5 things I wish I knew before I became self-employed

I’ve talked a bit before about how I came to be self-employed, but the long and the short of it is that it wasn’t so much a choice as that I was sort of herded towards it by my poor mental health and my subsequent inability to hold down a job. So, I started my self-employment journey from place of basically, sheer panic, at having bills to pay and no means to pay them. I didn’t write a business plan, I didn’t have savings, I didn’t even really have a concept of what the pros and cons of self-employment would look like for me, I just knew I had to try it, that I had to try SOMETHING.

Over the last 9 months or so that I’ve more or less been officially working for myself, there’s some things I’ve come to learn that I wish I had had some awareness or understanding of before I jumped down this rabbit hole, so I thought I’d share them here with you today.

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Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash


1. It really is all on me!

I’m very fortunate in that I know quite a lot of people who freelance or run side hustles or have been altogether self-employed at some point or another. I’m lucky that these people will often listen to me prattle on at length about eBay pricing strategies, how much to invest in business cards or some other such decision that’s currently consuming me. But one thing I hadn’t realised until I was essentially running my own business, is that no matter how many people I talk to, blog posts I read or advice I receive – at the end of the day the responsibility of it all is all on me. I think I somehow thought that I could ask my dad – who was self-employed for 20 years – a business question and he would be able to give me an answer that clearly showed me what to do, but, erm…. no. Every industry is different, heck, every individual business is different and so at the end of the day, it’s up to me that make the decisions – and of course, the mistakes – that will shape my business into how I dream of it being *gulp*.

2. Turns out sitting on my butt at a PC is very different than working on my feet all day

Yes, “duh”, I hear you all saying, but this actually hadn’t really registered for me until one day I tried to get dressed (to actually leave the house, shock horror), and literally none of my jeans fit me – or at least, they didn’t fit in a way that I could trust y’know?

I had always worked retail or hospitality before and been on my feet throughout every shift, I also used to often walk the 2 miles or so to and from work, so, to go from this to walking the 20 steps to my laptop in the morning and then staying there for 10 hours… well, it’s taken its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about positivity and loving your body, but the reality is, the weight gain I’m experiencing is purely because I’ve been neglecting myself. I’ve been eating so much junk and not going for walks because I DON’T HAVE TIME, which, is kind of a ridiculous sentiment when you think about it. What it really means is I DON’T HAVE TIME… MANAGEMENT SKILLS. I need to accept that being self-employed, there is always work to be done, but, you know, not at the expense of my health.

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Photo by Dose Media on Unsplash

3. People will not always understand or respect when I say “I have to work”

This is one that caught me so off guard! I don’t have a huge circle of friends and family, but I would say that I am pretty close with the people in my life and so when I started to encounter a lack of understanding about my work life, it was kind of hard to take. When I would say “I can’t Tuesday through the day, I have to work”, I would get “why? Can’t you do it at night? What are you doing?” or something similar in response and it would really hurt me. I took it as disrespectful and I took it personally, I interpreted it as meaning that MY work didn’t have value – but increasingly, I think it’s just down to a lack of understanding about what it takes to be self-employed. Sure, if I don’t show up to work tomorrow, in the short term, I won’t face the consequences that those working a 9-5 will, but this doesn’t mean there AREN’T consequences, and it doesn’t mean that I have to justify my work pattern to, well, anyone.

4. It’s OK to work non-conventional work hours and not feel ashamed about it

This sort of follows on from the point above, and again, this was a big stumbling point for me. As I talked about in the first paragraph, I fell into self-employment because I struggle with my mental health – and so what that means for me, is that some days I’m a #girlboss, and other days, I just need to look after myself. I’ve had to learn to accept that I actually do HAVE to look after my mental health – it’s not like a quirky life choice for me to sometimes sleep 14 hours a day, or watch Ru Pauls Drag Race for 5 hours, sometimes I actually need to, to stay above water.

