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 beauty of a building full of books…

I admit it. My name’s Jo and I’m a bookaholic. I suppose my Latin name is a bibliophile. Hell I just love books. As a minimalist this can be a problem. Books take up space, you need storage to put them in or on and they cost money.

In recent years the beauty of digital means storage is not so much an issue although it doesn’t aid minimalist buying tendancies. Also it’s not the same as an actual physical book. I admit it , I sniff books. I like looking at the covers and then turning them  over and reading the backs. I like feeling how far I am through a book and finding cool free postcards to use as my bookmark. Books are a massive part of my life and so this was an issue for me until I discovered something fairly radical a few years ago; my local library. Yes a place where you can take a book from free of charge, read it, take it back and its still free. This seems a fairly radical proposal in the modern world where everything costs money. You get to read it, you don’t have to own it and you don’t have pay for it. In our local library you can even rent out digital books both in e-book and audio book version. On top of this there’s a shocking discovery to be had. Libraries have cool stuff in them now, like nice cafés and archives and digital hubs and even gardens. Libraries are actually nice places to hang out these days.

So if there’s such an amazing resource available why don’t more people use them? It’s a mystery to me, an avid library user who visits more often than I go to a supermarket. Linked to http://www.goodreads.com I can reserve books online and pick them up at my nearest library. Is it because people don’t know about libraries? That they’re seen as stuffy institutions where you can’t talk that smell slightly of charity shops and old newspapers. Is it that books are so cheap now they’ve become throwaway? With significant discounts in supermarkets and online retailers books are cheaper to purchase than ever.

Library-Books

As a minimalist I have a recommendation for purchasing books. ALWAYS get books from the library first. If its a book you particularly want or a reference book and its something you can’t get you can easily get second hand books for a fraction of the price on EBay or Amazon. Occasionally a book makes such an impression on me that I will buy it to read again and again; try reading the Cellist of Sarajevo. Amazing book. Here I come across a conflict. As a financial minimalist and an eco champion its against my principles to buy brand new when I can get second hand but I also keenly feel the need to support writers. See its not easy being a minimalist at times?

So do you use libraries? How do you find yours? If not try getting down to yours and seeing if it surprises you…

To be vegan or not to be vegan: Cookery class inspiration

My minimalist journey is more than a decluttering experience and as a long standing vegetarian since the age of 12, I am also looking to simplify my food, and live a healthier lifestyle through the choice of 10 key meals that I will learn off by heart, that we will love to eat and that will use healthy, clean ingredients (obviously mixed with the odd dirty as hell takeaway).

Veganism is something I’ve been interested in for a while, from an animal welfare perspective but also as someone whose body seems to have a disliking for dairy (cue rashes and sinus issues). However until this weekend it’s seemed a bit of a far off goal. It sounds fussy, difficult and a lot like hard work, and I am more in the ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ camp. Then I met Debbie Daly, and took one of her cookery classes. Debbie is the ultimate vegan enthusiast, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Check out her page here Vegan at Heart https://www.facebook.com/v3ganatheart?fref=ts for dates of her cookery classes and information.

Her cookery classes are homely, inspiring and what’s more delicious…and sooo easy. I was expecting complicated mixing, spicing, and simmering, but actually she taught us to make a bread and two cheeses, all in the space of an hour. Who would have thought you could put courgette in a bread and not use yeast? Who would think you can use cashew nuts to make a parmesan cheese replacement? My eyes have been opened, and widened.

20150919_142636 (1)

The thing I loved about the cooking is that it was something I could do. The bread; courgette, carrot and walnut was literally chuck some ingredients in a bowl and a mixer, knead together and cook for 30 minutes…

From this

Bread before

To This

Bread on plate cropped Bread close up Bread extra close up

OK so we did have it with butter on at home, which felt slightly wrong, but it was so good, the moisture from the vegetables and the crunch of the walnuts goes really well together. Debbie also gave recommendations for other suggestions so you could make it with chilli, other herbs…I am definitely under orders to make it again.

We also made a parmesan cheese alternative from cashew nuts, salt and garlic powder.

I was completely new to this nut making dairy produce idea (although I have sampled almond milk and am not keen). A taste of this was a little bit frightening, it had a really similar taste to parmesan, a lovely saltiness, and a garlic kick. Perfect for pasta, moussaka (vegan of course), and anything else you can think of to throw parmesan cheese on. We also made a soft cheese. For me it was a little like houmous, but I thought it was a perfect accompaniment to the bread. Using cashew nuts, garlic, a bit of seasoning, some water…it’s really simple stuff and that’s what got me. Being vegan doesn’t have to be complicated. You can find these ingredients at home or at a local supermarket. You don’t have to be off to your local wholefood store with a hessian bag every day looking for a battered turnip.

So inspired was I in fact that I made Debbie’s suggested oat milk that night. I admit it I’m struggling with a milk replacement for my dearly beloved cup of tea…the oat milk is so easy to make. Will blog a recipe for it and tell you more on that in another post…

A Beginner’s Guide to Minimalism…Part 1

I’ve been trying to live a minimalist lifestyle for a while now, upping the ante in the last six months to remove lots of our belongings that aren’t important, loved or needed, as well as thinking more about how we live and aiming to live with a more simple, minimalist lifestyle; based on having an experiential lifestyle, using memories, experiences and family rather than things such as reaching for the ever bigger house in the most expensive area, and upgrading our ‘stuff’ as money allows.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m prepared to pay for things that I really need, and I’d rather have a smartphone that helps me manage my life and all the things I need it to do; camera, apps so I can use to write on the go, and an interactive calendar because it means I don’t need seperate items, but I want to have a life of a few meaningful, important or loved items, rather than wading through stacks of books, collectibles and piles of ‘home decor’.

