The First Sunday of Advent

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Goodbye autumn, hello winter... December, you're almost here 

This first weekend of Advent has been about resting and gently easing ourselves into this new season. 

I started the weekend on Friday meeting friends for a drink and then volunteering for our local Arts organisation. As photographer, I was lucky enough to be on the front row for Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Amazing music to chill out to and the perfect antidote to the retail frenzy that's seized the internet and even my little city. 

Bah! Black Friday!

Sunlight, hyacinths, stollen bites, lighting the first of my 4 Advent candles (just 4 tea lights in a row), walking into town for coffee, spying pretty pink cyclamen in hanging baskets and lights reflecting in water have been my simple pleasures. Welcome this season of waiting.

Have a great week ♥ ♥ 



Gratitude not Grudge

It's so easy to let the little things get you down at this time of year. The ice that's needed scraping off the car and 'cost' me an extra 5 minutes in the morning. The extra shopping trip to buy ingredients for my son's cake stall at the school Christmas fair on Friday. The Christmas cards that sit despondently in their box as I avoid their bashful glances. 

But if you look at it another way, there's gratitude waiting in every one of these things and countless other moments that make up a day. 

This week I've been getting to work later but have enjoyed the wonder of an ice filtered landscape - who needs Instagram? This evening I had to go shopping unexpectedly but my son has filled the house with the irresistible smell of homemade shortbread (we've eaten the broken ones and more baking will be needed tomorrow, yay). The Christmas cards are being ignored but - if I think about it - I 'm looking forward to writing to and hearing from far away friends. 

Gratitude not grudge is the way.

Happy middle of the week and a peaceful Thanksgiving to those reading in America xo



Keeping Sunday Simple

Keeping Sunday simple with: 

♥ A new church service with a good friend - much needed time for friendship, reflection and prayer. 
♥ Home for coffee and croissants. The best croissants we've had - from a local farm shop. Brunch is possibly the best meal of the day. 
♥ New haircut from a new hairdresser with a degree in creative writing and songwriting. I was impressed. Not so impressed to find out I'm 50% grey in places. OK... I did ask. 
♥ Walking not driving.
♥ Nature's colour lift of red berries, pink skies and golden leaves.
♥ The warmth and comfort of home.

Thank you for reading here this week. 

You're all welcome xo



Interview with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

Leo Babauta is possibly the most 'authentic' minimalist blogger. A minimalist with more constraints than others - a husband and father of 6 children - he has blogged about changing his life, one habit at a time, at Zen Habits since 2007. Leo has the same doubts, fears and ability to procrastinate as the rest of us but his ability to attack his failings with gusto makes us see that life changes are actually within our capability too. Recently, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to interview Leo about his new book, Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change
Here's Leo on writing his best book ever, his current favourite simple pleasures and not being being perfect at everything!

Your new book Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change is almost finished. You are crowd funding this book and have described it as a world changing project. What are your hopes for this book?

I really just hope to get it into people’s hands and see whether it’s helpful. But I do think that if it helps people make changes in their lives, and deal with frustrating and difficult life changes, then it changes the world in a small way. And if readers then become the inspiration for others to change their lives, the change spreads. The more powerful the method of change, the more powerful the changes it creates … and the more powerful the movement of change that begins to spread through the world.

How does this book differ from your first book The Power of Less which was published in 2009?  

I’ve learned a lot in the last 5 years, coaching thousands of people change their habits and working with new ideas in my own changes. One of the biggest things I’ve explored is the resistance to change that we all feel — how do we deal with that? I’ve also learned lessons about dealing with frustrations and stress, anger and unhappiness with ourselves. And one of the best lessons I’ve learned is how to adapt your habit plan to evolve with the reality of your life and the unforeseen obstacles that come up. We tend to take failure with habits as a sign that we’re not disciplined, but really we just need to make readjustments as we go.

In March this year you ended your successful site mnmlist, in order to concentrate on writing Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change. 5 years on and much success later, has it been harder writing your new book than The Power of Less?

Yes, this has been the hardest book for me to write, because I set a really high bar for myself. I wanted this to be the best book I’ve ever done, but how can I meet that impossibly high standard? That caused me to be filled with doubt and fear, but learning to deal with those things has been helpful.

One amazing thing I did was write the early version of this book for a group of 10 alpha testers, who read each chapter as I wrote them and then put them into practice, journaling about it and giving me feedback on what was working, what wasn’t, what needed clarification, where my holes were. This was tremendously helpful — much better than the usual process of writing in solitude and then putting it out in the world untested.

