Developing ‘The Museum of Me’: a sentimental person’s 5-step guide to decluttering paper mementos

aerial view of a field

Sentimental items are often the hardest things to get rid of when you’re trying to pare down your possessions.

Once you have created your capsule wardrobe, sold your DVD boxsets and ditched those trinkets you never really liked anyway, often you are left with a pile of paper mementos to somehow sort through.

Photos, concert tickets, wedding invites, hand-written letters, sketches and doodles, newspaper cuttings and perhaps the odd autograph or two. Fragments of a life well-lived.

If you’re anything like me, they’ll be found in boxes, drawers and cupboards all over the house. Sometimes they will be in some semblance of order, like that year you methodically put all your photos into an album, but more often than not they’re a bit of a jumble.

They’re also not taking up too much space, so you end up torn about whether to let them go or let them be.

Yes, you hear the argument that your memories don’t lie in these objects, they lie in your mind, and that as a result they will always be with you.

But it’s not the reality you experience when you stumble across that movie ticket from your first date with your high-school sweetheart and you are unexpectedly transported right back to the bench outside the cinema where you shared that awkward kiss.

You also hear the assertion that looking back on years gone by is unhealthy, that it stops you from looking forward.

But that’s not how you feel when you find a silly caricature drawn by one of your oldest friends and then realise you really should give them a call.

So how can you start to clear away these mementos when you still want to be able to use them to reminisce about the many twists and turns your life has taken to this point?

I’ve been trying to develop a solution.

But first, a confession: for a so-called minimalist, I’ve discovered I’m a deeply sentimental person.

I really wish I wasn’t. When I was a teenager I went as far as writing a punky fanzine called Anti-Sentimentality with a close friend. The irony isn’t lost on me that, 20 years on, I still have copies of each issue stashed in my spare room.

In fact, I’ve kept a hell of a lot from my teenage years onward. Programmes for plays I’ve seen, certificates from minor achievements in school – the kind of thing that might have been valuable had I somehow turned out to be the next John Lennon.

It’s almost as if I’ve been keeping items to display in some future Museum of Me.

So if it’s all so damn important to me, why on earth haven’t I been curating it, like a real museum would?

For the past few months I’ve been trying to set this right, and if you want to try it out for yourself, here are the steps:

  1. Find somewhere on your computer hard-drive, a cloud account or a pen drive where you have a spare few gigabytes of storage.
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  2. Create a folder for each year of your life (an optional step for the ultra-nerdy like me: create sub-folders within each year for each month, labelled 01_Jan, 02_Feb, and so on. Using numbers at the beginning of the file names means they will stay in date order).
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  3. Scan all your ticket stubs, party invites, letters and so on, and save each image into the relevant folder. Make sure to back up your files as you go. For safety, I have mine saved on my computer, with a back-up in the cloud and a back-up back-up on a pen drive.
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  4. Add to your collection with a selection of photos, videos, music files, screengrabs of social media posts, or anything else that helps piece together the story of your life. Once your library is assembled, you can use it as a permanent archive to trawl through when you want to reminisce.
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  5. Use web programs to bring the collection to life by creating digital yearbooks. Choose a few photos, images or other files from each year that really make you smile – that picture of you mid-skydive, that time you met the minor celebrity – then compile a slideshow, video or collage for each year (or each five years or decade if you prefer). A quick web search will bring up a host of free and easy-to-use programs that will take you through the process, but I personally like PhotoCollage for collages and Kizoa for slideshows.

Once your ‘Museum of Me’ is properly curated, and you have found a way of honouring all those paper keepsakes, it should be far easier to get rid of all but a select few.

Rethinking television

 

Ten weeks ago, we got the flooring in our living and dining room replaced.

To prepare, we had to move all our furniture out of the room, and at the time I joked that this was the look I’d been going for all along.

Finally got that #minimalist living room I've been working towards all these years! 😉

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

We managed to squeeze the sofa into the conservatory, dragged a dismantled Ikea dining table into the kitchen and carried a blanket box into the hallway.

We unhooked our television from its connections and precariously balanced it on a kitchen counter top, hoping we wouldn’t accidentally knock it and send it crashing down.

