Interview with Jen Gale

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Jen Gale

What would it mean if you spent a whole year buying nothing new? What changes would you have to make? What impact would there be on you, on those close to you and on your finances?

5 years ago, Jen Gale set herself this very challenge. It not only changed her year, but changed her life.

In this exclusive interview with Jen, I discover what prompted her challenge, the experience of living through a ‘make do and mend year’ and asked how her life had changed as a result.

Jen, you first came to prominence when you wrote about your ‘My Year of Buying Nothing New’ during 2012/13. What was the catalyst for this?

I always say that I’m not entirely sure..! I do remember becoming suddenly aware that our eldest, who was about 3.5 at the time, seemed to have already tuned into ‘stuff’. He was doing that thing of demanding (very vocally!) to be bought anything bright and shiny that caught his eye whenever we ventured out to the shops. I remember feeling quite shocked that he had already tuned into these societal messages that ‘more’ is good.

At about the same time, I read an article about a lady who was doing a ‘Secondhand Safari’ – a year buying nothing new; I slightly naively thought that it sounded like a fun challenge!

How did those around you respond to your ‘make do and mend’ philosophy?

The kids weren’t really old enough to understand what we were doing, or indeed to really argue about it, which certainly made things easier. I think it would be a very different challenge to undertake with them now at the ages of 8 and 6, or as teenagers!

My husband was great. We had an initial ‘heated debate’ about whether a newspaper counted as something new, but after that was ironed out, he was really supportive.

I think he was probably more attracted to the money saving benefits of reducing our consumption, which was never really a driver for me, but he got stuck in fixing the washing machine, the toaster and even the microwave. He also made a ‘Fix-it box’ where we put anything that needed mending – he ended up fixing all kinds of things, from toy cars to wooden railway track!

What did you find most challenging about it?

In all honesty, the year buying nothing new wasn’t anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be. The most challenging thing ended up being the blogging. Somewhere along the way I decided for some reason that I wanted to blog every day through out the year, and as you might imagine, this ended up being the most difficult part of the whole thing!

Christmas was also a challenging time. We started our year in the September, so the festive season came upon us very quickly. I decided that in addition to making all of the presents, that we also needed to make all of our own decorations, including the tree… After hours scouring Pinterest for inspiration, I found a picture of a tree that looked fabulous and was made of egg boxes! I decided to try and emulate it, and the result was a little…underwhelming.

Eggbox Christmas Tree

Jen’s eggbox Christmas tree

Now that you’re through it, what did you learn? What were the benefits?

I learned so much, and it has totally changed my life. It has changed not only how I shop, but how I see my place in the world.

I used to see things that I wanted to change in the world, but never really thought that I could do anything about them.

The biggest lesson of the year was that I CAN do something about the things I want to change. They might only be little things, things that seem almost inconsequential, but it is really important that I do do them.

If we all make small changes, then collectively we can make a big difference.

What aspect of your experiment have you maintained, all these years later?

We are more relaxed now that we are no longer constrained by the ‘rules’ we set ourselves for the year, but we are still far more conscious and thoughtful about the things that we buy.

I try whenever I can to find the things that we need second-hand and charity shop shopping is still my favourite type of shopping! If I can’t find it second-hand, then I explore the most ethical option available. Sometimes that means buying an ‘ethical’ product from a business with values that align with my own, and sometimes that can simply mean choosing to buy from a local independent shop rather than a large chain store.

Tell me about your interest in sustainable living: was this always part of your values, or did this develop over time?

I always thought I was quite ‘green’ – I did my recycling! But as the year progressed, I was forced to confront so many of the big issues that are affecting the planet and our global society – issues I had been vaguely aware of before, but had somehow chosen to look away from.

I had never really joined the dots together and seen my role as a consumer in the whole system. I had never believed that my actions could make a difference, but now I know that they do.

Having developed a wonderful community of like-minded people, you’ve recently launched a business helping ethical and environmental entrepreneurs unlock their potential. Tell me about this!

I’m so excited about this!

