The Good-Enough Minimalist

Person at sunset

Every two years I have to re-register with the Health and Care Professions Council as an Occupational Therapist, to be able to continue practising under a protected title. As part of the process I have to stand up (or rather tick a box on an online form) and say that I continue to meet the Standards of proficiency, conduct, performance and ethics expected of my profession. Having just completed this process for the 6th time (where did all those years go?) I have been pondering about the standards we expect of our selves.

I am not perfect. I know I’m not perfect and I’m glad about it. Perfection is fraught with difficulties both for the individual who is apparently “perfect” and those around them. Perfection is exhausting, unrealistic and as Gloria Steinem said “a pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space“.

Personally, I’m aiming for Good-Enough. To be a good-enough mother; a good-enough wife; a good-enough friend; a good-enough colleague; a good-enough OT; a good-enough minimalist. Being good-enough suggests that failure is tolerable, mistakes can be admitted and progress is sufficient. Inbuilt is the idea that I am able to decide, for myself, what is “good-enough”. I don’t have to try and achieve anyone else’s standards but my own.

I’ve never seen the appeal of counting my possessions. I’ve way too many for a start, but I also know that I will never be a minimalist with 51 things like Colin Wright, 72 things like Tammy Strobel or even 288 things like Joshua Fields Millburn. Each to there own but taken to the extreme I find minimalist environments cold and clinical and I’m just not that kind of minimalist.

I worry when people see a number as being the magical answer, whether it be weight, size, savings account, pay check or number of possessions. The fundamental flaw in this approach is that the number is merely representative of something else. I’m sure at one time or another we’ve all bought into the “if only…” way of thinking. If only I earned more, weighed less etc, etc. The one thing that is guaranteed with “If only” thinking is dissatisfaction.

When it comes to minimalism, the “If only” trap is still a trap. “If only I removed more possessions I’d be…”. Don’t get me wrong, the more possessions I remove from my life, the fewer I need. I’m sure at some point I will reach a point of equilibrium where it becomes more about maintenance and regular review rather than the constant river (sometimes tidal wave) currently leaving. However I’m not aiming for a specific number, either in terms of total number of possessions or in % removed. What will be will be. It just needs to be good-enough. Good-enough for me!

How about you? Do you have a specific goal in mind? What’s good enough for you?


Items de-cluttered this week – Jewellery (I didn’t want to count it all as it looked like a lot. I do know that what is left are pieces that I love and will wear regularly).

A blog I’ve enjoyed – This week’s blog I enjoyed only landed in my inbox 2 hours ago. To be fair I was going to share another blog by Melissa Camara Wilkins however When your life art is messy just resonated so completely with this piece that I had to share it with you. Melissa writes about life artistry and how even when the edges don’t quite line up and what you end up with is nothing like what you imagined, you continue the messy work of creation and revision. After all “It’s art. There’s no wrong answers”.

The Behavioural Chain Analysis of a phone zombie

chain

I’ve worked for nearly a decade helping women change unhelpful behaviours and either discover, or recover, the life they want to lead. One of the technique I use is called a behavioural chain analysis: you analyse an unhelpful (or self-defeating) behaviour, looking at what made you vulnerable, what prompted the behaviour, what are the links in the chain and what are the consequences. You then move on to looking at what you could do differently, what skilful solutions can you identify, prevention strategies and how you might repair any consequences, correct the harm caused and then over-correct it (make things just a little bit better than they were before).

This weeks post is a follow-up on my phone zombie tendencies and I’ve decided to complete a Behavioural Chain Analysis, partly to see what it uncovers…


What is the problem behaviour I am analysing?

I have been mindlessly and habitually using my phone internet and would like to eradicate this behaviour. It is getting in the way of how I want to live. I do not want to completely stop using my mobile internet, I simply want to be mindful about when, where and why I’m using it. Particular problematic times when I consider it to be unhelpful, mindless and habitual are:

  1. While walking to work.
  2. While waiting for someone/something.
  3. While feeding my daughter.
  4. Before I go to sleep.

Describe the prompting event that started the whole chain of behaviour.

It has been a gradual, slippery slope of phone internet use which has become habitual. However this week I have noticed that there are two particular triggers that increase my likelihood of using it mindlessly.

