The state of the nation

I’m in London today;  a place I lived happily for a couple of years and less happily for a couple more. 

To me London is the  epitomy of maximalism, more shops,  bars, restaurants,  and even sex shows than anywhere else in our fine country. It’s ahead of the game in so many things. However London is also like marmite. You love it or hate it. For a potential minimalist London can choke you with choice and opportunities.

I love it and hate it in equal measures.  For art and culture  it is unrivalled and I miss it terribly. For everything else the call of the north beats louder. Lots of space, unpolluted air and a beer for less than a fiver gets my vote every time.

So why am I wittering  on about London? Because whatever  your view there’s always something thought provoking or inspiring or challenging  on every visit.  Today it is this; the state of our nation epitomised by the repurposing of a good old red phone  box. Once the only kind of mobile  phone available,  call boxes like these were a lifeline for those running late, young lovers who wanted to coo to each other out of the sight of parents and those for whom a phone line was a luxury not a necessity. 

image

In South Kensington I came across this phone box-cash machine hybrid. This is  the first I have ever seen of its kind.  Actually it’s  a really innovative use of the old boxes although for the aestheticians of us this is probably akin to gross bodily harm.
But the reason  I stopped to take a photo of this was that to me it sums up  society  today. The emphasis now is on fast and convenience intermingled with wealth. The days of a phone call and face to face communication diminished with an ever increasing  plethora of apps and smartphones.  The latest of these,  apple pay even removes  the need to get your purse out. Quick transactions. Reduced interactions.  All designed  to keep the money coming. So whilst I was slightly amused at this phone box cash machine,  I’m not surprised. To me it sums up London and modern living for so many and what people like me aspiring,  simple  living minimalists struggle with; fast money in a spend to feel  better society.

Hibernation…

You may have noticed I have been quiet of late. No blog posts over the winter. If you followed me on Twitter you will have noticed the posts are rarer than usual. Even the Facebook witticisms are thin on the ground.

So what has caused this communication black out? Busyness? Probably Lethargy? Most definitely. The truth is it’s my annual hibernation period. Like the black bears and prickly hedgehogs as soon as it gets dark and the leaves begin to drop I retreat into my shell, put on my big fluffy jumper and hunker down through the winter months.

I sometimes feel guilty about this self indulgence recharging time and announce this hibernation to the world early on so my refusal of invitations, sofa hugging and winter naps are known by one and all and the boundaries are clear.

 

I didn’t think it would affect my ability to create, but this year it has. I have felt able to do no more than lift a coloured pencil to my mindful colouring book. So no blog. I seemed  not to have the words, the thoughts or the ability to get them on a page, electronic or otherwise. Some people call this SAD or season affected disorder, some the winter blues, but it amounts to the same thing. The need to hibernate for at least 3 months, the fact that as soon as it gets dark the pjs and fluffy socks go on and the dallying in the summer sunshine seems a lifetime away.

So I have been having early nights, reading books, eating good old winter food like soups and stodge and generally enjoying some down time.

That’s the thing you see, I am enjoying my hibernation. The chance for some rest, skin sloughing and moisturising, hot chocolate, reflection on the past year and anticipation for what’s to come, and enjoying lazy afternoon snoozes in the  half light. It’s a winter version of minimalism – simple living in line with the seasons.

But as the first snow drops start to poke through the grass, I am starting to stretch, yawn and come to life. So look out for blogs on being sugar free, some books I’ve been reading and reviewing, and the latest decluttering in the H-G household.

Minimalism in the virtual world…

In my quest for minimalism so far I have focussed on the physical; items that no longer serve a purpose, old books I have no intention of reading, mountain upon mountain of clothes and that’s given me a great sense of purpose and achievement.

Recently though I have a growing sense of need to declutter  in a more virtual, digital way. The increasing use of social media, and cloud software means that nothing needs to be thrown away anymore, and that person you wouldn’t have spoken to twice now has access to all your intimate moments via Facebook or Twitter. Social media can be a really positive connecting tool, linking you to those you love who are far away, recording memorable moments, following your favourite haunts and places to go.

