Embracing minimalism with a kick up the bum!

I’ve been reading about minimalism for a while now.  Various books and websites address this lifestyle approach and it is growing more and more in popularity as more people realise that it is not their stuff that defines them and how much it can weight them down and hold them back.  I’m not talking about box rooms where everything is white, not am I really talking about living out of a backpack and travelling the world (although were I single and childless, I can definitely see the attraction!).  What I am really talking about is living with only what you need and what you love (and in some cases stuff you don’t need, but definitely make your life easier!).  We own so many things, most of us couldn’t even say what we own, so why do we need it?  Contrast this with Dave Bruno, who wanted to fight against the modern evil of consumerism and reduced everything he owned to 100 things.  You can read his book The 100 Thing Challenge: How I Got Rid of Almost Everything, Remade My Life, and Regained My Soul if you want to know more.  I bet, if you were to write down everything you owned, everything you use, need, want, love, everything you can see as you glance round the room, I bet you wouldn’t only remember half of the stuff that you actually own.  I know I couldn’t list it all.  So why do we hold onto stuff we don’t even remember we own?

Most stuff is accumulated throughout our lives, half the time without us even noticing it is sneaking in.  My husband cannot throw anything away, he is a serious “just-in-caser”.  I have boxes of clothes in various sizes that one day will fit me again, and a rather worrying notebook infestation and craft supplies stash.  We also have three small kids, who have accumulated toys and clothes, one who has inherited my notebook problem, and another who likes to collect fircones and pebbles!  Plus 3 well-meaning grandparents who spoil them rotten on Christmas and birthdays and my MIL who cannot just walk away from a sale, and there are ALWAYS things on sale!  She likes to shop, and most weeks, will call me over to tell me she picked a few things up for the kids and give me the details of exactly how much they cost, and how much she had got them for.  Until recently, my boys had a double wardrobe each and I still couldn’t fit all their clothes in them!  I also have a two year old girl, who, apart from being inundated with new clothes cause she was the first girl grandchild after two boys, has also inherited around 2 black bin bags full of clothes from her two cousins who are a few years older than her.  So you imagine the state of our house!  We are lucky enough to have 2 ensuite bathrooms off the children’s rooms and yet both of them are used for storage, and I couldn’t tell you what was in them.

So I decided this summer was the time to embrace at least some minimalist ideals.  I am keeping a watchful eye on what comes into the house and have learned to tell my MIL on a weekly basis that my children have plenty of clothes, thank you.  I’ve tried decluttering before, and the general order of it is that I throw myself into a huge job, which results in it getting half done, and then results in boxes of stuff destined for the tip and charity shop sitting around the house for months afterwards before they get stashed back into storage bathrooms or cupboards, or under the dining table which is hardly used but the chairs conceal boxes of stuff really well!  In my defence, lugging boxes of stuff to charity shops with a toddler in tow is nearly impossible.  So I needed to prevent this happening.  I knew at the back of one of the bathrooms there was an old treadmill which my husband bought about two years before we met and which he has used a handful of times.  A couple of weeks ago he finally gave me permission to get rid of it (yay!).  So I rang a local charity and asked if they could come and collect it. On a whim, I asked if they collected bric-a-brac and they said yes.  I told them I had several boxes as well as the treadmill and they gave me a pick up date for about three days later.  So when I hung up, I realised I had three days to attack these bathrooms so I actually had these boxes of stuff to hand over or I would look a bit daft when they showed up and I had nothing to give them.  So with that urging me on, I attacked both bathrooms.  I filled the car boot and seats with rubbish so that I had to drop it off at the tip before I picked the boys up from school otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get in the car (and I drive a people carrier!).  Other stuff got put away where it should be, and the rest got boxed up.  I ended up with nine huge boxes of stuff to give the guys when they come on Friday as well as the treadmill, which they can now get to!  I haven’t finished yet, as some stuff in there was my husbands, but I did pretty much reduce these two full bathroom to one box of stuff that needed putting away, a car full of rubbish and nine boxes of stuff I can give away that will raise money for charity.  Two empty bathrooms that can now be used and the space just feels amazing.

This worked so well for me, I am going to call another charity next week and get them to come next Friday for all the boxes of stuff I will definitely have for them by then.  Try it, it’s a great motivator, plus you don’t have the hassle of taking stuff to the charity by yourself.

Before I get rid of everything, I am actually going to count everything that heads out of the door.  You don’t have to, but I’m really interested in how much I can get rid of, and use it as another motivator when I get tired or bored.  Just imagine all the space you can create in your home!

If you want to read more on minimalism, check out www.theminimalists.com to get your started!

