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

 

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

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This is a guest post from Rae Ritchie

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

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

Veering between over-buying and under-buying

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

The beauty writer’s dilemma

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

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

5 small steps towards saving money, space and resources

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

1) Question what you need

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

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

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

2) Know what you like

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

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

3) The over-blown promise

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

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

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

4) The false economy

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

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

5) One in, one out, one spare

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

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

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

Not too much, not too little.

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

About the writer

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

 

 

Simplify your…. laundry

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When we first got married (20 years ago this year!), I have to say that – in the laundry department – we would have scored very badly on expertise (and on attention to detail).

If our washing had entered Eurovision, our score would have been “null points”.

As a couple, we were laundry novices, in spite of me having been trained the Swiss way as an au-pair and both of us having done our own washing at university.

How we did our laundry in the old days

We first lived in a small rented flat, with no garden. So washing and drying anything involved the use of:

  • washing machine
  • tumble dryer
  • clothes horse

We owned all of the above, but here’s the reality:

Everything went in the washing machine together. Everything got tumble-dried together. Everything ended up in a heated ball of tangled washing.

Reset

Fast-forward 20 years and things are so much better.

Here’s how we keep on top of our laundry and how we keep it simple.

Divide and conquer

Our laundry arrives in front of the washing machine, mainly via the washing basket (sometimes straight out of sports bags) in its usual mixed-up jumble. This is where the sorting starts.

Sort….

We sort by type to bring bedding together, towels together, dark items, coloured items, whites, delicates etc.

Wash…

I don’t own anything that needs hand washing. Most often, we use a quick wash programme that’s just half an hour; that gets different washes done speedily. Some of the delicate programmes take a little longer. We only do a hot wash if we really need to. That’s better for the environment.

Dry…

I’d like to tell you that I’m outside every morning, pegging out my washing in the garden. However, those of you who follow my Instagram account will know that we actually live in the land of sunshine and showers, so leaving the washing on the line at 07:30 and hoping it will have been gently wind-blown dry by 17:30 is somewhat optimistic. When we have a spell of good weather, we do dry washing outside, but throughout 3/4 of the year, we turn to indoor drying methods.

I use the tumble dryer, but only for certain items such towels or bedding that can tolerate this and which don’t dry well on the clothes horse.

I do not tumble dry clothes, principally because it’s bad for the longevity of the fabric but I am also mindful of how much electricity the tumble dryer uses.

We have a condenser dryer, which means I can salvage the water in the tank for re-use. Tumble dryer water does fine for mopping the floor. We’ve even used it for watering the back garden with no problems.

For clothes (and for items such as pure cotton duvet covers), we have two drying methods.

Heated clothes horse/air dryer

This is a wonderful machine! It holds more than one load of washing, is cheap to run and does a very good job. It’s an investment – and you need space to place an item like this – but I wish I’d got one of these sooner.

Heated dryer

Retractable wall-mounted dryer

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This is great when you have a small amount to dry; ours is above a radiator so the clothes benefit when the heating is on. My Onjenu dresses go perfectly on this dryer. All I need to do is hang them up, then transfer them to the wardrobe when dry – no creasing, no ironing. Wear, wash, dry then wear again. Simple!

Baskets

Once things are dry, we have two baskets into which they go:

  1. Items to be ironed (as few as possible)
  2. Items to be smoothed, folded and put away (which don’t stay here for long)

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Basket 1 gets lots of attention on Sunday, as this is my ironing day when I can listen to all my favourite podcasts and do my ironing right next to the wardrobes where the clothes are to hang. Occasionally, I’ll whip out the ironing board if I need to something mid-week, but normally this isn’t necessary.

Basket 2 is a breeding ground for things like towels, tea-towels, e-cloths, sports kit etc. The key to the success of this is keep things moving. As soon as there are a few items in there, we fish them out, fold, then put away.

I am self-appointed Head of Sorting and Folding, after which I leave little “gifts” on the island in the kitchen (piles of washing to put away) or on the bed of the owner.

Products

I’ve recently switched to a US product called ECOS. It’s a plant-based liquid detergent that is ultra-concentrated; a little goes a very long way. Even better, its chunky container fits perfectly in my cupboard. Plus, I’ll be able to recycle the bottle when all the product is used up.

I do use Vanish stain remover gel for stubborn stains, but have also experimented with undiluted white vinegar, which works reasonably well on lightly soiled items.

Tumble dryer balls are also the order of the day for improved efficiency.

Keep on top of it

The important thing is not to let things mount up. This does happen from time to time and the sight of what I call ‘Wishy Washy’s Laundry’ makes my heart sink.

So, we keep it going with a little and often approach. This way, we avoid overwhelm and no-one ever runs out of anything to wear (even when I maintain a pared-down wardrobe, Project 333 style).

What’s the benefit?

Taking a systematic approach to a necessary chore such as the laundry helps keep things simple. By establishing a routine, things just fall into place and you don’t have to think about it any more. This way, your time is freed up to do the things you’d rather spend time doing. Like I said in a previous post, that’s the minimalist way!

What laundry tips do you have? Any washing tips or laundry hacks? Please leave a comment in the reply section below!

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Should we unclutter people?

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

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

Excess stuff is bad for your health

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

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

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

Clutter makes us stressed!

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

Personal baggage

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

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

Toxic relationships

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

That’s quite a claim!

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

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

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

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

Take action

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

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

If all else fails, remember this:

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

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

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