The benefits of living with less, five years in

thai lanterns at night

The evening is hot but the sky is already dark.

We’re having some beers in the outside terrace of a bar, where a reggae trio set up a few minutes ago and have now started their upbeat set. The bar owner sets down a huge steamed fish flavoured with lemon and chilli in front of us.

The atmosphere is distinctly more relaxed than in the adjoining street, where a night market has brought in the crowds. Vendors are selling tacky souvenirs, fried insects and sweet treats and fire performers are lighting up the night with blazing batons.

Later, we’ll meander back over the long beach, past night-fishermen, to our chalet which is no doubt already filling with mosquitoes.

This was the scene on our honeymoon in Thailand, exactly five years ago, just before my life was about to change. Of course, it was the start of a happy marriage (I don’t want to get in trouble for omitting to mention that) but it was also the beginning of something a little more unexpected.

My wife, Ruth, had brought along some holiday reading: a book called Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by two guys calling themselves – a little cheesily, I thought – The Minimalists.

I found myself picking it up and reading about how life could be simpler with fewer possessions.

Having lived out of a suitcase for over a week already, I was already enjoying how easy it was to choose what to wear or, indeed, what book to read. I began to wonder how I could replicate this feeling once I got home.

And on the idea of buying less, I was sold.

At home, I’d already been making some pretty big changes in an effort to make my life less stressful.

A couple of years before, I had somehow found myself in tens of thousands of pounds of debt, having sleepless nights worrying about work. So I had changed jobs and was slowly paying back all that money I’d spent living a life I couldn’t afford.

Simplifying my possessions seemed like the natural next step in my journey to a less anxious life.

Two months later, we met The Minimalists, Ryan Nicodemus and Joshua Fields Millburn, when they visited our hometown on a book tour. They were charming and through their blog and books, I discovered a whole world of people choosing to live simpler lives.

All these years on, I’m really happy with where this all led me.

Sure, when you step into my home now, you won’t gasp and wonder who burgled me.

My wife also doesn’t quite share my enthusiasm for lifelong clear-outs, so what stays and goes is a subject of constant debate (and yes, the odd argument; we’re not perfect).

But here are the main benefits I’ve found from five years of decluttering:

1. Our home got its zen on
The house feels more airy, open and calm. All that distracting visual clutter is gone. We get compliments from guests and it’s a space I’m always happy to return to.

2. Life’s easier when it’s less messy
Tidying and cleaning takes less time, as does finding anything I’ve lost. (Apart from my bloody tweezers – like, seriously, where are they?)

3. Our unwanted possessions have helped others
I’m not naïve, a lot of the stuff I discarded was absolute crap and the best thing I could do was dispose of it responsibly. But we’ve given a lot to charity shops and have received regular updates telling us how much they have made from selling it – hundreds and hundreds of pounds. We’ve also donated to collections for refugees and sold or given away items to people in our area through online groups.

4. Shopping is no longer a hobby
Once you forget about the idea of owning the perfect set of crockery, and accept that your cheap Ikea plates are absolutely fine, you can get on with more exciting things each weekend.

5. I don’t worry about protecting my stuff
If I lost all my possessions tomorrow, I’d certainly be upset but I’d know that most of it can be replaced pretty easily and cheaply. A month or two ago, my car got written-off in an accident (American friends, read ‘totaled’). Yes, it was annoying, but in the end, who cares? It’s just a car, it was insured and now I have another one.

None of this is to say that a life with less stuff is a life free from worries. I worry about things ALL THE TIME.

But gradually they are becoming things that are actually worth worrying about.

Putting the ‘Becker method’ to the test: A review of The Minimalist Home

The Minimalist Home by Joshua Becker

I’ve never understood those who pooh-pooh practical advice on decluttering your home.

It’s sometimes dismissed as unnecessary guidance through a monotonous and straightforward process.

I disagree. Sure, some of us may find reducing our possessions easy and may just be able to get on with it. But others – like me – find we’ve formed bonds with the most innocuous of belongings and need to summon up the strongest willpower to say goodbye to each and every item.

The decision fatigue that results from decluttering even the smallest of spaces can be exhausting. And if you are not ruthless enough you can find that you’ve worn yourself out for nothing, realising at the end that you have simply rearranged your possessions rather than reducing them.

For those who fall into the latter category, having a friendly but – let’s face it – pushy, guide can be a huge help.

Enter Joshua Becker’s latest book, The Minimalist Home.

It takes readers through a transformation of their home using the ‘Becker Method’, a five-step approach to decluttering room by room.

The process includes the instruction to handle each object and ask yourself: ‘Do I need this?’ The phrase is the practical cousin to Marie Kondo’s whimsical ‘Does this spark joy?’ and sets the tone for what is a no-nonsense book filled with good advice, hard truths and the occasional bit of snarky humour:

“If your yard displays a lot of decorations, especially kitschy stuff of the garden-gnome or plastic-flamingo sort, rethink the wisdom of that. Please.”

However, to suggest ‘Do I need this’ is the essence of this book would be to do it a disservice.

At the heart of this book is a metaphor: of home as a harbour, offering shelter from the high seas of life while also acting as a port to head back out from.

So, if anything, Becker wants us to stop focusing on the minutiae of our possessions and instead wants us to take a step back and reflect on our home as a whole to see if it serves us, our goals and our relationships.

The first goal is to picture your ideal version of each room and create an environment that serves that vision, whether it be a home office that is an inspiring, organised space or a kitchen that brings people together over food.

Is your bedroom restful and intimate?

Does your guest room have space for people to unpack their belongings?

Does your garage offer an inviting gateway when you drive home?

The second goal is to free up money and time to allow you to live a life with more fulfilling pursuits than the accumulation of stuff.

His advice on how to make changes, then, is both straightforward and surprisingly refreshing. Got too many knick-knacks? Ditch half of them. Can’t move in your bedroom? Cut the amount of furniture. Agonising over sentimental items? Pick the most precious to keep.

Finally, Becker encourages his readers to assess the home as a whole and even consider giving it up for a smaller property.

Sure, his approach may go too far for some and he has a fondness for empty surfaces that not everyone will share.

He recommends, for instance, that you remove all small kitchen appliances from counters and store them in cupboards. The clear worktops, he argues, will be worth the minor inconvenience of getting your toaster out each morning.

Well, ever keen to try new things, I gave it a go. My other half was so unimpressed by the idea that it lasted less than 24 hours.

But the fact I tried it is testament to Becker’s infectious enthusiasm and encouragement. While I had already minimised much of my home, I often found myself putting the book down and getting up to tackle one of the remaining clutter corners with a new vigour.

Do you need to read a book before you can declutter? Of course not. But if you think some step-by-step guidance might make you a little bolder in revolutionising your home, this might just be the help you need.

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.

 

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.

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?

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.


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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


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.