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A Christmas Gift-Giving Guide for Minimalists…and their loved ones

Christmas always seems like the hardest time of year to explain to people that you have enough stuff, and you really don’t need any more. Family, friends, colleagues…for most of the year they seem to accept (or put up with, at least) our plastic-refusing, stuff-avoiding, minimalist and zero waste ways, but somehow, when it gets to Christmas time, the message seems to get lost.

“But it’s Christmas! How about I buy you some eco-friendly stuff? Some reusable bags? A book about decluttering?” We don’t really want or need any of this stuff, but it can be hard to say no, or to explain how whilst you may have loved gifts as a five-year-old, times have changed and so have you.

Of course, we don’t help ourselves either. In turn, we try to push our own agendas onto our loved ones. We buy them cards from charities letting them know that rather than a present, we’ve donated money on their behalf to a village in Africa. We give them the eco-friendly gifts we like to use, like reusable bags, in the hope they will embrace our zero-waste ways. Or we give them nothing, thinking they will understand because they know that we don’t value presents ourselves.

Except often, they don’t.

We end up with a bunch of stuff we don’t need and don’t want, our loved ones end up with something they don’t want or appreciate (or worse, nothing when they did expect something) – and everybody feels misunderstood and unappreciated.

The truth is, gift-giving is complex, because giving gifts mean different things to different people. It took me a while to understand this. I was constantly puzzled why I would receive gifts despite asking for no gift at all, and that my close relatives would be offended because I hadn’t bought them a gift.

I thought that acting in the way I wanted to be treated would help them understand, but really it only brought resentment. Likewise, I couldn’t understand why my requests were falling on deaf ears, and I was left feeling guilty, with all this stuff I didn’t need and didn’t want, most of which ended up being donated.

It was a book I read that made me change the way I thought about gift-giving. It suggested we connect emotionally with others in different ways, and we feel appreciated in different ways… and one of those ways is through gifts.

Most people appreciate gifts, sure, but the idea that gifts could be someone’s main emotional “love language” – that it was the main way they felt appreciated and understood – was actually somewhat of a surprise to me. I assumed it was something we could all just “do without”. As someone whose major love language is “quality time”, I enjoy the festive season for the chance to spend extended periods of time with family and friends, eat good food and have long conversations.

For me, presents don’t need to be a part of that; I’d assumed it was the same for everyone else. I didn’t realise that for some people, presents are genuinely a big part of Christmas.

Once I’d understood this, I began to realise why I was receiving gifts I didn’t need or want. If receiving presents is the main way a person feels loved and appreciated, then it makes sense that they would want to give gifts in return. To them, it’s more than a bunch of stuff; it’s an emotional currency.

I thought everyone liked sitting around after Christmas dinner chatting and setting the world to rights, because quality time is my emotional currency, but I’ve learned that others (my husband’s family, for example) don’t get the same pleasure out of this at all! It’s easy to assume that what works for us works for others, but it doesn’t always.

With this in mind, I’ve relented on my hard-line “no gifts for anyone” policy. Remember, gift-giving doesn’t have to mean “stuff”. Being respectful of others’ needs doesn’t mean you need to buy a bunch of things.

Gifts can be experiences: meals out in restaurants, tickets to shows or concerts, a day out at a museum, time spent together as a group. They can be homemade (I prefer to stick to edible gifts with this; not everyone will appreciate a tie-died hankie), or homegrown (vegetables and fruit, cut flowers and seedlings all apply). They can be in the form of favours and sharing of skills (an evening of babysitting, an afternoon gardening, walking the dog).

I try to keep bought gifts to an absolute minimum, but if I decide that a physical gift is more appropriate, I opt for second-hand: charity shops and also vintage and antique shops, or online auction and classified ad sites.

This doesn’t mean I’ve got it completely right…it’s been a process of learning and understanding over the last few years. After all, for many years I gave and received gifts willingly. This is still new territory for us and our families.

It has been somewhat of an adjustment for friends and family to learn to accept that when we say no gifts, we really mean it, and for me to understand that just because I don’t want anything, applying this rule to everyone else may result in offense being taken (learned the hard way).

Initially, I suspect that our families thought this way of living was a phase that wouldn’t last. We probably thought that we could bring them round to our way of thinking. Now we’re all learning to find a happy medium. Slowly they’ve become more sympathetic to our different values and needs. Whilst they may not agree, they have begun to accept. Likewise, so have we.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How have you dealt with conflicting ideals between loved ones at Christmas? Have you learned to compromise, or reached a mutual understanding? Is it a compromise you’re happy with, or do you still think there’s work to be done? Do you stubbornly refuse to back down – or do they?! Is gift-giving still a source of conflict during the festive season? Have you had good experiences, bad ones..or both? What lessons have you learned? I really want to hear your insights on this so please leave a comment below!

What I Really Should Have Said…

Last Saturday I was the speaker at Plastic Free July‘s event here in Perth, talking about my personal journey in living with less plastic, what I’d learned and offering tips for people trying their first Plastic Free July. There was a great turnout, with plenty of newbies underway in their first Plastic Free July year, but also people who took part last year and the year before.

