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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Discovering daily ‘pockets of freedom’ to enjoy what you love 

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Some timely prompts this week reminded me how lovely it can be to carve out a minuscule moment during the day to refresh and recharge the batteries.

Even full-time workers (with a commute) can benefit from a few, short simplicity hacks to help smooth the rough edges of an otherwise busy day.

So, what can we do?

Reframe your commute

A recent Harvard Business Review article* (from where the phrase ‘pockets of freedom’ comes) states that the average round trip commute in the U.K. takes 54 minutes. In the US, the figure is even higher at 90 minutes. That’s a significant proportion of the day!

The authors suggest that using the time to shift our mindset can be hugely beneficial, citing the use of daily pre-work rituals to help set our intention for the day ahead and create a sense of anticipation. For example, they suggest that checking the news on the train or taking a look at the calendar for the day helps us transition from home to work.

My place of work is a university, so arriving on campus is like witnessing a small town waking from its slumbers. I enjoy seeing the day unfold, as every day usually brings something new or interesting.

My colleague, Cheryl, comes to work on the bus, using the time to read or catch up with her favourite podcasts. This commute-enhancing activity allows for this little ‘pocket of freedom’ every day.

If I’m doing the school run, I drive, but I also cycle to work when I can. Whichever mode of transport I have chosen, the arrival ritual is always the same:

  • Lunch in the fridge
  • Water from the water fountain
  • Kettle on
  • Computer on

…And breathe

Build pockets of freedom into your day

Writer and friend, Rae Ritchie, has a brilliant strategy for finding more time for her preferred ‘pocket of freedom’, reading. Rae advocates arriving a little early for an appointment so that you can enjoy some delicious moments to yourself with your latest book.

If walking to a meeting across campus, I now try to build in just a few moments to spare so that, a) I don’t arrive in a flap and, b) I might just read an extra page of my book when I get there. It’s an approach also suggested by Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft on Happier.

Don’t forget lunch times

The French may traditionally take a 2 hour ‘dejeuner’ but I wonder if they ever sing at lunch time? Every Tuesday in term-time, at precisely 13:10, the University music centre runs Fun Choir. No preparation. No fuss. Just turn up and sing! Genius!

Workplace choirs, popularised by Choirmaster Gareth Malone are becoming increasingly commonplace. In researching this article, I realised there’s even a workplace choir organisation based close to where I work.

Eating lunch with a friend offers another lovely ‘pocket of freedom’; we get away from our desks when we can and enjoy around 45 minutes of uninterrupted catch-up time. That’s really valuable and so much better than grabbing a sandwich at your desk and carrying on with work.

Enjoy a moment of mindfulness

Sometimes, you have no choice but to sit and wait. If the ‘sitting and waiting venue’ offers you a window on the world, put down that smart phone. Step away from your tablet. Simply watch the world go by. See this not as lazing about but, rather, a chance to be more mindful and to develop your awareness.

Take your dog to work

Almost every day is an ‘International Day of X’.  Friday was no exception. 23 June 2017 was ‘Bring your Dog to Work Day’. The photos on Twitter of owners and dogs enjoying each other’s company was heartwarming and fun. My workplace takes this a step further, as it brings a team of Pets as Therapy dogs to the library on a regular basis to support students’ wellbeing. This is such a popular activity and is a real highlight in the calendar when revision is otherwise the order of the day.

Unwind at home time

My boss and I often take the 10-minute walk back to the car park together. This ‘unwind ritual’ is our tacit signal that it’s time to transition from work to home. We can reflect on the day whilst drawing a metaphorical line under the proceedings of the last few hours.

Others go to the gym directly from work. This is a great way to de-stress and to transition into evening. Taking some gentle exercise immediately after work is a great antidote to a heavy work schedule. I go to yoga at 6 p.m. every Thursday. I worried initially that I might not make it in time, but the traffic has only got the better of me once or twice.

Early to bed

Finally, go to bed early and you’ll not only get a better night’s sleep but you may be able to enjoy a few more pages of your book before lights out!

Reap the benefits

By incorporating just one or two of these mini stress-busters into your day, you’ll reap far more benefit than the small amount of time they take might suggest.

So, as another week rolls around, what will you do to enjoy a little ‘pocket of freedom’? What positive ritual or simplicity hack can you build into your day to help recharge your batteries? I’d love to know!

*Harvard Business Review, May-June 2017: Reclaim Your Commute – Getting to and from work doesn’t have to be soul crushing by Francesca Gino et al.


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The love that flourishes when you let go of stuff

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There’s bound to be something among the things you own that you really love. Some people love shoes (and are famous for it); others love clothes or have a signature scent that they truly adore (and which others associate them with). The list goes on.

“Love begins in a moment, grows over time and lasts for eternity”

I love rings. I always have. I own my paternal grandmother’s wedding ring that she first wore on her wedding day in October 1932. Having had it cut off because of dupuytren’s contracture, she kept this simple band of gold then had my birthstone set into it for my 18th birthday. It has little monetary value, but I enjoy wearing something today that my grandmother wore decades ago.

Can you be a minimalist and still love stuff?

Everyone’s definition of a minimalist lifestyle differs. My minuscule keepsakes take up no room but I value owning a bit of family history (and I wear my rings frequently). I suppose that’s the point: if the stuff you keep adds value to your life, then enjoy it. Use it. Wear it and let it bring you joy.