A simple way to value yourself

It’s just me.  How often have you said this in conversation?  I use it a lot.  I ring my mum and say “Hi, it’s just me.”  She always replies “Hello just you”.  It was funny the first time, then it felt funny, and I didn’t realise why.  This morning I was dusting my bedroom.  I did my bedside table, my dressing table and as usual, went to walk past my mirror.  It’s one door or a sliding wardrobe, and it’s really big.  It was also covered in handprints from my two year old daughter and was a mess.  I usually walk past and ignore it, because it’s an effort to clean, and it’s only me that uses it, only me who’ll see the marks.  Only me.

Recently I’ve been trying to be more conscious in what I say and what I think, trying to keep my thoughts and words positive, so maybe it was that that made me stop, walk back to the mirror and spend a few minutes really polishing it till it shone.  Because it might have only been me that would see the mucky marks, but I’m realising “me” is the most important.  As I was polishing, I wondered how many other things I don’t do, say, respond to because it’s “only me.  With a husband and three kids I do a lot of washing and ironing each week.  I have a couple of ironing afternoons, and I iron clothes in order.  Husband’s first – I hate ironing shirts, so getting them over and done with feels best.  Then the boys’ uniform for school.  They come second because if I’m pushed for time, the uniforms do shake out ok most of the time, I just prefer ironed clothes.  Their causal stuff comes next, and then my daughters (mainly cause she has SO many clothes I could not wash or iron her stuff for a month and she’d still be ok!).  I iron my stuff last.  Sometimes, well, a lot of the time, I don’t get time to do my stuff.  Despite the fact I love ironed clothes, love how they feel, and hate putting on clothes that haven’t been ironed because they make me feel a bit run down and scruffy all day.  I do mine last or not at all, because it’s only me.

There are lots of other examples in my life where I constantly put myself last, and where I would hazard a guess no one else would even notice.  So this week at least, I’m going to really concentrate on not using the phrase “It’s just me” or “It’s only me”, whether to anyone else or even to myself.  I’m going to make the effort to iron my clothes, polish my mirror and do things that reassure my heart that I am just as important as the rest of my family.

Have a think as you go through this week.  Do you always put yourself second?  Do you need to?  Can you make yourself as important as those you look after?  Could you even *gasp* put yourself first?!

Learning to say no – the power of affirmations

Everyone’s heard of affirmations in some way or another, and in this day and age, the idea of standing in front of a mirror saying “I love and accept myself exactly as I am” may feel a little (ok, extremely) daft.  As Tony Robbins puts it, you can’t stand in your garden saying “There are no weeds, there are no weeds, there are no weeds” and expect your garden to be instantly transformed into an after shot of Alan Titchmarsh (ok, I added the Alan Titchmarsh reference!).  You need to get down on your hands and knees and pull the little suckers out.  Affirmations aren’t some magical spell that instantly create what you want in life, but they do help you to create what you want in life.

My eight year old son is starting to learn martial arts.  First up, is learning how to block when someone tries to punch or kick you.  Copying someone else is fine, but doing it in a sparring session, he’s not so great, his movement usually coming several seconds after he’s (in theory) been hit.  From my own martial arts experience however, I know that a few minutes a day of practicing the movement of the block over and over again implants the movement into your muscles.  Your arm knows how to move, learns to do it quickly, without you having to even think.  When someone tries to punch you, before you have even acknowledged to yourself that you are going to get hit unless you block their fist, your arm has already raised itself, your own fist forms and you have blocked the punch.  Your body reacts automatically, using something you have taught it by repetition.

Affirmations work in much the same way.  You teach yourself something, and although it isn’t your physical muscles learning it, your mental or emotional muscles do.  So when you get that emotional hit, that rug being pulled out from under your feet, that sudden moment of doubt, your mind and heart are already dealing with it before you even realise.  For example, with three children with school and various other commitments and hobbies, a business and a husband who works more than full time, friends and extended family to see, and hobbies of my own, my life is rather busy.  I try and volunteer and help out when I can, but it got to the point where I was so busy running around helping, volunteering, always being the one who said yes that things started to suffer.  I spent little quality time with my children, even less with my husband and the idea of spending some time pampering myself was laughable.  I realised that I had to start saying no, but I struggled with feeling really guilty.  I came up with an affirmation for myself.  “I am generous with my time.  I know when myself and my family need to come first.  I can say no when I need to.”  Granted, it’s not the most poetic affirmation ever, but it worked for me, it was personal to me.  I used to say this to myself in the mirror every morning.  I didn’t carve out some amazing time slot, didn’t get up two hours earlier than the rest of the house.  I just stood in front of the mirror and while I was putting on my makeup and drying my hair I would repeat this over and over to myself.

