Reflections and Discoveries: Is it fit for purpose?

use it up

This frugality slogan from the Great Depression is too often forgotten in the age of mass production, quick fixes and one-click buying. Many find it useful as a minimalism mantra. I do not.

It’s the make it do aspect that I struggle with. Frugality may be a side benefit, but it is not the reason I became a minimalist and making something do does not work for me in the long run. This does not mean that the instant something is not working, wears out or is just not quite the right fit, that I run to the stores for the opportunity to spend a day shopping.

Historically I would not have thought twice about replacing an item (or more accurately buying another one and storing the original item ‘just in case’). So why have I struggled so much this week to add pegs to my shopping list?

As a more mindful consumer I have one rule. Whatever it is, it must be fit for purpose. If it doesn’t do what I need it to, or doesn’t solve a problem then it’s not fit for purpose. If I don’t like the aesthetics of it then it’s not fit for purpose (it’s got to live in my house after all). If I don’t like the feel of it, it’s not fit for purpose. This is obviously very personal – my wife and I have two potato peelers as we disagree on which is fit for purpose.

I’ve been uming and erring about a waterproof coat for months. I need one, but deciding which one to put on my Christmas list has proven hard. I loved the sewing machine I received last year. It has given me a lot of joy developing new skills and gaining the bonus of perfectly fitting new skirts!. This year, I figured contributions to a coat that would last years would be ideal.

My requirements are that it needs to be

  1. Waterproof – this may sound obvious but we don’t have a car and I commute to work on foot. In the depths of winter it rains…a lot!
  2. In my colours – I’m not particularly fussy about which, but it needs to be a yellow-based bright Spring colour.
  3. Preferably mid thigh to knee length – see point 1.
  4. Have a hood – see point 1.
  5. Be warm(ish) – I don’t mind layering but don’t want a flimsy coat.
  6. Good quality.
  7. A good fit – some form of gathering at the waist if it is a longer one.

I’ve hit a glitch though. Christmas is 13 weeks away and in addition to accidentally minimising my phone contacts I’ve also accidentally minimised my raincoat (aka lost it!) . There is definitely a downside to minimalism!

Urgency has yet again reared it’s ugly head in my minimalism journey. With the pegs, I struggled to even put them on the shopping list because of a lack of urgency. I did’t NEED pegs. I had pegs. Did they ‘Spark Joy?’ Certainly not. Well six of them did, but the rest didn’t. They were an eclectic old bunch, mismatched and liable to break. It wasn’t urgent that they were replaced, particularly as we’re coming into winter, but I realised there is a difference between pegs and my coat. I knew which pegs I wanted.

On the other hand I have a sense of urgency about getting a coat but haven’t found “the one” that ticks all the boxes. Should I just make do? Compromise? Buy more than one?

On Sunday, after buying my new pegs, I visited a shop and found a good quality, pink waist length jacket with a hood that was waterproof and a good fit. I also found a waterproof, knee-length coat that was warmer, had a hood but was not in my colours and made me look slightly ill. I haven’t bought either and I’m resisting but the urge to buy is strong! Neither is completely fit for purpose, but….

What would you do?


Discoveries

I’ve had this one in my email to share with you for a while. Melanie Fisher over at Realisation of Good has produced a One page guide to decluttering. It is great and includes a list of 11 questions to ask yourself when deciding to keep something, including “Is it easily replaceable if I end up regretting letting it go?” It’s a perfect introduction for anyone who is thinking about simplifying.

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The Accidental Minimalist

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Two days ago I lost my phone. Given my previous phone zombie ways I was surprised it took me four hours to realise it might be missing and a further 14 hours to establish it definitely was missing. I really wasn’t bothered by it’s absence. The most frustrating thing was I couldn’t phone my wife to tell her I got the three messages about it not being at Nursery or to let her know when I would be home.

I have a new one now, delivered to my door this morning. What I am missing, or should I say haven’t got, are my contacts. It is a strange feeling to have minimised my contacts and so much easier to have done it accidentally. I have to think about who I need and want to have in my contacts list rather than who to remove. The subtle shift of what I want to keep (rather than what I want to get rid of) is serving me well in other areas and I guess will also serve me well in filling the currently empty space of mobile phone contacts.

