The case for independent thinking

The Andromeda galaxy


This is a guest post by Ali Cornish of the fantastic blog, Everthrive. You should check it out.


Many centuries ago, Rene Descartes coined the phrase: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ He believed that the first defining aspect of humanity was that we are creatures of thought; the only reason we know we are truly alive is due to the fact that we can think about our existence. Our ability to think independently defines our humanity.

Our ability to think independently is being challenged.

Far from the 1600s when Descartes made his philosophical proclamation, in the 2000s we often don’t take advantage of our humanity as he previously defined it. Oftentimes, when we are called to think about something, or come across a question to be answered, we quickly pull out our devices and ask Google. Pretty much everyone I know does this, myself included.

This practice, while very convenient and expedient, actually may cause more harm than good. Quickly turning to Google for the answer is evidence that we are losing the patience, the ability, and the will to engage in independent, deep thinking.

“I think, therefore I am,” has turned into “I Google, therefore I am”.

Why is deep thinking important?

Deep thinking is an indicator that we are engaging, retaining, and building upon learning opportunities. If we don’t pause and attempt to puzzle out answers for ourselves, we lose a valuable opportunity to enhance the power of our minds. Immediate access to data is changing our ability to think independently and engage in deep attention.

I will explain this further using an example I bring up quite a bit in teaching. If we want to become physically stronger, we have to eat right and exercise. We can’t just take supplements and expect lasting results.

The same idea goes for our minds. If we want to exercise our minds and become mentally stronger, retain more information, and be able to think independently, we have to take the time to listen actively and read closely. We can’t simply do an internet search for the information we seek and expect our minds to flourish and get stronger, with lasting results.

It’s easier to think shallowly. So, we do it.

Immediate access to data has its drawbacks, but it can of course be very useful in certain situations.

When Josh and I arrive at our restaurant of choice, salivating to the thought of fresh chips and salsa, and to our horror, the lights are off, windows shuttered – It’s closed!!??? – we need a backup plan, stat! So, he gets on Yelp and I get on Google Maps; we quickly select somewhere new.

Situation solved, case closed. And we are able to eat instead of starve to death! It’s a technology win.

Now think of another scenario. Josh and I are hanging out with some old friends. We haven’t seen each other in a while. It’s a really fun conversation, animated, with ebbs and flows, everyone is engaging on multiple levels. And, to my delight, I find out that one of the group actually lived down the street from me in San Diego some 15 years ago!

So, I sneak into my phone to pull up a Google image of my old apartment to continue the discussion. By the time I’m ready to share, the conversation has shifted, morphed, and I’m instantly out of place with my blurry Google image. Looking around for a new thread
of discussion, I see there are others just as disengaged as I am. On their phones.

When we turn our attention to our phones, we rob ourselves of a fulfilling, naturally evolving conversation.

Shifting our attention to our devices, even for a little while, alters the natural flow of things. We lose what our friends said, felt, and meant. We lose the eye contact, so important for creating empathy. We cease to actively listen, resulting in our company thinking we aren’t interested in what they have to say, showing our friends that we don’t care at all about them.
We stop thinking independently and rob ourselves of the very attribute that defines our humanity.

I didn’t need to look up a photo of my old apartment at that very moment. Instead, I could have continued the conversation about San Diego and what it meant to both of us. We could have shared our memories created a meaningful exchange.

When I wanted information, I didn’t dig into the back of my mind to conjure up a verbal image of my apartment. I found it easier to search for a picture online.

Lame. My friends deserved better than this.

According to MIT Professor, Sherry Turkle: “89 percent of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in.”

Studies indicate that even a silent, phone placed screen-down between two people at a table causes them to share less with each other. The result of a phone’s mere presence in a conversation is feeling less connected, less interested, less empathetic, and less human.

How can we reclaim our humanity and our ability to think independently?

