Low-maintenance versus high-maintenance beauty regimes: Round one results

Are beauty products worth the time, money and space they consume?

That’s the puzzle I’ve been trying to work out over the past month, while also doing a spot of decluttering.

As I explained in an earlier introductory post, I’m a bit of a sceptic when it comes to products, preferring my trusty bar soap and fresh water over face peels, body butters and hairsprays. In our household, any white goop in bottles gets the derisory nickname ‘elbow salad’* and often remains untouched.

But have I been missing out all along?

I’ve taken four random products from a stash of abandoned bottles and tubs in my bedside cabinet and put them to the test.

For the past four weeks, I’ve been applying them to only one side of my body to see whether there are any noticeable effects.

I’ve also asked my other half, Ruth, to guess which side has been getting treatment, and the results are in!

Rituals body creamProduct: Rituals Magic Touch Body Cream (Organic Rice Milk and Cherry Blossom)
First impressions: This smelled nice – kind of floral and creamy, which I guess makes sense given its title. It wasn’t watery or greasy when used.
Results: Applying this each day took a fair bit of time, but I could see absolutely no discernible results, to be frank.
Did Ruth guess right?: She had no clue which side of my body had been moisturised and which hadn’t.
The winner: Low-maintenance. The bottle is used up and in the recycling (hooray!) and I won’t be rushing out for a replacement.

no 7 protect and perfect advance serumProduct: No. 7 Protect and Perfect Advanced Serum
First impressions: This was the serum getting middle-aged women in a hot mess a couple of years back when the stuff was actually proven to work on wrinkles, unlike pretty much all other anti-ageing products. There were queues at the shops and all sorts of silliness like that, so I had high expectations.
Results: This was fairly easy to apply, although I quickly learnt not to use it too near my eyes (the stinging!!) I read an online review which compared the consistency to semen, which is gross but fairly accurate. After less than a week, the fine lines on one half of my face were actually less pronounced. F*** me!
Did Ruth guess right?: Yup, she did, after what I’m sure was a stunningly attractive display from me as I wrinkled up my forehead repeatedly so she could judge.
The winner: High-maintenance. About half of the bottle remains, and I’m honestly thinking about replacing it once that runs out. I’m using the one for under-35s, but they also have another version for over 35’s, as I keep telling Ruth with glee (she’s just turned 35 and is pretty sore about it, hee hee).

Seacret cuticle oilProduct: Seacret Cuticle Oil
First impressions: Ugh, I mean, how important are cuticles really? I struggle to get excited about a product like this. It’s made of lots of seed oils (almond, grape, jojoba, sesame) which sounds kinda nice, and is fairly quick and easy to use.
Results: To my slight disappointment, this did make my fingernail area look a bit better. Less dry and cracked skin. It also had an effect on my bedside table, leaving delightful little oil rings behind where I had set down the bottle.
Did Ruth guess right: Uh-huh. Damn.
The winner: A draw. I think I’ll keep this bottle but wouldn’t buy it again (I’m still struggling to get excited)

Philip Kingsley elasticizerProduct: Philip Kingsley Elasticizer
First impressions: Hair elasticizer? This sounds very silly indeed. I imagine my hair starting to behave like Stretch Armstrong’s arms. So, let’s give it a go. Massage into wet hair before shampooing…wait for 20 minutes…OK, that’s four minutes….da da da da da…oh, that bit of the bathroom needs cleaning….six minutes….bored now…seven minutes….oh my good god, 20 minutes is a lifetime.
Results: Absolutely f*** all. Fabulous.
Did Ruth guess right?: So, full disclosure, I didn’t just treat one side of my hair, fearing I would look like a madwoman if it did anything dramatic. There was no ‘Ruth test’.
The winner: Low-maintenance. Bottle empty and binned.

Overall winner: No. 7 Protect and Perfect Advanced Serum

Round two:

Undergoing the test next will be four more products from the deep, dark bedside cabinet.

