Taking on the original capsule wardrobe challenge

What is it about completing a challenge that feels so damn good?

Is it the illusory sense that an uncaring universe is giving you a pat on the head?

Is it the feeling that you’ve somehow got one over on your usually lazy, fickle or easily distracted nature by dazzling it with arbitrary goals?

I’m not sure. All I know is, I seem to love gauntlets being thrown down on me so much, that I’ve taken to chucking them on myself.

The MinsGame challenge? Mastered.
Eat my five-a-day for a straight month? Gobbled.
Go to a meditation class once a month for a straight year? Tackled.

But this month, I realised there was one canonical simplicity challenge I’d overlooked. Goddamn.

Project 333 is so mainstream now, you find it getting a mention in all sorts of places, from documentaries to magazines.

If you don’t know, it’s a challenge invented by Courtney Carver of Be More with Less, which involves wearing just 33 items of clothing for three months.

This includes shoes, accessories and jewellery, but excludes a wedding ring, undercrackers, nightwear and exercise clothing. And no, you’re not allowed to cheat and just wear pyjamas or gym clothes around the house, sadly, which means I will seriously have to rethink my weekend wardrobe.

Perhaps I hadn’t ever bothered with Project 333 before, because I had a sneaking suspicion that it wouldn’t be much of a challenge. I don’t have a huge wardrobe and tend to wear the same outfits over and over again already.

At least that’s what I thought. I got out all my clothes and counted up the items I’d have to whittle down to 33. I got to nearly 80 items before I even started on my jewellery collection.

All my clothes
All my clothes…
All my shoes
…and all my shoes. Now for some difficult choices. Heels or wellies?

Then came the tougher-than-expected job of selecting my capsule wardrobe. I had to plan ahead for what I’d need to wear in the next three months.

This will include a foreign holiday somewhere very hot, requiring shorts and sandals I’d be unlikely to wear much at home.

It will also cover a family celebration involving not one but two fairly dressy parties on back-to-back nights. Two dresses, two pairs of fancy shoes, two sets of jewellery…my allocation was going to get eaten up pretty fast at this rate. And I definitely can’t wear pyjamas to work, you say?

In the end, I selected 30 items, and left three slots empty, which I’m calling my ‘wildcard’ slots. It means if my initial choices turn out to be terribly misjudged, I can choose another three items I might find I desperately need as the months go by.

The shoes I opted to include
The shoes I opted to include
The rest of the clothes I chose
The rest of the clothes I chose. As an aside, can you guess which side of the bed the minimalist sleeps on?

That was ten days ago and I seem to have been doing okay (although I’m regretting not including a scruffy pair of shoes to walk the dog in). I’ve also told a couple of non-minimalist friends and family members about the challenge I’d taken on, and they all replied with the same baffled question.

‘Why?’

I guess the honest answer is, I like arbitrary challenges and completing them gives me a sense of control over my life in what appears to be an increasingly chaotic and dangerous world. I can’t intervene in international diplomacy, so instead I can wear the same clothes for quarter of a year and pretend it’s an achievement.

But I thought that answer might be a bit too heavy for a brunch.

‘Just to see if I can,’ I replied.

The rest of my clothes packed away until July
The rest of my clothes packed away until July

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.

Numbers and the lies we tell ourselves


This is a guest post by LM Radja.


I’ve been drifting along this minimalism path for quite some time now.

I’ve seen, read and listened to some extremists, some middle-of-the-road folks and some folks who just struggle with the process.

As I watch the movement become more mainstream, I wonder where it will take the basic notion of minimalism. Heck, even the advertisers are jumping on the band wagon – whether it’s that bank that wants to help you enjoy your experiences and not just more ‘stuff’ or the retailer closing for the holidays because they know how important personal relationships are.

To me, the underlying message is simple: don’t have more than you need or find real value in.

I think Buddha sums it up best.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

We are at a fork in the road – minimalism can become an all-inclusive concept that celebrates those who have very little to those who have what, to them, is enough or it can become just another marketing tool and means of comparison to show how much better we are than others.

I have concerns about which path we will go down. Here’s why.

I, like some, can be a minimalist ‘junkie’ reading every post, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching videos and just generally absorbing as much as I can.

My personal journey started slowly back in 2009 when I began reading a book by Elaine St. James, called Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down.