As you say, over the last few years an amazing community has sprung up around the blog, and we have an amazing Facebook group of over 6k people, all making small changes every day, and inspiring and motivating each other to keep doing one more thing.

I’m really passionate about encouraging and empowering people to take responsibility for the impact of their actions, and this applies to business owners as well as individuals.

There are so many amazing ethical businesses and social enterprises out there making good stuff happen and having a really positive impact on the world. I work with them to help them to unlock their potential, and to amplify the impact of their businesses. I really do believe that all businesses should be ‘good business’ and should take into account people and planet as well as profit when they are making decisions.

Running any business on your own can be lonely, and there are aspects of running an ethical and ‘conscious business’ that provide additional challenges. I provide the support and accountability that is often missing when we are working on our own. I can help ethical entrepreneurs to get really clear on their vision for the future, and to work out a strategy to get them there more quickly and easily.

What’s your vision? What kind of businesses are you looking to work with?

I want to make ‘good business’ the norm, and for that to happen we need more enterprises that are gently disrupting the status quo of ‘growth at all costs’.
I work with anyone wanting to run a business that makes a difference. Entrepreneurs who have a clear passion and a purpose that guides their actions, and you want to develop truly sustainable businesses, both environmentally, and financially.

What’s the one thing that we can all do to live more sustainably?

I think it comes back to the thing I touched on earlier about taking responsibility for the impact of our actions. So often we buy things, we do things, almost on auto-pilot. We very rarely stop and really think about what we are doing, and what the impact is on the environment, and on the people who have made the things that we are buying.

We all make hundreds of decisions every single day, and we all have the potential to make the best choices we can, just be taking a bit more time, and being a little bit more thoughtful.

I think that’s why our year buying nothing new worked so well. Because we couldn’t get the things we needed straight away from the supermarket or on the High St, it put a stop gap in the way of our purchasing, which was enough to create the space and time needed to think about the things I wanted to buy.

What would you advise anyone looking to live a more intentional life?

Take the time to stop and think – it doesn’t have to be a deliberate mindfulness thing – it’s just that fraction of a second before knee-jerking into doing something out of habit or because we are stressed/tired/busy.

As you might expect, I am a massive fan of the power of a period of buying nothing new – a year might be a little extreme for most people, but I really do think that even a week, or a month, is enough to make us more aware of what we are buying, and where from. It helps to create that stop gap and that space, and to be more conscious of what we are buying.

Where can we go to find out more?

I have continued to blog at My Make Do and Mend Life, and we are part way through a year of One Planet Living – looking at a different aspect of sustainable living each month.

My coaching business is at jengale.co.uk and you can find out more about me and my work with ethical businesses. I’ve got some great blog posts up there about things like ‘how to face your fears’ or ‘how to beat comparisonitis’ and I’ve got a podcast launching very soon packed with interviews with ethical entrepreneurs and changemakers!

What or who inspires you?

I’m really inspired by the online community! Social media can be a mixed blessing, but it has enable me to connect and engage with so many wonderful people and do build a wonderfully supportive and inspiring community, all inspiring each other to change the world, one baby step at a time.


About Jen

Jen is an ethical business coach, inspiring change makers and purpose-driven entrepreneurs to create positive impact and a better world.

Having originally trained as a vet, Jen responded to her inner voice, telling her that there was something more! So, she made a bold move and now spends her time coaching business owners and start-ups who want to make a change too, unlocking their potential and enabling them to live the lives they dream of and to genuinely be the change they want to see in the world.

Listen to Jen’s podcast, Making Good or visit Jen’s homepage for free resources, courses and coaching!

Making good

 

One spare tube of toothpaste: 5 toiletry and makeup minimalist tips from a beauty writer

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This is a guest post from Rae Ritchie

Last night I used the last of the toothpaste. I opened the door of the cabinet under the sink and got out a new tube. When I popped the old one in the kitchen bin, I added the item to this week’s shopping list.