You seem to have a balanced approach to life. What would you list as some of your current simple pleasures?

I love a good workout (lately barbell strength training), a good book, a nice walk with one of my kids, a simple meal with lots of veggies, berries, a glass of red wine, a cup of tea.

I have to admit that when I get focused on writing, I’m not always balanced. I forgo those simple pleasures so that I can work on my book. So I have to step back sometimes and re-adjust my life when I get stuck in tunnel-vision.

You've mentioned your love of reading many times in your blog. What have you read recently that has inspired you - both fiction and non-fiction?

I rarely read non-fiction books, though I really should read more of it. I do read a lot of non-fiction longform articles online. But my real pleasures come from novels, and recently I’ve been tackling some longer ones that I’ve been wanting to read for awhile. On my recently read list: War & Peace, Madame Bovary, Musashi, The Goldfinch. I really enjoyed all of them!

You often write about confidence. How has following your dreams, changing your life around and improving your health enhanced your confidence?

Before I started making these changes, I really didn’t think I could do anything bold, anything meaningful, anything lasting. But by making small changes, one at a time, I’ve changed my entire life … and that has given me the trust in myself that I’m capable. That’s the amazing thing about making changes — it’s not the changes themselves that matter so much, but the confidence you build in yourself that you can stick to something, that you are good enough. It’s a slow lesson, but a rewarding one. I’m so glad that I’ve proven myself to myself, and it has given me the confidence to create and launch and publish a book on my own, or take on a 50-mile ultramarathon, or move my entire family to a strange new city. That’s not to say I never have self-doubt — I do, all the time. But I’ve learned that that’s OK, and I can be OK in that uncertainty.

Which has been your biggest challenge to date in regard to improving your life?

I struggle with lots of things, but I don’t see any of those struggles as a very big deal. I’m OK with not being perfect at everything. I struggle with mindfulness, with being happy when someone is unhappy with me, with self doubt, with urges to eat unhealthy food when it’s right in front of me, with being mindful throughout the day, with procrastination, with having too many things I want to do, with rushing from one thing to the next. I’ve gotten a lot better at all of these things, but I know I have a lot of room for growth. And that’s wonderful — how boring would it be if we couldn’t grow?

I am amazed that 7 years after first posting on Zen Habits you are still writing inspiring and original material every few days. How do you maintain this consistency?

That’s a huge ongoing challenge for me. I have to find a balance between finding new things to write about, and writing about old things in new ways for my new readers who are just finding the site. Writing about old things bores my most loyal and longest-surviving readers, and honestly it bores me if I have to write about those things too often. So I’m always pushing myself to learn new things, to try new challenges, to reflect on what I’ve been learning, and to see what good ideas others have in all kinds of fields (startups, business, science, coaching, psychology, gaming, etc.) that I might apply to my own areas in a new way. With this constant exploration, I’m always discovering new things. And sometimes remember old valuable ones that I forgot!

What is a typical working day for you?

It never really stays the same, of course. These days I typically wake a little before 6am, when it’s still dark, and make a big pot of coffee and empty out my email inbox while that’s brewing. Then when the coffee is ready I get to writing. I write, take breaks to walk around, write some more, do email and other small tasks, write some more, exercise. Writing is always the priority, though. At some point I try to call it quits and read with my kids or take them to the park. At the end of the day, I have a glass of red wine with my wife.

Finally, myself (and many of my readers) were lucky enough to see The Minimalists on tour last month in the UK. Would you ever like to visit the UK, either on a tour or with your family?

I love those guys! They are tireless, going from door to door selling minimalism. That’s amazing. Of course, I would be thrilled to come to the UK! I’m thinking of taking the kids to Dublin and London and then the continent in summer 2015, so maybe we could make something happen. I want to take them to platform 9 ¾, Abbey Road, Westminster Abbey, and a pub for a pint. What’s the minimum drinking age in the UK?

I must say a huge thank you to Leo for this wonderful interview. As a UK minimalist blogger it was an honour to interview him. I can't wait to read his new book and wish him continued success with his Kickstarter campaign.  



Minimalist Wardrobe Reading List

Any excuse to talk wardrobes, eh? I've decided to put together a list of inspiring reads on the topic of creating a minimalist wardrobe. Let's call it my minimalist wardrobe reading list. Whilst I don't archive my clothes anymore, I make sure I archive great posts on the subject of dressing well with less. 

