The Tools and Techniques of Minimalism

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

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

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

So, where to begin?

Outer work

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

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

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

Help! I feel overwhelmed by the idea of decluttering!

Start with your wardrobe

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

Ask for help

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

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

What about asking a friend to help?

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

Get an accountability group or partner

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

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

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

Inner work

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

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

Staying uncluttered

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

Remember your ‘why’

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

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

Don’t be afraid to quit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider these alternative realities

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

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

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

See what I mean?

An intentional approach to life

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

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


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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 midlandsminimalist@gmail.com, send me a Tweet (@MidsMinimalist) or connect via Instagram (@MidlandsMinimalist)

What is minimalism?

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

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

The ‘what of minimalism’

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

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

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

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

So, let’s get started!

Minimalism 101

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

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

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The minimalist design aesthetic remains popular today

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

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

Types of minimalism

Approaches to minimalism

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

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

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

Voluntary simplicity

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

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

Frugal Minimalism

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

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

The Minimalist Foodie

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

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

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

Moderate Minimalism, the Midlands Minimalist way

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

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

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

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

Is decluttering minimalism?

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

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

Tiny Wardrobes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tidying up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intentional living

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

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

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

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

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

Slow living

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

I’ll take that!

Further reading

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

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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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Simplify your…. paper mountain

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Last weekend, there were several ‘door droppers’ in our area, each with a fistful of leaflets or pamphlets for distribution.

To our bemusement, one of these included a Labour party flyer, which was 2 days late for local elections that had already taken place the previous Thursday. Whoops!

In one of the ‘drops’, I received a ‘Look Local’ magazine (advertorial and advertisements for local services), a leaflet from a local tree surgeon (who must be making lots of money to afford to do such a lot of direct marketing) and a flyer from Domino’s Pizza…

Junk mail

Some people avoid junk mail coming through the letterbox by placing a notice on their property. I haven’t done that, but I immediately place all incoming paper in the recycling bin.

However, how do you stop more junk mail coming through the post?

The Mailing preference service (MPS) is a good place to start. Did you know that if you’re still receiving unsolicited mail for a previous occupant of your home, you can also register his/her name with the MPS? Although the MPS website looks outdated (with a 2015 date on its site), I checked in with them and they are still operating.

Royal Mail’s opt-out scheme also stops all unaddressed mail being delivered by the postman.

So far, so good.

Genuine correspondence

What about incoming paper that you have to keep or want to retain? Well, you can recycle the envelopes as soon as they arrive (no need to remove the cellophane window).

Then, for me, I have a single place where incoming mail is collected. At the moment, this is a small drawer in my study, but I have used a wicker basket (currently full to the brim with our daughter’s revision papers!). The temptation is to leave things sitting on the island in our kitchen, but I do my best to whisk things away, leaving that surface clear.

For bank statements, bills and other correspondence that I may decide to keep for a number of months, I do have a filing system. It’s a series of A-Z box files that span the top shelf of a single wardrobe. I keep on top of its contents using my 3 S’s of paperwork.

Greetings cards

Recycle or make gift tags out of them. Create new cards by re-using a cut-out portion of an original card.

Newspapers and Magazines

I don’t know anyone who still buys a daily newspaper; so much of our news is consumed in ways other than print media.

For magazines, online services such as Texture offer a one-stop shop, with the opportunity to share the subscription across as many as 5 devices, plus a number of features (including a search function) that you simply don’t get by having a physical magazine. Newspapers, of course, offer similar subscription schemes.

Notwithstanding the amount of advertising contained in magazines, when it comes to it, if you want some lightweight reading matter, there’s nothing quite like having an actual magazine to browse through. After all, you can’t take the iPad in the bath with you (well, you could, but understand the risks!)

Years ago, I used to have a subscription to Real Simple, a magazine that wasn’t available in the UK. I had picked up a copy at an airport whilst flying from the US back to the UK and really enjoyed it. The UK equivalent is The Simple Things magazine. Now, I don’t buy any publication regularly but it is a treat to receive a magazine as a very occasional gift.

The sharing economy in action

My late grandmother regularly received magazines from her next door neighbour. The latest issue would be left on the wall adjoining their gardens, kept secure under a small brick to keep it from blowing about.

At Warwick Parkway station, I noticed recently another lovely way of sharing reading material. A book share box at the ticket office exists where you can leave a book you’ve read and pick up another – for free. At work, we have a basket in the kitchen for the same purpose.

