The 10/10 material possessions exercise

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Have you tried The Minimalists’ 10/10 material possessions exercise? In a recent article for The Times, Barbara McMahon explains how it works.

Write down those ‘big ticket’ items

Write down the ten most expensive material possessions you have collected in the past decade such as a car, a house or other “big-ticket” items.

Then consider what adds most value to your life

Then, make another list of the ten things that have added the most value to your life. This will include experiences such as watching your children play, enjoying a family meal or watching a sunset with a loved one.

McMahon quotes Joshua Fields Millburn who says, “Quite often you find that zero things overlap on those two lists. The things that people thought were important may not actually be that important.”

I beg to differ on some of these.

My ten most expensive ‘possessions’ in the last decade

House

I don’t really class this as a material ‘possession’. It’s our home. It’s an investment. Is it something we possess? I suppose we own it, but we also live in it. Can you live in a possession? Yes, it requires maintenance and upkeep but I would argue that something you inhabit is more than a mere possession. I’d also say that the house is an enabler; it facilitates social and familial connections, in particular.

Car

OK, you’ve got me on this one. Money expert Dave Ramsay says that our car is the single biggest purchase we make, which also depreciates in value. In fact, I’m planning on going car free next year, using public transport or pedal power for a while. We’ll still share a single family car, but this will be one less material ‘possession’ I’ll own.

Nonetheless, owning a car is – in my mind – a significant enabler. Holidays by the sea, for example, are made possible by virtue of the car we choose to pay for. Likewise, it would be hard to sustain family connections if we didn’t own a vehicle. Local hobbies are also more readily accessible through being able to jump into a car.

Perhaps if you live in a city where transport links are good, you might disagree with this. Here in woody Warwickshire, access to a car is still important (and I’m not yet in the habit of calling up an ‘Uber’).

Dining room furniture

Our 19th Century French dining set was our first decent purchase in our current home. In fact, this table and 6 chairs is probably one of the most expensive single item we have ever bought. It came from a local antique dealer/restorer, who takes regular trips to the continent to acquire beautiful items of furniture to restore and sell. Ours is cherry wood, elegant and beautiful. I love it.

But, does it add value? Well, actually, it does. In the introduction to Nigella Lawson’s current television series, At My Table, Nigella points out that, “A table is not just a piece of furniture, just as food is more than mere fuel.” She continues that the table she first bought was not just to “eat at, but to live around.”

That’s the point. Time with friends and family often occurs round that dining table. In truth, gatherings of this nature don’t happen as frequently as I’d like, but that’s not the point. This weekend, we welcome two house-guests, who are homestay visiting students from China. Around our table, we will get to know our visitors in a way that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t sit down together to ‘break bread’.

Dog

Is a pet a material possession? Like anything you need to maintain (back to the car analogy), you have to feed it, look after it and exercise it. And owning a dog isn’t without cost.

Yet, any dog owner will tell you how much joy dog ownership brings into your life. Indeed, this has been the subject of academic research including a recent work by Nickie Charles at The University of Warwick looking at animal-human interactions, notably how pets become ‘kin’.

I thought you said it was 10?

Well, this is supposed to be ten items, but I am struggling to think of any other significant material possessions we have bought in the last decade that fall into this category.

So, I’m curious. Can you think of 10 ‘big ticket’ material items? Or even just a few? What are they? And do they cross over with the things, people or experiences that add value to your life?

In my case, it seems they do. What about you? I’d love to know your thoughts – let me know by replying to this post in the comments box, below.


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Who do you think you are?

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If you watch the BBC Series Who Do You Think You Are (or any its spin-offs in your own country, if you’re not UK-based), you’ll know that much of the historical insights unearthed by local historians or professional genealogists rely significantly on physical artefacts and official records. Some of these may only be accessible in their original form and it’s amazing when personal items from centuries long ago are revealed.

Physical artefacts and memorabilia tell a story

Artefacts such as records of birth, marriage and death or census records are now readily available online, but many stories featured on the TV programme see celebrities reviewing the personal effects of their ancestors including hand-written letters, certificates, photographs or personal belongings.

Seeing a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? got me thinking. What would someone looking at my stuff in the future discover about me?

What does the stuff you own say about you?

I come from a line of working class folk. One of my great-grandfathers on my father’s side (pictured, below) was a cooper, a maker of barrels and casks.