Obviously it is a bit of a bind that in order to let people know I haven’t got there number, I have had to use alternative strategies (I’m very glad I haven’t deleted my Facebook account), but I’m hoping it will be an autumn clean and a fresh start. The silver lining is however that when I’m out of contract in a month, I can switch to a sim only contract with a brand new phone. Always look for the positives and all that!

Reflections and Discoveries: The sadness of ‘No’

R&D Sadness of No

Reflections

My daughter’s favourite word at the moment is no, or more accurately vigorously shaking her head from side to side and saying “Doe”. Sometimes I think her head shaking is simply that she enjoys the sensation, however I also think we could all learn a lot from the liberal manner with which toddlers use this word.

It can be frustrating when someone says no to us (particularly when the person is knee high to a grasshopper and you are apparently entering serious negotiations over whether it is the end of bath time). But I’m not sure it is because we can empathise with the other person that so many of us struggle to say the word.

The idea we can’t do everything is not novel, yet many of us cling to our fantasy future self who is often Superman; Superwoman; Super-parent; Super-spouse; Super-friend; Super-everything. Saying no can be a uncomfortable as it acknowledges our limits, our fallibility and our agency in letting people down.

This week I’ve said no twice. Well actually I’ve said it numerous times to ‘small’ things but twice to ‘big’ things. Francine Jay notes “My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do” and it was in this spirit I said no.

I’ve been a member of a Lesbian Reading Group for 7 years and have coordinated it since 2011. I met the woman I am lucky enough to call my wife within the hallowed halls of the library (when we still met there) and it inspired, in part, the literary theme of our wedding. Over the years I have gathered many fond memories of discussions (usually heated) and the group offered a haven to meet like minded women that was not the ‘scene’. But life moves on and I have other priorities in my life right now. I am unable to give the book group what it needs in terms of energy or commitment AND I feel immense sadness about saying no, even though I know it is ok to.

The second no was to an exciting work opportunity. That no was even harder.
I haven’t worked out what my mission is. I have an idea of my general direction, wanting to diversify my skills and keep my options open, but definitely not a clear mission. Joshua Becker suggests “Staying on mission is about learning to say ‘no’ to the urgent requests, the popular requests, and the countless opportunities in front of you to make an extra dollar.” My work opportunity didn’t fit into any of these categories. It was something I am passionate about, love doing and in a part of the organisation I don’t currently work with but would like to. And I said No.
It was hard as it is the first time I’ve been conscious of saying no when my fantasy future self is being activated. For years I had a fridge magnet (before it was decluttered) that said “Stress is when your tummy says no and your mouth says yes”. I was a yes-person. Of course. No problem. Yes, yes, yes.
And I really did want to say yes. It took me thee days to accept I do not have capacity to do the piece of work as it required an ongoing commitment, a different type of thinking and would decrease the quality of, and time for, all my other work. I feel very sad about it, and I’m holding on to the buzz of having been recommended by two different people, and being able to say no in a way that did not end future possibilities of collaboration. But still it was no.
The ‘power’ of no can hide it’s sadness, but if we don’t let others down we ultimately let ourselves down. Is there anything you need to say no to? What gets in the way?

Discoveries

Zen Habits is one of my favourite blogs as it incorporates mindfulness and simplicity. While Leo Babauta doesn’t set out “How to…” guides, his reflections and personal action plan in his most recent post, I’m Returning to Single-Tasking, really struck a chord.

I’m particularly guilty of getting distracted while at work, especially when I’m on a computer. I often have a ridiculously long do to list, or perhaps more accurately ‘don’t forget to do’ list and rather than focusing on one task I end up switching between tasks or getting distracted part way through. Today I used some of his strategies, and took it one step further by writing down my task of focus as a physical reminder. The difference was immense.