Round two productsFor the face: Clinique Rinse-off Foaming Cleanser

For the body: Veet In-shower Hair Removal Cream

For the hair: Frizz-Ease Straight Fixation Smoothing Crème

For the eyes: Clarins Eye Contour Gel

*I think this is a term stolen from Eddie Izzard in a nod to the fact that you can pair a part of the body with a foodstuff to come up with a beauty product (face cream, body butter, cuticle oil…) Feel free to come up with your own and post them in the comments section, the more surreal the better.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

Not all pounds are equal: my net worth update

Hello, dear friends. It’s my favourite time of year. Yes, snowdrop time (they’re so pretty!) …but also net worth calculation day, hurrah!

Wait…don’t click away just yet! I promise not to bore you.

But if you really hate numbers, you have my permission to skip this post and instead check out a guest post on decluttering I wrote for the lovely Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist recently. There is only one fraction mentioned in the whole thing. Bonus points for finding it.

Anyway, onwards.

First a quick recap: I am flat broke, and my struggles with debt led me off down this odd path of a) trying to buy less and b) trying to get my head around personal finance (gah).

For most of my adult life, I owed more than I owned, meaning I had a negative net worth. I was worth less than nothing. (Financially, anyhow.)

That all changed in February 2015, when I recorded my first ever positive net worth: £5,600*. Small, maybe, but huge to me.

Twelve months later, it had more than doubled, which was pretty awesome. Last February, I wrote about this, also noticing how I had gone from a net worth of -£12,139 in 2010 to +£12,139 in 2016. I know, same number but positive. Weird huh?!

Now it’s February again, and time for another update.

If you’ve never worked out your net worth before, it’s dead easy.

Here’s how I do mine:

Assets

Equity in home: £16,790
Car: £1,000
Pension pots: £20,997
Savings: £0 (yeah…I know)

Liabilities

Credit card debt: £2,300
Student loan: £6,628

Add up the assets, subtract the liabilities and bingo, I’ve got my net worth.

So, time for the big reveal:

Last year’s net worth: £12,139
This year’s net worth…drumroll…: £29,859
Net worth chart
Showing off my curve

My first thought was: Wait, WHAT? I’ve doubled my net worth again? If I carry on at this rate I will soon be a gazillionaire and I can buy an island and drink mojitos all day and all night for ever and ever and ever…

…hang on. This is just because my net worth was so cack in the first place. It’s easier to turn £2 into £4 than £2m into £4m…isn’t it? I mean, I don’t know…maybe?

So what has been driving this big jump in my net worth? And will it happen every year, meaning I will in fact very soon be a gazillionaire?

Long story short, no. It seems my house was worth more than I’d thought and a revaluation has boosted my number this year by a pretty decent amount.

My current fixed-rate mortgage deal ends in a couple of months, and about a month ago, I called my mortgage provider to see if I could arrange a new deal.

As we were having a chat, he asked me if I wanted to get my home revalued.

“You haven’t had your home valued since you bought it seven years ago,” he said.

Mr Mortgage Man said there were two options: call a valuer out to the house, for a fee, or a free option which seemingly involved asking a computer program to come up with a random number.

“The free one, please!” I replied, and he tapped away for a bit before Bertha the Lovely Machine spat out a figure.

The number was 20 per cent higher than we bought our house for – HOLY MOLY!

Now, let’s just say I was a little sceptical about this figure, so I also got a second and third opinion from two sites – Property Price Advice and Zoopla – which offer free online valuations.

I’ve averaged out all three to come up with my current number, which is a little lower but still pretty good.

Of course, it’s still a massive assumption. The valuation really doesn’t mean anything at all – it’s the price it sells for that would ever really matter.

But in the end, I’ve had to get over myself, call it a good enough guess for now and throw it into the pot. Although I can see why people leave their house out of the equation when they tot up their assets.