What else comes through your door?

Pieces of paper, envelopes, flyers, letters, leaflets, booklets and other forms of paper aren’t the only things that come through our door.

Bags

Consider the bags that are posted through your door for charity collections (these typically come in plastic packets – arrgghh!). Where we live, they come from local charities such as the Air Ambulance Service. I say use them! Go to your ‘goods out’ drawer, fill the bag and remember to put it outside on collection day. Note to self!

Carrier bags from online supermarket shopping deliveries can be returned (and you might get money back for them). We do hand back these carrier bags when we have excess, but we also use them to line the small kitchen bin whose contents go to landfill.

Gift bags, luxury paper shopping bags or simple brown paper bags should always be re-used. I keep mine folded flat in a large gift-bag whose sturdy structure is great for keeping all the smaller bags in good order. That’s a trick I learned from Marie Kondo: the best way to store a bag is inside another!

Too many ‘bags for life’? Again, use them or pass them on.

If you ever order clothes online, these will inevitably come in a lightweight plastic bag. These are more difficult to re-use but I have done so whenever I’ve gone through a phase of eBay-ing unwanted items. Do you have any useful ways to re-use such bags?

And simply don’t buy food bags such as sandwich or freezer bags.

Maintain the habit

By implementing some of these ideas, you’ll certainly help keep the clutter – and the associated stress – down. Maintaining the habit of putting things away certainly helps when you need to retrieve something in the future and setting aside time to do your ‘family admin’ supports this goal.

How do you keep on top of your paper mountain and keep the clutter at bay? Reply to this post, below, or join our lovely Community!

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Simplify your…. inbox

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‘Technostress’ is not a new term, but I only came across it recently when used by a colleague who is doing a study on it for her master’s thesis.

It’s easy to infer the meaning of the term but not so easy to know how to respond when, we are required – especially in our work – to interact constantly with new technologies. It’s likely that all of us experience technostress at some point in our working lives; I’d suggest that email has a role to play in this.

Email as tool not torment

Email can be a mixed blessing. Since 1 November 2016, I have received over 2500 work-related emails and managed many more in my personal account.

When I wrote about Minimalism and the workplace, I offered the following tip on managing email:

If you’re using MS Outlook, on managing email, sort by ‘subject’ so that all threads relating to a particular email clump together. You can quickly see the ‘reply all’ threads and just keep the ones that matter.

This is a great way to deal with the bulk of incoming mail. You’re then left with the things that are truly ‘work’ as opposed to things that might just be ‘noise’.

By doing this, you’re filtering to what’s essential, which makes things simpler to start with. Email then becomes a useful and efficient communication tool rather than a stressor.

To sort or not to sort? That is the question

Once I’m down to the essentials, I organise incoming emails using the ‘Categories’ feature in Outlook . It’s much easier to pick out messages of a particular type if you have colour-coded them.

Categories

I am also a committed user of folders. In Outlook, I find it’s a lot easier to retrieve a message if I’m able to narrow down what I’m looking for by topic. Gmail, which I also use, seems able to retrieve anything you search for; I find Outlook less helpful in this regard.

Both categorising and using folders take time, but I find both of these really useful.

One could argue that it’s simpler just to leave emails unsorted but if your email volumes are anything like mine, you need a system that is consistent, memorable and straightforward. That’s where we go back to the meaning of the word ‘simplification’ from my last post: the process of making something simpler or easier to do or understand. I’d argue that the approaches described above do make the management of one’s inbox much easier.

Inbox zero?

I don’t aim for ‘inbox zero’ but, most days, I leave my work with (on average) around 20-30 emails remaining in my inbox. These are my ‘work in progress’.

I review incoming email first thing in the morning, then return to it as the ‘sand’ in my day, only when the ‘rocks’ (the important things) have been dealt with.

The typing pool

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If your work setting is office-based, you may sometimes wonder if you’ve gone back in time and joined a typing pool, as everyone spends significant amounts of time intensely working away at the keyboard.

Vary this routine by picking up the phone to communicate with someone else or go and have a face-to-face conversation. It’s good for you. You can have a stretch, move your body and engage with people in a way that you can’t when you are typing at your desk.

Remember, just because you can (email) doesn’t mean you have to. In her book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington describes organisations that instigate ‘no email’ days. Could you suggest this?

Annual leave as borrowed time

I have often thought of annual leave as ‘borrowed time’ because you have to work twice as fast when you return to catch up because the emails keep on coming whilst you’re away.

