The love that flourishes when you let go of stuff

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

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

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

Can you be a minimalist and still love stuff?

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

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

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

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

With This Ring

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

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

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

The Hope Effect

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

The experientialist approach

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

The month of love

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

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

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


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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#FrugalFebruary – Slow your home

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In her little book, The Simple Life, Rhonda Hetzel describes how becoming a homemaker helped her to see that it’s possible to live well in either of two ways:

  1. Increase your earning potential by earning as much as you possibly can
  2. Value becoming a skilled homemaker and change your definition of success

Certainly, by adopting the ‘slow’ approach to your home life, it’s possible not only to develop and enjoy new skills but – dare I say it – increase your happiness.

Hetzel argues that, by adopting a frugal mindset, we will naturally slow our spending thus adding value to the family ‘bottom line’ in ways that don’t involve work outside the home.

In today’s post, I’m going to explore some ways in which we can embrace the ethos of Hetzel’s ‘slow home’ philosophy.

‘In-source’ not ‘out-source’

What can you do yourself, rather than outsource it?

For a period of time last year, we employed a cleaner. The reality was that whilst this got the basics done, the cleaning was never as thorough as it would have been if we had done it ourselves. Stopping the cleaning enabled us to make a decent cost saving and – with a minimalist home – it’s not difficult to do the job ourselves.

When I was 21, I lived for a year in Switzerland as a ‘jeune-fille au-pair’.  The families for whom I worked set the bar high in terms of outsourcing; they bought in a lot of help. To balance this, they worked long hours in demanding jobs. By contrast, our little family  endeavours to ensure a work-life balance in terms of how we choose to live, but we do our all of our own ironing, gardening, car washing and so on. You get the picture.

Guard your hard-earned cash closely

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Don’t go to ‘shiny spending places’ because shopping is addictive. Instead of going to the mall, think how much time you’ll have to enjoy a walk in the fresh air, time to read, time to play, time to be with others.

If you need to buy something, ask yourself how much ‘life energy‘ you expended in order to be able to buy it. That is, if you think about your hourly rate of pay, how many hours did you have to work to be able to buy the item in question.

I’ve written before about how slow shopping is a minimalist thing. If you are going to shop, consider buying locally-produced consumables from the market. Slow down. Enjoy being out and about. It’s the frugal way.

Make do and mend

Consider how our grandparents would have lived. It’s about going back to basics to a place that is homely and comfortable. As Hetzel says, it’s about “warm oats soaked overnight and cooked slowly rather than cornflakes; it’s home-baked bread instead of sliced white in plastic wrap.”

Now, I can hear you say, “Well, I have a full-time job, kids, a dog, a house and… and…and.”

I know. I understand. I’m with you.

Find what works for you. Minimalism isn’t a rigid construct. It’s about identifying what adds value to your life. What works for you may not work for me. For example, I don’t compromise on food (I cook virtually everything from scratch) but I have no inclination to grow my own veggies because I know that wouldn’t fit with our family way of life. Our garden, full of woody shrubs, would also need a major overhaul to enable us to grow our own.

Take inspiration from others such as Jen Gale whose Make Do and Mend Year (of buying nothing new) turned into My Make Do and Mend Life.

Alternatively, listen to the Slow Home Podcast with Brooke McAlary.

Cheryl Magyar, writing on her blog, reminds us that’s it’s possible to combine traditional practices in contemporary life, especially when we can make the most of the teachings, insights and content available at our fingertips through the internet. Harnessing the power of the web enables us to have a ready source of instruction, guidance, advice, support and knowledge. Thus, we combine new technology with enduring traditions in a positive way.

As Hetzel points out, today’s work-and-spend cycle potentially takes away the ability to do things for ourselves, disconnecting us from a sense of personal pride in what we make and what we can do.

Consider different approaches towards a ‘slow home’ that works for you.

Spend out

Use what you have, before you buy more. Not keen on that particular brand of shampoo? Use it up! Don’t buy more until you have actually run out. You’ll save money if you take this approach.

Change your definition of success

Hetzel says, “I used to measure success by the amount of money I made and spent.” Her book reveals the joy in the small successes that can be achieved from the time spent at home.

Success can take many forms. It can be as simple as the satisfaction of a dish that turns out beautifully; a small DIY job around the house that you achieve yourself; time freed up to enjoy an activity you really love; or just feeling less rushed, less scheduled, less obligated.

So,what does success look like for you? Have you made attempts to slow your home? What were the outcomes? What worked well for you? What didn’t go so well? I’d love to know !

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#FrugalFebruary – Review your Habits

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Do you ever wonder how you can turn your finances around if you’re struggling with debt or wondering how to make ends meet? In today’s blog post, we’re going to consider the issue of habits.