I love being able to talk to people about plastic-free living. I love getting out into the community, getting to know people, make real life connections and also learn and be challenged – because that’s what makes life so interesting and enjoyable!

You’d think then, that if somebody asked me why I wanted to work in waste education I’d be able to reel off the reasons. I’d be able to articulate exactly why it makes my heart sing. I’d be able to express the passion that I have for sharing not only my story, but also what I’ve learned along the way. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? As it turns out  though, when asked this question earlier today, I was only able to mumble something rather vague about being passionate about waste.

The thing is, everyone’s passionate. It’s the thing to be. People are passionate about what coffee they order in the morning. Passionate about their football team colours. Type “passionate about” in Google and the drop-down field comes up with baking, the hospitality industry, teaching, education, travel… It’s a great word, it sounds far better than “interested in” or “really like”, but it doesn’t really tell the listener anything.

I am passionate about waste. But what does that really mean? What am I failing to express with that statement?

When I talk about passion, I mean the kind of passion that gets you fired up. When I talk about waste, I become really enthusiastic, I tend to talk far too quickly and flail my arms about the place in an excited manner. The kind of passion that burns even when you’re tired or feeling lazy. I never tire of talking about waste, thinking of ways to reduce waste, wanting to discuss the topic with others, and share ideas. When it comes to waste, I’m constantly re-inspired by the things I read or see or hear.

When I talk about waste, what I really mean is reducing waste. Whilst verge collections or people buying takeaway coffee when they intend to dine in might also stir my emotions (!), my passion lies with reducing my own waste, and inspiring others to do the same. Learning ways to reduce waste, and sharing what I’ve learned, be it through talks, or writing, or on social media. Providing support and encouragement to those just starting out, and helping others onto the next part of their journey.

It doesn’t end with learning and sharing, though. What really matters to me is inspiring others to make changes. Offering alternatives and sharing solutions is part of that, but the most important thing is connecting with others. Talking to people. Getting out there into the real world, having conversations, finding out what’s important to people and helping them find ways to reduce waste that fit with their lifestyles. I’ve talked about the ripple effect before and that’s the kind of change I love being a part of. Planting a seed, or an idea, and letting it grow with someone new. It’s so satisfying to see that happen, and it makes everything worthwhile.

That’s why I’d love to work in waste education. I want to connect with others, to inspire, encourage, share and learn. I want to help people make positive changes to their lives, and reduce their waste in the process. Full lives and empty bins.

That wasn’t what I said today. I do find it much easier to get my thoughts on paper before I need to express them! Now I’ve had the chance to think about it a little more, I’ve managed to articulate what I’d have liked to say.

When I say I’m passionate about waste, this isn’t what I said, but it’s what I meant. Just for the record ; )

Now I want to hear from you! What are you passionate about? What get’s you really fired up and why? How does this passion make you feel? How would you express this – not just in words, but also your actions? I’d love to know more so and hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Reflections and Lessons from 2014

As we hurtle towards the New Year and 2015, it’s easy to get swept up in plans for the year ahead – all the things we’re going to do, all the habits we’re going to change and all the goals we’re going to accomplish. But what about the year that’s just been? The year might be (almost) over, but I don’t want to brush those lessons, achievements and experiences under the carpet in the excitement of planning the future. After all, this year (and all those lessons) will no doubt shape the coming year. Not only that, but in amongst the “could do better”s and “should try harder”s there’s a whole heap of other stuff – goals that I achieved and moments that I’m really proud of. I don’t want to forget about those in the excitement of what’s around the corner!

Rather than getting ahead of myself and blindly wrapping myself up in all my big dreams for 2015, I spent some time looking back at 2014. After all, this year was no doubt just as big a year as next year will be.

What Happened this Year?

Quite a lot, actually! The Less is More Festival happened again in February after many months of planning, and was really successful. My blog had its first anniversary; I was asked to write some guest blog posts; I was a finalist in the Waste Authority Infinity Awards; I spent time back in the UK, my family came to visit, I got married, started a new job and signed up to buy an apartment.

Phew!

It was by no means plain sailing. I spent a few months unemployed in the middle of the year, which led to a lot of soul-searching. I tried desperately hard to find a job in a field I’m truly passionate about, but alas, it was not to be. Life doesn’t always go the way you want it, does it?!

When we think about the year just gone, we always seem to start with the mistakes and plans that fell through, and proceed to beat ourselves up. I’m gonna turn this on its head and start with the things that went well; the things I’m proud of achieving this year.

