At the Weekend

Today we had a celebratory birthday meal for my mum-in-law. As we sat down there was a heavy shower of hailstones but it was soon followed by bright sunshine. Hail British Summer Time! 

I haven't taken many photos recently but this weekend I carried my camera around with me and found myself captivated by the beauty of spring and family gathering. I really enjoyed getting lost behind the lens once more. 

This weekend's highlights...

♥  A wonderfully relaxing evening last night with singer songwriter Chris Helme (formerly front man of The Seahorses). An acoustic guitar, soaring vocals and great story telling made for spellbinding music.
I brought this chick home with me from church. It was made by the 'Knit & Stitch' group to raise funds for Haiti. I have 2 others already and they all contain a chocolate egg. How could I resist?
Gluten free lemon polenta cake made by my brother-in-law's partner. The recipe is adapted from Nigella. The best lemon drizzle cake I've tasted. 
♥ My mum-in-law's pretty spring garden. The daffodils stood stoically like soldiers fighting off the fierce wind. The hyacinths are magnificent and the japonica is just opening. I'm very fond of this cheerful shrub.
Stripes on stripes. This beautiful cat was never far from us this afternoon.
Our seedlings are growing well and more will be planted this week. Our little garden is going to be well stocked this summer.

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



Happy Friday Links

A few interesting reads I've discovered this week - I hope you like them. 

And UK readers don't forget the clocks 'spring forward' this weekend. Happy Friday all xo



10 Tips for Embracing Minimalism as a Couple

When I speak to or receive emails from readers they often talk about the difficulty of trying to simplify their lives when their partner is not interested or willing to join them. I also get asked how my husband feels about my interest in minimalism. I thought it might be interesting to discuss this here.

Luckily my husband welcomed my interest in minimalism when I first started reading blogs and books on the subject in 2010. As you may know I discovered minimalism at a time when I was at my most stressed. I wasn't alone in feeling overwhelmed by the lifestyle and career choices we'd made and together we began to consider downsizing our lives, living more simply and examining our consumption.   

The hope of somehow achieving a happier yet simpler life through minimalism lured me into tackling years of clutter and reading anything and everything about the subject. Real life stories of people who'd embraced a minimalist lifestyle sustained me through those early decluttering sessions. As I worked through drawers and then rooms of clutter my husband began to follow me by tackling his personal clutter. Although he owned far less possessions than me and has never been an impulse buyer, he'd hoarded possessions since a teenager. Most of it was boxed up: old school reports and exercise books, surplus electrical/music gear, books, cassettes and photos.

Gradually we began to let go of the surplus in our lives. Lightness followed as we both decluttered decades of stuff and we emerged happier, ready to embrace a more minimalist lifestyle. We downsized to a smaller home and both adjusted to new work situations. My husband has had to adjust to a series of changes in his job over the last 5 years and I've eventually found work that I enjoy and has less responsibility. 

Now almost 5 years later we're starting to enjoy the benefits of our simpler life. We don't miss our large home and the time it took to maintain it and we don't regret the possessions we've given up. We both agree that material possessions and status are far less important to us than time for family, health and having fun. 

And we're motivated to further reduce the excess in our lives. We're focussing our attention on living a healthier lifestyle through simple exercise, meditation, simplifying our diet and moderating our drinking. We're learning to say no occasionally to social invites when our schedule gets too busy and to choose carefully the work that we take on (paid or voluntary). We're still tackling clutter. We're now working on some long overdue decluttering projects: our excess computers, paperwork and a few unused items in the loft which remain untouched since moving house almost 3 years ago (ahem).

I know that I'm extremely lucky that my husband supported me when I discovered minimalism and has wholeheartedly embraced each simplifying step we've made since then. We've made some difficult choices and have experienced some difficult situations, but then who hasn't recently?

Our minimalism isn't extreme. We still hold down regular jobs and live in a conventional house but we have a lot less stuff and a lot less on our to-do list than we once did. Our approach to minimalism as a couple is to live more lightly, freely and happily. 