What about the idea of writing the following message in your automatic reply when you are on vacation? Dare you? How would that be received within your organisation or by those with whom you work?

Thank you for your message. I will be on annual leave from X to Y dates and will have no access to email during this time. If your email remains important to you after Y date, please do resend it.

A word on apps

Apps designed to support productivity can help move work out of your inbox and into a project management tool.

There are lots of apps from which to choose and more being developed all the time. According to Statista, there were 2.8 million apps available via Google Play in March 2017 and a further 2.2 million in the Apple app store. So, how do we discern what’s useful?

I have about a dozen apps that I use regularly but I am judicious in my choices (and have previously written my essentialist approach to the social media apps I use).

A small number of websites with related apps really do help me manage work tasks and maintain my sanity. This means I can file related emails away, as I can manage tasks through the tools I use.

Some are more sophisticated than others, but I’ve settled on Producteev as my tool of choice. Although aimed at teams, it’s also ideal for individuals. I can list any number of tasks (each with sub-tasks) and am able to categorise these and set date reminders. Once scheduled, the technology does the work of remembering so I don’t have to. I also love Evernote and use Dropbox for long-term document storage.

Carve out time

If you use email in your workplace, it’s a fallacy to suggest that it isn’t ‘real work’ and that, somehow, your actual work lies outside your inbox. However, if you have sufficient autonomy over how you manage your day, carve out space for ‘time out’ to provide a counter-balance to email if you can. When you do return to it, you’ll be more likely to resume your work with a little more energy.

So, how do you manage your inbox? Have you developed any top tips that you’d like to share? Please do comment below!

Next time

In the next post, we’ll move away from discussing virtual paper to talking about real paper, as we look at simplifying our approach to the management of ‘goods in‘ of the paper variety.

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Simplify your….?

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Now that the beautiful month of May is upon us (May the Fourth be with you!), I’m going to start a short series on simplification.

Since minimalism and simple living go hand-in-hand, I’ll explore some aspects of our day-to-day life that could all benefit from a bit of simplification.

simplification
ˌsɪmplɪfɪˈkeɪʃ(ə)n/
noun
the process of making something simpler or easier to do or understand
What do you wish was simpler in your day-to-day life? Is there something that you wish was easier to do, simpler to understand or more straightforward?

TechnoStress

This compound word is new to me, but I’ll bet you don’t need me to explain it!
Let’s explore strategies for simplifying in the area of technology. How can we make tools such as email work for us, not the other way around?

The battle at the front door

Writer and friend, Rae Ritchie, suggested we consider ways to deal with all that stuff that still comes into the house: magazines, paper, post and random carrier bags. It’s what Rae calls ‘the battle at the front door’. We’ll dive into the seemingly never-ending war on ‘goods-in’ clutter.

Household chores

Whether or not you work outside the home, you’ll recognise the benefits of having straightforward systems in place for laundry, meal-planning or cleaning.

We’ll take a look at ways to minimise the impact of – and time devoted to – these necessary tasks.

What do you wish could be achieved more simply? Do comment below or get in touch!

Let’s simplify!

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#FrugalFebruary – What we can all learn from The Overspent American

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If you haven’t read The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need by Juliet Schor, then I would encourage you to add it to your ‘must read’ list.

Written towards the end of the 1990’s, Schor’s message is as true today as it was in the days before the global financial crisis. If you’re looking to simplify your life, the messages from this important book may resonate with you (as they did with me). I just wish I’d read it before.

In today’s post, I share some of the key tenets of Schor’s persuasive manifesto in the hope that they will help you on your journey towards a more meaningful life with less. In particular, I’d suggest that these are messages we’ll want to teach our kids so let me know if they resonated with you.

Beware ‘prosperous referents’

We’re all aware of the idea of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. In the case of our kids, for Joneses read ‘Kardashian’ (and consider the title of that celebrity family’s television show) and ‘Made in Chelsea’. Schor takes this notion further, describing the impact of widespread ‘upscale competitive consumption’ on individuals and society as a whole.

Schor suggests that we are now exposed to a much broader range of ‘referents’ (points of social and cultural comparison) than ever before. It’s hard not to compare ourselves to those we see on social media, on the television, at the office or in our neighbourhood.

We see others remodelling their kitchens and want to do it, too. We observe colleagues with the latest gadgets or we look on enviously as siblings book foreign holidays.