1. The Minimalist Wardrobe (aka The 10-item Wardrobe)  In my opinion the definitive minimalist wardrobe from Miss Minimalist.10 items, all photographed and not all black. Wow!

2. the wardrobe cleanse from this brown wren. I love how Steph reveals her thought processes as she describes her wardrobe purge. 
3. the happy closet from Pink Ronnie. The first in a series of 9 enticing wardrobe posts. Sadly Ronnie closed this blog in September but has started something equally beautiful here.  
4. conquer excess shopping Lucent Imagery writes about unhealthy clothes shopping habits and how to recognise our inner beauty.
5. My Minimalist Wardrobe Laura's pared down collection was a great inspiration to me when I started to seriously limit the amount in my wardrobe. Thank you Laura at No More Spending.
6. Add Classic Style to the Small Wardrobe Rachel, at Small Notebook, talks about her 'comfortably dressy' style. 
7. fall - another chance to simplify my wardrobe Janet, from The Gardener's Cottage, oozes style, confidence and fun with vintage pieces.
8. The Autumn Capsule Wardrobe I have my friend Julie to thank for introducing me to Anna's blog, Vivianna Does MakeUp, and her joyful capsule wardrobe vlogs. I love her latest 10 piece autumn collection. Not sure I could carry off those animal print flats though! 
9. 33 Things to Do and Undo When Simplifying Your Wardrobe A really useful list of tips on simplifying your clothes from Project 333's Courtney Carver. Project 333 got me started on experimenting with dressing well with less. How could I leave Courtney out?
10. Alice Gregory On Finding a Uniform My latest read. A clever way to limit your clothes, sharpen your signature look and steal time.  

 I hope you find these 10 links useful. Sharing is never out of style. 



A Wet Walk

Despite my lament about not getting sucked into Christmas, this weekend's blanket of dreary has got me yearning for fairy lights, pj days and nostalgic movies. It's like November ARRIVED this weekend. Whilst our 15 year old sensibly whiled away his day in his pjs we made the effort to get out 'there' whilst there was still some light in the sky. As we opened the door, drizzle greeted us. Maybe drizzle is too kind a word. We hesitated, but stuck to our guns and ventured to a nearby country park (and the largest canal feeder reservoir in use today). The watery theme continued but we had a great walk. There's nothing like damp for putting a spring in your step. We walked, talked, laughed and we got to the cafĂ© before it closed. Yay! A cup of tea, yes that will do very nicely, thank you. Simple pleasures, eh...

Thanks for reading, commenting and following this week. It's great to have you here. 

Have a happy week xo



In the Slow Lane this Christmas

Every year Christmas seems to besiege us more unexpectedly than before. It seems only 5 minutes since I was reluctantly packing away my sandals and now I'm contemplating going into the loft to check how many Christmas cards and rolls of wrapping paper I have left over from last year. Some of my friends and colleagues have already announced that they've finished their gift buying and a certain item has already caused panic buying in the shops (a cuddly penguin called Monty, if you're not in the UK). If we're not careful advertisers, retailers, magazine articles and even our own friends and family can make us feel under pressure to get buying, get busy and get burnt-out. 

Not me. I'll be in the slow lane once more this Christmas, taking time out en route for peace and calm. My present buying will be mainly consumables, vouchers, experiences or items that people have requested. It will be carefully planned to match my budget and I'm going to try and keep extra food shopping to a minimum. I might even save the sherry for Christmas Eve. Shopping trips will be short or done online and I will buy it gradually over the next few weeks. I bought a few bottles of wine as presents on our recent trip to France, but other than that I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet. 

In pursuit of a calm lead up to Christmas and (hopefully) a chance to rest once the holiday arrives I have also decided it's time to finish those decluttering goals I set myself at the beginning of the year. I will report back on my progress but before I do... 

Why I'm Decluttering Before Christmas:

1. To reduce stress. When my home or areas of my homes are cluttered it creates daily stress as I search for items. Decluttering in advance will lessen this stress and make it easier to tidy and clean the house as Christmas approaches.

2. Empty space can be calming. Even one tidier drawer makes me feel happier and less stressed - much needed at this time of year. A cleared shelf in a cupboard to store Christmas presents will make me feel organised and prepared. 
3. To support charities. Instead of making a little extra money for myself I will donate unwanted items that I have been holding onto for too long to charity shops. 
4. I want to review my relationship with stuff. I need to ask myself: Why did I want this? How often did I use it? When did I last use it? Why have I been unable to let it go? 
5. To make room. It's inevitable that at Christmas new items will enter the house. Decluttering now will even that out and if I do a good job might free up some space permanently. 