10 Tips for Embracing Minimalism as a Couple

1. Simple Changes. If you're both interested in simplifying your lives agree some easy changes such as spending less on each other at birthdays, having a less expensive holiday or leaving work early once a week. If you envy a simpler lifestyle what baby steps can you take today to make it happen? What could you both go without?

2. Make time as important a priority as money. We all have limited time and limited money. Make discussing how you're going to spend your joint time as much of a priority as how to spend your joint money. 

3. Dream. Keep your dreams alive whether it be to retire early, move house or change your job. Be inspired by others who've made changes. Work on those dreams daily.

4. Plan. Lifestyle changes take careful planning. If you've got a huge decluttering task ahead plan in enough time to make dealing with it easier. If you want to save money for an experience work out a plan to achieve this. If you want to make more time for leisure at the weekend plan how you are going to fit this into your schedule.

5. Gentle persuasion. I've never been vociferous about minimalism at home (only here on my blog) but I've led by example. Sort out your personal clutter first and offer to help your partner declutter if they are clueless or lack interest. They might just get the bug. 

6. Listen to each other. I encourage my husband to stop worrying and he frequently tells me to slow down and stop taking on too much. Sometimes you need someone else to point out that you're losing focus. 

7. Compromise. You may have different ideas about clothing budgets, interior design style or how much to spend on food. Learn to compromise with each other. If your partner is into extravagant cooking encourage them to shop around for ingredients or limit the amount of lavish meals they cook. Likewise, if minimalism is not your partner's style agree that certain parts of the house could be kept tidier than others. 

8. Be accountable to each other. If impulse buying or overspending is a problem for either of you agree to be accountable to each other. I no longer hide impulse buys under the bed and we are both open about our spending. We have budgets for different areas of our lives and we stick to them (most of the time). 

9. Share. Share your dreams, failures and successes. Support each other as not everyone will understand your lifestyle choices. Make a list of simple pleasures to share that cost nothing but time. 

10. Begin. Encourage each other to live life to the full and to put your joint and individual ideas into action. 

Some of these tips could work just as well for single people or between friends. Good luck with your simplifying journey whether it be solo or joint. And please share your thoughts here in the comments section. 

And a happy belated birthday to Hubs whose birthday took priority over posting on Monday. 

Wishing you a belated happy week xo




Spring Cleaning and Spring Decluttering

How many hours a week do you spend cleaning your home? Which room in the house gets the most attention? Do you ever have an annual spring clean where you go above and beyond your normal cleaning routine? Results of questions like these have recently been published by re-commerce specialists musicMagpie in time for National Spring Cleaning week (16th- 23rd March). The results of their research into the nation's cleaning habits reveal some interesting and positive results. I've seen the full survey results and they make fascinating reading. 

Here are the highlights:
  • People in the West Midlands spend the most hours cleaning per week (5 hours) and the South West spend the least amount of hours. On average the rest of us spend 2-3 hours per week cleaning.
  • The kitchen takes up on average 50 per cent of total cleaning time. Bathrooms then take second priority.
  • A third of people questioned cleaned their bedroom the least. 
  • People in East Anglia are most likely to do an annual spring clean.
  • Men spend almost as much time as women cleaning.
  • Almost 50 per cent of those questioned replied that they 'sometimes' enjoy cleaning.
  • Most people do their own cleaning and would prefer not to pay someone else to do it for them. 

For most of us, cleaning is a task we squeeze into our busy schedules. We prioritise the kitchen and bathroom, the trouble spots, above other rooms but we don't necessarily see the need for a traditional annual spring clean. 

These days we're more likely to have a good clear out of our clutter around the spring equinox than a traditional spring clean. A sign of our affluent times is that most of us have more stuff than we actually need and our clutter can be detrimental to creating a restful ambience in our homes. Constantly having to move piles of clutter from surfaces and the floor really slows us down as we clean our homes. My 16 year old has the smallest room in the house yet his room probably takes longer to clean than any other due to his belongings detonating over every available clear space. Needless to say his bedroom is the least cleaned room in our house and the one I close the blinds to when the window cleaners appear. 