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On my mother’s side, another great-grandfather was a “licensed victualler” (a formal term for someone who was the landlord of a public house or similar licensed establishment). In fact, as a young man, that particular great-grandfather was the hotel manager of the establishment whose picture is shown at the top of this post.

Family heirlooms

As a family, we have retained very few artefacts from the past. Had we done so, we would might have had a greater insight into the lives of my ancestors who were coal merchants, steel makers, homemakers and teachers (to name but a few).

Instead, the things I own are mainly in digital form. Photographs and video snippets we upload to online repositories such as Flickr could form an historical record of our present day lives for future generations (assuming they can access them!).

What you wouldn’t want your stuff to say about you

For my part, I wouldn’t want my children or grandchildren – or their children – to find evidence of money squandered on a load of old tat. Much rather, they might see photos showing a life well lived, full of rich experiences.

Hopefully, most of us will not leave an ‘archive’ of unwanted belongings. Indeed, there have been many articles in recent times, such as this one,  illustrating that grown up children certainly don’t want their parents’ stuff.

The virtual ‘stuff’ of today

I would suspect that the vast majority of future ‘historical evidence’ from our present-day lives will lie not in our physical belongings, but more in our digital footprint. That is, the ‘trail’ of data that we leave as we visit websites, submit our details online, share stories via social media and so on.

Indeed, we may leave a trail that could reveal a much greater level of detail for future generations to consider and evaluate. What will they make of it? What will they learn about us? What will the comments, the tweets, the insta’ stories, online profiles and blog posts we submit today say about us in the future? What would you want it to say about you? And just who do you think you are?


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10 reasons to act now in the season of letting go

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I love autumn, not least because it’s my birthday month, but also because in colour-analysis terms, I am also an ‘Autumn‘. Win win!

To me, Fall is the perfect season for letting go.

If we’ve been pre-occupied with summer or holiday pursuits until now, there’s a chance that, as the nights draw in, we can resume our goals. After all, September is considered to be the new January and the start of the academic year is well and truly here.

Your goals

Maybe you really want to get your family room decluttered? Or perhaps you’ve been putting off that paperwork? The kids are well and truly back at school, so now’s the time to get stuck in.

Or perhaps you’re keen to slough off some mental baggage or unhealthy habits that you know aren’t serving you?

Do this now, before the ‘silly season’ is upon us.

Here are 10 reasons to act now

  1. Christmas – the season of acquisition – is just around the corner. There, I’ve said it. Unclutter your space before you start to add to it (either with holiday decorations or new purchases).
  2. There is only now. Consider what you can declutter in the next 10 minutes. Find 10 things in just 10 minutes and put these in your ‘goods out’ location. Go!
  3. A little progress can make a big difference, so try just tackling one drawer, one shelf or one cupboard. Small wins will spur you on.
  4. There are lots of useful tricks and techniques to help you. Check out my Unclutter2017 series for inspiration or join my Minimalism and Simple Living Group via Betterapp.us to get some accountability for your goals.
  5. Worry and busyness can cause us to lose sight of what’s important. We end up living in a constant state of anxiety when we’re continually focussing on the next thing. Let go of your ‘to do’ list (especially at weekends) to enjoy the day unfold.
  6. It’s OK to let go of others’ expectations and to start saying no. Maybe you need to put yourself first.
  7. Holding on can prevent you from moving forward. “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” – Jan Glidewell
  8. Social media channels are not only time-sucking phenomena; they can also impact negatively on how we (and our kids) feel. Use just the one (or two) that bring you the most enjoyment. Dare to delete an app or even the entire account. I promise you won’t miss it; you might even feel a sense of relief.
  9. Let go of late nights. Shorter sleep equals shorter life, as this recent article in The Guardian explains. Autumn is the perfect time to go to bed early and make sure you get your full 8 hours.
  10. Letting go might just enable you to add value to someone else’s life through a book you pass on, a piece of clothing you donate or time devoted just talking with someone else.

So, what’s holding you back? And what will you let go of this autumn?


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Being (happy) where you are 

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Kynance Cove in beautiful Cornwall

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

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.


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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 the French can teach us about simple living 

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Beautiful Bonifacio, Corsica

The second epidsode of Kristin Meinzer and Jolenta Greenberg’s By 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.

Community life

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


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