The flooring was laid and we pulled all the furniture back again. But when we reconnected the television, something wasn’t right. The colours seemed all off. I meddled with the wires, and promptly broke the connection for good.

It has stayed that way ever since. Laziness and apathy mean we have accidentally disconnected ourselves from live television.

To be clear: we can still access streaming services. But it’s been interesting to see how our habits have changed without that ready access to all those channels.

In the mornings, I no longer stick on breakfast television and lose 45 minutes to the comforting patter of the presenters. Instead, I tune into Radio 4 on my phone and get my daily briefing while I’m getting ready around the house.

I’ve noticed that I’ve been reading more, a habit I’d been meaning to get back into but had somehow not been able to make stick.

There has been one TV series we’ve actually wanted to watch on terrestrial television: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. So every week, at a time to suit us, we would watch it back on catch-up.

And there has also been one thing I really had to tune into live through my laptop: Saturday’s Eurovision. When I was a teenager I would meet up with my two closest friends for a Eurovision party each year. Now we’re dotted all over the country, we watch it while WhatsApping each other with our thoughts on the craziest songs and whether Latvia will ever top Brainstorm’s My Star from the year 2000 (answer: they won’t).

So, why cut down on television?

Often when people discuss this point, the inference is clear. TV is BAD FOR YOU AND ROTS YOUR BRAIN. Quite frankly, I fundamentally disagree with this, and not just because it’s what my mum used to say to me when I was a kid.

It’s the same argument people made about novels in the 18th century, when there was a moral panic about how many people – especially gasp, ladies – were glued to them.

In his book Everything Bad is Good For You, Steven Johnson gives a staunch defence of ‘junk’ TV and ‘mindless’ computer games. He argues that both are far more complex than they have ever been and often require pretty high levels of concentration.

Box-set watching, he says, has led to TV shows with multiple sub-plots, confusing cold-opens, highly technical jargon and vast networks of characters which represent a huge departure from the simplicity of 1970s shows like Starsky and Hutch.

While I think this is true, for me the argument is in danger of remaining a little elitist.

In all honesty, who cares if television is simplistic and trashy?

After years of pretty mediocre shows, I think this year’s Eurovision really was a fantastic television event. But I can’t pretend it was good for me. It was just pure entertainment, mixed in with some vague idea of ‘togetherness’.

I was really stressed out from work recently, and do you know what helped me calm down? Binge-watching the whole series of Queer Eye on Netflix. I feel not one iota of shame.

And I completely understand why haggard parents sit their young children down in front of Paw Patrol while they get to enjoy a quiet cup of tea in the other room for five minutes.

But it’s all about what is appropriate for you. The fact that TV had been so easy for me to access meant I had been more likely to switch it on than go and find a book to read. Making it just that one step harder meant I really had to decide whether it was something I wanted to do.

It’s why people wanting to cut down on social media often find it helpful to delete the apps from their phones and make themselves log on through their browsers. It’s still there, you just have to really want it to go and get it.

I’m not advocating that you all go and break your TV connectors. But if there’s something you feel you’re getting a little too distracted by, try to place a few hurdles in your way.

The tourist at home: seeking adventure on your own doorstep

How has another month passed?

Today is May Day, which means it’s time for me to start another month-long challenge.

But first a recap on how last month went. Thanks to everyone who followed along on Instagram this April as I shared a few things from my life which weren’t exactly Instagrammable.

My ‘veg patch’, which, with its delightful piles of dead sticks, looks more like a giant bird’s nest after it has been ransacked by egg-hungry monsters.

This is my veg patch. Yum. #underwhelming

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

My dog, who, God love him, got an upset tummy and decided to be ill in both directions all over the house for days. (The results, fortunately, were not pictured)

This poor little bean keeps being sick. All over the house. #underwhelming

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

And while I was enjoying a hugely photogenic trip to Japan, those bits of travel that rarely make the social feeds: time in airports. More time in airports. Then unexpected delays meaning, yup, more time in airports.