So, clearing our clutter can help calm our homes and also speed up our cleaning but how can we better deal with long-term clutter? MusicMapgie have consulted Dr. Elizabeth Forrester a clinical psychologist who specialises in obsessive compulsive disorder and hoarding (recognised as a related problem of OCD). Her insights into the psychology of hoarding are useful for anyone wanting to understand why we collect clutter. Whilst most of us don't have severe hoarding problems requiring clinical help we probably hang onto items for far too long and avoid dealing with surplus belongings, especially the more they pile up (I know this happens with my ironing pile and paperwork).  

According to Dr. Forrester lack of time is one cause of clutter building up, others are:
  • Poor memory – the fear of forgetting about something should it be out of sight.
  • Adopting a 'this may come in handy' attitude.
  • Fear of deprivation – worries that you won't be able to obtain that item in the future.
  • Heightened sentimentality about possessions.
  • Fears of making a mistake and regretting throwing an item away.
  • Perfectionism – owning variations of the same product to have 'the right thing for the right job'.
“Spring cleaning is a great opportunity to get rid of unwanted clutter that has accumulated over the year. Having too much clutter around us is not good for our psychological well-being. It is often the case that low mood and depression may have led to a problem with clutter, and it can keep that low mood going. It’s depressing living in a cluttered and untidy environment which if not careful can lead to isolation due to being too embarrassed by clutter to have visitors in our home ”. Dr. Elizabeth Forrester

Dr. Elizabeth Forrester's tips for decluttering this spring

1. Have a daily sort out time, perhaps 30 minutes once you've come home from work.
2. Put things away as soon as you've finished with them.
3. Set achievable targets with clear goals. For example, sort out one drawer each evening.
4. Don't bring things into your home if you don't have space for them.
5. Take action. Don't ignore or clean around clutter, it won't go away by itself.
6. Don't get extra storage. This is just a quick fix idea that avoids the problem.
7. Don't keep old, worn out or tired items. You probably won't use them again.

So this weekend, maybe forgo the cleaning and deal with some long-term clutter instead. And if it's CDs, games or mobile phones cluttering up your home musicMagpie might be the solution. It's an easy and efficient way of removing unwanted items and raising some cash with a free courier delivery service. I might suggest it to my son.

Many thanks for all your comments on my last post. Connecting with others who share similar values is a huge benefit of blogging. 

Today I'm having a very quick clean of the house and attempting to reduce my ironing pile a little. This morning after watching the magical solar eclipse via pinhole I met up with a lovely new friend who I met on The Minimalists tour in November. What better way to spend a morning especially as it's International Day of Happiness. This year the theme is finding happiness through connecting with people. I think we're doing OK at that here at Just a little less.

Happy Friday and weekend xo



We Cleared Our Clutter and it Changed Our Lives

Almost 5 years ago I read about minimalism in a weekend magazine and remember how the idea of living with less possessions really appealed to me. At the time I felt trapped by the life I'd created. The full-time salary. The big family home in an ideal location. The lifestyle of someone 'successful' which was just a flimsy veil masking my exhaustion. What I craved more than anything else was time. Time for myself, time for my family and time to just be. 

My life changed as a result of that article. Decluttering enabled me to see that living in a smaller home and on a lower income was a viable option. I realised it was my only option if I wanted more freedom in my life. There were moments when I doubted my decision and felt that my back tracking was a sign of failure. I'm glad I made that decision and listened to my heart and not my head. Now, I don't feel like I'm failing and I don't miss any of the things I've given up. In fact, I flourish more and more each day living with just a little less. 