I was focusing on Appreciative Inquiry. I’ve never used this technique before so needed to understand how to develop the questions initially and then begin the process of answering them. Usually opening my internet browser triggers opening a number of irrelevant tabs, each calling me to pay attention to them. Today I only had tabs open related to the task at hand and I even caught myself a couple of times becoming distracted, opening another and said “No” – literally out loud. The result – I understood the task more easily, developed more powerful questions and answered the questions more fully than if I had been multi-tasking, or more accurately switching my attention rapidly between several tasks. Plus it took less time than I had allocated so I had more time for everything else!

Reflections & Discoveries: Digital downtime

swimmer

Reflections

This week has not seen much decluttering action. The readjustment to work after two weeks of blissful holiday has been a hard one, particularly the increased presence of technology in my life as a result.

I didn’t abstain from technology use completely while on holiday. We watched a couple of films, signed up for Netflix (now that we have amazing broadband) and regularly used our phone internet to find directions and opening hours of a variety of venues. However I used it a lot less on a day to day basis.

Coming back to reality has given me pause for reflection. That, and I went to the Leeds Minimalists meetup on Saturday. The topic under discussion…Digital decluttering. They were a great bunch of people with a variety of life and technological experiences. It was a wonderful feeling not having to engage in values foreplay before getting down to the nitty gritty.

Personally, I am firmly in the camp of technology should solve a problem rather than create more problems. I dislike technology for the sake of technology. While I imagine, in a similar way to Penicillin being an accidental discovery, technology for technology’s sake has unexpected benefits, but I take Penicillin when needed. I don’t have it as part of my regular diet. So while my post-holiday food diet is adjusting back to home-cooked meals, I’m not sure I want my digital consumption to be what it was pre-holiday.

I’m feeling in the need of some digital downtime. A digital diet if you will. I’ve written previously about my phone zombie ways and have managed to maintain two out of three of my commitments. I no longer use my phone while walking or feeding my daughter. Bedtime is still not consistent so some more work is needed.

Many websites and blogs suggest digitising to remove physical clutter (photos, DVDs and CDs etc.). I fear that ultimately it delays decisions and avoids harsh realities and truths. I think it is necessary to remove the physical clutter before digitising, not by digitising.

Given the state of my external hard drive I would say I’m a digital hoarder. Granted I’m gathering all my historical computer files as I slowly ‘declutter’ each decrepit machine – Marie Kondo digital style – however the fact remains that there is A LOT of digital clutter. So it is an unhappy relationship: needing to minimise my digital clutter while also needing some digital down time. My synthesis is carving out some protected space and time that is technology free.

Some spaces are sacred. In places of worship, swimming pools, and theatres, cultural expectations or physical environment deter the use of phones in particular. But what if those same expectations or restrictions are not present. We must create our own sacred space and fastidiously guard it’s borders. My walk to work is definitely a sacred space. So too is Screen-free evening every Saturday with my wife. Then I get stuck. How to carve out some more screen free time? The exception obviously being the baby monitor!

How about you? How do you get your digital down time? Where are your sacred spaces?



Discoveries

Christy King at The Simple White Rabbit is constructing a Minimalism A-Z. I love how accessible the posts have been and while they can be read as stand alone articles, they are also a beautiful series that explore different facets of the Minimalist prism. So far she has covered Authenticity, Borrowing (and lending), Capsule wardrobe, Debt reduction, Electronic Storage, Freedom and Gratitude. This week she wrote H is for Habits. She outlines the process required to break bad habits by replacing them with good habits. I’ve always found it easier to replace something rather than just give it up. Linking, or staking, a new habit on to an old habit e.g. taking the time a kettle boils as an opportunity to do some mindful breathing or a yoga pose. Her other suggestion is building microhabits. Starting, as the name suggests, really small. I’m going to try out naming the things I have done that move me towards minimalism on a daily basis (even when these are not identifying what to get rid of). What habits do you want to change or adopt?

The road less travelled: The importance of community on a minimalist journey

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Call it what you will: a village; a tribe; a community. The last year of my life I have come to appreciate the importance of it.

They say (whoever they are) that it takes a village to raise a child and while many of us no longer live in villages, I have valued the support of my ‘village’ in making the transition to motherhood. The women I met in pregnancy yoga who shared their fears, hopes and dreams, the women I text in the early days at 2am because I knew they’d be awake too, the woman I started talking to on the bridge (who is now a good friend) simply because we were both doing the same thing (trying to get babies to sleep by walking!). In short, the women I have shared the highs and lows of the journey to this unknown land of motherhood.