My Highlights of the Year:

  • The Less is More Festival was awarded Community Event of the Year, and my second year as Festival Coordinator saw the event grow and attendees almost double to almost 1000! Not bad for an event with a total spend of $72! After achieving everything that I set out to with the 2014 event, I’m happy with my decision to step aside and let someone else take on the Festival and lead it down a new path.
  • My blog had its first anniversary and readership has steadily continued to grow. It’s so encouraging to know that I’m not the only one with a slight obsession with waste and a craving for a simpler way of living! Thanks guys : )
  • My wedding! Glen and I finally figured out a way to celebrate our marriage without generating too much waste, sticking with our values and not taking out a mortgage to pay for it : ) I’ll be writing about this in the New Year, so if you’re keen to know more, keep your eyes peeled!

What Fell by the Wayside?

Of course, it wasn’t all trophies and gold stars and roaring success. Here’s the not-so-good bits – the bits I hope to learn from and build on this coming year!

  • At the start of the year, Glen and I declared 2014 the Year of Exercise. It began well, with long walks and bicycle rides, and I got back into going to yoga regularly. And it felt good. However, the job, wedding and family visits meant exercise has completely fell by the wayside over the last few months. Definitely a priority for the coming months!
  • I still haven’t gotten myself a sewing machine, despite my many assurances to you all that it would happen :/
  • My plans to woo you all with awesome recipes on the blog this year fell apart when we moved to our new flat with an impossible gas oven. My last attempt at chocolate brownies required five hours of baking time. Five hours. And yes, they were still gooey in the middle after all that time.
  • The “no new* clothes” rule. No idea quite what happened there. What happened to my wardrobe minimalism pledge?! (*new meaning new for me)

What Lessons Did I Learn?

Quite a few! The main one being that we can’t do everything at once. Social media may make it seem like we can, but life is all about balance. Balancing health + exercise + working + chores + pursuing your passions + giving back + creating + learning new skills + relaxing + spending time with family and friends… that’s a lot to fit in! It turns out you can’t do all of it, all of the time. I definitely have a tendency to take on more and more until it’s too much, and then have to let go, and then start to build and build and build again… Compromise is something I’ve talked about on the blog a lot in the last year, and whilst things often feel like compromise, maybe there would be less compromise if there was more balance to begin. I’m not sure, but it’s something I’ll be working on in 2015!

What’s Next?!

My word for 2015 is… “b a l a n c e”. That’s the theme to guide how I’ll live my life in 2015. How I’d like to take care of my mind, body and spirit. Working on balancing my commitments with my desires, my needs with my wants, passion with practicality. What this means in real terms?! Doing all of the things some of the time. Choosing what’s important and building that around what’s necessary. With a good dose of what’s fun thrown in!

Now I’d love to hear from you! What were your best bits of 2014? Let’s focus on the good stuff – tell me what you achieved, what you’re proudest of, and what your favourite moments were in 2014! Were there any lessons you learned that you’ll be holding onto in the coming year? Any guiding themes or words to focus on? Please share them by leaving a comment below!

Life changes, Soul Searching and Time to Reflect

It’s been silent on the blog for a while, and if you’re not subscribed to my newsletter you probably won’t have any idea why. (If you don’t like missing out, why don’t you sign up? It’s free!) If you are subscribed, hopefully you found my excuse a good one! You’ll have to wait a little longer for the blog posts relating to that, but stay tuned – they are coming!

The last few weeks have been interesting. Most of the time I feel like life is unfolding before me and I’m just treading my path and taking things as they come. The last month has not been like that. Choices have needed to be made. There have been big, black-and-white decisions. This path or that. Choose one. There’s been some soul-searching, and plenty of reflection, but the decisions are made and this is the path I’m taking.

Firstly, there was the job. There’s no doubt I need a job to pay the bills. I’ve tried for so long to find a job that is a real extension of who I am, that allows me to follow my passions to the full, but alas, these jobs are few and far between. Eventually the need to find work won over the quest to find the perfect job. That doesn’t mean I’ve sold my soul and gone to work for a big corporation. I’m working for a family-owned event hire business (and the owners are two of the nicest, fairest and most generous-hearted people you could wish to meet) and there’s no compromise in ethics or morals. Plus I like the role!

The need for a job came from the decision we made to buy a flat. I’ll write a blog post on this sometime soon but it wasn’t a decision we made lightly. We’ve been discussing it for months. We love renting and we love the idea of tiny houses, but in the end the ‘conventional’ house-buying won. Property in Perth isn’t cheap, and it means we will need to get a big mortgage. We will also need a big deposit – which is where the job comes in. We plan to move this time next year. The job and the mortgage and taking the conventional path seem at odds with how we want to live our lives – which I suppose is why it took so long to make a decision, and why there’s still some soul-searching going on now. I really want to write more about this soon so keep your eyes peeled!

Then comes the lack of free time to pursue my passions that comes with working. It’s like adding insult to injury – I’m not working in the sustainability or waste field, and I have much less time to pursue these passions outside of work too! It’s easy to wish I’d done more with the free time I had, but I don’t want to lament the past. Nothing lasts forever, and I’m sure there will be time to pursue all these things again! No doubt the world will still need saving when I’m less busy : /

The lack of free time has also meant that I’ve decided not to organise the Less is More Festival next year. This was a big decision. It’s been such an important part of my life for the last two years, and I’m so proud of how it’s grown and how many people it reached, but I feel like I need time out. Fortunately the Earth Carers, who supported me for the last two years, have decided to take the helm and will take on the running next year, so the event will still be going ahead. They have some plans to take it in a slightly different direction and their ideas are really exciting. Whilst I’m sad to be stepping back, I know in my heart it is the right thing to do.