My story is in Woman's Weekly this week. It was interesting to be interviewed by journalist Kate Corr and very flattering to be asked. I think the article makes some good points about the benefits of decluttering. Another woman tells her story of how decluttering improved the quality of her life when her husband became seriously ill. She talks about how physically and emotionally draining it can be to declutter. Isn't it interesting that once you declutter those difficult areas of your life you become the opposite? Physically and emotionally stronger as a result. I'd never really made that simple connection before.

Thank you to Woman's Weekly for interviewing me. If you get chance to read the article I hope you enjoy it.



Minimalist Monday: Procrastination and the Post-it Note

This weekend we donated 2 bikes – an outgrown bike belonging to our youngest son and my bike which I never ride. It was great to let go of 2 large items that were taking up a lot of space in our very tiny garden shed. What was even more wonderful was finding a really good home for them. We found a bike recycling charity where pre-owned bikes are refurbished and then sold at affordable prices thus encouraging people who might not otherwise be able to afford a bike to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The scheme also helps unemployed people learn valuable skills and removes waste scrap metal from the waste stream. Getting rid of these bikes has been on our to-list for a long time so why the procrastination? The Post-it note above was written in November so it's taken us 4 months to finally get round to deciding what to do with these bikes. I've been thinking about why I procrastinated over letting go of the bikes for so long. Here are some possible reasons. 

Making a decision. Deciding whether to sell or donate. I don't know why I deliberated – these days I usually donate.
Lack of energy. It's cold outside so who wants to venture out to the garden shed or load bikes into the car? 
Boring task. I'd rather sort through old books or clothes than deal with outdoor stuff, especially in winter.
Sentimentality or letting go of a fantasy. Hubs was a lot more keen to get rid of the bikes than me. I think I was holding onto part of my son's childhood and a fantasy that one day I would cycle everywhere.
Dealing with failure. I should never have bought the bike as I only used it several times. Ignoring that we needed to get rid of the bikes was my way of ignoring my mistake. 

Here are my notes-to-self to help spur me on with further decluttering.

1. Put decluttering on your to-do lists. Set tasks for today, tomorrow, later in the week, the month. You will eventually get fed up of seeing the same decluttering action remaining on your lists.

2. Imagine empty spaces (or at least emptier). Our aim was to have more room in the shed for our newly acquired garden furniture. 

3. Don't procrastinate just start. Easier said than done, I know, but think of the cumulative effect of getting rid of 1 or 2 things a week or spending a little time decluttering every few days.

4. Reward yourself – after donating our bikes we stopped off at a nearby canalside cafe. My treat was a pot of  Earl Grey, tiffin cake and the colourful sight of barges passing by.

5. Work through the boredom – it can be tedious making decisions about what to do with unwanted items and spending time organising their removal but think of the benefits you and others will gain. 

As for the other items on the list they are all started or completed.

New kitchen lights – pendant lights bought and installed over dining table. We still need to choose a new spotlight for the kitchen area.
Kettle – new red kettle bought to replace our old leaky one.
Tidy and label paperwork boxes - some clearing out has been achieved and the boxes have been labelled with contents.
Garden furniture in shed – we now have space to store our folding table and chairs.
Decide on Xmas tree – yes for 2014.
Declutter Tim's wardrobe – one session done but more work needed.
Start buying Xmas gifts – yes but I will start earlier this year.

Hurrah for the Post-it note I say. Invented accidentally by scientist Spencer Silver in 1968 when he was trying to produce a tough new glue but instead came up with an adhesive that could be repositioned. Several years later his colleague Art Fry realised a need for Silver's invention when he needed a bookmark for his hymn book that would neither fall out or damage the pages. And so the Post-it note was born. I love this story.

Have a great week and thanks for reading, following and commenting here.



Tea Towel Tales

I allow myself some little materialistic fetishes and my collection of tea towels is one (others being bathroom towels, cushions and mugs). I won't lie, I feel quite attached to these rectangular pieces of cotton. Some were rash purchases, some gifts (I love a practical gift) and the more ragged ones are now almost family artefacts. 

Let me guide you through my stash.