Travelling to the land of minimalism is no less daunting and a community no less important. Transitions are hard. Especially to a new identitiy. Our identity as an individual is bound up with our engagement in occupations in our lives. We are what we do. I bake, I am a baker. I dance, I am a dancer. I work, I am worker. I minimise, I am a minimalist etc.

To make the transition to a new identity (even if this is desired) will take patience, diligence, and determination. There are usually behavioural changes that must be embedded. Skills must be developed and honed. New habits formed. All of this takes time and sustained effort, one day at a time.

Any change in behaviour is easier to accomplish with the support of others. All you need do is look at Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or even the variety of weight loss programmes that involve some aspect of meeting or group.

I’ve yet to come across a Minimalists Anonymous, however in the early days I purposefully built my community to help me maintain motivation. I have a very good friend who inspired me to restart my journey towards minimalism.To be honest I’m pretty sure she was the person who shared 40 bags in 40 days originally. It wasn’t anything particular she said just her way of “being”.  Her serenity and tenacity give me courage to keep going and validate how far I’ve come. I know other friends in my mother tribe have gained similar courage from shared conversations over lunch in the library, or similar day to day conversations.

Since returning to work I’m increasingly relying on my virtual community. People may not always realise they’re part of your tribe but you can draw from them none the less. There are particular blogs that are my ‘go to’ community. London Minimalists, The Simple White RabbitOne Empty Shelf and Becoming Minimalist are my current favourites. I’ve never met the authors but I like their insights.

The Minimalists have recognised the importance of community and while the feel of their blog is too corporate for my taste, they have recognised the importance of community and established a franchise of 100 community meet up groups across the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ireland. There is one such group in Leeds so I’m on my way to the monthly meeting. It’s completely outside my comfort zone, but they say that’s where the magic happens!

Who do you have in your Minimalist community? Who helps you to keep going when it gets really tough?

One hundred words of now – September 2015

September 2015

Sleep. Cuddles. Work. Mindfulness. Sadness. Change. Madness. Talking. Boundaries. Bonkers. Friends. Daughter. Sun. Seaside. Wife. Birds. Medicine. Duck. Dog. Fish. Flower. Pancake. Desire. Tenacity. Thoughtfulness. Power. Love. Passions. Hopes. Shambles. Orange. Stubborn. Books. Drive. Swimming. Serendipitous. Distance. Cobweb. Front. Sickness. Round. Baa. Eyes. Breath. Life. Focus. Calm. Peace. Walk. Goodbye. Frustration. Fun. Reading. De-clutter. Sculpture. Park. Swing. Brunch. Writing. Words. Enough. Excitement. Impending. Arrival. Water. Dog-dog. Chocolate. Reflection. Freedom. Deadline. Parent. Rainbow. Change. Welcome. Farewell. Home. Dwell. Dwindle. Dwarf. Rhyme. Better. Learning. Pancakes. Lunch. Grow. Maintain. Purchase. Comment. Idea. Spark. Day. Drink. Snooze. Cutlery. Holiday. Sweep. Blue. Pen. Phone. Key.

Stepping into the unknown: Reflections & Discoveries

Steps descending into mist

Blogging can, at times, feel like stepping into the unknown. You put words on paper (or technically a screen) and then send them off into the unknown. Some blogs evolve over time whereas others seem polished and ‘corporate’ from the start.

Since beginning my mindful minimalism journey, I’ve read dozens and receive encouragement and inspiration from both types. I like the sharing of current de-cluttering efforts AND the essays on particular aspects of minimalism. However I’ve become increasingly uneasy with the structure of the posts at Mindful Minimalism.  Enter stage left Katie M Anderson. Her recent post about How to come up with ideas for your blog provided the hammer to hit the nail on the head.

While I’m not short on ideas, the structure of my recent posts have included three aspects (usually) – a reflection/essay on some aspect of minimalism, what I’ve got rid of and a blog post I’ve enjoyed reading. I like all these aspects but feel I never get chance to fully explain the insights and reflections I’ve gained from the possessions I’m currently decluttering. The blog post descriptions are also not what I would like them to be. Therefore Mindful Minimalism is about to evolve.