Take the advice of PTMoney who say that if you’re getting started with improving your financial situation, you should probably take a look at reducing your expenses first. They call it the low ‘hanging fruit’.

But, how to get started when you have a full life and don’t want to lock yourself away?

The answer?

Review your habits

It’s easy to get into the habit of buying a skinny latte on your way into the office (you’ve all read about the ‘latte factor’). The fact of the matter is simple. That £3 per day represents £15 per week (for a 5 day week) and whopping £600 per year if you’re working 40 weeks of the year. These things soon add up.

So, reverse the maths in a positive way. PT Money’s 52 week Money Saving Challenge encourages savers to save just $1 in Week 1, $2 in Week 2 and so on. Result after a year? $1378! If you prefer, you can start with the higher amount ($52) then work downwards towards that final $1 in the last week of the year. Either way, as the year progresses, you’ll need to plan for the money to be saved in the upcoming weeks, so add this to your budget spreadsheet and pay yourself first.

Going with the crowd

If your friendship group is intent on doing a specific thing as a way of getting together, and you’re sticking with Frugal February, don’t be afraid to be different.

My colleagues are looking forward to an evening out next month. This involves both a meal and tickets for a comedy show. As I’m not especially keen on the comedian they’re planning to see, I’ve said I’d be really happy to have a bite to eat with them, but will pass on the entertainment. That’s fine with them; I don’t waste money on something I don’t feel is worth the ‘life energy‘ spent to pay for it and my bank balance is happier.

Splitting the bill on a night out with friends can also be another stressor for someone who’s watching the pennies. If you’re keeping an eye on costs, consider joining friends after a meal (you can pay for your preferred drink at the bar on arrival) or suggest a bring-and-share supper at home.

Spend time not money

Cultivate ways to spend your time that doesn’t involve going to ‘shiny spending places’. A walk, a bike ride or a cup of coffee at your friend’s kitchen table costs nothing and I promise you it’ll be more fun than a shopping trip or expensive lunch.

Sign up to the library and enjoy a wealth of free resources that you can borrow. eBooks are even better!

Watch out for free local events or explore if you can obtain a pass for a free local attraction. We’re close to Kenilworth Castle which, in 1958, was given to the people of Kenilworth. As a result, residents enjoy free access during normal opening hours.

Leave your purse at home

If you take your purse every time you go out, you’re more likely to pop into the corner shop to stock up on something. Make it a habit to only take your keys, phone and whatever you need. If you get into difficulties and need money, chances are you’re not going to be far away from help or you can nip home and pick up your debit card.

Buy second-hand or in the sale

If you need to buy something, don’t automatically buy new or at full price. Some things are just as good (if not better) second hand, so seek out excellent sources of second-hand products. Because I wear a particular brand of clothing (a dress) every day for work, I always buy in the sale and stock up with one new dress each summer and winter, always buying at half price. These days, there’s always a sale on, so you’ll never have too long to wait.

Use your budget spreadsheet every single day

My mum and I were comparing notes at Christmas. We didn’t realise before, but we each monitor our finances every single day and use a spreadsheet that has to balance. They say “look after the pennies and the pounds manage themselves”. Maybe that’s right.

My dual account budget spreadsheet is coming out with my next Community newsletter, so if you’ve not yet signed up, head over to our Community page!

Delete the apps that cause you to spend

One of the things that helped me was to delete the eBay app’ from my device. Even if you are ostensibly using eBay to sell your unwanted stuff, it’s all too easy to take a look round the shop while you’re there. Worse, if there’s money in your PayPal account, that doesn’t count, right? Of course, it matters. So remove any visual prompt from your field of vision. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ really works.

Look differently at leftovers

Last night’s leftovers often make a really great lunch, particularly if you have a microwave in your workplace kitchen where you can heat food. Where I work, a great many of us bring our lunch to work and (more often than not) it’s a small portion of what we cooked the night before. Recently, I made a huge amount of dhal; freezing portions has kept me well fed at lunchtime over many days.

In addition, it’s often possible to adapt something’s you have leftover from one meal to form the basis of the next. So, being frugal with food will reap financial benefits, too.

Happy helpful habits

Did you change any habits, which enabled you to save money? What frugal habits helped you? Let me know! And don’t forget, my dual account spreadsheet will be available through my Community newsletter, so click here to receive my next mailing when I’ll share the link to it.

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Welcome to #FrugalFebruary

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Those of you who follow the blog (thank you!) will know that I’ve been focusing on moving towards a clutter-free life during January, with my #Unclutter 2017 series of blog posts.

In February, I’ve decided to focus on money matters, with #FrugalFebruary being my phrase of the month.

Frugality

Frugal is defined as “sparing in the use of things” according to T F Hoad’s English etymology. This is especially true of the use of money and resources such as food.

Why Frugal February?