This straightforward series of events left me with a deep sense of pride and satisfaction. I had a spare but not too many. The cabinet was well-stocked but not jammed full. I retrieved the new item without knocking over several other products in the process.

Veering between over-buying and under-buying

It hasn’t always been like this. When it comes to toiletries and cosmetics, I’ve swung through every stage of over-buying and under-buying. I’ve had to make a special trip for contact lens fluid when I’ve run completely dry and hoarded multiple spares because I didn’t realise there was already some in my cupboard or drawers.

The beauty writer’s dilemma

Being a beauty writer exacerbates these problems. As well as my stash of toiletries and cosmetics, I have products to review (and I keep the packaging for used items until I’ve written about them).

Keeping on top of it all is difficult, especially as I’m also committed to minimalism and mindful consumption. I try to feature eco, ethical and sustainable brands as much as possible in my work, but what’s the point if I’m creating profligate waste?

5 small steps towards saving money, space and resources

Over time, I’ve developed an approach that helps me to navigate through these issues calmly and simply without compromising my principles or my pleasure. I’ve outlined this below along – five small steps towards saving money, space and some of the earth’s resources.

1) Question what you need

I bet that every bathroom and dressing table harbours products that we buy because our parents did, or a friend recommended it, or we read a good review about it somewhere. Perhaps we assume that the mythical ‘everyone’ uses it. But do you need it?

Have a rummage through your supplies and question everything. Clue: start with the dusty and hard-to-reach items! Do you need five bath foams if you don’t like having a bath? A selection of combs and brushes if you use your fingers instead? A serum when you honestly can’t tell the difference whether you use it or not?

I eventually stopped bothering with conditioner when I realised that it just makes my hair greasy. Don’t use it, don’t buy it.

2) Know what you like

When asking what you really need, you’re likely to encounter lotions, potions, tubes or compacts that fall into the opposite camp: the stuff that you genuinely like. Enough varnishes to open a nail bar, all half used because you change the colour three times a week? The brow products that you think you look strange without? The shampoo that you add an extra dollop of because of the scent?

My well-used favourites are night cream, which I ritually slather on before bed, and red lipstick, which I feel under-dressed without. Knowing what you wouldn’t want to live without makes it easier to discern what you’re not so bothered about – and therefore can cull from your home and your shopping list.

3) The over-blown promise

A popular trick employed by advertisers to get us buying things that we don’t really need is to prey on our dreams about who we wish we were. Individual fantasies might vary but there are some standard themes such as slimmer, richer, more poised, more glamorous.

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Beauty marketing is rife with aspirational allure, seeming to promise that a swipe of fat on our lips or rubbing water and chemicals in our skin will magically transform us to who we long to be. While a bit of wishful thinking is harmless enough, be alert to these tactics. No toiletry or cosmetic can fundamentally who we are.

If you love the colour or adore the smell, go ahead and buy. However if you’re looking to fix a problem or improve your life, step out of the beauty hall or toiletry aisle! Make-up and its close companions can occasionally change how you feel but they won’t transform your entire life, as I know having spent several months trying to boost my self-esteem with a very expensive bottle of primer.

4) The false economy

At the opposite end of the money scale to aspirational buying is the false economy. We see a reduced or offer sign and mistakenly tell ourselves that the product is a bargain, even if we don’t want it or need it – or worse still, don’t actually like it and won’t use it. I’ve done this with lip balm, picking up so many with a special price sticker on only to later remember that I just like Carmex and one pot will see me through half a year.

Whether it’s 50p or £50, it’s false economy. Question what you need, know what you like and buy what you intend to when you plan to. The world will not end if you find yourself a bit short of bath crème.

5) One in, one out, one spare

Closely linked to false economy is the lure of the multi buy, the BOGOF and all of the other special offers that encourage us to stock up on more. Alongside stuff we don’t we need, we often have products that are genuinely useful but feel overwhelming because we don’t need quite so many of them.