And here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learnt: not all pounds are equal.

Sounds wrong, I know, but bear with me.

A quid locked in the value of my home is not the same as a quid in my bank account. I can’t go and spend it on gin. In my case, all of my net worth is either locked away for my retirement, or locked away in my house or car.

So while the number may look healthy, my finances are anything but. I’m still in consumer debt and my emergency fund is at zero. ZERO.

I have a long way to go.

* By the way, non-UK readers, if you’re wondering how much a British pound is worth, the answer is f*** all. Thanks, Brexit.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

Embrace the elements of simplicity that work for you

A jetty on a lake

Once you start to see the benefits of minimalism, you may start to wonder how many aspects of your life you can simplify.

It doesn’t have to just be about your physical possessions, after all. A lot of people find value in being intentional about countless other aspects of their lives.

You might decide to clean up your diet, simplify your finances, cut your screen time or even ditch draining relationships.

This self-improvement stuff can be goddamn addictive, I’m telling you. Who knows where it might all lead you?!

But in all seriousness, as a word of caution, don’t worry too much if one route or another doesn’t feel like a good fit for you.

So you’ve downsized your home but still love your big social circle? Great, keep your schedule packed with parties!

You’ve cut down on exhausting trips abroad but get a real kick out of Instagram? Fine, don’t ditch your smart phone!

You’ll know in your heart what fires you up and what weighs you down.

Minimalism isn’t a ‘collect them all’ set of achievements. Make it work for you, or it’ll just seem like more work for you.

There are many routes to simplicity and there will be one out there which is just right for you. If you don’t know which route to take, just try to picture what you want to make room in your life for, and that should help to guide you.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

Is minimalism a bourgeois pursuit?

View over the lakes

I don’t spend much time on my blog talking about my day job.

This is for a number of reasons. Some are out of concern for you, the reader: it would be a bit off-topic and I don’t want to bore you.

But mainly it’s for my own personal reasons. I like to ‘leave work at work’ for my own sanity, I don’t hugely want people I know professionally reading my most intimate thoughts about struggling with debt or stress, and I also worry that I might land myself in trouble with my employers by saying something horrendously inappropriate. Which I most definitely would.

So I won’t go into reams of detail about how I pay my bills but suffice to say, I spend much of my working life in an area of the UK with some pretty deep-seated problems with poverty, and sometimes come across issues like homelessness, unemployment and the housing of refugees.

I also spent my wasted youth on the periphery of the local queer activist scene, and while I never felt I fully fitted in with its ‘smash the system’ aims, I guess some of it rubbed off on me.

All this means there is sometimes an aspect of minimalism which makes me a little uncomfortable.

I’ll put it this way: maybe I’m spending a little too much of my time thinking about how to get just the right number of things to achieve maximum happiness.

Yes, I know, so much of the thought behind minimalism is commendable.

You’re taking a step back from a world obsessed with buying crap, made out of diminishing resources, by exploited workers, to turn profits for huge corporations.

You’re instead focusing on aligning your spending with your values.

You’re carving out space in your life for pursuits which might help others, or feed your soul, rather than taking part in a fruitless contest to see who can amass the most toys.

But it is an inescapable fact that being in a position of having ‘too much’, and realising that paring down might make you happier, is a very privileged place to be.

The act of minimising, decluttering, simplifying, call it what you will, is both commendable and undeniably solipsistic at the same time.

In my experience, people facing very serious struggles with poverty or disadvantage have more pressing concerns: Where can my family live, now the landlord is turfing us out? How can I afford to get my children birthday presents when I’m out of a job?  How can I learn how computers work when I’ve never been able to buy one? Where can I get clothes for a job interview when I’ve got no money? How do I settle in a new country when I’ve had to leave all my worldly possessions in a war zone?

In this context, concerns about how best to carefully construct a chic capsule wardrobe, how to reduce the time you’re spending online or how to tactfully decline gifts can appear to border on the obscene.

