I love autumn, not least because it’s my birthday month, but also because in colour-analysis terms, I am also an ‘Autumn‘. Win win!
To me, Fall is the perfect season for letting go.
If we’ve been pre-occupied with summer or holiday pursuits until now, there’s a chance that, as the nights draw in, we can resume our goals. After all, September is considered to be the new January and the start of the academic year is well and truly here.
Maybe you really want to get your family room decluttered? Or perhaps you’ve been putting off that paperwork? The kids are well and truly back at school, so now’s the time to get stuck in.
Or perhaps you’re keen to slough off some mental baggage or unhealthy habits that you know aren’t serving you?
Do this now, before the ‘silly season’ is upon us.
Here are 10 reasons to act now
Christmas – the season of acquisition – is just around the corner. There, I’ve said it. Unclutter your space before you start to add to it (either with holiday decorations or new purchases).
There is only now. Consider what you can declutter in the next 10 minutes. Find 10 things in just 10 minutes and put these in your ‘goods out’ location. Go!
A little progress can make a big difference, so try just tackling one drawer, one shelf or one cupboard. Small wins will spur you on.
Worry and busyness can cause us to lose sight of what’s important. We end up living in a constant state of anxiety when we’re continually focussing on the next thing. Let go of your ‘to do’ list (especially at weekends) to enjoy the day unfold.
It’s OK to let go of others’ expectations and to start saying no. Maybe you need to put yourself first.
Holding on can prevent you from moving forward. “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” – Jan Glidewell
Social media channels are not only time-sucking phenomena; they can also impact negatively on how we (and our kids) feel. Use just the one (or two) that bring you the most enjoyment. Dare to delete an app or even the entire account. I promise you won’t miss it; you might even feel a sense of relief.
Let go of late nights. Shorter sleep equals shorter life, as this recent article in The Guardian explains. Autumn is the perfect time to go to bed early and make sure you get your full 8 hours.
Letting go might just enable you to add value to someone else’s life through a book you pass on, a piece of clothing you donate or time devoted just talking with someone else.
So, what’s holding you back? And what will you let go of this autumn?
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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?
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:
The ‘packing party’ – “Box it up” (anything you don’t retrieve from those boxes within the timescale of your choosing can be got rid of)
And the ever-useful approach of getting rid of one thing on Day 1, two things on Day 2 and so on, known as the Mins Game
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
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 aMinimalism 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.
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!
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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P.S. Let me know if you’ve found this useful and if you’ve tried any of the tools and techniques at home by replying here. Or email me via email@example.com, send me a Tweet (@MidsMinimalist) or connect via Instagram (@MidlandsMinimalist)
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 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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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’m not a minimalist, I never was one and I’m unlikely to become one, so it may surprise you to know I run a website about decluttering.
Decluttering doesn’t have to mean paring down your belongings to fit into one small bag. It doesn’t even mean pulling everything you own out of your wardrobe and having stressful days dealing with it all. Decluttering to me is a way of pruning and editing your things so you end up with stuff that makes you feel great about yourself.
Why do we have too much stuff?
There is no doubt we are at peak stuff. Birthdays and Christmas bring new waves of more new things from friends and family. Shopping trips can be made from your sofa, at any time of day or night. You can buy from countries all over the world without even speaking to another human being. Supermarkets have aisles full of interior decorating treats for bored shoppers. Even a cultural day out to a museum ends up in the gift shop. Buying new things can make us happy in the moment at least.
Curating your home
Think of your home as a museum of yourself with you as the curator. Spend just 5 minutes a day picking out a few things you really do not need or want. Pretty soon you will start to see open spaces that were previously filled with clutter. Start with the small, start with the obvious. Ask yourself:
Is it rubbish?
Does it work? If not, am I ever going to fix it?
Does it bring up any bad memories?
Do I actually like it?
Daily small decluttering
You can use 5 minute decluttering sessions anywhere in your home. I like to use the dead time when I’m waiting for something to happen. I might pick through a kitchen drawer and get rid of 5 things while the kettle is boiling, or the washing machine is finishing the spin cycle. If you get rid of 5 things a day for 5 days a week that will be over a thousand bits of clutter in a year. All removed without any fuss or hassle.