Instead of filling your cupboards with spares, spares and mores spares, trying buying the next moisturiser/shampoo/eye liner/whatever when you start on the last of your stockpile. Depending on how quickly you or your household get through a particular item, you might need to modify this, perhaps purchasing your next lot when you’re down to two or three.

Developing your own buying schedule helps you to arrive at that elusive sweet spot where you have just enough of something.

Not too much, not too little.

One spare tube of toothpaste: my beauty writing minimalist dream.

About the writer

Rae Ritchie is a writer specialising in fashion, beauty, mental health, sobriety, gender, women’s magazines and mindful living. Discover more at https://raeritchie.com/about/

 

 

Simplify your…. inbox

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‘Technostress’ is not a new term, but I only came across it recently when used by a colleague who is doing a study on it for her master’s thesis.

It’s easy to infer the meaning of the term but not so easy to know how to respond when, we are required – especially in our work – to interact constantly with new technologies. It’s likely that all of us experience technostress at some point in our working lives; I’d suggest that email has a role to play in this.

Email as tool not torment

Email can be a mixed blessing. Since 1 November 2016, I have received over 2500 work-related emails and managed many more in my personal account.

When I wrote about Minimalism and the workplace, I offered the following tip on managing email:

If you’re using MS Outlook, on managing email, sort by ‘subject’ so that all threads relating to a particular email clump together. You can quickly see the ‘reply all’ threads and just keep the ones that matter.

This is a great way to deal with the bulk of incoming mail. You’re then left with the things that are truly ‘work’ as opposed to things that might just be ‘noise’.

By doing this, you’re filtering to what’s essential, which makes things simpler to start with. Email then becomes a useful and efficient communication tool rather than a stressor.

To sort or not to sort? That is the question

Once I’m down to the essentials, I organise incoming emails using the ‘Categories’ feature in Outlook . It’s much easier to pick out messages of a particular type if you have colour-coded them.

Categories

I am also a committed user of folders. In Outlook, I find it’s a lot easier to retrieve a message if I’m able to narrow down what I’m looking for by topic. Gmail, which I also use, seems able to retrieve anything you search for; I find Outlook less helpful in this regard.

Both categorising and using folders take time, but I find both of these really useful.

One could argue that it’s simpler just to leave emails unsorted but if your email volumes are anything like mine, you need a system that is consistent, memorable and straightforward. That’s where we go back to the meaning of the word ‘simplification’ from my last post: the process of making something simpler or easier to do or understand. I’d argue that the approaches described above do make the management of one’s inbox much easier.

Inbox zero?

I don’t aim for ‘inbox zero’ but, most days, I leave my work with (on average) around 20-30 emails remaining in my inbox. These are my ‘work in progress’.

I review incoming email first thing in the morning, then return to it as the ‘sand’ in my day, only when the ‘rocks’ (the important things) have been dealt with.

The typing pool

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If your work setting is office-based, you may sometimes wonder if you’ve gone back in time and joined a typing pool, as everyone spends significant amounts of time intensely working away at the keyboard.

Vary this routine by picking up the phone to communicate with someone else or go and have a face-to-face conversation. It’s good for you. You can have a stretch, move your body and engage with people in a way that you can’t when you are typing at your desk.

Remember, just because you can (email) doesn’t mean you have to. In her book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington describes organisations that instigate ‘no email’ days. Could you suggest this?

Annual leave as borrowed time

I have often thought of annual leave as ‘borrowed time’ because you have to work twice as fast when you return to catch up because the emails keep on coming whilst you’re away.

What about the idea of writing the following message in your automatic reply when you are on vacation? Dare you? How would that be received within your organisation or by those with whom you work?

Thank you for your message. I will be on annual leave from X to Y dates and will have no access to email during this time. If your email remains important to you after Y date, please do resend it.

A word on apps

Apps designed to support productivity can help move work out of your inbox and into a project management tool.

There are lots of apps from which to choose and more being developed all the time. According to Statista, there were 2.8 million apps available via Google Play in March 2017 and a further 2.2 million in the Apple app store. So, how do we discern what’s useful?