Listed below are several strategies that are sure to limit distractions caused by the presence of cell phones:

1. If you’re going out, leave your phone at home or in the car. Or, be content that it is resting
quietly in your pocket or purse. This will take some will-power!

2. If you’re staying home and don’t want to be distracted by your phone, leave it upstairs or in a room seldom visited. This takes a little less will power than #1.

3. Utilize the Airplane Mode setting which disables Bluetooth, WIFI, and telephone settings. The problem with this is that you can just turn Airplane Mode off anytime. It’s best to combine this step with #1 or #2 for optimal effectiveness.

4. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” while you are in the presence of others. This setting can limit calls and texts sent to your device. I use this all of the time!

5. Set “Quiet Hours” on your phone. For example, I set my quiet hours from 9pm to 8am, so I am unable to receive calls or texts between those times. Setting my quiet hours has done wonders for my sleep and my overall wellbeing.

6. If you must have your phone with you, turn off the notifications so you won’t be at the mercy of your phone. Remember, our phones exist for us, not the other way around.

7. There is power in numbers. If you’re out with friends, have a verbal agreement about phone use, such as ‘no visible phones at the table’ OR ‘if you must use your phone, step outside.’

8. If you have the right equipment, set up an Aversion Therapy situation in which you receive a shock every time you pick up your phone (just kidding!)

If you’re interested, check out a few of my previous posts where I emphasize the importance of constructing definitive boundaries between ourselves and our personal technology devices.

All in all, setting boundaries helps us reconnect with experiences and people in the real world.

Be Free

Find Yourself Lost

The Importance of Disconnecting to Connect

Wherever You Are, Be All There

Put Down Your Phone and Live Your Life


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.

10 lessons from Project 333: the ups and downs of my capsule wardrobe experience

Could you get by wearing the same handful of outfits for the next few months?

Courtney Carver’s wildly popular capsule wardrobe challenge Project 333 asks people to do just that: wearing only 33 items, including clothes, coats, shoes and accessories, for a three-month period.

I’ve reached the end of my Project 333 challenge and if you’re thinking about giving it a try yourself, here’s a warts-and-all account of how I’ve found the past three months:

1. Project 333 is harder than it sounds

I thought I had a pretty small wardrobe as it was, but limiting myself to 33 items was tough. I went on holiday and couldn’t wear flip-flops because they weren’t among my 33 pieces of clothing. I have to admit to questioning my commitment to the cause when I found myself barefoot on a beach, standing repeatedly on broken glass. (Note: broken-glass barefoot torture is not a compulsory part of minimalism)

2. Your clothing choices have to be pretty strategic

Project 333 doesn’t stop you from wearing bright or patterned clothing. But it’s easier if you can mix-and-match your items to create a variety of outfits, and I found myself coming back time and time again to my staples of plain greys, blacks and blues.

3. Limiting your choices can make life simpler

Most of the time, heading straight to a select few hangers each morning to pick out an outfit for the day was a pretty simple undertaking. Similarly, it didn’t take me long at all to choose what to wear on a night out with friends. And as for fancy occasions, my choice of dress, shoes, bag and necklace were pretty much made for me already.

4. You have to be on top of your laundry game

Do I wear the slightly-damp-from-the-washing-machine top, or the dirty top with yesterday’s cooking stain on it, into the office today? These were the glamorous choices I ended up making when I neglected to do the laundry for more than a few days at a time. (I went with damp, by the way)

5. The project will make you realise the value you get (or don’t get) from what you buy

This applies to people, like me, who rarely buy clothes as well as those who hit the shops all the time. In the three-month period, I bought one item of clothing – a good-quality new raincoat – which had left me with feelings of guilt and buyer’s remorse. I had still been battling debt at the time, and felt I’d succumbed to an unnecessary impulse purchase. The day after, I very nearly returned it. But it turned out to be one of my most frequently worn items. In hindsight, it was a good buy and I should have chilled the heck out about it.

Just as it will help shopaholics question excessive spending habits, it will help frugal types loosen up about buying higher-quality items, if they know they’re going to get a lot of value from them.