What better time of year to assess and reflect on our relationship to material things? It might just slow us all down.



How to Maintain Healthy Habits

It's been a while since I've written a health related post here but that's not to say I haven't been focusing on nurturing my health. In fact, quite the opposite. I've learnt this year that looking after my health needs to remain a priority, just as it was 4 years ago when my life was a lot more stressful. Healthy eating, moderate drinking, exercise and relaxation are as vital today as they were back then when I was at my most stressed. 

The problem is that although we can simplify the structure of our lives we can't completely remove everyday stress or our reactions to it. When my schedule becomes busy, or my sons have new things going on or someone in the family has a health crisis that's when my new healthy habits drop off one by one and I seek comfort in old, not so healthy habits. My exercise routine, my fruit and vegetable intake and my number of alcohol free days drop off. I also tend to spend more money at the supermarket when I'm busier. And don't finish my book for book club. I could go on...

I've been researching how habits are formed in the hope that I can understand and improve how I react when life gets busy and stressful. 

So, how can we maintain healthy habits when the going gets tough?

1. The first step is to be aware of your habits and how often you repeat them. Developing an awareness of how you react to different situations can be enlightening. You may want to keep a diary of what triggers a habit and what the outcome is.
2. The next step is to decide which habit you'd like to improve. Leo Babauta suggests working on one new habit a month and starting with small goals to ensure success. Even tiny improvements like one more glass of water a day are a step in the right direction.
3. Visual cues are important in forming new habits. Write a reminder of your new habit and display it where you'll see it every day. Display healthy items prominently in your home and remove or limit the unhealthy options. Put your running shoes by the front door as a visual clue for your morning run the next day. Verbal cues are important too. Try dancing or exercising to a favourite song when it comes on the radio. Isn't that BeyoncĂ©'s secret?  
4. Focus on the reward. How does more exercise, a healthier diet or more time for relaxation affect your mood and sense of well-being? Remind yourself of how great you feel when you take better care of yourself. Build on this.
5. Talk positively to yourself. Stop those negative thoughts in their tracks. Big up your ability to improve your behaviour and you will be more likely to succeed. Your conscious mind instructs your subconscious mind. Positive talk builds positive action.
6. Plan how you will react to difficult situations and moments of weak resolve. Decide what you will eat before you go out for a meal, how much you'll drink at a party before you get there or how you'll fit in some exercise if you are about to travel away from home
7. Share your healthy habits with friends and family. When your resolve weakens they may support you and help rekindle your motivation to make healthy choices. 
8. Know that temptation will pass. Deal with temptation by substituting healthy alternatives. Swap the biscuits for a small piece of dark chocolate, a glass of wine for a soak in bubble bath, internet browsing for an early night. 
9. Willpower varies so embrace balance. Allow for setbacks. Allow yourself treats but learn to limit them. A day off from exercise, the occasional sweet treat, or a glass of wine can lift your mood when done in moderation. Yes you will need willpower at the start to overcome a negative habit but eventually the new (positive) response will become automatic. Master that willpower that lurks within you.
10. Be a mindful shopper. If over buying is a habit limit the amount of times you shop. Making a purchase that you have researched, saved up for and planned will make you happier than when you buy items on impulse, out of boredom, unhappiness or feelings of inadequacy. Know that what goes in our shopping baskets is often an unconscious decision, even down to the brands we buy. Beware, most of the healthiest items come without fancy packaging. 

Believe in yourself. Don't worry how long it takes to develop new habits, just make healthy choices today. 

And repeat. 



At the Weekend

Today bright skies restored calm after the recent gushes of rain. This week I've been battling with an ear infection and after being on the wrong antibiotics for 5 days I'm now beginning to feel well again. This weekend I've been grateful for...

♥ Sunlit autumn leaves.
♥ A woodland walk.
♥ Fresh flowers and sunlight. 
♥ Nourishing meals.
♥ A morning soak in the tub - part of my new Sunday routine.
♥ Remembrance Sunday - a poignant reminder of the fragility of peace and the price paid for freedom.

