going to make a positive difference to our lives. Just as food should be about nourishing the body rather than feeding the emotions, so the stuff we own should serve a genuine need rather than fill a psychological hole.

As Whippman concludes in her book, “…if we focus on living a connected, fulfilling and meaningful life, then if we’re lucky, happiness might just hitch a ride.” And there’s no mention of stuff there.

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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.’


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 I’m performing plastic surgery on my credit card


Many years ago, I applied for a credit card that offered 2% cash back on all purchases. That was pretty generous, so you can tell how long ago that was!

Every month, we would use the card for all of our discretionary spending (that is, anything we bought on a week-by-week basis such a food, fuel and so on). We’d pay off the card every month in full. Then, once or twice a year, we’d get a decent cheque in the post with our cash back amount.

As we always paid off the balance in full, the credit card company actually made little money from us directly.

When I’ve used a credit card

I still have a credit card but I don’t use it for everyday purchases. Instead, I have used it for that one-off, occasional or unusual purchase such as our daughter’s prom dress.

However, because of the ease with which one can use a credit card in this way, there’s always a nagging thought in the back of my mind. Every time I do this (even for a relatively modest single item of expenditure), I‘m borrowing against next month’s income.

In effect, I’m creating a shopping hangover.

A change of heart

So, I’ve had a change of heart. The fact of the matter is this. If we’re going to win with money in the long term, this is what I’m going to do.

I’m going to perform plastic surgery on my credit card. Yes, I’m going to cut it into little pieces and throw it away.

Now, some of you still use your credit card in the way I used to. You tell me that you find it easier to track your spending this way (although, for me, I can’t understand this).

For me, it’s crunch time and here’s why.

What the research shows

Research shows that credit cards are ‘friction free.’ That is, handing over a card is less painful psychologically than handing over actual cash. In an article for Psychology Today, Scott Rick explains that people tend to spend more when they use a card than they do when handing over actual cash: “Experimental research….suggests that credit cards can stimulate overspending: People are often willing to pay more for the same product when using credit than when using cash.”

Indeed, Rick cites a range of psychological factors, which compel consumers to use a card over cash.

Even though I don’t put a lot on my card, I know that when I previously experimented by cutting up my card, I definitely spent less money overall.

Business Travel

“But what about business travel?” I hear you ask?

I once attended a work conference, which across the pond in Anaheim, California. I took my credit card for ’emergencies’ and actually ended up having to use it when I found my employer had failed to pre-pay my bill.

At my hotel’s reception desk, ready to check out, but fully expecting my account to have been settled, I learned that the transaction hadn’t gone through. Worse, the time difference between California and England meant that there was no-one in the office back at home to sort it out. I’ll admit that this was a time when I was glad I had my personal credit card.

However, this does not deter me from my plastic surgery. What I’d do in the future is request a corporate card, rather than rely on my own personal card, which required me to claim this expense on my return. No corporate card? No travel!

But a credit card’s for emergencies!

In my last post, I wrote about why I believe we all need an emergency fund.

In fact, a fully funded emergency fund should contain 3-6 months of expenses. So, if we have a fully funded emergency fund, we shouldn’t need to use the ‘shopping hangover’ method to cover unexpected bills.

The post-Christmas hangover

As the nation anticipates its post-Christmas credit card statements, I decided to do some research on card spending. What I learned really shocked me.

The UK’s spending habits

In October 2017, an article in The Independent warned that credit card lending was on the increase, in spite of warnings about the high levels of UK household debt. In the article, journalist Ben Chu cites regulators’ concerns about the extent to which households are turning to credit to finance their consumption.

Indeed, in the previous month, we saw headlines suggesting the UK was experiencing a ‘debt crisis’, as household debt had increased by 7% in the preceding 5 years.

Going slightly further back in time, the sheer volume of annual card sales is revealed in the UK Cards Association’s report of April 2017. I was staggered to read that, in the month of April 2017 alone, 315 million purchases were made on a credit card (up on the previous year’s figures by 41 million transactions). The overall total of money spent on a credit card that month was £16.8 billion (versus £15 billion the previous year).