The opposite though which I have found is the creeping virtual dust that drifts over the 4000 people you follow on Twitter, the friend of a friend that you met on a hen do 10 years ago that winds you up with their negative posts on Facebook, the 400 pictures of someone’s cat doing something cute that you sit and look at instead of having a proper conversation ( OK I admit I quite like those).

social-media-signs

I found myself recently becoming really angry with complete strangers on a post on Facebook. I didn’t know these people, I didn’t have any vested interest in the post, yet I had let it get under my skin. It was a real wake up call…I am a social media hoarder…I have followed and liked more pages than I keep up with, I get notifications in the dozens, and I am the equivalent of one of the worst hoarders with the digital equivalent of carrier bag upon carrier bag of posts and pins.

On top of this I probably have about 10,000 photo’s on my Dropbox folder.  This includes the same shot I have taken four or five times over as a throwback from film camera days when you never knew if a photo would come out or not. I also hold all those photos I have taken on my phone of the floor, my thumb and a selfie where I only get half of my head in the shot.

So what can we do to become digital minimalists? Firstly I have de-activated my Facebook account for a couple of weeks to take a step back from what I miss, the people I want to be connected to, and the things I want to follow.

I have removed the app from my phone as well, so the temptation to ‘just have a look at 10 minutes’ which ends up in an hour of gazing at a screen is minimised.

I have started going through my photos and deleting the duplicates, the landscape pictures I  took 10 years ago of places I can’t even remember, the blurry shots of which there are many and those photos which don’t mean anything. It’s a big job, but I feel my head is clearer and I feel more in control.

I am undertaking a promise to myself to only pin onto my Pinterest boards what I really love, and to delete boards I don’t look at again.

Does this ring bells with you? What digital clutter can you lose?

The End of my September Challenge

I’ve been recording all of my spending during September. I’ve done this completely freely and without any editing so that I can review what I truly spend…and it’s pretty interesting reading.

I’ve included everything down to the last penny that’s outside of my normal bills, which includes some money for grocery shopping. Anything above that I have added in here. It was a tough month as we had a car service so that was £600 I wasn’t expecting to pay.

My biggest surprises aren’t what I thought they’d be. i actually thought coffee would be higher. Eating out isn’t very high because we can’t do much of it at the moment. The biggest surprises were pet supplies (most of our pet stuff is covered in our groceries bill, such as food etc.) so I am totally over indulging these little fluffballs! I also spent lots on birthday presents this month, which isn’t a usual spend. So below is my spend, how does this sit with yours? I’m still recording Octobers, and currently I am not putting a caveat on spending apart from what I think I can afford…I am planning to set a budget next year so this is a good habit to get into! What do you spend most on?

£24.60   – Coffees and office tea kitty

£69.50- Eating Out

£74.96 – Extra Groceries (e.g. for packed lunches, extra dog and cat food, treats etc.)

£13.98 – Books and Magazines

£46.26- Pet items

£14.13- Snacks on the run

£19.00 home and garden stuff

£60-  birthday  presents and cards

£ 90  clothing

£ 35  – haircut

£604 Car and Travel

£11.71 – Donations

TOTAL – 1063.14

The gentle of art of balance

You might have noticed it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Whilst I would love to say it’s because I’ve been making my own cheese, decluttering, sipping coffee on a veranda whilst living a simple and minimal life, I sadly cannot claim any of these things.

I have spent the last few weeks hospital visiting, working two jobs, trying to be a good wife, good daughter, sister, auntie, friend, volunteer, part of the community etc. etc. The list goes on. You know how it goes. Goodness knows how Mums cope. I only have to deal with two over excited dogs, and two rather superior cats.  Each day blends into the next…wake…shower…eat..work…home…TV…sleep. This is not mindful living, simple living or minimalism. In fact I feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

So I need to re-set my seesaw and get some balance back. What does that even mean? I guess balance means different things to different people. To me it’s feeling calm, having enough time to achieve what I want to , feeling a sense of peace and a sense of achievement

I am thinking about this a lot…I think sometimes when we get to busy parts of our life e.g. working two jobs to pay extra bills, working hard, having a difficult time with health etc…the balance is tipped as you desperately tread the water trying to restore balance, and actually perhaps we’re working too hard to restore the balance to equal measures. As someone who practices mindfulness it is remarkably easy to forget all the tools I can use to help. So I am going to bring some of them in, and maybe they will help you too.