Thank you for reading, commenting and following Just a little less this week. Be well xo



Minimalist Monday: Dress Well With Less

It's 3 months since I committed to a 40 piece minimalist wardrobe and I can say, without a scintilla of doubt, that I have no regrets. Getting down to this low a number of clothing items wasn't easy and the last items were particularly hard to lose. However, it was worth it. Having a minimalist wardrobe makes my life simpler and therefore happier. This is what I've learnt from having a 40 piece minimalist wardrobe thus far.

1. With a smaller number of carefully selected items all my clothes are functional and loved. They fit, are comfortable, suit my lifestyle and are in good enough condition.  

2. Choosing what to wear takes less time.
3. Washing, ironing and putting away my clothes is quicker. 
4. I can wear my favourite clothes every day. 
5. My wardrobe space stays tidy without much effort. Bliss. 
6. 40 pieces is more than enough items of clothing for me – some items get more wear than others, isn’t that always the case?
7. I don't own occasion wear but have a more flexible wardrobe that can be dressed up or down.
8. I still get a lot of flexibility and different looks from 40 pieces.
9. I've learnt what suits me, feel more confident in outfits and wear them over and over again.
10. I feel confident that in the future I will make less mistakes over clothes and that my wardrobe will become more streamlined and coordinated.
11. Feeling content with my current clothes and enjoying the ease of getting dressed means I hanker less after new clothes and what others are wearing. 

Paring down my wardrobe to 40 pieces has been an ongoing, gradual process over the last 4 years. Achieving my goal of a wardrobe that is small, manageable and affordable is a satisfying feeling. Not only have I simplified this area of my daily life but I have also learnt a lot about myself in the process. Stripping back my wardrobe has forced me to take a long hard look at each garment I own and the emotional attachment I have to it. By allowing myself to clear out clothes that I had negative feelings towards I have also cleared out tonnes of emotional baggage in the process. The clothes that were too tight, unflattering or reminders of past overspending have gone and with them their associated feelings of self-loathing, guilt and disappointment. These days my mind is lighter as well as my clothes rail.

We all have different needs, values and emotions tied up in the clothes we buy and the garments we hold onto. Buying and hoarding clothes we hardly wear can lead to negative feelings which in turn can lead us into buying more and more in the vain hope that the next purchase will make us happier. And this is easily done when clothes are so readily available and advertising so seductive. It takes discipline, courage and mounds of mindfulness to change shopping habits but it can be achieved.  

Here are a few questions to ponder if you're gearing up to a wardrobe detox or about to make a new clothing purchase.

How many clothes is enough? 

Do we buy new clothes to impress others when we don't really need them?
Do we use clothes shopping as a distraction or as a reward?
How much does our self-worth come from the clothes we wear and the image we try to project?
Is looking our best just about the clothes we wear? 
How much space, time, money and energy are we prepared to commit to our clothes?
Could the simple pleasure of a tidy capsule wardrobe give longer lasting pleasure than the temporary thrill of a new outfit or “bargain”?
Isn't it time we accepted our body shapes and fluctuations of weight as normal and learn to judge ourselves less critically?
Could we do something more meaningful with our free time other than shopping?
Wouldn't it be a good feeling to look forward to our next clothing purchase knowing we are buying something we need rather than want?

I'm not suggesting we shouldn't enjoy our clothes, fashion and shopping trips or that a minimalist wardrobe will suit everyone. However, I do think a good wardrobe declutter can give us as much a boost as a spot of retail therapy can. Paring down my wardrobe and beginning to build a minimalist collection of clothes that I love has made me a more confident dresser. Here's to minimalist wardrobes, lighter minds and natty dressing! 

Have you edited your clothes recently or are you finding it hard to let go of past clothing mistakes? I'd love to hear from you.



At the Weekend

♥ I upcycled a vintage maxi dress into a tunic and sashayed the night away at a 70th birthday party. I need to throw out an item from my wardrobe now - one in one out!
♥ Discovered a new canalside cafe via twitter.
♥ Had a slow Sunday get-up - going away and the clocks changing have left me more tired than usual. 
♥ Got out walking every day.
♥ Used the potimarron I bought in a French supermarket in a tray bake. It's a little different to pumpkin as it has a richer colour and has a delicate hint of chestnut. It looked and tasted wonderful.

The air was cooler this afternoon as we walked and my hands actually felt cold. The landscape is beginning to look bare too. Well it is November.

Thanks for reading, following and commenting here. It's lovely to share my time with you.

Enjoy your week xo