One decision we are still grappling with is whether to buy a car. Glen’s office is relocating and whilst it will be very close to our new house, it is a painfully long and awkward commute from where we live now. My new job is just a few minutes from our current flat – and we have just renewed our lease. Buying a car could solve the commuting problem – but what about our values? We debated buying an electric car (expensive, and another step down the conventional corporate road?). We thought about buying an old banger (much less embedded carbon but far more polluting). We also thought about what buying a car would mean to our identities and how it fits with our beliefs. We are still trying to make the decision. I could write a whole blog post on this too (and plan to).

All these changes have meant taking time out to adjust, but really, of course, I’m still the same. My values haven’t changed. My passion for zero waste and plastic-free remains. My quest to minimalise continues. My obsession with vegetables (particularly sneaking them into desserts in a quest to make them healthier – chocolate avocado mousse anyone?) goes on unabated. My desire to connect and share and grow my community still burns as strongly as before. So I’ve made the obvious decision.

Get back to blogging! There’s still so many things to talk about, people to connect with, and ideas to share. I’ve missed you guys, and I’m glad to be back : )

A new beginning…

Today I re-join the employed ranks of the world. I’m starting a new job. Not only that, but it’s a full-time job. It was never my intention to be unemployed for so long (since April this year). Way back then, I was feeling pretty optimistic about my future work plans. I had some exciting work and freelance opportunities I was hoping would come to fruition, but one by one, they fell by the wayside. I dreamed about setting up my own sustainability education business (something I’d still love to do), but these things take time, money…and, seemingly, a lot more confidence than I can muster.

It was time to find a job.

The last two weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, if I’m honest. I find job applications stressful, interviews difficult and the waiting game frustrating. The job I applied for (and got) fits with my values and ethos (I’m not about to start working for the big-chain supermarkets!), but whilst I’m really pleased I found this job, at first I felt like I’d failed. I want so much to be more involved with the sustainability movement, not less. Full-time employment is going to be a bit of a culture shock, particularly with the reduced amount of free time I’ll have. I even wondered whether it was time to give up the blog, accept that I’d failed at what I wanted to do, and move on. And probably go shopping to make myself feel better. (About the shopping – just kidding! : p)

Fortunately I have friends who are able to talk sense. One pointed out that far more people want to work in the sustainability industry than there are jobs for; and that starting your own business is hard, plus it takes time. Another said “Who do you have to be in the sustainability industry to make a difference? You don’t!”

Oh yeah!

Isn’t that what I’m always talking about on the blog – how small everyday actions actually make a real difference, and lead to big changes?!

Another friend (goodness, I do keep the company of some wise people) reminded me of the saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it”. I’m going to have a lot less free time, but hopefully I will be more motivated to use that free time far more wisely. When the days merge into one another and there’s no timelines or deadlines, it’s easy to put things off. There is always tomorrow.

So whilst it’s going to be a huge shift for me, I’m realising that it doesn’t mean I’ve failed, or that I’m going backwards. I’m still going in the direction I want to go in, just maybe more slowly than I’d imagined. But isn’t that often the way? The reality doesn’t always (if ever) match up to how we think things will be. Whilst I love the idea of not needing money and being self-sufficient, let’s be real here. I am not anywhere near that, and money is pretty useful for things like food and rent! Whilst I’m not quite sure what the next year will look like yet for me, the good news in the blog is staying. I hope you’re pleased! : )

To Anyone Who’s Ever Had To Compromise

I’ve been planning to write this since I wrote about buying an iPad. I received some criticism for it (which was to be expected, given the nature of this blog), and that got me thinking.

Did I make the wrong decision? Did I abandon my morals? Am I a bad person? Have I fallen off the wagon?

Trying to live in a sustainable, ethical way isn’t always easy. There always seems to be compromise. It isn’t so much about the right thing to do, but the least bad thing to do.

I remember when I first stopped thinking about doing more, wishing I could do more, and decided to do something about it. I started doing postgraduate studies in Environmental Decision-Making, and I secured an internship at a UK charity called Tree Aid. Whereas at my previous workplace I was sometimes referred to as a tree-hugger (getting an internship at a charity called Tree Aid in no way helped this!), now through study and work I was surrounded by people who cared as much about sustainability, ethical consumerism, social justice and the environment as I did. Maybe they even cared more.

As someone who was just beginning this journey, I was expecting the people I was now exposed to to be hardened “greenies” (although what I thought that meant, I’m not sure). Yes, everyone was passionate, enthusiastic and dedicated. What I found surprising though, was all of them did things that I didn’t consider to fit with this image I had created.