But what do we do about this? Throw up our hands and decry it all as bourgeois bullshit, then reach for the credit card again?

If this isn’t the answer (hint: it isn’t), then what is?

It’s an issue I’m still grappling with.

While I try to make my lower-middle-class existence less stressful, less cash-strapped and less wasteful, how can I continue to build in to my daily life consideration for – and action to help – those who don’t have this luxury?


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

The test: High- versus low-maintenance beauty regimes

How many beauty products and tools do you use on a daily basis?

For me, the list is pretty small, and pretty basic.

Here are the items I use between once a day and once a week – put another way, the stuff I would pack in a wash bag if I was going away:

Standard toothpaste, with plastic toothbrush.
Bar soap.
Razor, tweezers, nail clippers.
Antiperspirant deodorant.
Cotton buds.
Hairdryer and hair straighteners.
Mid-price shampoo and conditioner,
usually whatever’s being sold at a discount in the supermarket.
Perfume.

See, I don’t even use a hairbrush or comb on a regular basis. What a scruffbag.

I’m also not a big wearer of make-up. I’ll put on a lick of mascara each day, and if I’m going out on an evening I might add another five or so items: eyeliner, eyeshadow, concealer, powder, lip gloss.

I might then use a makeup remover later, or, more likely, I might forget and leave a make-up faceprint on my pillow after stumbling home drunk.

As you can see, I’m not a big purchaser of products. My facial skincare routine pretty much consists of one product: water. Splash it on the face and yep, that’s it.

This isn’t to say I’m thrilled with my ‘au naturel’ appearance all the time. I’m pretty sure my love of coffee means my teeth could be whiter, I’m definitely getting the odd fine line and grey hair and sometimes I get random patches of dry skin.

But, well, are all these products really worth the bother? Isn’t this just vanity? Most men don’t have all this crap to deal with and their faces aren’t sliding off or anything, are they?

It’s commonly accepted that many of the grand claims associated with cosmetics are overblown (‘Younger looking skin in just two weeks’, ‘Noticeably whiter teeth’, ‘Leaves you hairfree for longer’).

But being a cynical type, I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion that some of these products effectively do nothing at all, or that they might even make your skin/hair/earlobes/whatever worse than they were before: irritated, spotty or greasy.

What if the biggest effect of buying all these products is simply on your bank balance?

I’ve ended up fostering a pretty money-saving and minimalist attitude towards beauty regimes. If I can do without, I will. It’s almost become a marker of pride. I don’t wanna be reliant on no consumerist goop to feel good.

‘That’s wonderful, but where is all this going?’ I hear you ask.

In essence, I have somehow acquired quite a number of products I’m not really using. Products I’ve been given as presents (minimalists tend to get a lot of consumable goods) or cosmetics I’ve bought for one reason or another and used for a day or two, then forgotten about.

The minimalist part of me isn’t happy about this growing collection of bottles, tubes and jars in my bedside cabinet. But the waste-hating and the money-saving parts of me have ganged up on the minimalist part, arguing that just binning them would be wrong.

So, I’ve devised a cunning plan.

It’s an experiment of sorts. Each month, I will pick four products I already own, all designed for use on a different area of the body.

I will use these products exactly as instructed, for a period of four weeks, but ONLY ON ONE HALF OF MY BODY.

I’ll then review whether I’ve noticed any difference, and crucially, I will get Ruth to guess which side has been getting the treatment.

This should have two pretty useful benefits:

  • Testing whether said product is actually worth bothering with
  • Using up the bottles and jars and decluttering the irritating collection

My first four products are as follows:

Cosmetics bottles

For the body: Rituals Magic Touch Body Cream

For the hands: Cuticle Oil by Seacret

For the face: No 7’s Protect & Perfect Advanced Serum

For the hair: Philip Kingsley Elasticizer

Is my theory of a sinister consumerist conspiracy going to be proved right, or would I have become a beauty bombshell by now if I’d actually bothered with a rigorous hair and skincare routine? I’ll report back in four weeks with my findings.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your attitude towards beauty or grooming products. Are you minimal or maximal? What are your essentials, and what do you think would happen if you ditched them? Feel free to spill all in the comments thread…


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

Receiving gifts as a minimalist

A wrapped gift

I’ve become that really difficult person to buy for.