It was serendipitous that I came across it; a friend had given me a bag of books to donate to a nursing home and I looked through them to check for anything I might want to read first.

From there I discovered some of the pioneers of the movement – from Jay Shafer to Courtney Carver to Rowdy Kittens to to Miss Minimalist to The Minimalists.

Soon I was scouring YouTube and the internet for other sources on minimalism. When I began, the concept was still not anywhere near mainstream and information was hard to find. I knew it had hit the general population when multiple hits came up for my searches.

With all the increase in attention came diversity but also came competition.

Who has the least number of things? And how do we count those things? Is the family living off-grid in a tiny house more minimalist than, say, a millennial who is living with less by using the gym’s shower and ‘storing’ clothes at a dry cleaners’? Who’s to say?

There are really no rules. That’s a good AND bad thing. The good is there is no one way to be a minimalist. The bad thing is that the landscape is constantly changing and our human desire to be ‘in’ can have us fruitlessly pursuing whatever is the current minimalist trend.

Here’s what I think: minimalism is a fluid concept and there are thousands of different combinations and angles through which we can reach our personal ‘minimalist’.

If you can live with only 35 actual pieces of clothing but want to equip your kitchen like an Iron Chef because you love to cook, then that is your definition.

I think the real catalyst behind minimalism is knowing when to let go. When whatever it is that is your passion currently no longer inspires you, be willing to move on figuratively AND literally.

Donate, sell, throw it out. Just be sure you are listening to your inner voice and not some YouTuber or advertiser who is telling you what your minimalism should look like.


LM Radja started looking at life differently when she hit 50. She describes the biggest benefit of minimalism as gaining ‘the capacity to stop and appreciate the small joys’. She can be found at Facebook.com/Minimleeblog.

Low-maintenance versus high-maintenance beauty regimes: round two results

Round two productsBeauty products: are they magic potions or huge great cons? My intrepid experiment to find out continues.

As a bit of a recap, I’m a low-maintenance person who prefers a night out in the pub to a day in a spa. But in an effort to declutter my bedside cabinet of all its abandoned products, I’m running a bit of a test.

Each month, I’ll take four products, all meant to be used on different areas of the body, and give them a trial on one side of my body only.

I’ll them monitor the effects, and, crucially, get my other half Ruth to try to guess which side has been getting the treatment.

Any lotions that magically make me a stunningly attractive individual get to stay, while any that do nothing get the boot.

I’ve now finished round two and the results are in.

Clinique cleanserProduct: Clinique Rinse-off Foaming Cleanser
First impressions: All I usually use on my face is water (more through laziness than anything) so this made me feel like I was a more sophisticated person than I actually am. Each day, I cleaned my face with a sort of smug sense that I had my shit together.
Results: Straight afterwards, my skin felt a little tight. I also started noticing dry patches on my face for the first time in a while. To be honest, I couldn’t see any real difference in cleanliness.
Did Ruth guess right?: Yes. She pointed to the right side of my face and said, ‘That one. Because you had a spot on the other side.’ How lovely.
The winner: A draw. It’s a small bottle so I’ll soon use it up and while I might not buy a direct replacement, I might consider another cleanser. Or I could go back to being a mildly self-loathing slob.

Veet creamProduct: Veet In-shower Hair Removal Cream
First impressions: Do you like the smell of burnt hair? Do you enjoy reading faintly alarming WARNINGS about side-effects in random CAPITAL LETTERS on your products? Are you a man, woman or non-binary person who needs to get rid of a lot of hair very fast, for some reason? Are you unable to use sharp objects because you’re, say, in prison? Then this may be for you!
Results: It was pretty quick and fairly effective, but had the down-sides you’d also experience with shaving: stubble, dry skin, and so on. It says I can’t use it on moles, which is, like, half my skin.
Did Ruth guess right?: Well, yes. She said, ‘Is it the leg which looks really red and irritated?’ Although, to be fair, you have to exfoliate the cream off after you use it, so the exfoliation might have contributed to the ‘red and angry’ look (a much sought-after skin shade, I’m sure you’ll agree).
The winner: A draw. I’ll likely stick with shaving and waxing most of the time.

