Being (happy) where you are 

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Kynance Cove in beautiful Cornwall

My husband hit the nail on the head: “You always want to be somewhere else.”

On holiday earlier this summer, I imagined that I could take a boat across the sea to visit Italy (specifically to visit Rome, a place I have not yet visited).

How could I be in such a lovely holiday destination with my head somewhere else? What follows are the thoughts that were swirling through my mind.

This is where I’m coming from

I’m physically present but my mind is elsewhere. Back at home, we live in the heart of England. Our region is as far away from the coast as you can possibly get. So, where would I rather be? You’ve got it. I would rather be by the sea.

What is this sense of unrest? Is it curiosity, wanderlust or just plain dissatisfaction?

When I’m by the sea….

When I am by the sea, my heart sings. I experience a strong emotional reaction when I see (and smell) the crashing waves for the first time. Here, the calm turquoise waters of our holiday resort do not evoke the same feeling. This is not “my sea.” I appreciate its appeal and its beauty; it is picture postcard perfect. But it’s not mine.

My sea

My sea is different. It changes with the weather and can be dark and brooding one day, then calm as a duck pond the next. My sea is foamy, icy cold and dramatic. Dolphins play in the shallows, leaping through the surf in perfect arc formations. I have seen this at Sennen, in far west Cornwall, and it is the most exhilarating sight.

My sea requires wetsuits, surfboards and windbreaks. Dogs run along the water’s edge, shaking themselves in a sandy, spiral. Little ones wearing legionnaires’ caps make sandcastles while grown-ups turn their faces to the sun from deckchairs planted in the wet sand.

My fantasy self

In my fantasy, we have a beach hut of our own where we shelter from high winds, enjoying mugs of steaming tea and eating ripe melon and juicy peaches in the August sunshine.

Out of season, we wrap up warm in woolly hats and wellies to experience the joy of walking on quiet stretches of sand, watching the brave and hardy windsurfer catch the wave across the shore.

Curiosity or wanderlust?

So, perhaps it’s neither curiosity nor wanderlust. It’s not dissatisfaction either. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to travel more and I’m grateful when I get the chance to enjoy somewhere new. Being away (as you’ll see from my earlier posts) deepens my sense about what simple living is all about.

Where I belong

For me, this is just a deep sense of knowing where I feel happiest. For a long time, I have talked about living by the sea. It’s been my long-standing aspiration.

In the meantime, I am perfectly happy where I am. I’m not yearning to be somewhere else. But I know that “my sea” is waiting for me.

On this late Summer Bank Holiday weekend, where is your happiest place? Wherever you are, I hope you have a good one.


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Intentional living

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This week saw the release of A level results here in the UK.

By the time ‘6th formers’ awoke on Thursday morning, notification of whether or not they had secured their preferred university choice had already been posted online by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

Most students learned their grades on picking up their results from their schools. By then, they already knew if the next few years would be as they had intended or if they would need to ‘reframe’ future plans.

What is ‘intentionality’?

This got me wondering about the idea of intention. I’ve been planning (intending!) to write a piece on this topic for a while.

This week’s inspiration, which was close to my heart, spurred me onto consider this further.

You probably already know that proponents of minimalism and simple living refer a great deal to the notion of intentionality. It is the idea of making mindful, thoughtful choices in our lives.

What does it really mean if you’re a would-be college student?

Intentionality at A level

When students embark upon their 2 years of study at ‘Advanced Level’, what’s their intention? Indeed, what do any of us consider when we start a course, project or initiative? What’s our intention, aim or plan?

When aspiring towards a qualification, is the intention or aspiration to learn new things, acquire advanced skills or increase our understanding of a particular subject?

Perhaps the qualification is – in itself – the goal?

For A level students, their courses (and specifically the grades) are a means to an end i.e. they are the ticket to the next part of their academic and professional journey. Nonetheless, one would hope that learners might also enjoy the process.

Enjoying the journey

Writer Gretchen Rubin in Happier at Home reminds us that an atmosphere of growth is important to our well-being. She writes, “It’s not goal attainment but the process of striving after goals – that is, growth – that brings happiness.”

Still, 2-year A Level courses are soon over. There’s a transience associated with studying towards qualifications such as these. The time certainly passes in a lightning flash.