Pretty much all my friends and family know I’m trying not to own as much these days, so at birthdays or Christmases, any presents now seem to come with an implied, or even explicit, apology.

‘I know you’re into your minimalism thing, so I’ve only bought you edible stuff.’

‘If you don’t like it, I won’t be offended if you get rid of it.’

 ‘Would you prefer cash instead?’

‘Oh no, I didn’t realise about all this minimalism stuff until after I had bought you a present. I hope you don’t hate it.’

‘The receipt’s in the box.’

People’s generosity, and their obvious wish to do the right thing amid all the confusion of social niceties, leaves me feeling both a little awkward and incredibly touched.

What I have rarely experienced is anyone taking the opportunity to forego giving me a gift at all.

I contacted many of my relatives a few months before Christmas, explaining that they really shouldn’t feel the need to buy me anything this year. While a few took up the offer, others didn’t and one incredibly sweet relative instead bought treats for my dog.

It’s clear many friends and family members obviously enjoy the process of gift-giving. I’ve found myself wondering how I can best acknowledge and celebrate this, while still being truthful and open about my ongoing desire to tread a little lighter on this planet.

I’ve come to realise a few things:

  1. Telling people you don’t want gifts has mixed success. Telling them you want a specific item can work far better.
  2. Most people will bear in mind the fact you don’t want more stuff, if you explain it to them in a diplomatic way (and early on!).
  3. It’s not the end of the world if you graciously accept a gift, then donate it to a charity shop a while later.
  4. Minimalists get given lots of consumable presents. I’m a big fan of booze and lard (as you’d probably realise if I used photos of myself on this site) but for those on health kicks, it could pose a challenge.
  5. There are worse problems to have in the world than agonising over how to receive free gifts. Keep things in perspective, relax and enjoy the celebration.

My wife and I both have December birthdays, so we’re lucky enough to receive a whole heap of birthday and Christmas presents in one month – and this year was no different.

Thankfully, we’re not having to take out a storage unit to house them all. That’s because we’ve been open with people about the kinds of changes we’re trying to make, and as a result they have been really thoughtful about what they bought us. This included:

  • Tasty home-made fudge
  • Lots and lots of alcohol (hurrah!)
  • A couple of books from my online wish-list
  • Money towards the expensive new boiler we need for our house
  • A home-baked pastry Christmas tree
  • A voucher to buy music online with
  • Socks (I’ll gladly fight anyone who says they’re a rubbish present. I always need socks!)
  • Make-up and cosmetics
  • Coffee beans from our favourite coffee shop
  • A voucher for a spa treatment

Maybe I’m not so hard to buy for after all?

Lastly, this may sound like sacrilege on a blog like mine, but I’ve realised that sometimes, despite yourself, you can receive a physical, non-consumable gift that breaks all the minimalism rules but takes your breath away.

We were lucky enough to get a handmade wooden clock from a relative and an indescribably wonderful box of hand-crafted items from a close friend, and both left me feeling incredibly grateful for the thought and hours which went into them.

Gifts crafted with skill and love, or those chosen with a weird sixth-sense about what you will truly value, can very occasionally become that rare thing for a minimalist: a treasured possession.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

The obligatory New Year post

Ah, the New Year.

I’ll spare you the trite summaries of 2016, the hopelessly optimistic aims for 2017 and the boring run-down of the tiresome New Year’s resolutions.

Instead, I’ll say a big thank-you to you all for sticking around for another year and a big welcome for anyone who discovered Want Less in the past twelve months.