  • February is a super-short month, which offers just 28 days to kick-start some new habits.
  • It’s a month in which we may have fewer bills to pay. Post holiday credit card bills may have been paid in January and (for those of us in the UK) there is no Council Tax to pay this month or next.
  • It’s not too late to build savings. On Twitter, check out the @PTMoney 52 week challenge. In January, those of us taking part put away just £10. Do that now and you’ll be on track to join the challenge for the remainder of the year.
  • For those of us in Northern climes, the kids are back at school for the spring term, the festive season is over but the summer holidays are still some time away. Now’s the chance to save.
  • If you’ve been decluttering in January, you might still have some stuff to sell. Now’s the time to do this to give your finances a mini boost!

So, even if we’ve not necessarily stuck to our New Year’s Resolution of starting that diet, or getting physically fitter, let’s get our finances in shape!

If you’d like to focus on anything in particular, let me know or Join the community so that we can engage one-to-one on email.

First up, we’ll be looking at one of your biggest spending categories – food and groceries.

What’s at the heart of what we call minimalism? 

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Jenny’s post at This Tiny Blue House prompted me to reflect on my own approach to minimalism. As the movement grows and builds traction, the voices of its detractors arguably become louder.

So, what’s at the heart of what we call minimalism?

Today’s tweet by The Minimalists’ put it simply:

Minimalism is a tool that can help you focus on living a worthwhile life.

I commented on Jenny’s article that I had recently listened to an interview with James Wallman in conversation with Brooke McAlary for The Slow Home Podcast.

It was Wallman who coined the word ‘experientialism’ in his best-selling book, Stuffocation. His manifesto asserts that buying stuff for its own sake has contributed to many of society’s problems. Instead, acquiring things to enable you to have enjoyable and memorable experiences is ultimately the best path. That is, reduce unnecessary clutter (physical, mental or emotional) to become freer to make intentional choices, which will result in meaningful experiences. It’s these choices that will ultimately bring you joy.

In the interview, Wallman began by distancing his own philosophy from some approaches to minimalism. In the end, he had to admit that what many of us understand by the term is very close to his own idea of experientialism.

Two sides of the same coin

To me, minimalism and experientialism are two sides of the same intentional living coin.

The whole idea, as I see it, is to reduce or eliminate that which no longer adds value to create more capacity in our lives. This space or new-found freedom enables us to do what really matters – notably to have experiences whose impact and enjoyment far outweighs the buzz we might get from acquiring more stuff.

What really matters

What really matters to you will undoubtedly vary from the priorities of others. Nonetheless, we can all enjoy the shared experience of living more intentionally, slowing down, developing a greater awareness, and focusing on loving the life we uncover when we remove the clutter.

Further, what I consider to be ‘clutter’ may not be ‘clutter’ to you. That’s the beauty of this approach; we are not bound by convention but are free to adopt what works for us. That’s at the heart of it and it’s that which truly matters.

#Unclutter2017 – Overcome inertia through a new impetus

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If you’re well into your journey into minimalism, it’s still possible that you may be holding onto at least one or two items about which you have felt unsure. As the following quotation points out, it may simply be that you have held onto stuff because you haven’t decided what to do with it.
“Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions, fuelled by procrastination.”
– Christina Scalise

Finding a new cause will reinvigorate your verve for decluttering

A new fundraising venture encouraged me to strengthen my resolve, enabling me to tackle my final uncluttering tasks. Before Christmas, my daughter signed up for a school’s expedition with Camps International. In July 2018, she will participate in a 4-week expedition to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. As a part of the challenge, she is expected to undertake a variety of fundraising activities to support the costs associated with the trip. Her fundraising will also contribute to the development activities of the organisation itself.

Camps International suggests the idea of car boot sales or eBay sales to help boost funds. Ironically, this also meant bringing new things into the house as my mum started uncluttering to help provide things we could sell! You can imagine how this made me feel – I wanted it gone as soon as possible!

Over the holidays, we began listing these items and also benefited from using our local “Things for Sale” Facebook group.

Get behind a new cause

Getting behind this new cause was the catalyst for us to look around to actively find more things we could relinquish. We did identify some things and – you know what – we haven’t missed them one bit.

Is there a cause that you could get behind, which might help you part with those final items you’ve been holding onto? The ’cause’ might simply be to boost your own savings (or to help others). You might want to save for a long-term goal such as a trip or special project.

Alternatively, you might decide to support a local, national or international charity, thus ensuring the proceeds from the sale of your unwanted stuff have gone to a good cause. Even better, your stuff has gone for good (both literally and metaphorically).

Overcome inertia

So, choose a cause that might reignite the spark and one the key tenets of minimalism: decluttering. Doing good will make you feel good. Feeling good will help you do good! *

Let me know what your ‘good cause’ might be!

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*This is based on Gretchen Rubin’s ‘do good, feel good’ approach (The Happiness Project)