Setting your intention

When embarking on anything new, setting an intention can help us to focus, as we look to develop (and sustain) new, positive habits.

In his book, The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav (who was brought to prominence by Oprah Winfrey) devotes a whole section of his book to the notion of intention. I have to say that I found Zukav’s writing style difficult to follow, but I dipped in to see what he had to say on the topic.

Zukav’s key idea on intention is as follows:

“Every action, thought and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect. If we participate in the cause, it is not possible for us not to participate in the effect.” (Emphasis mine).

Essentially, Zukav is reminding us that what we reap is what we sow, even if we don’t realise it at the time. Whether our intention is explicit or barely acknowledged, how we approach something new will impact on the outcome. Students embarking upon undergraduate study may already have learned this truth.

However, one fundamental matter exists in the context of transitions in education: students’ intentions may be thwarted by external factors outside of their control. If their plans don’t come together because of a missed grade point or a single blip in a test score, there has to be an immediate period of reframing. Happily, very soon, things adjust and settle. Plans are redrawn. Life goes on.

In everyday life

For those of us well past A levels and university, setting an intention for a small and seemingly insignificant part of our day can nonetheless make a big difference. We don’t necessarily need to be striving towards major life goals to benefit from this practice.

Angela’s story

Angela from Setting my Intention was my ‘go to’ person when it came to this topic.

Angela told me, “I had been going to yoga classes prior to starting my blog and loved how the yoga instructor would suggest setting an intention for the time we would be practicing. I knew that I needed to start intentions off the yoga mat in order to get focused and have peace in my home and life. It’s been life-changing.”

Notice that. By setting intentions off the yoga mat, Angela changed her life.

Just being a little more mindful when going about our day-to-day lives – more intentional – is bound to make us think, pause, breathe and consider our actions before we act.

Mindful moments

Even if we pause for only a fraction of a second before we select what to eat, how to act, what to write, or how to respond to others is going to be impactful. If we are intentional in our choices, we’ll act with our long-term goals or values in mind.

Serious about losing weight? Pause and think of that important goal before you find yourself ‘off guard’, making spur-of-the-moment choices that aren’t going to support your aim.

Want a deeper engagement with your kids? Intentionally choosing to have some ‘tech-free-time’ might be transformative. Here, the intention contributes directly to the effect. And you have the power to make the change.

For Angela, by mindfully setting an intention in her life, she experienced a dramatic change, as she was able to overcome her experience of feeling (in her own words),  “…harried and overwhelmed as a mom.”

Becoming more deliberate

If we become more deliberate, mindful and intentional about the moments, minutes, hours and days of our lives, then the resultant effect is bound to reap rewards.

These effects or outcomes may not come in the form of degree certificates or academic plaudits, but they have the potential to make changes in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

And if you’re off to college or university soon, set your intention. Enjoy making new friends and having new experiences.

Oh, and get some work done.


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The Tools and Techniques of Minimalism

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

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

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

So, where to begin?

Outer work

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

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

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

Help! I feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering!

Start with your wardrobe

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

Ask for help

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

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

What about asking a friend to help?

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

Get an accountability group or partner

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

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

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

Inner work

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

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

Staying uncluttered

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

Remember your ‘why’

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

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

Don’t be afraid to quit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider these alternative realities

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

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

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

See what I mean?

An intentional approach to life

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

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


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What is minimalism?

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

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

The ‘what of minimalism’

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

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

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

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

So, let’s get started!

Minimalism 101

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

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

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The minimalist design aesthetic remains popular today

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

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

Types of minimalism

Approaches to minimalism

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

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

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

Voluntary simplicity

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

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

Frugal Minimalism

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

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

The Minimalist Foodie

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

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

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

Moderate Minimalism, the Midlands Minimalist way

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

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

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

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

Is decluttering minimalism?

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

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

Tiny Wardrobes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidying up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intentional living

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

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

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

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

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

Slow living

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

I’ll take that!

Further reading

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

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Why I’m joining the WI

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It’s been a year since I decided to make a significant shift in my life and remove some time-consuming commitments that were creating serious amounts of overwhelm. One of these was having a key role within a ladies chorus; its weekly rehearsal commitment (along with committee obligations, section rehearsals, extra training, competition and so on) played an important part of my life for over 14 years.