Mindful walking – I have to walk the dogs everyday, so I am going to aim for a bit of mindful walking. Mindful walking means different things to different people, but to me, its about taking in all the surroundings, bird song, the crisp smell of autumn, feeling the ground beneath my feet, taking some deep breaths, and it helps bring me some perspective on life. Even that half an hour a day makes life feel less rushed and gives me that peace that I find in balance.

Being compassionate to yourself – One of the things I’m really bad at, and pretty much many of us struggle with is being kind to ourselves and doing nice things for ourselves; a bath, a sneaky hours read, curled up with our pets, or our kids, a trip to the cinema, a face mask, a massage, a quiet coffee…anything that makes you feel good and feel that you’re being kind to yourself.

The final one I can recommend that I also need to use is acceptance. Acceptance is a wonderful thing, and should be easy but find it hard to accept things as they are sometimes. So what is there to accept in the case of balance? I need to accept life is tough this year. I have family and good friends who are seriously unwell and I want to be there for them.  I have to work two jobs to pay for two sets of house bills until we have sold one of them and moved into our new place. So I accept life it tough, but that it’s hopefully short term. Actually saying to you I accept it’s tough makes me feel better already. Like I am giving myself a bit of a permit to sit in my PJs and eat ice cream some days, or not to have to accept every invitation that’s offered me, or that it’s OK we can’t go on holidays or have big nights out right now. (Can you feel the deep sigh I’ve just exhaled – feeling calmer already)

So that’s it…three simple solutions, mindful walking, being kind to myself and accepting things as it is…Who’s going to try it with me? I’ll let you know how I get on

The ticking of time- Watches; To wear or not to wear?

Having started a new job recently, the subject of wearing a watch has come up for me again. Most people wear a watch, so what is there to discuss about? Strap it on and know what the time is. What’s the issue?

Time is one of the things that most of us would give our right leg for more of. Research discussed in the article below  talks about how happiness is a result of the choices people make.

https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/if-money-doesn%E2%80%99t-make-you-happy-consider-time

The answer to being happy ends in the simple suggestion: spend your time wisely. Saving time is something I actively try to manage in my minimalist lifestyle and often lost the battle with, so it’s something I’m really aware of.

If you Google how to save time you bring up 1,460,000,000 results . Time saving is big business…in fact time saving is probably an enemy of minimalism as we as consumers buy more and more time saving gadgets and apps to save us more time.  Ironically we work harder and longer than ever to pay for these time saving devices.

So back to the watch. I don’t wear one. The reason I don’t wear one is because I think watching time tick away is a bit depressing. It’s like having a counter on your death date ticking backwards. Watching an hour count down that you’re never going to get back doesn’t seem a very productive use of life to me. I also don’t want to rush from one appointment to the next, keeping an eye on the clock rather than being fully present in what I am doing, something I struggle with anyway.

In my new job, we have meetings, Lots of them. So I’ve had to consider the subject of wearing a watch again. Watches have so much symbolism in materialism; the Rolex that signifies wealth and success, the Fitbit which highlights your aim at a healthy lifestyle, the Apple watch with it’s Apple Pay technology for the cutting edge technologists.

apple-watch-round-concept

No longer just a measure of time, and how to know what time of day it is, they’re also a way of us showing the world what we’re about if we don’t want to splash labels all over our clothes. I don’t want to have that ability. I’d rather you’d get to know me through other aspects of my self.

So how I do get round this? Do I succumb to watch wearing for work purposes? Well that involves purchasing something I  don’t want. The absolute opposite of minimalism. So you can see the dilemma I’m in. Hopefully! So after a week of umming and aahing I have come to a conclusion. Space out meetings where possible to avoid needing to check the time, and use the clock on my computer, and my work phone as needed. Phew…purchase avoided. I can let the hours tick down on their own without my witnessing them and worrying I need to find more.