For anyone new to this site, here are some of my favourite posts of 2016 which should bring you bang-up-to-date:

Will keeping a gratitude journal make you happier

The Millennial Money Rebellion begins here

In praise of wasting time

Wedding bells, balls-ups and budgets

My finances: great advice I live by, great advice I don’t

The reverse bucket list

A beginner’s guide to minimalism

Smartphones and me

Don’t let your life get overgrown: creating a low maintenance existence

The 10 things I’ve noticed since becoming a minimalist

Net worth: not just for millionaires

There will be some minor changes afoot here in 2017. I’m bringing my semi-regular Tune Tuesdays to a close (mainly because I’m running out of tunes about money or possessions to feature) so even though it’s not a Tuesday today, please indulge me as I feature not one, not two but three tunes to round off the series.

Firstly, Jungle’s fabulous Busy Earnin’ goes out to anyone who’s ever needed a reminder that there’s more to life than making money, myself included:

Damn, that’s a boring life
It’s quite busy earnin’
You can’t get enough

And now, for something completely different: Porter Wagoner’s Satisfied Mind. This song harnesses the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, reminding us that true wealth lies in being content with what you have. It was perhaps most famously sung by Johnny Cash but here’s a nice performance by Robert Plant and the Band of Joy:

The wealthiest person is a pauper at times
Compared to the man with a satisfied mind

And let’s mix it up again for the last track. Anyone remember Papa Roach off of the early 2000s? I wonder what those chaps are up to these days. I assume it won’t be shopping, listening to this Fight Club-inspired, anti-materialist song of theirs from 2002, Between Angels and Insects:

Money, possession, obsession,
I don’t need that s***

A new semi-regular feature will be emerging shortly. Watch this space…


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

In which we don’t buy a Christmas tree

Today Ruth and I went to visit a museum for the first, and last, time (more on that later). But on the way home, we passed Ikea in the car and we were so close to stopping off to buy a Christmas tree. In the end, we didn’t get one.

Here’s why:

  • We’re away for a few days over Christmas, so we won’t be at home to enjoy the tree on the day itself anyway;
  • We’re trying to save money like mad. Our ailing boiler (Americans: read ‘water heater’) has finally given up the ghost, choosing the most expensive time of the year to pack in. A new one is going to set us back nearly £2,000, we’re told (and will set back my debt payoff plan too, sadly);
  • We have a suspicion our deranged dog would either tear bits off a Christmas tree or find a way to get a pine needle stuck in his paw and land us with a vet’s bill on top of the boiler bill. He’s sneaky like that.

I like Christmas and I have nothing against Christmas trees. I think they’re lovely. But for one reason or another, our decorations have taken a decidedly minimalist turn this year. Here’s what’s passing for the tree at our place:

treebsf

We’re planning to go out into the woods in the next few days and find bits of holly, ivy and pine cones to decorate the house with. It’s something we did last year and it looked really bloody cosy.

And after all, there are other ways to get in the festive spirit.

The museum we visited today, Red House in Gomersal, West Yorkshire, was once home to a good friend of Charlotte Bronte and featured as Briarmains in her novel, Shirley. Even in Charlotte’s day, the house was already nearly 200 years old. Each year, the museum celebrates a 19th century Christmas, as the Brontes would have known them.

But this was its last, because it is being closed down by its local council in a few days to save money.

Staff and helpers had dressed up in period costume, the normal entry fees were suspended, there was a historical musical group playing all kinds of weird traditional English instruments, and people in the kitchen had cooked up cheeses, chutneys and mulled wine. The whole place was decked out – you guessed it – with cuttings of holly and ivy.

It’s a place I’ve lived half-an-hour away for more than a decade, but never thought to visit because, you know, I can always go another time. Today there was no more putting it off.