There were the vegans who didn’t use animal products for environmental reasons, yet drank soy (soy production contributes to rainforest destruction).

There were families that wanted to connect more with nature so lived in the country, but had multiple cars to make this possible, including a four-wheel drive for the many trips into town for supplies, school and social outings.

There were people who would not step foot inside a department or high street store, and only bought ethical clothing, yet would shop for groceries at the supermarket.

There were people who took regular flights to visit projects or attend courses or seminars, or to travel to remote places to reconnect with nature and feel re-inspired.

At first I felt a little indignant. How can these people call themselves environmentalists when they fly/shop at Tesco/drive a gas-guzzling car?! Then I realised…they weren’t calling themselves anything. I was the one labelling them. They were just trying to do the best they could with the resources they had available to them.

Another thing I’ve slowly come to realise, is that you can be passionate about many things, but often they are in conflict with one another.

  • Believing in Fair Trade, wanting farmers in poor countries to be paid a fair wage, and wanting to provide a market for these products…whilst also believing in supporting local producers and the local economy, and avoiding high food miles.
  • Wanting to support organic, sustainable farming practices with free-range, grass-fed animals, whilst recognising that a vegetarian/plant-based/vegan diet uses less energy and is considered more sustainable.
  • Flying uses huge amounts of fuel, has a huge carbon footprint and is a massive source of greenhouse gases…yet it enables people who do great work on sustainability to travel and reach wider audiences to spread their message. It also allows people to connect with nature and remote places, or see social injustice and poverty, and feel inspired to fight for them.
  • Electronic gadgets mean mining, manufacturing processes that use chemicals, questionable working conditions and end products with short shelf lives that contribute to landfill…yet they are the main means of communicating the in 21st Century; if people want to connect, to inspire, to teach and to learn, these gadgets are necessary.

When faced with conflicts like this, we have to choose. How we choose depends on our situation, our resources, our experiences at that moment. It doesn’t mean we’d make the same choice next time. It doesn’t even mean we made the right choice this time – after all, making mistakes is how we learn, and grow, and get better at what we do.

When I bought my iPad, I made a decision, and I was faced with a choice. I wanted to be able to connect with other people online, and be a part of the sustainability online community. I wanted to be able to work online outside of home, and the freedom this gives me. I wanted to be able to read books, magazines and articles electronically, to learn more and feel inspired. The decision was to invest in a tablet. My choice wasn’t about whether this was the most sustainable thing to want; it was whether I could achieve this in a more sustainable way. Looking at options, there was no ideal solution, just a “least bad” one. That’s how I made my choice.

You know what? Sometimes, that’s how it is. We have to compromise.

Having to compromise sometimes doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my principles (tweet this). It doesn’t mean I care less about living a sustainable lifestyle, Fair Trade, social justice, landfill waste or plastic pollution.

It means I’m not perfect. But I’m doing the best that I can.

Doubt and What to Think About What Other People Think

It’s been almost two weeks since we moved from the tiny flat to the palace. I’ve found these last few weeks quite difficult. After we made the decision to move, the initial feelings of excitement and elation were suddenly swapped with feelings of doubt and panic.

“What am I doing?!!!”

Our old flat was comfortable, familiar, well maintained…and our home. We liked it. The new flat is new territory. It’s unfamiliar, and not particularly well maintained. People would ask us excitedly in the weeks before we moved: is the new flat better? We’d shift about uncomfortably, look at our feet and say…well, no.

Why does it have to be better? We have more space (which we wanted), we have an outside balcony, the new flat has a sunnier disposition and is warmer, and without the mold or damp problems of our old flat. However, it really needs repainting. And possibly rewiring. The bathroom and kitchen are the originals – so they are decades old. It looks tatty. Being a rental, there’s not much we can do about these cosmetic things, but these are the things that other people see.

What will people think?!

The thought kept going round and round in my mind. Would I feel embarrassed inviting people round? What would people think? Would they judge us?

What didn’t help is that right after the move (probably as a result of the stress that change causes) I got sick. When I get sick, I feel really sorry for myself. The sorry-for-myself thoughts compounded the doubtfulness I already felt. When we’re ill, we want to be comforted, and I found the unfamiliarity of the new place a little unsettling. Being sick also meant we didn’t get everything unpacked and into place straightaway, which delayed the feeling of homely-ness.

Over the last three weeks I questioned myself a lot. I questioned my journey, my motivations, and the way I was choosing to live. I felt really confused, and I struggled to write. I just couldn’t put into words what I was thinking.

Now, two weeks later and (finally) with a clear head, I’ve gotten over myself. No more self-pity for me; no doubts and no regrets either! I want to share some wisdom with you: words I really needed to hear three weeks ago!

What other people think of us is none of our business.

Who cares what other people think of our home? It only matters what we think; and we like it. I thought I gave up caring what other people thought a long time ago. Obviously I didn’t. I try not to care, but sometimes it can be hard. Change can be confronting and lead to doubt. The truth is, if this is the way I want to live, and I’m happy, and it doesn’t impact on anyone else, then it doesn’t matter what other people think. We don’t need the approval of others to validate our decisions.

