Do you ever feel that you’re rushing from one thing to the next? Perhaps your children’s social lives put you in a perpetual spin? Maybe you feel obligated to go to a particular hairdresser, doctor, dog groomer, dentist (and so on) just because you remain steadfastly loyal?
Some people are perfectly happy to travel significant distances to access certain services and I don’t blame you, if you are one of them. However, for day-to-day or regular activities, an alternative approach could help you slow down, simplify your routine or make a necessary chore feel a little less onerous.
Episode 137 of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast made me see how important it is to consider convenience.
In this particular episode, Rubin and her sister and co-presenter, Liz Craft, explain how using particular services that are close by can provide a significant happiness boost.
By coincidence, we’d recently made a family decision that fitted well into the category of this particular ‘happiness hack’.
The story of my morning rush
Since our daughter was very small, I’d always taken her to nursery (then school) myself. This was our routine and we enjoyed this time together.
During her primary school years, the journey to school was on the way to my workplace, so this worked well. Once the secondary school years arrived, we continued the drive to school, as my place of work had changed and was now just a few miles further on from my daughter’s senior school.
In the early part of those secondary school years, we could leave as late as 07:50, drop the dog off (if he was going to doggie day care) and I could still be at my desk for 08:45.
Then I changed jobs again.
At first, in my new role, I could still play ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and manage to be at my desk by around 08:30. But then the traffic started to get busier. And busier…. Plus, changes to parking arrangements at work meant that we needed to start leaving the house even earlier to arrive on time and find somewhere to park.
By the end of this busy phase, we were leaving home at 07:10 and I was arriving at work already feeling worn out and somewhat frazzled. Plus, our teen probably wasn’t getting as much sleep as she needed. And teenagers need a lot of sleep.
Enter the school bus
In the early days, the school bus was a potential option, but it was terribly inconvenient.
Its route involved various pick-ups, including a detour into the city centre, before it finally journeyed to its destination. This wasn’t ideal and the cost seemed prohibitively high in view of the drawbacks.
Then, the service changed, so our small town became the penultimate stop before the onward bus journey to school. Even better, the service now departed at 08:00 from our local stop, so this looked like a much more attractive option altogether.
Try this at home
At the start of the new term, my lovely husband suggested we try the bus. It would enable me to spend a lot less time in the car (as well as less time in traffic), plus the cost of the termly bus pass would be counterbalanced by the saving in fuel.
He was right.
I cannot tell you how much less stressed and more happy I feel as a result of this change. I am now able to drop our daughter at the bus stop and be at my desk within about 20 minutes. The previous round-trip could take as much as an hour.
I’m sure that our teenager would much prefer to be driven (who wouldn’t?). But this arrangement is a common-sense, practical solution to a problem that did need to be solved. And, now that our teenager is heading towards her 16th birthday, I also remind myself of an old mantra:
Independence is not neglect.
It is clear to me that choices that were once convenient don’t always remain so. And that’s worth thinking about.
What change can you make through considering convenience?
Convenience can make a big impact if you want to simplify your life.
As Rubin suggests in the podcast episode, “Making something more convenient will make it more likely that you’ll follow through.”
So consider this:
Is there a gym close to your place of work or home? You’ll be more likely to go, if you choose this option.
Can you walk or cycle to your workplace to combine exercise and transport?
Could you switch to a service provider that offers a late opening or a more local service, thus saving you precious time and resources?
Just try it!
Perhaps, like me, you’ll find a surprising amount of value (even beyond what you might have hoped for) through considering convenience in your daily choices.
And if you’ve made a convenient choice that has created more space in your life, please do share by replying below.
Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers. On joining, you’ll get access to all my free content on my Community Resources page.
Receive unique news and content by clicking on the button, below:
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 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.
Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers. On joining, you’ll get access to all my free content on my Community Resources page.
Receive unique news and content by clicking on the button, below:
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.
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”.
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!
Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers.
The second epidsode of Kristin Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg’sBy the Book podcast offers listeners a full-on, no holds barred insight into the best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano.
Meinzer and Greenberg baulk at Giuliano’s ‘don’t get fat’ rules, especially her initial ‘rebalancing’ weekend, whose leek broth is found by the pair to be both unappetising and punitive. Indeed, Meinzer and Greenberg remark upon the way in which the book evokes memories of their past issues and struggles with food.
This doesn’t sound terribly healthy or chic, does it?
Ode to a French lifestyle
In fact, FWDGF is more an ode to the French lifestyle than a diet book per se. In it, Giuliano extoles the virtues of ‘la vie en rose,’ reminding us that a life lived well – but without excess – is the best life of all.