You may fill your home with stuff but it won’t fill your heart

We all know that the acquisitive pursuit of stuff can lead to anxiety, debt and emptiness. You may fill your home with stuff but it won’t fill your heart. On the contrary, clutter can be detrimental to wellbeing. That’s why decluttering is such a powerful tool.

Furthermore, the kind of love that flourishes when you let go of stuff is truly remarkable. It changes lives.

With This Ring

Bearing in mind my love of rings, I find Ali Eastburn’s story remarkable. Eastburn attended a women’s retreat when she found herself asking what might happen if she sold her stuff to help others. She then had the most daring and radical thought of all:

“I bet if I sold my wedding ring I could feed an entire village in Africa.”

Well, she did sell that ring and went on to found her charity, With This Ring. Eastburn’s own ring funded the drilling of a well in Africa, but the charity has since grown to change the lives of so many people through acts of generosity and love. Eastburn’s donation didn’t just change the lives of other people; it changed her own, as she was finally able to end what she called ‘an insatiable love of stuff.’

The Hope Effect

Joshua Becker is best known for his writing as the founder of Becoming Minimalist. However, the charity he founded is likely to have a more profound legacy. The Hope Effect seeks to implement family-based solutions for orphan care around the world. With a ‘two-parent’ style home, the charity’s mission is to transform the lives of children who would otherwise experience institutional care. How much hope and love abounds when ‘stuff’ is no longer the focal point of people’s lives!

The experientialist approach

Using your precious time and resources in the pursuit of activities or experiences (as opposed to things) will ultimately provide far greater reward than the short-lived rush of pleasure experienced when buying something new. Even better, enjoying activities with others helps build social bonds, which are a very important ingredient to wellbeing and happiness.

The month of love

Whilst February may be the ‘month of love’, June is traditionally the most popular month for weddings. A quick search on the web explains that, since the goddess Juno was the protector of women in all aspects of life (particular in matters of matrimony and childbearing), a wedding in Juno’s month was considered most auspicious.

This summer, my husband and I celebrate 20 years of marriage. We had so little when we started out so, inevitably, embarked upon the pursuit of ‘more and better’. Only now do I truly understand that love can flourish even more when you let go of the things in your life that no longer add value.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll take a closer look at that little pot of rings I keep at home. Letting go of them would no doubt generate more love than wearing them on my finger ever could.


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What’s your love language?

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If you’re a recipient of my bi-monthly newsletter, you’ll know that I’ve been reading Jonathan Fields’ How to Live a Good Life. If you haven’t read this book, it’s a cracking good read and worth buying an actual physical copy, as there is much in the book that is worth reflecting on and returning to.

Fill your buckets with vitality, connection and contribution

Fields’ model centres on 3 ‘Good Life Buckets’ – Vitality, Connection and Contribution. Fill your buckets, says Fields, and you’ll be on track towards a more rewarding experience of life.

Know your love language

One aspect really struck me, as I completed a section of the book on ‘Connection.’

Fields draws on the research of Gary Chapman, which defined people’s preferences about the way they give and receive love and appreciation. Fields explains Chapman’s 5 ‘languages of love:’

They are:

  • Physical Touch
  • Receiving gifts
  • Words of affirmation/appreciation
  • Quality time
  • Acts of service

It won’t surprise you that, as a minimalist, I instinctively knew that ‘Receiving gifts’ would not score highly on my list, but I had a hunch that ‘Acts of service’ would come out tops.

I was right. When I took Chapman’s online test, my results were in the following order:

  1. Acts of service
  2. Words of affirmation
  3. Quality time
  4. Physical touch
  5. Receiving gifts

So, anything you do to ease a burden for me will speak volumes. It’s also possible that I might show my appreciation for you through an act of service. As Chapman’s profiler says, “Let me do that for you.” is my love language.

Know yourself and understand others

By understanding my love language, those around me will know what makes a difference. By understanding theirs, the connection becomes stronger, as I begin to ‘speak their language’ through the actions I display towards them.

Different types of love

Of course, there are many forms of love and myriad ways to express and receive it. Friendship is a form of love I value greatly. I also observe – and am deeply touched by – the type of familial love displayed my parents to our daughter, Amy.  Their deep, unconditional love towards her is the type that comes in spades from grandparents. If you have ever known this type of love (or been able to share it with grandchildren of your own) then you have been truly blessed.

What if you crave a certain type of love?

Fields suggests,”Conversation is the gateway to connection.” He describes how he overcame his natural introspection to build relationships with amazing people.

By setting an intention to be interested in others; to ask questions; to give them his undivided attention; and to truly listen took Fields’ ability to build connections to a new level.

In the process of building the conversation, Fields focuses less on himself and more on others. However, in so doing, he derives as much benefit from the conversation as the one with whom he is conversing.

How can minimalism help?

Minimalism allows us to create space and capacity in our lives for something new. That ‘something’ is unlikely to be ‘stuff’ (unless you’re an experientialist for whom a whole bunch of kit might be needed) but it could be new experiences, new places or new people. Defining what matters and discovering something (or someone) new is a natural by-product when minimalism and simple living become a key tenet of our lives.

As Courtney Carver neatly puts it: simplicity is love.

If you know what it means to embrace a simpler life, then you will know and discover love in its many and varied forms. Who knows? You may speak its different languages, too.

Further reading:

Jonathan Fields – How to live a Good Life. See also: http://www.goodlifeproject.com/

Gary Chapman: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/

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