I have about a dozen apps that I use regularly but I am judicious in my choices (and have previously written my essentialist approach to the social media apps I use).

A small number of websites with related apps really do help me manage work tasks and maintain my sanity. This means I can file related emails away, as I can manage tasks through the tools I use.

Some are more sophisticated than others, but I’ve settled on Producteev as my tool of choice. Although aimed at teams, it’s also ideal for individuals. I can list any number of tasks (each with sub-tasks) and am able to categorise these and set date reminders. Once scheduled, the technology does the work of remembering so I don’t have to. I also love Evernote and use Dropbox for long-term document storage.

Carve out time

If you use email in your workplace, it’s a fallacy to suggest that it isn’t ‘real work’ and that, somehow, your actual work lies outside your inbox. However, if you have sufficient autonomy over how you manage your day, carve out space for ‘time out’ to provide a counter-balance to email if you can. When you do return to it, you’ll be more likely to resume your work with a little more energy.

So, how do you manage your inbox? Have you developed any top tips that you’d like to share? Please do comment below!

Next time

In the next post, we’ll move away from discussing virtual paper to talking about real paper, as we look at simplifying our approach to the management of ‘goods in‘ of the paper variety.

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Lost and found

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I thought I was losing it yesterday when I couldn’t find my keys (my entire set, for house and car, which are kept all on one key fob).

Has anyone seen my keys?

It was the first day back after the Easter holidays, so we were keen to be on time for school and work. Just prior to our normal departure time of 07:20, I looked in the zip compartment of my large tote bag and my keys weren’t there.

I remembered that I’d used a different bag over the weekend. Maybe they were in there?

Nope!

Pockets?

Nope!

Anywhere else? NOPE!!

My husband, Andrew, dug out the spare set of car keys, so we left the house not knowing if my own set was in there or not.

Hunt the keys

On returning home, the family game of Hunt the Keys began. We looked in all the obvious places, then began to look in the less-obvious ones.

Andrew asked me to think. Think about what I was doing the last time I remember having them. My mind was a blur. Remember that post about being present? I couldn’t even recall if I’d used the keys the previous day.

Think!!!

Are they in the bin?

As it happens, Monday is refuse collection day in our corner of Kenilworth. It was ‘grey bin day’ (the fortnightly collection for rubbish that goes to landfill). So, Andrew had pulled the bin back into the garden before its contents could be irrevocably lost.

After turning the entire house upside down, with reluctance, I donned my yellow rubber gloves and started going through two weeks of rubbish. This is a horrid job and I won’t go into details but it caused me to notice the bulky items in the bin that could not be recycled.

New-found insights

What do we really chuck into landfill?

As I searched through our household waste for the missing keys, I began to notice more closely what we threw away (rather than recycled).

In addition to cellophane wrapping (about which I wrote here), the three most noticeable categories of rubbish were:

  • Tetra Pak cartons (from juice, almond milk etc.), which we cannot recycle in our fortnightly collection
  • Polystyrene containers (fruit packaging)
  • Disposable feminine hygiene products and cotton wool pads (from the two ladies in the house: me and Amy)

Seeing two weeks worth of trash in a single location made me really take stock.

If we, a little family of three plus Cockapoo produce this much in just two weeks, imagine the vast quantities across our town, throughout the county and across the entire nation!

Yeah, we need a change, yeah…. Do it today*

I have to make some changes.

We are already recycling a greater volume of items than we throw away each fortnight but I know I can still do more.

Decision time

I’m going to redouble my efforts to make my own nut milk. It’s more expensive than the Tetra Pak option, but I’d like to see our personal contribution to land fill go down.

I will consider if juice in a recyclable carton is better than Tetra Paks. I’d welcome any views on this. Do you juice your own or avoid juice altogether?

I’m going to redouble my efforts to buy more fruit and veg loose.

Finally, I’ve ordered a Mooncup and will revert to my muslin cloths for cleansing my face, rather than using wasteful cotton wool.

What about those keys?