My oldest surviving tea towel was a wedding present from Nanny Ivy which means it's clocked up almost 23 years of service. I think it came with a wooden tray which we still use. Nanny Ivy's stitching of our names is still as intact as our marriage, albeit a little frayed around the edges. Sadly, Nanny Ivy is no longer with us - she lived to almost 90 years.

Other tea towels in the stash were bought as mementos and also to help with fundraising when our children were at nursery. Memories of tiny squidgy messy hands and precocious self-portraits (gifted and talented, surely) still melt my heart. 

Some tea towels reveal my all too frequent weakness for purchasing 'something' at a gift shop. Our first visit to the Eden Project in Cornwall is an example. It was our first family holiday of many to Far West Cornwall and we stayed in the lovely village of Mousehole. All the memories of that summer holiday are woven into this tea towel - fauna, fun, fatigue.

More recent tea towel purchases have been made at another favourite haunt, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Last time we were there the only thing we purchased was a wonderful meal of chips and gravy from the cafe but previous visits resulted in buying a Miro cotton tea towel and this whimsical one from artist Rob Ryan.

My tea towels are a mismatched array with no particular colour theme or style. A few classic stripes, some utilitarian grey and a nod to shabby chic thrown in for good measure. My single Cath Kidston and solitary Emma Bridgewater are fading beautifully with time. They somehow look better aged than all pristine and they wear their stains and scuffs with pride.

It's been several years now since I last bought some new tea towels so when I was contacted by All Tea Towels to review 2 of their products I was excited to see what they had to offer. I must say I was tempted by their William Morris and retro designs but after deliberation I chose a simple 't' design and this 'If You Can't Stand The Heat' design from their extensive range. I'm delighted with the design and quality of these organic unbleached cotton tea towels. They were dispatched quickly along with a friendly note reassuring me of their free returns policy. Thank you.

I think my attachment to tea towels is partly tied up with the simple pleasure of washing up and drying by hand. I say pleasure not chore because, in my opinion, there is sensory pleasure to be found in bubbles and soft cotton towels and also satisfaction in getting a job done. Dishwashers are great but they do break down and if left to my desultory teenagers to stack and empty more work can result. With washing and drying by hand you live in the moment, get stuck into the work meanwhile indulging in the flow of the task, deep thought or, if you are lucky enough to have a washing up partner, then a little conversation over the suds. 

Of course I've had a little declutter recycling a few very stained tea towels to make room for my 2 new ones. Currently I store them hidden away in a drawer ironed into thirds and then folded in half ready to hang over the oven door. They get quite a lot of attention my tea towels. Tell me, do you have any tea towel tales? I'd love to hear.



Minimalist Monday: The Benefits of Meditation

Most of us know that meditation is good for the body and mind. But we also all know that it's very easy to give up. Since beginning meditating several years ago (at Buddhist classes, yoga sessions and at home) I have noticed so many improvements in my life but I still have regular lapses. I believe that the benefits of even a little meditation can be long lasting and can lead to increased calmness and improved mindfulness. So, after a break and  when I regain interest, it's always the benefits that get me practising again. Really, for something so simple, free and adaptable the multiple benefits of meditation are outstanding. A recent article The Mind of the Meditator by Matthew Ricard, Antoine Lutz and Richard J. Davidson explained the neuroscience behind meditating. 
Studies on the neurobiology of meditation show that the practise has many of the characteristics of an ideal drug. It counters depression and pain and encourages a sense of well-being. And it does all of this with few, if any, side effects, at the cost of a couple of minutes of daily respite from a harried existence. Why don't physicians prescribe it more?