The first trigger is urgency. I hadn’t previously considered the link between urge and urgency but there is certainly a sense of “I need to do this now”. Making a note of what I wanted to use the internet for helped me identify what was important enough to wait until my allocated time in the evening, what was actually urgent (looking up an address) and what was neither urgent nor important (these ultimately remained on my urges list). I only kept the list for three days as after this point my urges were non-existent. It goes to show that while the first step to behavioural change is becoming aware of how much you use a behaviour, the second is riding the wave of urges.

The second trigger is overwhelming emotions. This only happened once during the week. Emotions are an important part of life, yet at times we are all guilty of using unhelpful strategies to avoid or escape from them when they feel “too much” (for example food, alcohol, cigarettes, other substances or psychological strategies). The occasion this happened, I was both aware of what I was doing AND wilfully continuing to do the behaviour. I was using my mobile internet both mindlessly and in bed. I was using it as a way to shut off from both my thoughts and feelings. This trigger is likely to be at play in my use (and probably other people’s use) of mobile phones while waiting. Who likes to be the odd one out, not on a phone?

Describe in general what things made me vulnerable (both in myself and in the environment).

I have a phone with internet capabilities which I have used for several years (environmental vulnerability). I have a, albeit misguided, sense of being able to fit things into less time, i.e. multi-tasking rather than engaging one-mindfully (personal vulnerability). I can value doing more than being (personal vulnerability). There is a cultural drive towards being ‘connected’, particularly via social media (environmental vulnerability). The transition to a new home internet provider did not go smoothly (environmental vulnerability).

Describe the links in the chain of events (these may be actions, body sensations, thoughts, events, or emotions & may include both helpful and unhelpful behaviours)

Although this is a general behavioural analysis rather than one focusing on a specific instance, there are certain common links I am aware formed part of many instances of the behaviour.

  • “I’ll just” (check/look up/find out/buy) thinking.
  • “I can’t deal with this ” (overwhelming feelings).
  • Sense of urgency.
  • Dealing with de-owning (particularly on Ebay and local parenting group).

What are the consequences of this behaviour?

Short term consequences

  • Wasted time (resulting in more stress as I have lots of things still to do).
  • Tired as I don’t go to sleep as early.
  • Fewer quality connections with actual people in my life.
  • I miss the world around me.
  • Less thinking space.
  • Fewer restorative experiences.
  • Superficial virtual relationships.

Long term consequences

  • Damage to relationships through neglect.
  • Exhaustion (physical and mental).
  • Ill-considered decisions.
  • Not living the life I want.

Describe in detail different, more skilful solutions to the problem.

Identifying a list at the start of what I could do instead was helpful, particularly as I had identified things I could do in both specific circumstances (e.g. read my book in bed as I can’t navigate away from it) and in general (e.g. using mindfulness). I didn’t do any yoga but my informal mindfulness practice has increased exponentially, particularly on my way to work. By being mindful of my walk to work, I have been mindful of:

  • The wake of a duck paddling across the river.
  • The army of purple thistles lining the path.
  • lots of bees buzzing around a plant with yellow flowers.
  • 2 types of thistle.
  • The hill at the end of my walk to work.
  • The warmth of the sun on my skin.
  • Plants scratching past my leg.
  • My daughter signing bird for the first time.
  • A dandelion seed blowing past my cheek.
  • Canine doo-doo.
  • Altocumulus and cirrus clouds
  • A discussion between my wife and daughter at bath time about Signor ‘Green Boy’ (a duck!) jumping out of the bath which one party found hilarious.

It is definitely easier to give up a behaviour when you have an idea of what to replace it with. I have also cleared more things of my to do list, including replacing the fridge which has been driving me bonkers for over three months and booking a dental appointment. I have even managed a couple of formal mindfulness practices which I feel very proud of.

Other skills that I could/need to use are:

  • Radical acceptance – I have had to rely on my phone internet to manage my de-owning efforts
  • Forgiving myself – it takes time to change behaviour and I’d like to aim for progress rather than perfection
  • Dialectical thinking – I can both be frustrated by my mindless use of the internet & want to change this AND have discovered this weeks blog I enjoyed while mindlessly using the internet.

Describe a prevention strategies (to reduce your vulnerability).