Yet, the truth is this: everyone’s finances are unique. If we aspire to buy what others have, we may find ourselves enmeshed in what Schor calls ‘a cycle of work-and-spend’.

Upscaling has undermined saving

There’s absolutely nothing wrong in striving to achieve [and save for] what we want in life, but remember this:

upscaling has undermined saving

When the urge to own what others becomes overwhelming, we find ourselves stretching budgets (or taking on debt) to pay for things that we don’t actually need.

We all need an emergency fund for when the washing machine breaks down or the fence blows over. Do we all have one?

Consider Schor’s manifesto

Here’s my 2017 take on Schor’s plan, which is aimed at both individuals and society. What do you make of these action points? Can you apply any of them to your own life? What would you advise your kids, especially teens for whom independence and adulthood is not so far away?

Control desire

Unsubscribe from email marketing. We can all do this individually or use a service such as Unroll.me. Recycle catalogues that land on your doormat.

If you do purchase something, buy the best quality you can afford so that it lasts. When own something lovely that adds value to your life, you stop looking.

Make exclusivity uncool

Consider what a difference it would make if conspicuous consumption were frowned upon, exposing competitive spending for what it really is.

So, be prepared to stand out from the crowd. Set spending limits.

This can be particularly helpful when it comes to dealing with children. By deciding to hold just a modest birthday party, for example, other parents may thank you for taking the pressure off.

For teenagers, try establishing a monthly allowance. When it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no borrowing from next month. This approach helps teens enormously; it helps them see that exclusivity is uncool when a single purchase can blow their budget and prevent them from using their allowance to enjoy experiences.

Embrace the sharing economy

Educate yourself about the brands you love. Consider the provenance of their products (about which there may not be a great deal of information). To what extent do the values of your favourite brands truly align with yours? Do you really need to buy a product with a label (when you will, in effect, become a walking advertisement)?

To build on this theme, become ‘ad-aware’ and more alert to the possibility that we are surrounded by subliminal messages encouraging us to buy.

Even better, find ways to share, rather than to own. Tool libraries are now emerging, but I’d wager there are many more things we could share in our communities.

For example, I think a ‘Spice Sharing Collective’ would be a fabulous way to have access to a range of unusual herbs and spices that you’d otherwise hesitate buying. Local friends, don’t go out and buy Fenugreek; come and get a teaspoon from me!

Avoid retail therapy

Spending, which can be addictive, may be a substitute for other activities or needs. The idea of shopping as therapy can make a situation worse, as debt and guilt add to the feelings that ‘retail therapy’ was designed to eliminate.

De-commercialise the rituals

See if you can avoid every holiday, festival or celebration becoming a shopping spree. Instead, discover the histories of the holidays you celebrate. If a particular ritual involves gifting, consider making something yourself.

Make Time

If you outsource, you buy time but have to earn to pay for it. That doesn’t really make sense. Consider how much ‘life energy‘ you’d have to expend just to pay someone else for a particular service.

Doing something the slow way is definitely cheaper and may be more eco-friendly, even if it takes more time. It may also bring you closer to those in your community, which is good for them and for you.

Break the work-and-spend cycle

Here’s where Schor addresses society as a whole, including those who can legislate for change.

If we tax larger vehicles, as we do in the UK, that may nudge us towards a different choice.
Likewise, the larger the home, the higher the domestic property tax.

Maybe these types of governmental controls will cause us, consumers, to consider if what we already have may actually be enough thus breaking the ‘work-and-spend’ cycle of consumption.

Mitigate the factors that lead to competitive spending

Here’s another one for government. What would happen if advertisements were no longer subsidised? Is more always better?

If, as consumers, we stopped believing the marketers who persuade us that buying a particular product could fill a heart void/help us look younger/slimmer, make us happier, we may be able to break the pattern of competitive spending. Keeping up with the Joneses would become a thing of the past.

Beyond a certain point, more stuff doesn’t equal more happiness

I think we all know this deep down, but a reminder now and again is no bad thing.

More stuff doesn’t make us happier. In fact, we know that more stuff equals more misery, more stress, more distraction, more debt.

A turning tide?

Schor concludes with a desire for balance, proposing ‘a decently functioning economy coexisting with a decent cultural and daily life experience’.

Almost 20 years on from the first publication of this influential book, I’d like to think that the tide is turning. I’d like to believe that this balance is achievable. A growing interest in minimalism and simple living makes me hope that it is.

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