Still in transit… #underwhelming

A post shared by Claire (@wantlessblog) on

 

I love looking at beautiful photographs on Instagram as much as the next person. (Especially of Japan. Man, what a beautiful country…) But this has been a helpful reminder to myself that it’s never an accurate reflection of reality – my own or anyone else’s.

Talk of my trip, however (did I mention I’ve just been to Japan??!!) leads me nicely on to this month’s challenge.

While we were out there, my wife and I clocked up some serious mileage on foot, just wandering about the city and exploring.

It was great to head away from the big tourist sites and find ourselves sitting at the counter watching the chefs in a back-alley ramen joint, drinking sake in a wood-panelled izakaya or browsing the tat in a 100 yen shop, feeling like both complete outsiders and something resembling locals at the same time.

But it made me wonder why I don’t spend more time exploring my own neighbourhood. Adventure doesn’t have to be found half-way round the world, after all, and it’s a darn sight cheaper if you find it on your doorstep.

I’m sure we all have parts of our own neighbourhoods we’ve always meant to check out but never quite got round to because… well, it’ll still be there next week, right?

How would you think differently about where you live if you were visiting it as a holidaymaker?

So this month I aim to be a tourist in my own back yard, exploring areas of Yorkshire I’ve never been to. Again, I’ll be sharing the journey on Instagram, I’m @wantlessblog.

Instagram and the Creme Egg doughnut

Picture the scene: you’re in the world’s most hipster coffee house. Everyone except you has a beautiful, floral neck tattoo.

An array of pristine, colourful and quirky pastry goods are set out in front of you as you queue up to make your order. You know you like the plain cinnamon doughnut: you tried it one before and it was perhaps the best you’ve ever tasted in your life.

But – oh! – how beautiful these others look. There’s novelty confectionary-heaps on top of each of them. Colour swirls here, glitter there.

You plump for an icing-smothered doughnut with half a Creme Egg on top of it, because…well, it’s just so Instagrammable.

And you take the picture. You post it. You bite into the pastry with a sense of satisfaction, then realise that of course, it’s far too sugary.

You should have gone for the plain one that would look like a dried camel turd on pictures but tastes…perfect.

You’re a social meejit.

So, yes, anyone looking at my Instagram account will realise that this scenario is not exactly a random figment of my imagination.

A creme egg doughnut

Before I go any further, I want to say that railing against the imaginary ‘perfect lives’ people post on Instagram feels really old-hat.

I do think that there’s a lot of hysteria about people wanting to put a bit of gloss on the photos they send into the world. I, personally, love pretty pictures. I love looking at beautiful travel snaps, nice interiors and cute puppies. AND I DON’T CARE.

We also want to put these things out in the world, when we’re sharing our own photos. We all want to appear creative, well-travelled and stylish. Of course we do.

But the problem comes when the Instagram tail starts wagging the living-your-life dog.

I don’t particularly want to become one of those people who takes it all too far and just posts sickeningly smug pictures on my feed.

So my fourth monthly challenge will see me deliberately doing the opposite.

Every day, I will post a photo on Instagram of something in my life that is mundane, disappointing, imperfect or embarrassing.

Something I’d never usually want to post.

Not to complain about it, but just as a reminder that the monotony of life makes up 98 per cent of our existence. It can still be marvellous in its own unremarkable little way.

I will call my April challenge Hashtag Underwhelming.

Follow along: I’m on Insta @wantlessblog

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Aerial view of trees

[Yawns] Hmm, what was that? No, I wasn’t. I was totally awake.

Do you ever get those months where you just feel exhausted all the time?

So, yes, I was meant to post two days ago about my latest 30-day challenge coming to an end.

The challenge involved really listening to a piece of music a day. I completed it (yay) and it was actually great fun (yay) and I was all ready to write about it.

But, ugh, quite honestly I’ve just felt too tired to bother. I’ve not had a day off work for a while and all I’ve wanted to do when I get home is watch Netflix and crash out. In fact, literally as I was writing the last sentence I paused, tilted my head to the side, closed my eyes and just turned my brain off for a few seconds.

Which brings me neatly onto my next challenge: getting some goddamn sleep.

‘Sleep hygiene’ seems to be quite the hot topic at the moment.

Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington is perhaps its most famous proponent, having passed out from sleep exhaustion at work, hitting her head on her desk and breaking her cheekbone.

Meanwhile, every podcast out there seems to be advertising super-expensive mattresses that make all sorts of promises.

And there’s so much advice out there about the rituals you should go through, as well as the many things to avoid, before hitting the hay. Quite frankly, I’ve not noticed this many nagging voices about what not to do in the bedroom since I came out.

The thing is, I think I do everything right. I don’t take my phone to bed. I always aim for the full eight hours.

I have fancy apps on my iPad and my laptop which turn off the blue light after sunset, so my brain doesn’t get all confused and think I’m sat in a brilliantly sunny piazza in Rome at noon in July.

Yet …. still …. so …. tired.

So this month’s challenge is all about the sleep. I’ll be trying out a few different techniques every few days to see what works and what doesn’t.

I began a few days ago by trying a new rule: bed before 10pm. I didn’t tell my other half and I think I must have seemed like a creepy house robot or something because I would just look at the clock, stop whatever task I was doing, turn around and march myself upstairs.

I like the idea of an early night. It’s like a lie-in, but in reverse. But in reality, it’s been a little disappointing, because just because you’re in bed, it doesn’t mean you can get to sleep.

Yesterday, I spent nine and a half hours in bed. Ridiculous. AND I’M STILL KNACKERED!

Anyone got any sleeping tips I should try out this month?

Feel free to share yo…

Oh, look at the time. 9.59pm. Bye!

The fantasy island of minimalists dreamt up by an advisor to Henry VIII

An island

There is very little that is new about minimalism.

Owning few possessions has been a tenet in many faiths for millennia.

And two thousand years ago, the Stoics were teaching that you only truly own one thing in life: yourself. Practising a healthy detachment from your belongings was a key part of the philosophy.

As someone trying to get better at owning fewer things, I take an interest when I find the idea of living with less cropping up in books, films or music from years gone by.

So reading Thomas More’s Utopia, a book now more than 500 years old, proved pretty interesting recently.

More was a public figure in 16th-century England, rising from humble roots to serve as a personal advisor for Henry VIII and Speaker of the House of Commons.

But he was charged with high treason and beheaded in 1535 after refusing to take an oath recognising the King as sole head of the church, instead of the Pope, and sanctioning his divorce from his first wife.

A grim story, no doubt, but a little book More wrote 20 years earlier while working on the continent shows his humorous side.

The comic tract imagines a fantasy island – albeit a ridiculous one at times – where human society is ordered in a near-perfect way.

Some of the workings of Utopian society haven’t dated well.

The use of slavery would sound pretty horrific to a modern reader, as would the subjugated role of women, who must kneel before their husbands once a month to confess their sins and beg forgiveness.

But other parts, which discuss the Utopians’ attitude towards wealth and possessions, are some of the same topics being discussed by minimalists today.

Here are a few passages from the book, translated from the original Latin by Paul Turner:

“In Utopia they have a six-hour working day – three hours in the morning then lunch – then a two hour break – then three more hours in the afternoon, followed by supper. They go to bed at 8pm and sleep for eight hours.

“All the rest of the twenty-four they’re free to do what they like – not to waste their time in idleness or self-indulgence, but to make good use of it in some congenial activity.

“Most people spend these free periods on further education, for there are public lectures first thing every morning. Attendance is quite voluntary, except for those picked out for academic training, but men and women of all classes go crowding in to hear them.”

“They have no tailors or dressmakers, since everyone on the island wears the same sort of clothes – except that they vary slightly according to sex and marital status – and the fashion never changes.

“These clothes are quite pleasant to look at, they allow free movement of the limbs, they’re equally suitable for hot and cold weather – and the great thing is, they’re all home-made.”

“Since they only work a six-hour day, you may think there must be a shortage of essential goods. On the contrary, those six hours are enough, and more than enough to produce plenty of everything that’s needed for a comfortable life.