After all that searching, I went and sat next to Andrew who was working away in the study. And then it hit me. I knew exactly where my keys were.

I had placed them carefully in the glovebox of our family car the previous morning when we went for a dog walk. We had discussed it at the time and we both knew I’d done it. However, we had both completely erased the fact from our short term memory.

I didn’t even need to rush outside and retrieve the keys. I knew they were there.

Lessons learned

At least the experience had taught me some valuable lessons and might just nudge me further towards some more eco-friendly purchases.

In the meantime, maybe I need to buy just one small thing.

Does anyone know where I can get one of those ‘find my iPhone’ devices for car keys?

*Lyrics from Heather Small – Proud

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How post-bereavement decluttering offers tips for living in the present

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When my dear father-in-law passed away recently, we began the process of decluttering and tidying the home in which he and my mother-in-law have lived for over forty years. Whenever someone dies, it’s inevitable that there’ll be some personal belongings to sort through (be they numerous or few in quantity).

Access all areas

My mother-in-law is a wheelchair user, so she has not enjoyed an ‘access all areas’ experience to the family home in recent times. As a result, whatever needed sorting out was down to the man of the house. We photographed the rooms upstairs so that my husband, Andrew, could ask his mum to decide what she wanted to do with the items we uncovered.

As we went about our task, I had a number of realisations, which prompted me to think about how we can all live more minimally in the here and now.

Man drawer mayhem

Comedian Michael McIntyre wasn’t kidding when he described the many and varied contents of ‘the man drawer‘. In our own home, we have a kitchen drawer that serves the purpose of a multi-use drawer for every day bits and bobs.

In my parents-in-law’s house, the man drawer housed nails, a hammer, masking tape and similar DIY-type stuff. Yet, this drawer was seldom used and in a central location within the home.

Keep useful things close by

My sense was that this useful storage space could be better served keeping every-day items that needed to be accessed regularly.

So, think carefully about what you use daily (or weekly) and store those items in an accessible location. Place seldom used equipment elsewhere.

Things that no longer work or which are no longer needed

If you are unable to get to the local recycling centre, the likelihood of holding onto things that no longer work (or which you no longer need) increases.

If you’re in this situation, ask a visitor to ‘disappear’ such items, find out if your local authority can offer a collection service or see if any local charities can help. This helps avoid stuff building up, which takes up valuable space in your home (and makes cleaning more difficult).

Have a place for ‘goods out’ 

At home, I have a dedicated drawer for ‘goods out’. When it’s full, I take the items to my local recycling centre or charity shop. We’ll do that for my mother-in-law.

Out-of-date foodstuffs

When we were students, my sister and I worked for our local supermarket. A mantra we learned whilst there was:

If it’s got a date, you must rotate!”

When you buy items with a long date (such as cans or jars), the ‘rotate’ rule still applies to these types of items just as it does to perishable goods.

In the case of my father-in-law, he wasn’t able to get into the back of his cupboards so we found some items that were up to 4 years out of date. I’m sure this is not unusual in this situation, but if you are able to do so, get into the back of those shelves from time-to-time and bring forward items you need to use imminently.

Check anything with a use-by date regularly

Pantry items such as flour and other baking products often need checking.  It’s a good idea to narrow down your list of store-cupboard staples so that you regularly use what’s there. Only invest in more unusual things if you know you’ll use them. And local friends, if you need a particular herb or spice for a special recipe, I probably have it (my weakness) so please ask before you buy!

Multiple items, dispersed throughout various locations

One of the things I noticed when decluttering was that there were various little storage boxes (plastic or cardboard) containing small items of a similar nature. We discovered duplicate (and even triplicate) versions of tiny things like paracetamol, matches and so on. Keeping such bits and pieces in one place will enable you to use up what you have before buying more and save you time and money.

Everything in its place

Whether you live alone, with a partner or in a family situation, an ‘everything in its place’ rule will help you consolidate, as you:
– see what you have in a particular category
– avoid losing things of value
– avoid waste (and save money)
– save time (as you know where to find what you need)
– maintain a sense of order and make cleaning so much easier

So, our decluttering continues and I know it won’t take long to get things sorted out. I know my mother-in-law will appreciate knowing that her home is a little less cluttered, which will help her keep it clean and tidy.