Benefits of Meditation:

  • Depression eases
  • Chronic pain is easier to manage
  • Tension related pain reduces (headaches, ulcers, insomnia, muscle and joint problems)
  • A sense of well-being is induced
  • A more stable and clear mind results
  • A more serene and flexible way of being is produced
  • It can lead to an enhanced capacity to focus on tasks which require concentration
  • It helps us to deal better with stressful tasks or experiences 
  • It decreases anxiety
  • It improves our relationships with others
  • Self-knowledge and intuition improves
  • We manage negative thoughts better and spend less time dwelling on them
  • We develop the capacity to help others
  • It might slow processes of cellular ageing 
  • It can lower blood pressure
  • It can help with irritable bowel syndrome
  • It can prove immunity
  • It promotes relaxation
  • We become more aware of the present moment and savour simple pleasures 
  • Our problem solving abilities improve
  • It increases serotonin production thus improving our mood 
  • It increases creativity
  • It helps self-control
  • It improves memory
  • It's an opportunity to take time out for yourself 
  • It helps you tune into your internal chatter and improves your ability to 'turn it off'

The appeal of meditation is that it can be done anywhere and its benefits can be gained even if practised at a basic level. So, learn the basics and experiment. Find out what works for you whether it be counting your breathing, repeating a mantra, listening to an instructional recording or music, or simply sitting in silence. 

For me, closing my eyes, being aware of my breathing, staying still, noticing silence (or sometimes - what interrupts it) and visualising a beautiful scene is a wonderful way to reconnect my body and mind and restore peace in my heart. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, this 10 minutes time out of my day is rewiring my brain and creating a cascade of beautiful benefits for my mind and body. The poetry of science. 

Andy Puddicombe's Headspace has a free 10 day meditation course which is a really useful resource especially for beginners and those who've strayed like me.



Minimalist Monday: 10 Ideas for Simplifying in Lent

As a follow up to last week's post on St. Benedict I thought I'd list some of the more interesting (and challenging) simplifying ideas which I've been reading about in Paula Huston's book, Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit. 

Many of these ideas may seem extreme or too difficult for a lot of us (including me) but it's worth remembering that they are just suggestions and are recommended to be followed for just a day at a time. 

If you're not ready for some of them now, maybe the ideas will be worth trying out at some later point. Maybe, just reading about them may influence your everyday life and make you question some of your habits.

They certainly reveal that as humans we are attached to more than just possessions and money. For example, what about our attachment to busyness, our appearance, our routines and our social interactions? These attachments can hold us back from so much in life: new opportunities, increased self-knowledge, building confidence and having time to explore new spiritual paths. 

Taken from Huston's book, here are some spiritual practices to try which may help develop a more minimalistic way of life:

  • Walk to the shops instead of driving
  • Cover your mirrors for a whole morning
  • Skip today's shower or bath
  • Spend a day without TV
  • Spend a day without any social networking tools
  • Spend 15 minutes in silence
  • Welcome an interruption today
  • Invite a lonely person in for tea and conversation
  • Forgive someone
  • Read a book or listen to a recording about meditating today

Confronting the malaise of our emotional clutter can be just as hard as dealing with our physical clutter and Huston's book deals with both. Any inspiration is worth passing on, I think, and can be useful whatever religious beliefs you hold and to anyone with any interest in living more intentionally with less. 



Weekend Finds

Hello and welcome to possibly my first weekend post of 2015 - it's certainly been awhile. This weekend has been all about looking outward - maybe a new month has put a spring in my step, who knows? It feels good to pick up my camera once more and play about with views, images, editing and recording the rhythm of the seasons. 

We had plans today to visit Attingham Park in Shropshire, a National Trust property, primarily for the snowdrops - but despite an early start our plans were thwarted by earlier than expected heavy wintry showers. Quickly, plan B was formed and before the downpour we strolled out through our front door along the old canal route that runs near our house to find clumps of snowdrops awaiting, luminous croci and a chatty robin hanging onto winter's wild ways. Lunch was beetroot soup - not homemade, but delicious and the most gorgeous colour. 

Later, sweetpeas were discovered on an upstairs windowsill. I've been promised an obelisk of purple and white sweetpeas this summer. Bliss awaits.  

Thank you so much for your rallying comments on St. Benedict. It was a joy to write about a subject I've been interested in for some months and receive such supportive comments. Who cares about a little opposition?

Have a great week friends xo