Frizz-EaseProduct: Frizz-Ease Straight Fixation Smoothing Crème
First impressions: So, for background, my hair can be a little frizzy sometimes. I’ve had this bottle for a while after trying it briefly and giving up on it. It’s a runny, white substance you rub on your hair while it’s still damp, and says it protects against the heat of straighteners, which I fry my hair with religiously. It’s easy to use and you don’t need much of it.
Results: I found it made my hair feel less flyaway than usual, but also less soft. It needed washing sooner.
Did Ruth guess right?: Just as I did last month, I drew the line at using a hair product on one side only. Sorry, science!
The winner: Low-maintenance. I can see it could come in handy sometimes, but I won’t be using it often.

Clarins eye gelProduct: Clarins Eye Contour Gel
First impressions: This was a very refreshing gel to use round my eyes, especially when I woke up hungover or tired (i.e. pretty much all the time). It absorbed quickly and didn’t sting. The bottle was teeny tiny.
Results: Although it felt nice to use, I could see no real difference to my eye area at all.
Did Ruth guess right?: She said both eyes looked identical.
The winner: Low-maintenance. In fact, the bottle was so small, I promptly lost it. Decluttering result!

Overall winner: By a whisker, Veet In-shower Hair Removal Cream (although I’m still not overly keen)

I do still have enough lotions and potions to do a few more rounds of this experiment, but I’ve decided to give it a rest for a bit, mainly because this isn’t the bloomin’ Avon blog, and I want this to be more than a product review site. I could always revisit the testing later in the year.

I’d also like to stress that while I may remain a low-maintenance person, I’m not saying this is a superior way to live.

Everyone will be different. If beauty products are your thing, then go crazy with them. Who am I to judge if a face-pack helps you unwind after a long day?

But it might be worth checking you’re using them because you get something out of the process, and they’re not just another chore you’ve taken on because of other people’s beauty standards or gender expectations.

If money is an issue, you might want to question whether expensive cosmetics are really giving you results, or whether you could you experiment with a cheaper alternative.

And if you’re worried about your impact on the planet, could you research greener alternatives or use up the products you already own before going out and buying new ones?


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.

Card-tastrophe

credit cards“Oh, for f***’s sake,” I snapped to myself at the cashpoint.

In the process of getting money out, I had somehow tipped up my purse and let all my bank cards scatter over the city-centre street.

When I bent to pick them up, more cards fell out. Then the umbrella handle I was precariously balancing under one arm came tumbling down, dumping some fresh rainwater over the problem.

Luckily, the two people next in line, an older lady and a younger woman in a headscarf, seemed amused by my potty-mouthed predicament and helped me scoop all my cards off the floor.

I thanked them and crept away in a state of vague embarrassment at not quite having this ‘being an adult’ thing down-pat yet at 34.

But I also had to wonder, why on earth did I have so many cards?

All in all, there were 20 bits of plastic in my wallet: four debit cards (including one for a recently-closed account), four credit cards, a few membership cards and a whole host of store loyalty cards.

Call myself a minimalist?

I can see how I got here. In my quest to battle my long-standing debts and get my money in order, I’ve tried just about every scheme going. I’ve opened balance-transfer credit card after balance-transfer credit card – moving my debts along like Sonic the Hedgehog jumping across collapsing platforms – all to avoid high interest payments.

I’ve opted into just about every store loyalty scheme going, even ones where I barely go into the shops concerned and will probably never amass enough points for a reward, in the hope it might just save me some cash, somehow.

And thanks to my habit of chasing new-customer bonuses, I’ve also found myself with far more bank accounts than is sensible or healthy. (I recently got a letter from a bank telling me they’re closing my account due to inactivity. I’d forgotten about the account completely).

But I’m thankfully moving into a different stage of my life. I’m finally going to be the person who has their shit together when it comes to money, and I’ve decided I need a wallet to match.

So I’ve embarked on the great financial declutter. When I got home, I tackled my cards straight away, cutting up some, closing down the accounts on others, relegating still more to a drawer so I don’t have to carry them every day.

I’m not there yet, but here are the six cards I would have in my fantasy, pared-down purse:

One credit card
Two debit cards – one personal and one joint account
Driver’s licence and breakdown card
Professional accreditation card

How many cards do you carry on a daily basis? Are there any unusual ones you couldn’t live without?


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.

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.

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.

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.