Mindfulness is a key prevention strategy to help me manage my vulnerabilities. The more I use mindfulness (both informal and formal), the more value I place on being a human being rather than a human doing. My interpretation of minimalism is just this; keep in your life the things that allow you to simply be.

I am used, in many ways, to living a life that is “different”, and resisting the desire to know everything, all the time, as it happens is another example of this. Trusting my intuitive knowledge of what is right for me (it doesn’t have to be right for anyone else) helps me to simply be. Therefore my mobile internet can be used to add value to my life rather than distract from what is important. For example, today it enabled me to arrange a play date that both I and my daughter thoroughly enjoyed!

Describe how you are going to repair, correct and over-correct the harm.

The repairs to relationships, particularly with my wife and daughter, have already begun. When I am with them I am mindfully present, enjoying their company and appreciating the subtle changes that occur daily. Completing this behavioural analysis has been part of the correction of the unhelpful behaviour as it contains reflections on the behavioural changes I have already made (i.e. the new skilful behaviour I am now using).

To over-correct the harm and make things a little better than before I have shared this behavioural analysis in the hope that others will become more mindful of when, where and why they use their phones. I’m also going to extend (or is it shrink?) my boundaries. For a month I’ll not use my phone at all on my walk to work, while feeding my daughter or before sleep.

Reflections on this behavioural analysis.

Given I ask my clients to think about thier unhelpful behaviours in this way, I really should not be surprised that this structured approach can be beneficial to identify what leads us into using a behaviour that interferes with minimalism and the life we want. Many of us have used the mindless pursuit of possessions as an attempt to assuage or completely avoid our feelings, impress others, or pursue a life that does not leave us fulfilled. I feel strongly that the removal of physical clutter achieves nothing if we do not understand our reasons and drives for the original accumulation. If we remove the excess we are left with ourselves and, if unable to tolerate what we find, the cycle begins again.

Mindfulness can lead to acceptance: it is as it is. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. We are as we are.


Items de-cluttered this week – This week has been (unsurprisingly perhaps) all about removing the digital/electronic clutter.

  • I’ve removed all items from my email inbox (again!) and several email folders have been deleted without even looking in them.
  • I’ve removed all files from one computer so I can dispose of the computer. I realise I’ve merely postponed the hard drive declutter but I’m using Marie Kondo’s technique of getting everything in the same place first. Only two computers to go!
  • I’ve unsubscribed from a variety of email newsletters and have set up more rules for my emails coming in.
  • I’m trying to adopt a new approach to only checking my emails at certain times (work in progress!)
  • I’ve tackled the cables box (I’m sure everyone has one!) and removed 2 cable tidies for phone line (we don’t use a landline), a phone line extension (we don’t use a landline), two bases and one portable phone (did I say we don’t use a landline?), Adsl filters x3, 2 Wifi routers,  Adaptor plugs x3 and a 5m TV coax cable and female adaptor (I have no idea what this is!). What I kept were (in addition to the extension leads we currently use – a 3m coiled extension, a 10m coiled extension and 2 other adaptors. I know we use all of these (although not permanently).

A blog I’ve enjoyed – As I’ve been limiting my use of the internet this week (particularly in bed) I’ve not read as many blog posts and become more selective about the ones I have. Hilary Barnett’s article Tidying up, over at  No Sidebar was a useful reminder that minimalism is about what you are keeping rather than what you are removing. While I will continue to include a snippet at the end of each of my blogs about what I have de-cluttered each week (I prefer actual examples over vague hypotheticals) I will also bear in mind the balance of what I choose to keep in my life.

Photo: Chain/Pimthida/CC BY-NC-ND

Are you a phone zombie? I am.

Phone zombie

Last Thursday evening I went to the pub. Historically this would not have been significant, however last week it was the first pub adventure since munchkin arrived skinside AND, more importantly, I had given my phone a bath two hours earlier.

It was the start of what prove to be an eye opening 48 hours during which I realised I have turned into a phone zombie. It is not so much my phone that is the issue, rather my use of the internet on my phone is the issue. Granted earlier in the week we had failed to effect a smooth transition between internet providers and are therefore without any home internet for at least a fortnight but I had not appreciated how mindless and habitual my phone internet use had become. I apparently use it while walking my beautiful commute to work, while waiting (for just about anything) and before I go to sleep.