Of course people will have their own opinions. We all have opinions! I just don’t need to know what they are, because they don’t affect me. I’m out to please myself, not someone else.

Don’t compare your life with others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.

For me, the move caused a huge case of comparison-itis. What will people think also translated as would other people do what we’re doing? No? Why wouldn’t they? What are they doing instead? Should I be aspiring to what they’re doing?

I’m not living their lives, I’m living mine. Whatever they are doing is their own journey, and one I know nothing about. I only know about my own journey. I know my own values, my own circumstances, and my own plans and dreams and schemes… and the choices I make reflect this. In the same way that I mustn’t care what other people think, I mustn’t compare with what other people do. My life is about me, not them.

Looking back now this all seems so obvious. Yet at the time those doubts were very real. I think it was a good experience though…to question everything, and find the answers. Change is what makes us grow. Ultimately it’s made me more sure that I’m on the path I want to be on.

As for the flat, whilst it’s not exactly like home yet, it’s getting there, and we love it. On Mothers’ Day we invited both Glen’s parents and his sister and her family over; something that couldn’t have happened in the last place as it was just too small.

And check out the new view from my desk:

View from office window

I get to look out of this window every day! How could I not fall in love with a view like this?!

What about you? Do you ever worry about what others might think? Do you suffer from self-doubt? Do you find change a little unsettling? Or have you learned to just do what makes you happy and not worry about anyone else’s opinions? I’d love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below!

How to Get Less Busy

We’re all busy. We all pack our days and our lives with things to do, places to be, tasks to tick off, people to meet, and then lament the lack of time for all the other things we want to do, the things we didn’t get round to. We curse ourselves for not having got half of what we wanted done. Does this situation sound familiar to you?

I recently got the chance to do some extra hours at work, and I took the opportunity, thinking the extra money would be useful. So, for the last few weeks I’ve been working full time. But outside of work, I didn’t want to change anything. I still wanted to write blog posts, and read what everyone else has been up to. I still wanted to cook everything from scratch, take my own lunch to work every day, and make sure we were eating proper meals at night. I still wanted to keep things plastic- and convenience-free. I still wanted to take photos to post on instagram. I’m also doing a short course, so I need to make some time for studying. Did I mention that my job has a killer commute? 2+ hours daily. Oh, and outside all of that, life was going on. Friends were having birthdays, I had friends to catch up with who were coming back from travelling, others who are imminently leaving to go travelling. There were interesting events happening in the community. Family commitments. My boyfriend (completely reasonably) wanted us to spend some time together.

Of course, I tried to do everything. On one level, I was relatively successful. I juggled a million things and micro managed my time so any spare second was filled with something productive. But I felt stressed out, tired, and fed up. My boyfriend and I seemed to have endless conversations about chores; who should be doing them, why they weren’t being done, whether the world would really end if we didn’t wash the tea towels for another few days, whether it was acceptable to eat the same thing for dinner five days in a row. I knew I was making less healthy choices, and that made me frustrated. How on earth does everyone else manage to cope, when I don’t?

Then it struck me (or more accurately, my boyfriend pointed out) that other people aren’t coping so much as compromising. When people are busy, they’ll go out for dinner, or get takeaway. They’ll buy convenience foods. They’ll put friends and family on hold, maybe. Or they’ll continue to try to manage everything until they compromise their health, or their relationships, or just burn out.

My problem was, I wasn’t willing to compromise. On anything. I still wanted to do all the things I did when I had more time, except with far less time.

As I wasn’t getting any more hours in the day, and I clearly didn’t have enough time to do everything, I either had to compromise, or drop something. They were my only choices. It may seem like a daunting choice, but you know what? Deciding what to do wasn’t nearly as hard as I imagined.

Here’s what I did.

Step 1: Figure out what is important to you

This was easy for me. My relationships, my family and my friends. My commitment to living as sustainably as possible (no nasty plastic packaging or convenience foods). My desire to eat proper, healthy, balanced meals. My need to see things through that I start. Your priorities may be the same or they may be completely different to mine. Either way, map them out.

Step 2: Figure out how your spending most of your time

I was spending 40 hours at work, as well as 10+ hours commuting. Out of my week, that is a lot of hours… but working didn’t feature in my first (priorities) list. Neither did money. That’s not to say I don’t need to work at all, or that the extra money isn’t useful, but right now, neither of these are a priority for me. The part-time hours I was working before were enough to pay the bills, and we aren’t saving for anything specific, so those extra hours I was working weren’t doing much to improve my life. In fact, they were taking time away from all the other things that I wanted to do, and making me feel stressed.