There were lots of other people who had the same thought. The place was packed. And maybe a full house is the best Christmas decoration going.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

I’ve finally talked her into it: a guest post from Mrs Want Less

ruth
Photo by the marvellous Dawn Kilner Photography

Hooray! After nearly 18 months of blogging, I’ve finally secured a guest post from my other half, Ruth.

If you don’t already know, Ruth’s decision to bring a little book called ‘Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life’ on honeymoon set me off down this rabbit hole in the first place.

While she has been hugely supportive of my decision to turn our house upside-down, for a long time she seemed not particularly fussed, one way or the other, about how many things we owned. 

Then, a few weeks ago, she totally astounded me by getting rid of pretty much all of her huge CD collection in one go. This was a BIG DEAL. Ruth is a musician and she’s always prided herself on her music library. I guess more of this was rubbing off than I had realised.

Anyway, I asked Ruth to put pen to paper and describe what it’s all been like from her point of view. (I’m sure you’ll all give her a big welcome!)


So, Claire has asked me to write a guest post for the blog. I’ve agreed (with some trepidation), but I’ve been promised her excellent editing skills.

I have a tendency to waste time on the internet. So one day, frittering around on the web, I Googled something like ‘giving up the internet’. One of the first posts I came to was Joshua Fields Millburn’s post on how giving up the internet at home was one of the most productive things he’s ever done.

Transfixed, I read on (and on). I couldn’t read enough of The Minimalists’ website; how it had improved their lives, made them more passionate, healthier, more compassionate…

I told Claire about my find and she took it from there and she’s just run with it really, I think it would be fair to say Claire is way more immersed in minimalism than I am, but I’m glad I introduced her to it.

While Claire is further into her minimalist journey, I can confidently say it has all had a positive impact on my life. For a start, choosing clothes to wear in the morning is a complete doddle, thanks to Claire helping me sort/donate my wardrobe.

In fact, the further I travel on my journey into minimalism the easier I’m finding a lot of things.

I’m a musician and music teacher by trade, which can sometimes lead (guitarists especially!) down the path of collecting a lot of equipment and chasing a lot of work. Minimalism has reminded me not to work all the hours that God sends and for the first time in eight years I have a timetable that includes a lunch break (which my acid reflux will thank me for).

Previously, I’d been eating lunch in a hurry and rushing from one place to the next, not really a recipe for digestive comfort.

I’m also interested in the ‘life experiment’ side of minimalism. A while back, I stopped using my smartphone for a month and got by with a £5 ‘dumbphone’.

I managed to reprogramme the ‘twitch’ to absent-mindedly check Facebook/emails/pictures of bass guitars.

BUT, I did miss having a camera and GPS system in my pocket, so in the end I went back to my iPhone with a new approach: I have no notifications and my email goes nowhere near it.

I recently went to a Federation of Entertainment Unions workshop on productivity. The leader asked how many unread emails we had in our inbox. I sheepishly put my hand up and admitted to having around 7,000.

You know, just 7,000 unread, fairly useless words clogging up my life. So, his answer was to archive them. Brilliant. Now, when I check my emails I can see exactly what’s important instead of wading through spam.

(I also recommend ‘Unroll Me’, which sits in your inbox as an extra folder and ‘grabs’ the spam as it arrives. It also helps you unsubscribe from sneaky mailing lists you’re not even sure how you signed up to. The best thing about it: it’s FREE)

Minimalism has helped us think about how we spend our money too. In the past year or so I’ve gone from regularly spending on credit cards to hardly using them at all, closing the accounts on all but one or two of them. I’ve started to save again (even if I’m a little slow at it).

Claire described the effect minimalism has had on our spending brilliantly the other day; a new high-end shopping centre just opened in town. We were in the city centre, so we had a walk around it, but we were just not interested in it. Claire said it was like having a superpower that made you immune to the usual shopping frenzy that so many fall into.

Overall, I feel minimalism has helped us eat healthier, appreciate a slower home, not buy the latest new ‘thing’, meet new people, make more sustainable/ethical/better quality choices and it’s made us appreciate who and what we have in our lives.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to check out Claire’s other site, Simplicity Voices.