6. Build in some ‘wildcard’ choices to give yourself extra flexibility

When I first began Project 333, I chose 30 items and kept open three empty slots, which I called my ‘wildcards’. Boy, this came in handy. The slots were filled within a few weeks, because I’d been fairly bad at predicting everything I’d need for three months, hence the later barefoot-on-glass scenario. The three items I ended up selecting were:white scarf

A white scarf (which doubled up as a kind of shawl over sleeveless dresses)

pink and silver necklace

A necklace (I’d forgotten to add any jewellery to my list)

turquoise raincoat

My new raincoat

7. Take it all with a dash of humour if you don’t want it to add to your stress levels

Picture the scene a few weeks ago: A heavy shower had abated, leaving the late evening sunshine glistening over the newly cleansed streets. I’ve taken the opportunity to go on a quiet stroll around the neighbourhood with my wife and dog. I feel…content. Even my wellies feel comfortable, and I can splash through the puddles without a care in the… Hang on, wellies aren’t on my list!! Goddamn!!!!!!!!!

I spent the rest of the walk in a sulk, so mad at myself for having broken the rules. But if you read Courtney Carver’s great website, you’ll fairly soon realise that this is not the point of the experiment at all. She’s pretty clear that while there are rules, you’re then free to make them work for you. For me, the challenge was about trying to remove an element of stress from my life. So beating myself up over one mistake was hardly in the spirit of the endeavour.

8. People probably won’t notice

I had no comments from workmates about why I was wearing the same outfits to work day in, day out. I can only assume they hadn’t realised. People are usually taking less notice of you than you think they are.

9. When you reach the end, your original wardrobe will feel ridiculously extravangant

I have to admit, I really loved creaking open the drawer where I’d stashed all my other clothes. So much choice! I thoroughly enjoyed putting on long-lost favourites that I had taken for granted beforehand. I also – straight off the bat – got rid of nine or ten items I knew I didn’t need any more, either because I hadn’t missed them or they had been a staple during Project 333 and so I’d worn them to death.

10. One round of Project 333 is enough to give you a serious insight into simplifying your wardrobe for good

Many people go straight from one round of Project 333 into the next, choosing another 33 items which will see them through the next season, and repeating season after season. I guess living within those boundaries permanently helps them to simplify their lives, and that’s great.

But others – like me – work best by thinking of a strict challenge as an experiment of sorts, to see which elements to keep and which to leave behind.

Project 333 has helped me in many ways: I have a new appreciation for the things I own, I’ve found it easier to say goodbye to clothes I didn’t miss, it’s helped me pack light on a holiday and it’s also helped me get a greater sense of my personal style.

I’m now ready to take what I’ve learnt and apply it to my full wardrobe, building a smaller, permanent collection of the things I love but without feeling hemmed in by any self-imposed rules.

Do temporary challenges help you simplify? Have you tried Project 333? Share your experiences below.


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.

Ice, ice baby

 

borage

If I’m going to get all wholesome in the garden, I like there to be a drink at the end of it.

I’ve already written about how I created a fruit liqueur using cherries from our tree. Now I’ve found a way to brighten up cheap cocktails.

We received some borage seeds as a gift and I’d sort of forgotten we’d planted them until I saw these fantastic bright blue flowers emerging last month.

Young borage leaves are said to taste like cucumber. I can confirm that this is true, but you know what else tastes like cucumber? Cucumber. Plus, cucumber isn’t tough and a wee bit hairy.

But after a bit of online research, I also found out that you can sprinkle the edible flowers on top of cakes or salads or even freeze them to make fancy ice cubes.

So here’s how my latest wholesome kitchen experiment went:

borage plant

borage ice tray

borage ice cubes

borage ice cubes in drink


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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.

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.


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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.


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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.

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:

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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.


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

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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.


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Will keeping a gratitude journal make you happier?

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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.


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