What the hell were we all buying?

The report shows we’re using credit cards for a whole range of goods and services from food to fuel, with a marked increase in the use of cards (both debit and credit) over cash in these categories.

What if you have to use a card?

If you listen to Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus’ podcast, you’ll have heard them say quite clearly: “If you have to use a card, you can’t afford it.”

In my case, if I decide to use a credit card, I’m swapping convenience for a shopping hangover. And I no longer want to do that.

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Why we all need an emergency fund


Happy New Year 2018!

January’s blog post theme

During the month of January, I’m going to be thinking about money, as we have set some specific financial goals for our family in 2018.

It follows that my blog posts may follow a bit of a financial theme in this first month of the new year.

Holiday listening

In particular, I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey’s podcast over the holidays. Ramsey’s consistent, straight-talking and sound advice has benefited thousands of people worldwide and his simple series of Baby Steps has helped his readers, listeners and YouTube watchers get a grip on their finances and – in Ramsey’s words – “Change their family tree.”

Baby Steps

The Baby Steps help break down Ramsey’s plan into manageable chunks and build momentum. Indeed, the small wins that can be achieved early on in the programme through these Baby Steps help psychologically with motivation.

Baby Step 1

The very first of the Baby Steps is to start an emergency fund of $1000 (or, in the case of us Brits, £1000).

This should be done as fast as you can.

If you’re already a seasoned declutterer, you may find this easier than you think. A good rummage through your garage, wardrobe or loft may yield some excess stuff you no longer need, so you may soon be able to pull together the funds to get started.

If, like me, you’ve already learned to let go of stuff, freeing up unwanted items to contribute to this initial £1k may not be too much of a challenge. It may take only the effort of cleaning them up, photographing them, then listing them online on sites such as ‘Things for Sale in Kenilworth’ (our local community site on Facebook) or eBay.

Why Baby Step 1?

Ramsey’s approach is to establish this beginner’s emergency fund so that if you have a genuine and unforeseen expense, you won’t have to go into debt to pay for it. In a later Baby Step (#3), a fully-funded emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses is put in place, but this starter fund is where we begin.

When you need an emergency fund

Between Christmas and New Year, we had a sudden and unwelcome fall of slushy, grey snow. We came down for breakfast the morning after Boxing Day and noticed something was odd about the hedge that usually sits against the wall by the side of our kitchen window. The supports to the hedge had given way in the wind and snow, so the prickly shrub had lowered itself forward over the border, covering all of the smaller plants and herbaceous perennials beneath.

Thankfully, with some significant effort (and 6 hours’ commitment), my lovely husband managed to shore up the woody stems, drill new supports into the wall, and push the hedge back into place.

However, this unexpected job reminded me that we weren’t quite as lucky when the fence blew down.

When the fence blew down

On the other side of the garden, we share a boundary with our next door neighbours.

One very stormy night two or three years ago, our shared fence decided it was no longer fit for purpose, leading to an unexpected but essential replacement. This cost about £375 per family, which our emergency fund was able to cover easily.

The point of this is that, whilst you’re taking steps to get your finances into good shape, the last thing you need is a mini-emergency to set you back.

In 2016, research by the charity Shelter found that 37% of working families in England could not cover housing costs for more than a month in event of job loss. Ramsey’s approach is designed to mitigate against this and putting an emergency fund in place is a first step in the right direction.

Do you have your emergency fund in place?

If you haven’t done so already, I’d encourage you to get your emergency fund in place.

So, when the metaphorical fence blows down, you’ll have the financial resources to deal with it. Plus, there’ll be no call on your emotional reserves either, as you won’t be stressed about how you’re going to pay for it.

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


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


This Christmas, I will…

Mend a quarrel
Dismiss suspicion
Seek out an old friend
Share good news
Encourage someone
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