I have decided to separate the ‘essay’ type reflections and the second part of the posts (items removed & blogs I’ve enjoyed). I’ll now be posting a weekly “Reflections and Discoveries” post containing reflections (surprise, surprise) on the items I’ve removed and the blog I’ve enjoyed. Less frequently I’ll be posting a longer essay on some aspect of mindful minimalism. The reasons are two fold. It will hopefully allow me the space to reflect more fully without a blog post changing pace half way through on to a different topic. Secondly I have a looming deadline of a book chapter that I need to write and something has got to give! For now it will be the essays.

As for the new format, here it goes…

R&D1


Reflections

This week I’ve been having a staycation (with access to a car and nursery for my daughter). The result has been three glorious days with my wife as a couple (one of which was spent de-cluttering the attic store), visiting the Rob Ryan: Listen to the world exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (and getting a sneak preview of Bob and Roberta Smith’s exhibition – I can’t wait to see it) and exploring toddler friendly places nearby that are inaccessible without a car. My reflections…

  • It was difficult to decide which part to of the attic to sort out as we’ve broken it down into several areas and our natural inclination was to put off the store as it contained papers and items that have strong associations to the past. However ‘eating that frog’ has been fantastic and it was definitely in the camp of seeming impossible until it was done. It also lead to a number of other revelations.
    •  I was holding on to past relations by keeping mementos, despite having a continuing friendship with one ex and having been happily hitched for several years. My advice – let go of past relationships to leave room for the present ones!
    • It is easier to de-clutter Christmas decorations in August.
    • One thing can trigger a memory as much as 10 things can.
    • When you realise that the ‘thing’ doesn’t contain the experience or memory it is easier to let it go. This applied to three rocks (stored in a box, in a box), a single juggling ball, a piece of gnawed beaver wood and numerous bits of paper in French.
    • Old letters can say more about the person who wrote them and what was going on for them at the time, than they do about you. I’ve decided to return some of my letters to their authors as they describe the mundane, every day occurrences of their university years. I imagine they would be valued by them more, even if they decide to recycle them after reading them.
    • Items de-cluttered from the attic store: 2 archive boxes of ‘trinkets’, 4 archive boxes of paper, 1 bin liner of rubbish, 2 bin liners textiles/shoes (that weren’t even being stored in our wardrobes), 1 box of toys & 1 tent to go back to my parents, 1 small box of broken wooden dolls furniture, 1 small box of jewellery & 1 bin liner of Christmas decorations.
  • The M1 roadworks need a serious de-cluttering of the signs. Many appear smaller than usual as they are further away and when they are mixed in with signs that are related to site traffic, and reminders to be vigilant to safety (how ironic) the result is a confusing mess that, in my opinion, creates more of risk.
  • Sometimes we have clutter occupying real estate simply because it is hard to get rid of. As I don’t own a car it can be more challenging, but it also means that when I do have the opportunity to do a ‘tip run’ I cease it with both hands. This week we’ve de-owned (to the local household waste and recycling centre & charity):
    • Everything we removed from the attic store (de-cluttered this week!)
    • The bathroom door we replaced when we moved in (occupying real estate since 2012).
    • Light bulbs & keys (de-cluttered July 2015)
    • Door and kick board from replacing the inbuilt dishwasher (de-cluttered November 2014).
    • Garden waste (lots of it – de-cluttered March 2015).
    • Random electrics (de-cluttered August 2015)
    • Washing line prop (de-cluttered 2012)

Discoveries

This week I’ve really enjoyed the exercise of writing a someday list and a today list as suggested by The Minimalists in their Someday essay. I’ve written about de-cluttering my future ‘fantasy’ self who has grand plans to fill the 60 hours in each day with crafting and who knows what else. This exercise takes the next step and while I’ve taken steps to become a present dweller, not paying attention to what I’m doing in the present is never going to get me the future I desire. Tomorrow is made in our actions of today. I recommend you try out the exercise in The Minimalists’ post to reflect on where your today is leading.