My wife and I actively avoid the use of technology around our daughter. We don’t watch TV or use the computer. We have very few electronic toys that provide instant gratification at the push of a button. I respect that other parents choose to use and encourage their children to use technology. Our choice is not a criticism or judgement of theirs, it is merely a mindful choice we have made. So my mindless, Zombie-like use of my phone sits uncomfortably with this.

I’ve therefore decided to set myself some boundaries to explore what’s going on. I’m hoping that in identifying boundaries it will help me to pause and bring the eye of mindfulness to the situation. What can the harm be?

So this week:

  1. I can use my mobile internet in the morning to check the weather forecast.
  2. I can use my mobile internet for 30 minutes in the evening based on my priorities. (Any time I have the urge to use it, I’ll jot a note of the what/why of the situation. At the end of each day I’ll look through my list and identify which are my priorities.)
  3. I cannot use my mobile internet in bed or while feeding my daughter.

In order to help me to remember what I would prefer to be doing instead of mindlessly browsing the internet I’ve identified the following:

  • Talking to my wife/playing with my daughter
  • 10 minutes of Mindful breathing
  • 10 minutes of yoga
  • Reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (for my book group)
  • Ticking things off my to do list.

I’ll let you know how I get on next week.

Items de-cluttered this week – Silicone bakeware, birthday cake candles, bun cases (from the Royal wedding), crumpet rings, handmade paper, 2 t-shirts, 3 plastic storage boxes, a bag of out of date food, assorted stickers, and stationery.

A blog I’ve enjoyed – This week I’ve really enjoyed Chris Wray’s post The long short summary to leading a minimalist life over at Two Less Things. Chris is one of the few people in the UK writing on minimalism and his post this month summaries different aspects of minimalism (it’s not all about the physical possessions). It considers our priorities, building a not-do list, decluttering, digital declutter, consume less online, consume less TV, be in the moment (aka mindfulness) and then invest the gains you have made. I’m sure that given the post above it is understandable why his post speaks to my condition (as the Quakers would say).

Photo Zombie Response Team/Jamie McCaffrey/CC BY

Tommorrow is now – crafting the life you want.

craft room

Last week I wrote about the associations to the past that made it difficult for me to let go of the little black dress. This week I discovered when it comes to crafting, it’s the future that trips me up. Eleanor Roosevelt said “The world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now.” Mindfulness is all about being in the moment by moment experience of right now, yet our behaviour when it comes to possessions (and clutter) is driven by feelings about the future or the past rather than our present day experience. If you’ve ever kept something you didn’t like because it was a gift and you’d feel guilty disposing of it you know what I’m on about. Feelings about the future can be equally problematic when removing possessions. I no longer get tripped up by the anxiety of ‘just in case’, but the sneaky twins Someday and One day are liable to get me every time.

I’ve always loved using my hands as much as my brain but I’ve only this week accepted that there is a limit to how much I can do and want to do in the future. Letting go of some of my crafting materials has been hard. VERY hard. I’ve had to face the harsh reality that I’ve been fantasising about a future which seems to consist of 30 day weeks, and 60 hour days. This idealised future does not exist. I live in the reality of now (together with 7 day weeks and 24 hour days).

Minimalism is not about being static, it’s about having the freedom to choose where and when to invest our energy. If something no longer matches my passions and values then it can be disposed of leaving room for other things (not necessarily material possessions) to enter my life. Deciding to leave medical school after 4 years allowed me to discover occupational therapy. OT matches both my passions and values, and it brings me immense joy to see clients crafting a ‘Life worth Living’ that they never imagined possible. Saying no to prestige allowed me to discover passion.

I’m not going to feel guilty about making choices, letting go or changing my mind. I want to be able to be in the flow of whatever crafty occupation I choose. Lets face it, it’s not as though there is going to be a crafting supply shortage even if I do limit what is available in my immediate environment.

So I’ve chosen to keep 20% of my wool and half my knitting needles, my paints (acrylics and watercolours), three embroidery kits, 2 papercraft books & all of my fabric. What I chose not to keep was 4 bags of wool, the other half of my knitting needles, 200 skeins of embroidery silks, tester pots of paints, 10 paint brushes, scrapbook paper, 4 packs of beads and jewellery wire (the rest of the jewellery making stuff went a while ago), vintage knitting magazines, 3 cross stitch books, a knitted dinosaur book & a box of charcoal. I’ve not yet tackled paper-based crafts yet so there will be more but that feels like a good start.