Step 3: If they don’t match up already, take some steps to get them aligned

Are you spending the majority of time doing the things that you want (or need) to be doing – the things that you prioritised in Step 1? We should be spending more time on the things that are important to us. Once I realised this, I found it a whole lot easier to figure out what needed to be dropped, and where I needed to concentrate my time. Starting next week, I’m going back to my part time hours, which should give me an extra 10 hours to focus on what is important to me. Maybe in the future my priorities will change, but for now, this is how I’m creating space in my life for the things I want to do.

Your priorities and commitments will no doubt be different from mine, but the process is the same. If your situation is such that you can’t drop things completely, think about compromising. Devote more time to the things that matter, and let the rest take the hit.

Our time is precious. We can’t get any more hours in the day, so we need to use our time wisely.

“Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.” ~Brian Andreas

What I Learned from Quitting Sugar

At the end of last year, I decided to try quitting sugar. For a while I’d been noticing articles popping up in the media about the negative health impacts of sugar. I looked into it a little more: I read David Gillespie’s book Sweet Poison and also I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson. I had long conversations with my next-door neighbour about the book Primal Body Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas (which I attempted to read myself, but couldn’t motivate myself past the introduction – it’s a dry read). I decided to jump on the sugar-quitting bandwagon, and try it out myself.

The Science-y Bit

If you’ve missed the “sugar-is-actually-really-bad-for-you” frenzy, let me briefly explain. The word “sugar” actually refers to a number of different compounds characterised by a sweet taste. Simple sugars include glucose and fructose.  Table sugar (sucrose) is actually a double sugar made from fructose and glucose. Carbohydrates are complex sugars that can be broken down by the body into glucose.

Our body needs sugar (namely glucose) to function. But it doesn’t need the immense quantities that most people eat every day. Almost all packet foods have added sugar, even the “healthy” ones like muesli bars and granola. Those low-fat options that we were told were better for us? All have far more sugar than the standard versions. Sauces and condiments are also often packed with extra sugar. It’s everywhere.

After the low-fat revolution of the 1980s led to higher rates of obesity and diabetes, researchers discovered that fat wasn’t making us fat. The culprit is sugar. The American Heart Association recommend only 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men (one teaspoon is a little under 5 grams). It is estimated that the average American consumes more than 42 teaspoons of sugar every day!

The sugar that’s receiving all the bad press is fructose. It’s the sugar found in fruit, and also in table sugar and honey (which is usually around 50% fructose). Our bodies don’t respond to fructose in the same way as with other sugars. Whilst eating glucose or carbohydrates causes a hormonal response that makes us feel full, fructose doesn’t work in this way. Not having an off-switch means we’re far more likely to over-indulge. And when we have more fructose in our bodies than our liver can break down, our bodies convert it into fat.

It’s not just about weight-gain, either. Research has suggested that fructose is linked to the development of a number of cancers including pancreatic and small intestine cancers, it inhibits our immune system, causes inflammation,  it speeds up aging, it impacts our digestive system, and many more.

All of this is pretty scary stuff. If that wasn’t enough to convince me to give it a try, the promises of feeling clearer mentally, of having more energy, of not succumbing to sugar cravings (and accidentally eating an entire chocolate bar when I only meant to eat two squares) definitely were.

Quitting Sugar

What I didn’t Eat

In order to quit sugar, there’s a surprising number of things to avoid:

  • There’s the obvious added sugar of course, which means avoiding most packaged foods. As I don’t eat packaged food anyways, this wasn’t a problem for me. If you do eat anything from a packet or jar, check the label – the amounts of sugar might shock you!
  • All of the “natural” sugars, like honey, maple syrup and molasses are still sugar, so they were crossed off too.
  • All fruit, including dried fruit…and this includes tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes. Remember how in school we were always taught that they were a fruit? Well, it applies now. Have you ever seen how much sugar sun-dried tomatoes contain? No wonder they are so tasty!
  • Sweet vegetables, including sweet potatoes, beetroot and carrots, which all contain fructose.

What I Did Eat

So what was left?

  • Proteins such as fish and eggs. I don’t eat meat, and I don’t eat a lot of fish, so this meant eating a lot of eggs.
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes.
  • Leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables.

How Did I Find It?

If you’re looking at that list above thinking it all sounds very boring, then I’m going to tell you – it was. It was extremely boring. In I Quit Sugar, Sarah Wilson advocates eating a lot of meat and dairy. I don’t eat either of these, and this severely limited my options. I ate virtually the same meals every day for two weeks – which made me question whether I was missing out on valuable nutrients by cutting out so much.

As to how it made me feel… I didn’t get the amazing clarity of mind that I was expecting. But I didn’t get the sugar cravings that I read I should expect, either. Everything just carried on as before. I don’t really know how much sugar I was eating before, but I guess my body didn’t need the big sugar detox I had expected it would.

