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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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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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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A week without schedule

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Today is the middle day of February half-term.

For those outside the UK, half-term is literally a mid-term break for school-children whose school terms normally span (roughly) a 12 week period.

This short winter vacation allows kids and their teachers to catch their breath, as the Christmas holidays seem some time ago and Easter is not yet round the corner.

A spring-like vacation

The weather is so mild, one could be mistaken for thinking spring had already arrived. I remember freezing cold half-term breaks in years gone by. This week we can already enjoy crocuses, snowdrops and narcissi all around us. What’s the weather like with you?

A week at home

This week, I decided to join our 15-year-old in taking some time off, so I booked 5 days’ annual leave. Instead of sitting at my desk at 16:30 on a Wednesday, I am enjoying a cup of tea at my breakfast bar. They say a change is as good as a rest; I’d suggest it’s even better than that.

Days unscheduled

For me, I was looking forward to week involving few plans. In actual fact, when I reflect on it, it’s not that my days have been unplanned or full of drift. On the contrary. What I realise is that this time has unfolded as a ‘week unscheduled’.

What a joy! 

As a list-maker, I had previously noted down a few things that needed to get done (tick), but had made a mental note of lovely experiences to enjoy when the domestic jobs were done.

A natural pattern

So, my days have fallen into a natural pattern.

Get up just a little later than usual (carpe diem wins out!). Walk dog. Do something productive. Eat lunch. Indulge in a time-intensive activity such as reading, writing or yoga. Enter the evening feeling a little less rushed than normal; a little more chilled out. Relax.

A case in point

Today has included a walk into Kenilworth to run a few errands (double brownie points here; Ollie-the-cockapoo also got his morning walk). Then, I returned to complete some decorating I have been doing for the past few weeks: I had a radiator to gloss and a pine bench to rub down for painting. Lunch – a baked potato – cooked itself, as I got on with my DIY tasks.

Mummy and daughter time

This afternoon, my daughter and I had time for a cuddle on the sofa (tricky when I’m a ‘non-squishy’ mama, says she!) and a nail-painting session. It’s these little moments that we can enjoy and treasure when we’re not rushing around or dashing from one appointment to the next.

Many of us have work lives that are incredibly structured and arguably over-scheduled. A week without schedule is one to be cherished. I heartily recommend it to you.

Can you schedule one in sometime ;-)?

Coming up next: The penultimate post in the #FrugalFebruary series – Slow your home

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#FrugalFebruary – 10 Frugal Fun ideas

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Inspired by an email I received from reader, Wendi, Here’s a post on Frugal Fun. After all, the weekend is coming!

Even in frosty February*, here is a list of 10 things you can enjoy when you want to be frugal but still have a great time. These may be especially useful to you, as half-term approaches.

 

Voluntary simplicity

Those of us who belong to what Juliet Schor** calls ‘The Voluntary Simplicity Movement’ will naturally tend towards activities that limit spending. This means taking the ‘slow’ route to activities that might otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

Here’s my list!

10 Frugal Fun ideas

Get outside

Enjoy some fresh air, get some Vitamin D on board and get that heart pumping! Here in the UK, we are fortunate to be able to enjoy access to open country via public footpaths or public rights of way. Walking Britain has some fabulous walks. Check out the ones in your area.

Amusing museums

Modern-day museums are streets ahead of the latter-day, stuffy homes of dusty relics!

Last year, I was really inspired when I visited home of the codebreakers, Bletchley Park. Closer to home is Coventry Transport Museum whose admission is FREE!

Reading groups

Love to read? Start  (or join) a reading group. Our local library lends sets of books for reading groups or you could borrow a book online to discuss with your group. The group could be physical or virtual. What about a virtual group for aspiring minimalists?!

Libraries

In this era of Kindle, iPad and Amazon, it’s often that we forget about one of the last bastions of civility: the library. Take some time, stop and read, borrow some books to take home and discover new authors or topics. Libraries’ resources are often more plentiful than just books. What else can you borrow?

Meet-up

Meet up with a pal, or make new friends via local meet-up groups. Check out Meetup; some groups offer free classes or have activities you can attend for FREE.