“And you’ll understand why it is, if you reckon up how large a proportion of the population in other countries is totally unemployed. First you have practically all the women – that gives you nearly fifty percent for a start. Then there are all the priests, and members of so-called religious orders – how much work do they do? Add all the rich, especially the landowners, popularly known as nobles and gentlemen. Include their domestic staffs – I mean those gangs of armed ruffians that I mentioned before. Finally, throw in all the beggars who are perfectly hale and hearty, but pretend to be ill as an excuse for being lazy. When you’ve counted them up, you’ll be surprised to find how few people actually produce what the human race consumes.”

“Then think how much labour they save on clothes. Their working clothes are just loose-fitting leather overalls, which last for at least seven years.

“When they go about in public, they cover these rough garments with a sort of cloak, which is always the same colour – the natural colour of wool. Thus not only is their consumption of woollen fabric the lowest in the world, but so are their production costs for this material. Linen is even easier to produce, and therefore more often used – but, as long as the linen is white and the wool is clean, they don’t care how fine or coarse the thread is.

“So whereas in other countries you won’t find anyone satisfied with less than five or six suits and as many silk shirts, while dressy types want over ten of each, your Utopian is content with a single piece of clothing every two years. For why should he want more? They wouldn’t make him any warmer – or any better looking.”

“When the head of a household needs anything for himself or his family, he just goes to [the] shops and asks for it. And whatever he asks for, he’s allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind.

“After all, why shouldn’t he? There’s more than enough of everything to go round, so there’s no risk of his asking for anything more than he needs – for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he’ll never have to go short of anything.

“No living creature is naturally greedy, except from fear of want – or in the case of human beings, from vanity, the notion that you’re better than people if you can display more superfluous property than they can. But there’s no scope for that sort of thing in Utopia.”

“They’ve devised a system which, while perfectly consistent with their other conventions, is diametrically opposed to ours – especially to the way we treasure up gold. So you’ll probably think it incredible, until you’ve actually seen it for yourselves.

“According to this system, plates and drinking-vessels, though beautifully designed, are made of quite cheap stuff like glass or earthenware. But silver and gold are the normal materials, in private houses as well as communal dining halls, for the humblest items of domestic equipment, such as chamber-pots. […] In fact they do everything they can to bring these metals into contempt. This means that if they suddenly had to part with all the gold and silver they possess – a fate which in any other country would be thought equivalent to having one’s guts torn out – nobody in Utopia would care two hoots.

“It’s much the same with jewels […] If they happen to come across one, they pick it up and polish it for some toddler to wear […] This curious convention is liable to cause some equally curious reactions, as I realised most vividly in the case of the Flatulentine diplomats. […]

“Oh, but you should have seen the faces of the older children, who’d grown out of things like pearls and jewels, when they saw the ones on the envoys’ hats. They kept nudging their mothers and whispering: ‘I say, mother, just look at that great baby! Fancy wearing jewellery at his age!’”

“In Utopia, where everything’s under public ownership, no-one has any fear of going short, as long as the public storehouses are full. Everyone gets a fair share, so there are never any poor men or beggars. Nobody owns anything, but everyone is rich – for what greater wealth can there be than cheerfulness, peace of mind, and freedom from anxiety?”

It makes interesting reading, even though I remain very sceptical of the idea of an ideal society.

While I would probably be content wearing only clothes that are “the natural colour of wool”, I recognise that it would be other people’s idea of hell. I also dislike his puritanical streak and scorn for “idleness or self-indulgence”.

But just as it was designed to make 16th-century Europeans reflect on their own society and its shortcomings, I think it can still have the power to do the same for us now.

30-day challenge: close your eyes and really listen to one piece of music each day

Aerial photograph of the sea and rocks

Thank you to those who helped choose my second 30-day challenge of 2018.

After spending January battling with a shopping ban, I was ready for something fun.

So I put a few options together and let the people of Twitter decide.

Option one was spending a month trying to get to grips with Japanese: I’m off there in a few months but my efforts to learn the language have so far been halting to say the least.

Option two was to rediscover the art of writing real, proper letters – with no dog-turd emojis or anything – by writing and posting one a day.

And option three was a suggestion from my wife, a musician, who said I could put on some headphones each day and really listen to one piece of music.