A year on, I’ve achieved more of a balance but there’s something I miss.

I miss belonging to a social group

I miss the regular interactions with like-minded women. I miss belonging to a social group. In his book, The Nordic Guide to Living 10 Years Longer, Bertil Marklund’s tenth tip emphasises the positive benefits of a good social life. Marklund explains that time with friends not only reduces stress but decreases inflammation in the body thus strengthening the immune system, leading to a longer life with more fun in it!

So, what to do?

My friend, Lynne, suggested a reading group. Re-joining the gym was a possibility but less likely to offer the kind of personal connection I was seeking. However, there was something else I had in the back of my mind: The Women’s Institute. Would this provide the kind of social network (an actual social network) that I would enjoy?

Could I find a WI locally?

I consulted Google to see if there was a WI in my local area. To my surprise, there were three. Two existed in my home town of Kenilworth but there was one in the next village – Leek Wootton – that was just 5 minutes away. In fact, that’s nearer than going into town.

I realised that this group met monthly on a Tuesday evening at 7.45 p.m; a perfect slot for me. So, I clicked on the group’s website. What should I see there but a photograph that included the image of my lovely neighbour, Gill! There was a meeting coming up in a few days’ time, so I tapped on Gill’s door to see if I could go along with her. Unbeknown to me, Gill regularly gave a lift to our mutual neighbour, Lesley, so we became instantly “The Cul-de-Sac Three”.

What’s the WI all about?

At this first meeting, I gained a small insight into the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI) whilst also seeing – at first hand – how my local WI operated. Back at home, my research enabled me to discover more.

Did you know that the WI actually originated in Canada in 1897, only starting in Britain in 1915 as a way to encourage countrywomen to get involved in growing and preserving food, as part of the war effort? During the Second World War, the WI earned its association with jam-making, as members preserved nearly 12 million pounds of fruit that might otherwise have been wasted.

The WI has a political agenda

As the largest women’s voluntary organisation in the UK, activism has played a key role in the life of the NFWI. I was particularly struck by one of its current resolutions, Food Matters, which is to ‘avoid food waste, address food poverty.’ Recent campaigns have also included issues such as Fast Fashion and Packaging and Waste. All of these speak very much to the minimalist heart.

With a pro-active Public Affairs team, the NFWI is not only a political organisation, but an effective one it seems! Indeed, the NFWI’s continued use of ‘Jerusalem’ as its anthem signals the organisation’s ongoing links with the wider women’s movement and its commitment to improving rural life.

An organisation committed to developing people

The idea that the WI offers development opportunities to its members is very appealing, as are the cultural and social activities enjoyed at local level throughout the year. Offering education to women and the chance to build new skills, the NFWI also has its own cookery school in Oxfordshire where craft and lifestyle courses are also delivered.

At the Leek Wootton WI, members of the craft group are busy making tiny knitted cotton octopuses, which will be offered to our local neo-natal unit. Apparently, the babies’ tiny hands perceive the octopus tentacles to be like the mother’s umbilical cord. This spurs me on to improve my knitting skills, as those of you who know me well may remember that I’ve been knitting a scarf for about 3 years now. My husband calls it my Brexit scarf, as the UK will have left the EU before I finish it….

My second visit

A month after my first visit to the WI, I returned for a second time on Tuesday. The evening’s theme proved to demonstrate what a lively and fun group I had discovered. The theme was belly dancing! After a demonstration from our fabulous guest, we were warmly encouraged to get up and have a go. Everyone – of all ages – had a great deal of fun trying the various moves, before relaxing over a rather lovely Pimms and lemonade.

As a visitor, I was warmly welcomed by this friendly bunch and had another very pleasant evening. So, after the summer break, I’m going to join and I look forward to trying new things and having the opportunity to broaden my horizons a little. Local friends, do come along with me if you are free on the third Tuesday of the month!

What about you?

Do you belong to an established organisation? Or have you created a group that brings like-minded people together for a particular reason? Let us know by replying to the post below!


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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


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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.

-Beauty marketing is rife with aspirational allure- - Rae Ritchie.png

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/