I love Catherine’s idea of daily pockets of freedom and I think it is very good to reward ourselves. You could plan a little pocket of freedom after you have done a 5 minute declutter as a great way to reinforce a good habit.
Keeping things because we ought to like them
Gifts from loved ones are tricky to say goodbye to, even if we hate the present itself. It may have been given with love but there is no reason why you should have to live with it. Larger charity shops will send donations out of the area, if you are worried about it being spotted for resale. Kids drawings hold a similar hold over us and I find it easier to get rid of potentially sentimental items sooner, rather than later. With children’s stuff I save the best from each term in a special folder. My son will thank me when he is older for not presenting him with evidence of learning from his entire school life.
Keeping things we love but others hate
Your space, your rules. If you love it, no matter how ugly, broken, smelly or useless it is, then keep it. Your home is your museum and you can put what you want in it. If this bothers other people, just keep it hidden 🙂 If you find it difficult to part with everything and you think you are hoarding, please see your doctor. Hoarding can be a sign of depression and there is lots of help out there.
Do you want to know more about moderate minimalism?
www.less-stuff.co.uk is all about gentle decluttering, simple living, frugal ideas and eco-friendly life. If you have previously gone through radical declutters and need to keep on top of things, my decluttering prompts will help. If you are new to reducing your belongings, starting small is less scary than huge purges.
Sign up for Lisa’s newsletter (which is infrequent and will not clutter up your inbox) to get a free decluttering calendar, an A-Z of leftover food ideas and a money off voucher for the less-stuff bookshop.
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The summer holidays are almost upon us, so our thoughts turn to what we need to pack to take with us on vacation.
You’d be surprised if I didn’t pack lightly when going on summer holiday, so here are 10 top tips to travel minimally:
Ten top tips
1. Choose a combination of clothes that work well in lots of situations. A soft jacket worn to the airport will double up as a ‘keep warm’ over a dress when the sun goes down.
2. Don’t take any more than you can fit in luggage the size of a small carry-on suitcase or squishy bag. You don’t need any more. Mix and match, wearing what you bring more than once before you wash it.
3. Toiletries often take up the most room in your luggage. Take multi-purpose items if you can (i.e. shampoo/bodywash combined) or buy what you need when you arrive. Small, travel sized items can be very useful.
4. If flying to your destination, use your beach tote as hand luggage for all your documents, reading material and in-flight essentials. I use a Cath Kidston wipeable tote that a friend bought for me, leaving my leather handbag at home.
5. Travel in your heavier clothes or shoes, leaving space in your luggage for lighter items such as flip-flops. This can be an advantage when going to the airport for an early flight, as it can often be chilly then. Likewise, it’s often cold on board the aircraft so having some soft, extra layers can be useful. The opposite may be true when you arrive, but I don’t mind shedding layers if I need to; I just hate to be cold!
6. Roll your clothes to avoid creasing, KonMari style! This makes them easier to find in your bag.
7. Be mindful about taking anything that would be vulnerable to being banged around i.e. eyeshadow. A beauty editor’s tip is to place a cotton pad or tissue inside the case, thus providing some gentle cushioning for your favourite product.
8. We synthesise Vitamin D through exposure to the sun, so a little bit of what you fancy really does you good. However, wherever you go (and whatever time of year), you must apply sunscreen. I apply SPF 50 to my face every day all year round; it’s part of my morning routine. Wellbeing and beauty expert Liz Earle recommends a mineral based sunscreen. Look out for one containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
9. A hat is essential but it doesn’t have to be fancy, bulky or expensive. Last year, we visited mainland Greece. My husband and I took a trip to Paxos and Antipaxos, which included an exhilarating journey by boat across the sea. A simple cotton square, folded into a triangle, made a retro style bandana for me, keeping the sun off my head whilst staying firmly in place.
10. Our pre-departure holiday mantra really says all you need to know: “Money, tickets, passport!” If you have the means to get to your destination and buy provisions when you arrive, that’s really all you need.
Whether you’re going away or enjoying a staycation, I hope you have a truly lovely summer. Let me know what travel tips you have here by responding to this post, below.
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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 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.
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.
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.