It definitely helped.  When people started to ask me things, I suddenly found it easier to say no.  I still felt guilty at first, but after a while, before I even opened my mouth, my mind would say “It’s ok to say no.  You have this and this and this and this on this week, as well as all the normal washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking, shopping.  You are not being selfish, you know if you say yes to this, you will have no time with your husband or your children.  You will have no downtime to replenish yourself, and will end up being cranky and stressed and that will affect the ones you love negatively.  The person asking you wouldn’t want that for you, just as you wouldn’t want it for them.  It’s ok to say no.”  And I would.  It did take practice.  It did take time.  But it did work.

After a while I started using other affirmations when I put my makeup on, for other things I wanted to change.  On Sunday, one of the organising team at my sons’ rugby club approached me and asked if I would be the contact for all of the parents involved in the younger teams.  It would have meant liaising with the coaches of five different teams, giving my mobile out for parents to contact throughout the week and weekend, and also running a facebook page.  I didn’t want to say yes.  I already run three facebook pages for mine and my husband’s businesses, deal with incoming calls and emails for those businesses and have my own children’s arrangements for school and various clubs throughout the week.  The idea of adding more made me feel stressed almost immediately.  I managed to say that I would have a think about it, maybe do it along with another parent, then at the end of the conversation said if no one else would do it, I would.  I walked away, very annoyed with myself.  Guess what affirmation got added to my list the next morning!

Why not give it a try?  Commit to using an affirmation or several over a certain time period, but at least three weeks.  Spend 5-10 minutes repeating it, and see if it has any effect on your life.  If you can’t think of your own, search online – there are thousands out there.  I will write a post describing how you can come up with your own soon!

My inner child

I’ve been faltering a bit lately.  Well, I say lately, actually since my late teens, which isn’t that recent!  I’m an avid reader of self-help books, I love motivational and inspirational speakers, and stories of self and life transformation.  I dream of the day I wake up and I have transformed into this good, life-affirming, patient, hippy type person who channels creativity to the extent that it pays for a lovely life where I can travel extensively with my family and where I look like some bohemian babe with feather and beads in her hair and henna tattoos.  The problem is, since my late teens, lie has rather got in the way of that.  I met someone who I thought would be a perfect fit in that kind of lifestyle, hippy, traveller type who loved life and risk taking, but he turned out to also be controlling and manipulative and I left the relationship feeling very damaged, broken, and dark.  I met another man, the complete opposite, who I married and have had three lovely children with.  I love him and he is a good man and a good husband and father, but we are not soul mates.  His soul does not speak to mine, and I know he struggles to really understand me.  Our visions and values are very different, which leads to interesting living day to day!

I feel like my real personality stayed in my childhood, that upon entering the grown up world of expectation and relationships, I smothered her and left her behind, and that has affected my life negatively.  I feel alone all the time.  I felt I would be happy once I let her back in, allowed her to shine through.  So I sat down with a pen and paper and wrote down what I could remember about what I loved when I was a child.  This is my list:

  • reading and watching Peter Pan, the idea of never growing up, having adventures and magic
  • playing outside a lot, building dens and playing a lot of make believe adventure games with my friends
  • drawing, writing stories and reading ALL the time ( I hardly ever watched tv)
  • family celebrations like birthdays where my Mum handmade my costumes and birthday cake and my Dad would dress up as a magician to show my friends magic tricks
  • seasonal celebrations and the traditions that went along with them, especially Christmas
  • summer holidays – my Mum and Dad worked hard so they could take us abroad in the caravan, we’d spend the time exploring local places, on the beach building special sandcastles, having bbqs, playing board games and sitting up late with my Dad looking at the stars and chatting about everything
  • playing Sylvanian Families, watching Disney films, collecting badges, loud music, listening to Dad play the guitar and to him reading me stories, my Mum baking fairy cakes and making Christmas pudding, trying desperately to teach me how to knit and crochet, and my obsession with new stationary, especially new coloured pencils and clean pretty new notebooks.

I thought there would be a lot on my list that I would look at and think “Oh, all that isn’t in my life any more, and missing it is stopping me from being the real me, and bringing it back in some form will fix everything.”  Actually, I look at my list, and realise that most of it is in my life, even evolved or changed slightly.   I run a small cupcake business cause I love baking, I bake and decorate my children’s birthday cakes and throw traditional birthday parties at home.  I am more enthusiastic at Christmas than my children I think, and it drives my husband up the wall.  I still read fantasy novels and it is my ultimate dream to be a published fantasy writer.  i went travelling as a student, and hope to take the children when they are a bit older and money is more abundant!  I’m still happy to watch Disney films, and love the opportunity to sing along to loud music in the car when I’m driving alone, and I have a serious notebook addiction!