To live minimally in the here and now

So, to live minimally in the here and now:

  • Keep genuinely useful things close by (all in one place)
  • Have a place for ‘goods out’ (and let them go)
  • Check anything with a use-by date regularly
  • Adopt the ‘everything in its place’ rule

What can you do today to help you on your journey towards a clutter-less life?

In memory of Kenneth Gordon 1928 – 2017

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Should we unclutter people?

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If you’ve been moving towards a more intentional life, then you’ll know that a big part of that is aligning your choices and actions with your longer-term goals.

The removal of excess stuff from your life is one of the first steps on your path towards a clutter-less life.

Excess stuff is bad for your health

Decluttering can help not only with your physical environment but with your mental wellbeing. Clutter affects numerous aspects of your life from sleep to anxiety.

Academics at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families (CELF)* discovered that clutter has a profound effect on people’s mood and self-esteem. In exploring the relationship between 32 families and the objects in their homes, the researchers took a deep dive into how middle-class Americans used the space in their homes. They considered how people interacted with the things they had accumulated over a lifetime and explored (amongst other things) the effect of what they called, “material saturation: mountains of possessions.”

One of the key findings was a link between high levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in women and a high density of household objects.

Clutter makes us stressed!

Minimalism offers strategies for dealing with this problem. Check out my #Unclutter2017 series on the blog for some ideas if you want to get started.

Personal baggage

But what about other areas of our life that leave us drained, feeling low or just plain miserable? Personal baggage (check out that metaphor) or relationships that no longer add value to our lives may also need to be re-examined if we are to truly live an intentional life.

To be able to enjoy what The Minimalists call a ‘meaningful life with less’, you’re going to want to spend your time with people who build you up, who are supportive and who become the ‘wind beneath your wings’ not the ‘downdraught’.

Toxic relationships

If excess stuff is bad for your health, then toxic people must surely be poisonous.

That’s quite a claim!

It’s certainly more sensitive and difficult to deal with someone than with something.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ – Jim Rohn

There are things you can do to remove toxic people from your life.

I’m not talking about the closest relationship you have such as with a spouse or partner, but about people with whom you interract regularly. This might be individuals in a work environment, in a social setting, or in a situation in which you both have something in common (e.g. as part of a school community).

Take action

  • Be discerning in your use of social media. Block/unfollow/unfriend. Do it! Be bold.
  • Let a relationship cool off. Over time, a friendship that was once close can gradually fall away. You may experience a range of emotions, as you say goodbye to a period of your life that has ended, but you know the right thing to do.
  • Don’t be a water-cooler gossip. Don’t indulge in tittle-tattle, even on the periphery. Gossip is contagious.
  • Pull back without a fuss. Pursue the experiences (and relationships) that add value to your life, leaving less time for those from whom you want to create distance.
  • Be neutral and non-committal. You’ve just moved on. That’s it.
  • Seek out like-minded people whose company you’ll enjoy whilst also cherishing the positive relationships you have nurtured over many years. This is where you’ll want to invest your precious time.

The Minimalists are famously quoted as saying, “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” By making intentional choices about who you spend time with impacts on your day-to-day existence, thus impacting on the overall picture.

If all else fails, remember this:

“No matter how close we are to another person, few human relationships are as free from strife, disagreement, and frustration as is the relationship you have with a good dog.” – Dean Koontz

* Details of the CELF study and its resultant book (Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century) can be found here: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/trouble-in-paradise-new-ucla-book

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#FrugalFebruary – Slow your home

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In her little book, The Simple Life, Rhonda Hetzel describes how becoming a homemaker helped her to see that it’s possible to live well in either of two ways:

  1. Increase your earning potential by earning as much as you possibly can
  2. Value becoming a skilled homemaker and change your definition of success

Certainly, by adopting the ‘slow’ approach to your home life, it’s possible not only to develop and enjoy new skills but – dare I say it – increase your happiness.