The #minimalistliving September Challenge Update

It’s been two weeks now of my September Challenge*; finding 11 hours a week of time to do more meaningful activity i.e. not just sitting on the internet or my phone, or watching repeats or someone’s lives being rehashed for the TV. This was to make  up for the fact I was going to be going from working 26 hours to a week to 37 hours a week.

So how have I got on so far? I am halfway through my month’s challenge. I have to confess I haven’t managed 11 hours a week, which I suppose was quite a big challenge in the first place, working on finding a way of recouping over 2 hours a day.

However I am pleased with what I have achieved and have found that I am making time for quality experiences that I wouldn’t have had before in my old job. I spent a lot of time driving, and so would be exhausted after work, and catching up on life at weekends.

So what have I found the time to do?

Well I now walk to work, and in the morning I spend that 20 minutes walking to work, walking mindfully. If you have no idea what this means check this out here; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/20/meditation-in-action-walking-meditation_n_3279958.html

In effect, for me it’s about taking notice of my surroundings, clearing my mind of all the virtual ‘stuff’ that collects in it’s corners and observing the world around me. It’s great for feeling ready and prepared to face the world ahead, as well as being really good for anxiety and depression, and calming stress. I will talk more about mindfulness in a later blog as it’s something I practice, and it’s a great partner for minimalist living. Total Time recouped = 1 hour 40 minutes each week

I have made time for lunch outside in the last couple of weeks which is something I have not had time to do for ages. In my first week I sat on a bench, facing the River Ouse, spending time communing with York’s very special geese (who apparently like banana!), the weather has been great for sitting outside, and I just spent time listening to the sounds of the city, and eating a very lovely packed lunch prepared for me by my very kind wife.  Time recouped = 1 hour 40 minutes each week

By not travelling in the week, it’s also meaning I can start looking at activities in the week to do again. I got to go to my Mindfulness group where we meditate, and catch up on our mindfulness practice. I have had to miss some of these when travelling. It’s great to feel I can just leave work and head off to do something before going home.  Time recouped = 60 mins

By also getting into a routine and getting up and home at the same time I am feeling more motivated. So I’ve been starting to find and cook up my 10 recipes for my minimalist cooking approach. I’m posting my recipes as I find them here too… Time recouped = about 1 hour and a half per week

I am also finding little slots of time here and there; a coffee sipped on the city walls, an hours book reading before the alarm goes off, a meal after work with my wife overlooking the river and a stroll home…which we probably would have put off if we had had to go home first and then go out again.

So although I haven’t reached the goal I had intended for this part of the challenge, I’ve adapted to my new hours, and found that actually for me, slotting in an hour here and there is more productive than having a whole day off.  I am feeling motivated, having more quality experiences (which is part of my overall goal and motivation for living a minimalist life), and getting more mindful.

*Have been recording all my spending which I think will be interesting to analyse at the end of my month, ahead of my October shopping month ban…

The #minimalistliving September Challenge Update

It’s been two weeks now of my September Challenge*; finding 11 hours a week of time to do more meaningful activity i.e. not just sitting on the internet or my phone, or watching repeats or someone’s lives being rehashed for the TV. This was to make  up for the fact I was going to be going from working 26 hours to a week to 37 hours a week.

So how have I got on so far? I am halfway through my month’s challenge. I have to confess I haven’t managed 11 hours a week, which I suppose was quite a big challenge in the first place, working on finding a way of recouping over 2 hours a day.

However I am pleased with what I have achieved and have found that I am making time for quality experiences that I wouldn’t have had before in my old job. I spent a lot of time driving, and so would be exhausted after work, and catching up on life at weekends.

So what have I found the time to do?