Just like any good race, this one was decided in the final furlong. Option two had long been in the lead (to the extent that I had already accepted the inevitable and written the first letter) but then at the final straight, option three pulled off a daring overtaking manoeuvre and clinched the title by one vote.

So two days ago I settled down to properly listen to one piece of music, with eyes closed.

I really recommend the exercise. Focusing on one sense, just for a few minutes, felt like an act of meditation.

Like many people, I struggle to focus on just one thing these days, so it was interesting to notice how many times my mind started to wander in the middle of a track or I began to itch to do something else while I listened.

But on the whole I’ve been enjoying the experience – it’s pulled me right back to my teenage years, listening to cassettes on my Walkman in the dark when I should have been asleep.

I think setting aside some time each day to choose a new song to devote a few minutes to will be a really nice habit to get into.

If anyone is interested in the tracks I’ve listened to so far, day one was Shake Em Off, a track from Syd’s album Fin (my most recent download), day two was Lights On by FKA twigs (which I found surprisingly troubling for some reason) and today I’ve just sat down in my favourite armchair to listen to Billie Holiday’s charming I Get Along Without You Very Well.

They have all been female artists so far and I think I’ll stick with the theme.

Looking through my music collection, I was struck by how many of the albums are by male musicians. It feels apt, somehow, and very ‘2018’, to take the time to really listen to some lesser-heard voices for a while.

A wuss in the snow: The unexpected highs and lows of a 30-day shopping ban

Well, I’m glad that’s over.

My first ‘shopping ban’ was only a mere 30 days long, but I’m embarrassed by how hard I found it.

I’ve written in the past about how years of paring down my belongings and adopting a more minimalist lifestyle has helped me develop a healthy scepticism towards shopping.

It’s not as if wandering through shopping centres angered or upset me, I just felt like I had some kind of superpower which made me immune to all the tricks marketers play to part people from their money. (Even in homewares shops. Lovely, lovely homewares shops…)

So at the beginning of this month I had thought a shopping ban, especially one for as short a spell as 30 days, would be a walk in the park.

As a result, I’d made the rules of the game pretty tough.

Back in December, I had originally considered granting myself permission to buy one specific item of clothing during January.

I have a teeny-tiny capsule wardrobe at the moment so when my work boots gave out in the snow around Christmas time, I was pretty sure I’d need to replace them pretty damn quick. Snowy toes suck!

But then I decided to get a grip and wait the month out without new boots. It was only a 30-day challenge, for God’s sake. What’s the point of a month-long shopping ban if you’re still buying stuff??

Instead, I began wearing ballet pumps or court shoes into work each day and thought no more about boots. What a trooper. WINTER BOOTS ARE FOR WUSSES!

So…

The shopping ban went well for the first two weeks or so.

Knowing that I was immune to the usual shopping frenzy, I even joined my wife Ruth on a trip around the January sales.

We visited three of my favourite stores (all homewares, of course). I knew I was testing my resolve to the max – being cocky, if you like – but resisting felt easy. I just had to remind myself that I could admire a beautiful object without having to possess it and I would be able to walk out empty-handed.

Then in mid-January, my brain just flipped. I think it was starting to rebel against the notion that I was banned from doing something. Suddenly, I was fantasising about buying a new phone one day, a fancy new camera the next.

I found myself researching camera phones online and knew I might be in trouble.

Then I found myself in a claustrophobic, thronging clothes shop within one of the UK’s biggest shopping centres as the January sales drew to a close and the heavy discounts began.

There was a blizzard outside and I wasn’t looking forward to wearing ballet pumps through the snow come Monday morning.

In front of me, there appeared some boots! £70, reduced to £20! None in my size….until I checked the very last pair at the back of the pile.

Reader, I cracked.

I’m not proud. It was only the first of 12 30-day challenges I’m planning to set myself in 2018 and I’ve already tripped up.

But I guess the exercise has taught me a few things:

  • I’m not the sort of person who deals well with bans
  • I am not immune to the lure of a bargain
  • I shouldn’t be cocky
  • I am a wuss in the snow

Anyway, at least my first 30-day challenge is over. Details about the second will be coming shortly.