Hetzel argues that, by adopting a frugal mindset, we will naturally slow our spending thus adding value to the family ‘bottom line’ in ways that don’t involve work outside the home.

In today’s post, I’m going to explore some ways in which we can embrace the ethos of Hetzel’s ‘slow home’ philosophy.

‘In-source’ not ‘out-source’

What can you do yourself, rather than outsource it?

For a period of time last year, we employed a cleaner. The reality was that whilst this got the basics done, the cleaning was never as thorough as it would have been if we had done it ourselves. Stopping the cleaning enabled us to make a decent cost saving and – with a minimalist home – it’s not difficult to do the job ourselves.

When I was 21, I lived for a year in Switzerland as a ‘jeune-fille au-pair’.  The families for whom I worked set the bar high in terms of outsourcing; they bought in a lot of help. To balance this, they worked long hours in demanding jobs. By contrast, our little family  endeavours to ensure a work-life balance in terms of how we choose to live, but we do our all of our own ironing, gardening, car washing and so on. You get the picture.

Guard your hard-earned cash closely

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Don’t go to ‘shiny spending places’ because shopping is addictive. Instead of going to the mall, think how much time you’ll have to enjoy a walk in the fresh air, time to read, time to play, time to be with others.

If you need to buy something, ask yourself how much ‘life energy‘ you expended in order to be able to buy it. That is, if you think about your hourly rate of pay, how many hours did you have to work to be able to buy the item in question.

I’ve written before about how slow shopping is a minimalist thing. If you are going to shop, consider buying locally-produced consumables from the market. Slow down. Enjoy being out and about. It’s the frugal way.

Make do and mend

Consider how our grandparents would have lived. It’s about going back to basics to a place that is homely and comfortable. As Hetzel says, it’s about “warm oats soaked overnight and cooked slowly rather than cornflakes; it’s home-baked bread instead of sliced white in plastic wrap.”

Now, I can hear you say, “Well, I have a full-time job, kids, a dog, a house and… and…and.”

I know. I understand. I’m with you.

Find what works for you. Minimalism isn’t a rigid construct. It’s about identifying what adds value to your life. What works for you may not work for me. For example, I don’t compromise on food (I cook virtually everything from scratch) but I have no inclination to grow my own veggies because I know that wouldn’t fit with our family way of life. Our garden, full of woody shrubs, would also need a major overhaul to enable us to grow our own.

Take inspiration from others such as Jen Gale whose Make Do and Mend Year (of buying nothing new) turned into My Make Do and Mend Life.

Alternatively, listen to the Slow Home Podcast with Brooke McAlary.

Cheryl Magyar, writing on her blog, reminds us that’s it’s possible to combine traditional practices in contemporary life, especially when we can make the most of the teachings, insights and content available at our fingertips through the internet. Harnessing the power of the web enables us to have a ready source of instruction, guidance, advice, support and knowledge. Thus, we combine new technology with enduring traditions in a positive way.

As Hetzel points out, today’s work-and-spend cycle potentially takes away the ability to do things for ourselves, disconnecting us from a sense of personal pride in what we make and what we can do.

Consider different approaches towards a ‘slow home’ that works for you.

Spend out

Use what you have, before you buy more. Not keen on that particular brand of shampoo? Use it up! Don’t buy more until you have actually run out. You’ll save money if you take this approach.

Change your definition of success

Hetzel says, “I used to measure success by the amount of money I made and spent.” Her book reveals the joy in the small successes that can be achieved from the time spent at home.

Success can take many forms. It can be as simple as the satisfaction of a dish that turns out beautifully; a small DIY job around the house that you achieve yourself; time freed up to enjoy an activity you really love; or just feeling less rushed, less scheduled, less obligated.

So,what does success look like for you? Have you made attempts to slow your home? What were the outcomes? What worked well for you? What didn’t go so well? I’d love to know !

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