Well I now walk to work, and in the morning I spend that 20 minutes walking to work, walking mindfully. If you have no idea what this means check this out here; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/20/meditation-in-action-walking-meditation_n_3279958.html

In effect, for me it’s about taking notice of my surroundings, clearing my mind of all the virtual ‘stuff’ that collects in it’s corners and observing the world around me. It’s great for feeling ready and prepared to face the world ahead, as well as being really good for anxiety and depression, and calming stress. I will talk more about mindfulness in a later blog as it’s something I practice, and it’s a great partner for minimalist living. Total Time recouped = 1 hour 40 minutes each week

I have made time for lunch outside in the last couple of weeks which is something I have not had time to do for ages. In my first week I sat on a bench, facing the River Ouse, spending time communing with York’s very special geese (who apparently like banana!), the weather has been great for sitting outside, and I just spent time listening to the sounds of the city, and eating a very lovely packed lunch prepared for me by my very kind wife.  Time recouped = 1 hour 40 minutes each week

By not travelling in the week, it’s also meaning I can start looking at activities in the week to do again. I got to go to my Mindfulness group where we meditate, and catch up on our mindfulness practice. I have had to miss some of these when travelling. It’s great to feel I can just leave work and head off to do something before going home.  Time recouped = 60 mins

By also getting into a routine and getting up and home at the same time I am feeling more motivated. So I’ve been starting to find and cook up my 10 recipes for my minimalist cooking approach. I’m posting my recipes as I find them here too… Time recouped = about 1 hour and a half per week

I am also finding little slots of time here and there; a coffee sipped on the city walls, an hours book reading before the alarm goes off, a meal after work with my wife overlooking the river and a stroll home…which we probably would have put off if we had had to go home first and then go out again.

So although I haven’t reached the goal I had intended for this part of the challenge, I’ve adapted to my new hours, and found that actually for me, slotting in an hour here and there is more productive than having a whole day off.  I am feeling motivated, having more quality experiences (which is part of my overall goal and motivation for living a minimalist life), and getting more mindful.

*Have been recording all my spending which I think will be interesting to analyse at the end of my month, ahead of my October shopping month ban…

Changing Sides – Moving from part time to full time work

Two weeks today I will undertake what feels like a very big change for me. I will be moving from working part time to going back to full time work. There’s lots of reasons I have to make this shift. The main one being that my current job is a national role with lots of travel and I need and want to be home more for my family.

I have had 18 months of being able to work part time, and I’m well aware this is a distant fantasy or luxury for many, but i have been able to do it through cutting down my lifestyle and living costs, and because I moved in with my wife so my costs were less. I also had a wage which gave me that luxury. But times are changing. I have made the decision that being at home, walking to work and not being away overnight  every week are more important. That sounds like I’m choosing work/life balance right? However I am going to be working 11 more hours a week which feels limiting. I also feel like the goal I wanted to achieve by the time I was 40, of working part time, has been given to me and then snatched away again, which makes me feel a bit of a failure.

So how am I going to turn this into a positive? And how can I keep or even increase work/life balance and look at someday returning to working part time?

At these points I always turn to those who have done it before me; Blonde on a Budget, Zen Habits, and other great bloggers who can advise from experience, both painful and joyful.

So from Blonde on a Budget- if I can get my debts and my outgoings down and increase my income I am going to be on the right route. Plus I could do a year long shopping ban which is going to really help me with that. I’ll be honest, the thought of a year long shopping ban really scares me. Truly. Does it scare you? The thought of being hampered by spending, although so freeing makes me break out in a cold sweat. So of course I need to try this out. Push myself. So from September 1st I am going to try a month long shopping ban. I will blog on September 1st about how I am going to go about it, how I am feeling and what exceptions there will be if any, and then throughout the month on how I am doing, and how it’s going and I promise to be brutally honest! Any money I would have spent will go towards paying off my fairly big credit card bill.

From Zen Habits – cutting out the unnecessary gives me the time I lose in my 11 hours to truly have work life balance. Cut back on the hours I spend on social media and limit myself to a period of time, unnecessary surfing, procrastination, bad habits such as sitting and watching TV I don’t even like. So I am going to see if in September I can also give myself 11 hours a week of meaningful stuff; whether that’s my writing, walking, a coffee and a day dream or some other such lovely thing. I think that’s going to be quite hard, but if I can do it, suddenly working full time won’t seem as hard.

The bonus of working full time is I’m really feeling excited about the challenges of my new role, I get to walk to work every day which will give me some great meaningful time if I can make it work for me, and I won’t be travelling. So when I finish work, I finish work.

Please follow my blog, and you can find out how I get on with these two tasks in September!