Lessons from Quitting Sugar

It was a good experiment, and I’m glad I did it because it made me more mindful of the sugar in my diet. More importantly, it made me realise how much enjoyment I get from food – from cooking, to eating, to sharing with others – and that wasn’t something I was willing to sacrifice. Food is my creative outlet. My experiment coincided with the start of mango season; I realised I didn’t want to be eating omelettes for breakfast when there was so much beautiful fresh produce out there for me to enjoy.

fruit2It is worth recognising that other people’s journeys aren’t the same as our own. David Gillespie, who wrote Sweet Poison, was struggling with obesity when he quit sugar; he was also eating and drinking a lot of processed food. Sarah Wilson has an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s, and reducing her sugar intake helps her manage this. Neither of these conditions apply to me, and so I don’t have the same incentives to make quitting sugar a way of life.

Plenty of bloggers, writers and recipe creators out there talk about quitting sugar, and being sugar free, when what they mean is refined sugar-free. Don’t get confused by the two. Honey, particularly raw honey, is thought to have great health-improving properties, but it is still sugar. Berries, such as blueberries, are extremely high in antioxidants, and are considered superfoods because of their high nutritional content, but they are a fruit, and fruit contains sugar. If you want to enjoy these and many more amazing foods, then do! Just don’t kid yourself that you are eating a completely sugar-free diet.

What works for me is quitting refined sugar. That means I can still eat fruit, and I can still bake, but I choose sugars that have not been highly processed and still retain nutrients. They are more expensive than table sugar – which helps limit the quantities I eat! (I’ll cover unrefined sugars in another blog post.)

If you want more information about sugar, I’d recommend reading both the books I mentioned at the start (I found both of these in my local library). The science behind sugar is really interesting, and I think it’s important that we connect with the food we eat in as many ways as possible.

Have you tried quitting sugar? How did you find it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Success Is Not A Number

The last post I published was my 100th post. I did not realise this until I actually published the post – and when I pressed that button I almost had a heart attack because I hadn’t actually meant to publish it at all. I’d meant to hit the preview button. I still felt that the post was a jumbled collection of thoughts that was littered with typos, it was far too long; plus I hadn’t actually decided if I even wanted to publish it.

That’s never happened to me before – the accidental publishing – and I found it quite ironic that just as WordPress sends me a notification that I’ve published 100 posts I’m scrambling to delete that 100th post, or at least block it so I have a chance to actually tidy it up.

I decided that these things happen for a reason (and it was definitely an interesting learning experience for me!), so I decided to leave it published – once I’d checked the spelling and straightened it out a bit.

But it got me thinking about creating milestones and targets for ourselves, and how they don’t always serve us.

Let me explain.

When I first started blogging, I had targets. Well, I thought they were targets. I wanted to reach 100 followers in the first three months. After that, I decided I wanted to reach a new  x number in the next x months. But then I began thinking – is that actually something I can actually decide?

I have no way to control who comes to my blog, and likes what they read and decides to sign up. The only thing that I have control over is my writing. I can control what I write about, how I write and how often I publish posts.

I can’t make people follow me, so why was I setting myself targets for followers? I also realised that I love it when every single new person follows the blog, because it feels great to know that I’ve connected with a previous stranger. I love making friends here! As I write this post, I have 497 followers. I’m getting really close to 500, but the number doesn’t matter.

I want readers who like what I write about, who want to engage with me, and feel inspired as a result of reading what I have to say. That is what success feels like to me; the numbers aren’t important. Of course I love getting more readers, and being able to interact with a wider audience, but the 500th reader will be no more exciting than the 498th, and 499th, or the 501st.

The same applies for post numbers. When I started blogging, I decided to commit to writing 3 posts a week. I was unemployed at the time and I felt this was useful to provide structure, keep my mind occupied and give me a creative outlet. Once I got a job I managed to keep this up for a time, but during the month when my parents came to stay I found it too hard.

The way I saw it, I had two options – either keep up the target and write shorter, less thought out posts; or reduce the number, but keep up the quality.

It was an easy decision. I want people to enjoy what I have to say. I don’t want to be writing posts telling my readers that I don’t have time to write posts. Or telling people that I’m having such a great time that I don’t have time to tell them about it.

People are busy, they have inboxes that get bombarded with all kinds of information (and often far too much) and the least I can do is have enough respect for my readers to only write when I have something worth saying. There is no point in publishing posts just for the sake of numbers.

So now I don’t have number targets.

Instead I focus on what I do have control over – which is the content. If I have lots to say, then I will publish three posts a week, maybe more. If I don’t have anything to say… then I don’t publish empty space. I wait until I have the time and content to actually write something worth reading. Which is why my 100th post wasn’t any more significant than the others.

So I thought it was fitting that I made a mess of my 100th post. It was as if the universe was testing me, saying well you said it didn’t matter – so let’s shake things up and see if it does matter!

And no, it didn’t.

But imagine if I had attached some kind of meaning to it? I would have been disappointed, or angry, or upset – over something that was actually quite trivial and insignificant.

We can’t measure our success by plucking numbers out of the air. By doing so we create unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and then we feel bad when things don’t pan out the way we’d hoped they might. Success is about doing the best that we can with the time we have and the knowledge we have. It’s about making connections. How many isn’t important, what matters is how good they are.