My inner child gets to do quite a lot of what she loves, and I have realised that it is not anything on this list that was missing from her.  It is the stuff I never noticed, and it took looking at her as an actual child to realise what it was.  A parent.  Having grown up and left home, I left my parents behind.  I see them fairly often, and although they are great for help and advice, it is obviously a much more grown up relationship than it was.  My little inner child needs a parent to care for her, and I have not been that.  Instead, I have pushed her to carry on when she is exhausted. I have not bothered to make sure she eats healthily and not stopped her eating endless amounts of sugar.  I not have let her stop and rest when she is poorly, or let her get enough sleep day to day.   I have let her sit in front of screens mindlessly looking through social media sites because she is bored, rather than telling her to get off and find something constructive to do, to use her imagination and play and create instead of sitting in front of the tv for hours on end at night.  I haven’t told her to go play outside when it is such a lovely day.  I haven’t reminded her to say please and thank you when she is talking to my children, or to be kind and thoughtful, to think of others instead of herself all the time.  Instead of encouraging her, I have told her repeatedly that she will never succeed, so why try.  instead of comforting her, I have told her she deserves everything she gets and she needs to try harder.  Instead of telling her I am proud of her, that I love her, that she is enough just as she is, I have constantly criticised her and put her down. I have spent so long worried about parenting my children that I hadn’t realised I needed to parent her as well.  This was the difference between the confident, kind, fun loving, creative little girl I was and the miserable, scared, lazy woman I grew into.

So I am going to find that little girl and tell her I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for neglecting her, for not taking care of her and being there for her, and that I’m here now and she doesn’t have to be afraid or alone any more.

Have you talked to your inner child recently?  Are you treating her the way you would treat your own children?  Are you letting her play, giving her treats, encouragement and love?  Are you taking care of her physical needs, or are you neglecting her like I have been?

Moments of mindfulness

Mindfulness.  I don’t know about you, but the idea of mindfulness always conjures for me the image of a svelte young woman with perfect skin, sitting in the lotus position under a tree.  She’ll be dressed in yoga pants and top because, of course, the sun is shining, and she’s listening to the birds sing, being present in the moment, meditating on the meaing of bliss….mmmmm.

The idea makes me laugh.  Mindfulness is one thing I am definitely trying these days, but the idea of a curvy cupcake baker wearing yoga outfits, trying to sit cross legged, never mind in some kind of pose that looks like sheer agony is laughable!  Plus, I’d never hear the birds over the racket my three smallish children would be making in the background.

I’m still trying though, and what I have found is that mindfulness isn’t about achieving that state of peaceful bliss.  it really is about being present in the moment, whatever that moment is, whether it’s in an office, a coffee shop, or in my case, hearing my children scream at each other (my daughter is doing her Terrible Twos in style!).  Any moment can be mindful, and it really can just be a moment.  I’m trying to spend a few seconds throughout the day being mindful, in theory, during each new “scene”.  As a busy mum, I don’t tend to sit down during the day, unless its working at my laptop, and even then, that’s mainly done in the evenings.  Everyone is busy these days; time is gifted to the young, and like everything, you don’t realise how much free time you have until you have less of it!  it’s really hard to squeeze in time to be mindful, meditate, savour the moment.  but it really can be just a moment, anywhere, no matter what you’re doing.  Try it.  A few seconds.  In the shower, over breakfast, in the car on your way to work, on your lunch break, on the school run.  Notice the details of your life, however unimportant they seem. Notice what you have in your life that may seem like nothing.


Lying in bed this morning, I tried it for a few seconds.  I could hear the two boys arguing over who got to choose what to watch on tv while they had breakfast, my little girl heard them and started shouting to be let out of her cot, and my husband continued to snore loudly beside me.  Yes, sometimes mindfulness can lead you to an overwhelming ability to smother certain people with a pillow.  But I realised in those few seconds that I could be like so many other women, waking up alone, with no fighting children and no snoring husband that they crave, that I had craved for so long.  I could see the sunshine round the edge of the curtains that gave me hope for some blues skies which we have been lacking this grey wintertime in the UK, I could feel that lovely warm cocoon-like feeling of the duvet and my husband’s arms round me, and despite the yelling and arguing and snoring, I could even hear the birds outside with no need for any kind of position other than snuggled up.

Where can you find your moments?