I know some of you guys were joining me by setting yourselves a 30-day challenge this month, either a shopping ban or something else entirely. How did you get on? Better than me?

2018: My year of 30-day challenges

Heavy fog on a moor

There’s something dreary about this time of year.

The party season, with all its excesses and its pressures, is coming to an end. In its place comes the prospect of months of long days at work, dark evening commutes and cold, wet weekends.

If an image comes to my mind, it’s the photo I took, above, on Dartmoor at the beginning of this year. What should have been a stunning walk in one of the UK’s most beautiful places ended up being one part pointless and one part creepy-as-hell.

That’s why I’ve never really understood New Year’s resolutions. January is miserable enough without trying to get through it sugar-free, or by committing to taking early-morning runs in the drizzle each day.

You only feel like a failure when you inevitably find yourself hiding under your duvet one morning doing shameful things with a family-size bag of Revels.

Instead, for 2018, I’m hoping to set myself challenges in a different way.

Taking my inspiration from a talk by Matt Cutts (who was himself inspired by Morgan Spurlock), I’d like to try a series of 30-day challenges for each month of the year.

I’ll put no pressure on myself to stick with the habit after the month has elapsed. If it works for me, I’ll carry on. If it doesn’t, I can ditch it with my head held high.

For my first month, I’m going to try something which has been intriguing me for a while now: a shopping ban.

I’ve followed with interest as Michelle McGagh dived into her no-spend year, Cait Flanders completed her epic two-year shopping ban and other bloggers tried similar challenges, like trying not to buy new clothes for a year.

But as a reformed consumer who rarely goes shopping any more, I’ve always assumed that I don’t need to follow suit.

I’m now putting my smug assumptions to the test. Can I save a pile of cash by trying a shopping ban? Will it all be a piece of cake? Only one way to find out!

The rules for no-spend challenges can vary, so here are the groundrules I’m setting myself for January:

All purchases will be banned except for the following:

  • Groceries and essential household products (think loo roll)
  • Utilities and bills
  • Basic travel costs
  • A £20 monthly entertainment budget, not to be used on any physical goods

I’d be interested to know if people think some more rules (or more exceptions) should be on the list – thoughts, anyone?

Decluttering for stress-relief

Hi everyone!

Sorry I went off the radar for a bit there, my wife wasn’t well and had to undergo surgery, so I was a bit tied up playing nurse.

All’s well now, you’ll be pleased to hear, and I’m ready to get stuck back into some blog posts.

But there were points over the last month or two when my life was looking pretty hectic and unpredictable. Not just because of my wife’s illness, but for various other reasons too.

One thing I noticed during the most stressful points was how often I reacted by going and doing a spot of decluttering. It was as if paring down my possessions had become a method of self-soothing, like having a glass of wine or vegetating in front of some trash-TV.

I can’t really explain why this was. Perhaps it’s a habit I’m into now, and old habits felt like a stabilising force when things were in flux. Perhaps keeping busy felt comforting. Perhaps it felt like I couldn’t control much in my life, but here was something I could control: the objects I owned.

And certainly, the end product – simplicity at home – seemed so much more important to me when other aspects of my life were complicated. I craved clear workspaces, pared-down wardrobes and simple meals because it was one less thing to worry about.

Of course, none of this works if the decluttering process itself is stressful. So I was careful to resist my natural tendency to add in levels of complexity.

Usually, I love a challenge, so the ‘gamification’ of decluttering really works for me. Whether it’s playing the month-long MinsGame or the three-month capsule wardrobe challenge Project 333, I usually respond well to deadlines, timescales, public accountability and, of course, a little healthy competition.

But over these past few weeks, I let all that go. I let the decluttering happen at its own natural pace. No pressure, no expectations, no rules.

And you know what? I still found myself getting rid of plenty of things, all the same.

Sometimes the necessity to keep things simple actually helped me to let go. For example, I didn’t have the time or energy to sell old books, CDs or DVDs online, so I bundled them all off to charity shops, and they were out of my life far quicker than they otherwise might have been.

Here are just a few of the items I’ve let go of. (Except the dog. Still got him!)

A collage of items I have recently decluttered

 

Do you have any tips for decluttering at times of high stress?