Will keeping a gratitude journal make you happier?

journal-small

Did you keep a really embarrassing teenage diary? God knows, I did.

My old diaries are some of the items I cleared out as I downsized my stuff from childhood, and boy, they were a painful read.

You know that Marie Kondo decluttering technique, where she advises you to take hold of a possession and see if it ‘sparks joy’? Well, I now have another reaction to look out for: whether it sparks a ‘lower abdominal clench of utter, utter cringe’.

Luckily, my diary-keeping days are long behind me now.

But I’ve recently been experimenting with a different type of daily log as I look into the science of boosting happiness.

One happiness tip I just kept reading about was an activity called gratitude journaling. It gets mentioned so often, in fact, that you’ve probably already heard of it before, if not tried it.

The idea is simple: at its heart, it’s a way of systematically getting yourself into the habit of counting your blessings. This is usually done through jotting down a few things you’re grateful for before you go to bed.

But does it work? Is it worth the effort? And can you re-read the journal without wanting to throw up?

Let’s find out. First: the science bit.

There seems to be a lot of compelling evidence that practising gratitude really does boost your happiness levels.

Robert A Emmons is the world’s leading researcher on gratitude.

A study he co-authored in 2003 found that participants who kept gratitude journals once a week exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical problems, felt better about their lives, were more likely to have made progress towards goals and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded either hassles or neutral life events.

Other studies have found a variety of other benefits, from focus in young adults to better sleep quality.

On the other hand, there is also scientific (and anecdotal) evidence that the technique just does nothing for a whole heap of people. For them, the whole thing is a massive waste of time.

One theory goes that if you set yourself a target for experiencing gratitude, then fail to reach that goal, it could end up doing more harm than good and make you feel worse.

This would seem to be backed up by a study which found that people who kept a gratitude journal three times a week were less happy than those who wrote in it just once a week. In general, researchers seem to disagree about whether it is more effective to write in a gratitude journal once a day or once a week.

And the Berkeley Science Review lists five ways keeping a gratitude journal can backfire. This includes causing you to gloss over negative aspects of your life that you should be facing up to, such as a destructive relationship.

I’ve been giving the technique a try for the past month. Every evening, before bed, I’ve taken out a notebook and written down three things I’m grateful for from the day.

These have been wide and varied:

  • The life-changing: “My new niece was born today”;
  • The everyday: “My wife ran me a nice bath”, “I got lunch free on points”;
  • The wholesome: “Seeing a rainbow”, “Planting bulbs in the garden”;
  • The less wholesome: “Chips!”
  • The ditzy: “Left my car unlocked accidentally but nothing bad happened”;
  • And the left-field: “Sixty years of popular music!” “Ticker tape!”

I have to say I feel better for it. I’m finding it a nice way to round off the day and it’s also changing the way I think about things.

I tend to be a negative thinker, but I’m now more likely to look back on the day and think it was a good one.

So will keeping a gratitude journal work for you?

My (untested!) theory is that this all depends on what kind of outlook you have.

Practising gratitude could well make you more content if you are the kind of person who needs a reminder about the good things in your life. If you tend to take life for granted, and you focus too often on criticism, negativity or hardship, this may be for you.

But if you’re already the kind of person who looks on the bright side, someone who sees beauty in the small things and joy in the everyday, this may not be worth your while.

If you think keeping a gratitude journal could work for you, try one of the following two techniques:

  1. Each day, before bed, write down three things you’re grateful for, from that day;
  2. Or, each week, on a set day, write down ten things you have been grateful for in the past seven days.

Keep it up for a month and decide then whether it’s having any positive effects on your wellbeing.


If you like what you read, subscribe to Want Less via the arrow at the top of the page, follow Claire on social media using the buttons under the title or leave a comment below.