Rediscover a love of music

There are times in our lives when music is a constant backdrop. I remember summer 1990 when I was living in London and Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U was topping the charts and street entertainers belted out the Stones’ Angie

So, relive your youth by checking out Spotify or another digital music service. Better still, make your own music!

Bake

Baking or whipping up something special is a lovely thing to do. Even better, if you can get the kids involved, you’ll make something tasty and enjoy some time together. Don’t forget, it’s Pancake Day soon!

Treasure Trails

Adopt the role of tourist in your own area and enjoy a new perspective on familiar places. Check out Treasure Trails online for ideas.

Film Clubs

Newly-released films are expensive to see at the cinema. Instead, why not establish a film club at home? Bring friends together, make some homemade popcorn and watch your favourite movie. My local second-hand bookshop runs films nights; these are a great way to enjoy a movie-night experience without the attendant costs of going to a movie-theatre.

Stay in bed

Whether a duvet-day for one, or a snuggle with your loved one, get the newspapers or your favourite book, enjoy some tea or whatever you fancy.

Whatever you’re doing, enjoy the weekend and check out my upcoming blog post in the #FrugalFebruary series: next up, we’ll be talking about habits.

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Notes

*If it’s sunny where you are, substitute any other (more pleasant) weather-related adjective for “frosty”

** Juliet Schor is an Academic and author of books including The Overspent American

Why I’m taking the doyogawithme 30 day challenge

img_0539I’ve written before here that I came back to yoga in 2016. My desk-bound job means that I remain seated daily for much longer than is healthy. So, it’s very good to stretch out those muscles and remind my joints that I’m still there.

Do Yoga With Me

I discovered DoYogaWithMe.com via Twitter and have been dipping into its classes almost every day since. Even with only 20 minutes to spare, this focussed practice led by my own virtual instructor has proved to be a tremendous blessing over the holidays. So, I am curious to see how the 30-day challenge will pan out. Will it improve my flexibility, help with the transition back to work after the Christmas break or simply enable me to just be?

Since Ollie the Cockapoo (pictured) has a much better downward facing dog than I do, any progress will be a bonus!

Have you set yourself a new challenge or goal for 2017?

If yours includes a life with less clutter and more simplicity, look out for my January #Unclutter2017 posts, which contain some handy tips and ideas to help you make lasting changes to your life.

Is there a place for routine, even in the holidays?

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Recharge, relax and unwind

It’s at this time of the year that your normal routine goes out of the window. Kids break up from school, so there’s no school run to do. Teenagers sleep in late. Once you have finished work, you begin to forget what day it is. We need this time to recharge our batteries and unwind.

It’s Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Holidays are here!!

Is there a place for routine, even in the holidays?

When our daughter was a baby, we followed a structured routine. Called the EASY routine, its essence lay in establishing a structured pattern of activity: Eat, Activity, Sleep, then time for You. This worked incredibly well, set an expectation about what would come next, and was the cornerstone of our activities in those early years.

As our little girl grew, the period of activity lengthened and the sleeps became fewer in number, but the routine stood the test of time until well into toddlerdom. We liked it. She liked it. It provided a structured but flexible approach to family life.

So, could establishing an agreed pattern work at other times, such as the holidays?

In her recent ‘Happier’ podcast, Gretchen Rubin provided a great ‘holiday hack’ that prompted me to think about the notion of ‘routine’ even though there will be no little ones in our family grouping this Christmas.

Rubin’s idea was simple, but it may just help you. It was this:

Everyone has quiet time on his/her own after lunch.

I can really see the value of this. Sometimes, you need to have some space, especially if you’ve been in ‘entertaining-mode’ and feel as though you’ve been feeding the 5,000.

You may get a post-lunch slump. That’s your body’s cue: take a nap.

During quiet time, kids may get to use their mobile devices unimpeded and may even (who knows?!) read a book, do a jigsaw or get creative with new colouring pencils.

Grandparents might be glad of a little respite, too. Creatures of habit, they may be used to a slower pace of life or just their own company. Suggesting ‘time out’ for everyone might be welcomed.

Come back refreshed

When you all come back together, you’ll feel refreshed and ready, once again, to be on your best ‘Christmassy’ behaviour.

What routines or structure will you adopt this holiday time?