But if you fancy starting a minimalist journey, or living a more minimalist lifestyle it can be overwhelming. Where do you start? What do you do? If you’re someone who like me had lots of physical ‘stuff’ it can be really difficult to know where to start. There are some great blogs out there to inspire you , but my recommendation as well if you’re a social media fan is to set up a Pinterest board. Pinterest is great because it’s like a virtual scrapbook. All the ideas without painstakingly cutting out magazine after magazine and sticking in a book.

Pinterest can inspire you in two ways; one – there’s loads of great pins on articles for minimalist living which will help you, and give you ideas, but I would also suggest setting up boards to pin pictures of what you want to achieve. So images of clean , clutter free interiors, pictures of what you’d rather spend your money on (Holidays? Weekends away? Time with friends and family?) Hopefully that will help inspire you through the first difficult times.

If you’re planning on a physical de-clutter, which is often the easiest way to start on your journey to minimalism, I’ve got a few ideas you can use to get started. They’re well tried and tested by other minimalistas so hopefully will work for you too!

Getting Started

  1. – Find one drawer (perhaps the one where you crush everything into, with the thought that it might be useful one day, or  ‘come in handy’) . Take everything out, and I mean everything and pick each item up. Ask yourself ‘Do I love this?’, if it’s a no, don’t panic. No breaking out in a cold sweat yet. Ask yourself ‘Do I need this?’ and before you say yes and put it back in the drawer, ask yourself again ‘Do I really need this? Will I use it?’  If it’s a no (i.e. that leaky ballpen, the 10 takeaway leaflets, an old tupperware pot, bits of plastics that might come in handy, old, grey tea-towels) there are a number of things you can do;
    1. Think can it be repurposed? For example old tea towels we cut up and use as cloths.
    2. Can it be recycled? If you’ve got paper, glass or plastics that aren’t of use can you recycle them for a new item?
    3. Can it be sold? If you’re sorting out items of value e.g. old jewellery, clothes or CDs etc can you sell on an site like Ebay, or Magpie for CDs and DVDs?
    4. Will it need to go in landfill? If you really can’t find an alternative, can it go into landfill?

At the end of your first drawer – hopefully you’ll have a clean drawer with perhaps a few loved or needed items in and be feeling rather pleased with yourself. Now you can try and tackle something else, or set yourself a goal to pick another area next time.

2. If you’re someone who has to push back a tidal wave of clothes every time you try to close the wardrobe, you could try starting with a wardrobe clear-out and  finding a few items to start with so it feels like you’re not parting with your right leg. Have a look through piece by piece, and ask yourself ‘Do I love this?’ Unless you’re a vet or a police officer, it’s unlikely you have clothing you ‘need’. So your next question is ‘Have I worn this in six months?’ if not why not? Now comes the painful bit…as a plus size woman I know that theory of buying something ‘to fit into’ , or something that’s a bit tight that you will ‘slim into’, and I’m definitely guilty of buying purchases that I think I look great in which actually make me look like a shiny sausage. It can’t just be me surely? So be brave, chin up, and take out anything that doesn’t fit, you don’t like or that has a hole in where it shouldn’t. Well done…a first sweep of the wardrobe. Again, think repurpose, recycle, sell bin.

3. Final suggestion for today to get started – Get a box and put it somewhere out the way. Each day do a general sweep of your home, and find one thing you can’t say you truly love and need, put it in the box. The box should be out of your general line of sight so you don’t think about it all the time. If you find yourself really missing the item, bring it back out. Chances are after a few weeks you won’t remember what’s in the box and you definitely won’t have missed it. If a daily sweep feels too much try alternate days or a weekly sweep.

If you have a go, let me know how you get on, or if you have any other good ideas for beginners let me know…

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…

Number 2 in the magic 10 is here, on the heels of a sloppy curry

I’ve been beavering away in my quest for minimalism and working on finding my second of the 10 meals that will become my repertoire…

First up was a vegetable curry…I’ve made it many times so was fairly confident it would make it into repertoire but a reminder of I’m looking for;

  • Quick
  • Healthy
  • Simple
  • Flavoursome

Against this criteria the curry simply doesn’t stack up, there’s sauteeing, broths, simmering, rice or bread, and getting the spice mix just right. We ended up with a flavourless broth after an hours cooking, more a soup than a curry. I realised the cooking process needs to be under half an hour for me to commit to it. I am not the person who slaves away for 3 hours to make a sumptious meal.

It also needs to have texture and flavour. I want crunch or munch. Not slop

So I’ve had another go with something completely different; halloumi with couscous and pan fried vegetables. It’s quick, really quick….so simple and it is definitely the meal that has gone down the best so far. The saltiness of the halloumi sits so well against the Ainsley Harriett Moroccan couscous that we used which had mint and lemon flavours. We used red pepper and cherry tomatoes, but you could roast some vegetables, which would be lovely, or the original recipe suggested steamed broccoli.

The final result; no leftovers, one happy wife, one great meal, and 2 recipes in my repertoire…so now I am on the hunt for my next recipe…I thinking some sort of dry noodle meal…any suggestions? It needs to be vegetarian.

I am heading to a Vegan Cookery course in Sheffield in September and hoping to get some ideas for some more of my recipes…

Anyone else have a specific group of meals you prepare on rotation or is it just me?

Image from Alfez.com (I forgot to take a photo!)