I realised while I was sorting my ‘I could use this in the future’ thoughts were simply another brand of ‘just in case’ thinking. Since coming across The Minimalists post on ‘just in case’ items I have been liberated. Their hypothesis is anything we truly need and have disposed of, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes. It is such a simple idea. It is ok to replace things we truly need. Not rocket science but it feels like permission to make mistakes. I have no doubt at some point I will dispose of something I truly need but it hasn’t happened yet and when it does it’s not the end of the world.

Rather than living in the idealised future I choose to craft the life I want now. After all tomorrow is now!

Items de-cluttered this week – Craft items (see above), 2 duvets, 60l rucksack, 4 holdalls, 3 candle sticks, 3 boxes of candles, red sand, metal bowl, 2 shoe boxes of glass beads, 3 bags of rose petals, bag of pine cones, box of autumn leaves, 2 records, 18 spare lightbulbs (83% of the ones I had!), 1 bin liner of scarves, hats & gloves, hen party decorations, baby shower quizzes.

A blog I’ve enjoyed – Canadian Cait Flanders over at Blonde on a Budget has just completed a year long shopping ban after repaying $30,000 of debt in 2 years. The year I embraced Minimalism and completed a yearlong shopping ban offers her reflections and insights on the year and has made me feel that a shopping ban might actually be possible (I’ve always thought it would be useful). While I doubt I will go straight for a year (perhaps a month), I have begun to think about what my “rules” would be. If you were to have a month long shopping ban what would your rules be? What would be your potential downfalls?

Photo Craft Room/chrissy.farnan/CC BY

Aim for progress not perfection…A progress report

Holding It

So last week I wrote about some of the things that were weighing me down and that when de-cluttering and minimising it’s not done until it’s done. I made a commitment to focusing on de-owning rather than simply decluttering . This blog is going to be a progress report mainly so I can look back and remind myself what I can achieve when I put my mind to it. I’m not affiliated to any of the companies or charities I’ve included links to but figured it might help inspire others regarding where it is possible to de-own possessions to in order to help a variety of people (including yourself). So in the last week…

  • 5 bags of baby clothes, toiletries and toys have gone to my local Besom who make up hampers for families living in extreme poverty.
  • A floor lamp and mirror have gone to the Community Furniture Store.
  • 3 boxes of books have been sold. I use Momox, Ziffit and Webuybooks. I compare prices between them and I’ve never had any problems with them.
  • 3 bags of books to a charity book shop who I gift aid with.
  • 1 bag of bric-a-brac and a few clothes to a different charity shop I gift aid with.
  • Door catch that broke and a few items I’d purchased and hadn’t used were returned to a chain hardware store for a credit note which I used to purchase a roller blind to replace one I cut incorrectly. If you have unused items still in their packaging from a large chain store, it is worth seeing if they’ll exchange for a credit note. I recently returned stockings we didn’t use at our wedding (3 years ago!) and received a credit note which I used to buy balsamic vinegar – something we actually needed.
  • The aforementioned poorly cut blind has gone to a mum from my local parenting network.
  • I’ve listed more things on ebay and in local selling groups.
  • Arrangements have been made with three friends to return/pass on/give/lend things to.
  • I visited the local household waste centre to recycle batteries, metal items, light bulbs, electronics and 6 mobile phones! We had a mobile phone grave yard that was worse than our laptop grave yard (which is pretty horrific and still exists).
  • I’m in the process of arranging a drop off of old bedding to a local homeless charity.

As for how I feel this end of the week…Like a weight has been lifted! There is now room in the loft so that I can start to declutter more. Perhaps I’ll even declutter some of the loft it’s self! Hmmm. Where to start with that just right challenge?

Items de-cluttered this week (while focusing on de-owning) 

Roller blind, Bamboo wind chime, pot of bamboo, 4 drinks coasters, 1 pair of shoes, 1 dress, 4 tops, 1 cd & the content of the basket!

Header photo Holding it/JD Shippel/CC BY