Indeed, Molière is reputed to have written:
Great is the fortune of he who possesses a good bottle, a good book and a good friend.
This reminds me that there’s something else the French can teach us: living simply also means living well.
Living simply also means living well
My oldest friend and her husband own a traditional French house in the Limousin region of France. In a small hamlet on the edge of Cussac, my friends enjoy long spells in this quiet, beautiful and unspoilt part of the country. Here, the pace of life is in sharp contrast to that of the British suburbs.
Life at a slower pace
In the rural district that is the Haute Vienne, there is a great deal less rushing around. Admittedly, this is likely to be the case because the industry and commerce that drive the engine of France are situated elsewhere. Nonetheless, there’s something about the Limousin way of life from which we can all learn.
The sharing economy, French style
In Cussac, neighbours share home-grown vegetables and fruits, as they enjoy a glut of fresh produce in the summer months. It is not unusual to arrive home to find a bowl of fresh cherries or bag of green beans on the doorstep. In the same vein, when my friends first ventured into their cellar (la cave), they discovered ancient jars of bottled vegetables and fruits, evidence of the tradition of preserving and bottling that is commonplace.
Further, neighbours come together occasionally in the evening to share a glass or two of ‘pineau de Charente’ and to share family news of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
If you can’t get the petrol mower going, someone will no doubt step in. Likewise, the ruby geraniums on the windowsill will not go unattended if you are away for a few days. And don’t forget to close the shutters! The daily ritual of opening and closing shutters is ‘très important’.
Make do and mend comme les Français
Here, consumerism is far less in evidence, as the make-do-and-mend culture is deeply embedded. This is especially true when it comes to home decor and clothing. Here, the nearest IKEA is some kilometres away in Bordeaux and no-one has heard of H&M, Top Shop or New Look. Fast fashion seems ridiculous when living modestly and living well is the name of the game.
Coffee the French way
Coffee is a straightforward pick-me-up in Cussac. No latte-mocha-frothy-syrup-two shot-grande-whipped cream extravaganza here. You might get a cappuccino and you’ll certainly enjoy a glass of water with your elevenses. That’s it.
There is a strong sense of community, as you would expect.
The library is the place to go for ‘L’internet’ and where you catch up on village news. The bread man arrives in the hamlet on a Tuesday morning with fresh baguettes for 1 Euro. On other days, a walk up the gentle incline to the village brings you to the boulangerie or supermarket (take your own bag for the bread and your shopping trolley to wheel everything back).
In the summer, local fetes bring the community together when table-top sales and ‘vide greniers’ (literally “empty lofts” ) co-exist with stalls selling local honey, vintage cotton, sausage and potato meals, and home-grown produce and plants. Merry-go-rounds for the little people offer a pastime enjoyed by kids for time immemorial. In the holidays, there are firework displays, live entertainment and picnics when the sun goes down.
These gatherings take place in locations with beautiful sounding names: Oradour sur Vayres, Champagnac la Rivière (my favourite village name), Rochechouart (amazing Chateau and fabulous local restaurant, Le Roc de Boeuf) and Saint-Mathieu.
Rose tinted spectacles?
This all sounds idyllic and it is. Romantic, even. And, yes, I’m painting you a rosy picture. But this is real, too, for the people who live and work in this little corner of la belle France. The gentle daily routine of French folk is now enjoyed by quite a few ‘Anglais’ who also now inhabit this peaceful spot. These English neighbours know a good thing when they see it.
What can we learn from this slower way of life?
The time spent lovingly tending gardens is tremendously good for us. The gentle business of hoeing and mowing fills up our ‘Vitality bucket’ (as Jonathan Fields* calls it), giving us a daily dose of nature’s health-giving vitamin D and some gentle exercise. The result of those labours – dark green and boldly coloured veggies – can’t do us any harm either, especially when food miles is no miles at all. We can perhaps dispense with the leeks, if you prefer.
Neighbourly cooperation fills up our ‘Community bucket’ and time for mutual support and kinship tops up our ‘Contribution bucket’.
Enjoy the slow rhythms of life
So, as my friends prepare to depart for their summer ‘en France’, it’s good to remind oneself that the slow rhythms of a French summer can be enjoyed wherever you are.
Set the table for a leisurely lunch. Hang your clothes to dry on the washing line, instead of reaching automatically for the tumble dryer. Walk into town to go to the market. Write a thank you note for a friend. Stop by and chat to a neighbour as you pass by. And enjoy the best that life has to offer.
Just enough; not too much. It’s the French way.
*Author of How to live a Good Life: Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom
Join hundreds of others in the Midlands Minimalist Community, receiving unique news and content that’s only available for subscribers.
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.
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:’
Words of affirmation/appreciation
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.
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.