So, some mornings I’m at my desk, working away by 8am – and other days? Cannot get out of bed until 11am. Some days, I’m confident and productive and motivated – other days? Depression is taking over, and I only manage a few hours work before needing to sleep again. When I’ve told people, “oh, I didn’t start until 10 today”, or, “I do a lighter work day on the first day of my period because it’s always really rough for me mentally”, I’ve definitely had a lot of eye rolls and snide sounding, “must be nice” type of remarks, and you know what? Yes, it is bloody nice to be able to look after my mental health while earning a living for the first time in my life. But you know what else would be nice? A steady income and career progression. There are pros and cons to both lifestyles and I’m finally learning to embrace the benefits of the life I’m living, and to not feel ashamed about it.

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Photo by Lost Co on Unsplash

5. It’s difficult, and it’s stressful, but it is so incredibly addictive and rewarding

Yeah, I mean, just yeah. Self-employment has me looking an off-button in my ever-working-away-brain, it has me keeping spreadsheets and checking stats, actually having to respond to emails and yes, sometimes it has me in tears.

But honestly, I LOVE this life I’m building with each eBay sale and Redbubble sticker purchase (for the love of god, will someone by something that isn’t a sticker?!). Sometimes it’s easy to see failure around every corner when you’re self-employed – because, especially in the early days, I guess it could be. But the thing is, and I know its absurdly cliché, but all I can do is rock up and do my best and see how it goes. Sure, I could fail spectacularly, or I could learn, grow and succeed, and honestly, I’m becoming addicted to chipping away at the opportunities within my grasp and crafting a life that works for me – so I think, for me, this is the path I want to stay on – whether I succeed or fail in the long run.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post, I really appreciate it – I hope it gave you a bit of encouragement, or a laugh! I’d really love to connect with other freelancers or self-employed people – so please, share any of your experiences or thoughts on this topic down below in the comments!

Timorous Eclectic (Etsy): June 2019 Update

Hi everyone! This is the very first in a new series of monthly update posts that I’m going to be producing. The idea is that each month, I’ll produce a post like this for each area of business that I’m trying to develop. These posts will be less chatty, and more bullet point style round-ups full of relevent stats! My hope is that producing these posts will be a straight-forward way for readers to follow my journey – as well as join in and share their own stories! I also think that sitting down once a month like this and analysing each business area will be good for me too, that it will help me focus and grow.

If you’re new to this blog (hello!), please know that I’m just starting out on my entrepreneurial journey and sharing things as I go along, I’m certainly no expert!

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Stats for Timorous Eclectic, my Etsy Store

  • How long the store has been live: Since Summer 2018
  • What it sells: Digital only products – paper packs and greetings cards
  • Total sales of all time: 37
  • Sales this month: 4
  • Total Feedback of all time: 3
  • Feedback left this month: 1
  • Turnover: £8.00
  • Profit (after all Etsy fees): £1.03
  • Listings live at the start of the month: 53
  • Listings live at the end of the month: 59
  • Hours worked: 20
  • Promotions:  Promoted listings running, bids of $0.05 on each listing

June Recap for Timorous Eclectic

So, June was a very a-typical month for me – I was away on holiday for over two weeks. I had actually planned ahead and made enough new products that I would be able to release one every second day that I was away, but honestly, it completely went out of my head once I was away and I did exactly nothing for the store!

So, I’m assuming that this will have had a negative impact on my traffic and sales for the month, but at least this makes a good “base point” as a first update post – it can only be up from here… right?

Specific Incident

I got my first negative feedback this month. I’ve really struggled with getting feedback left for me at all, at the start of this month, only 2 people had left feedback, despite me actually having quite a few repeat customers! So when I got the notification to say I had feedback left for me, I was really excited – it was on my Infectious Disease Paper Pack which has sold quite a few times before.

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Link to the paper pack

Actually the customer left me a 4 star review (which I know, doesn’t sound bad), but then wrote a paragraph that’s very negative:

I printed the purple virus paper at UPS on high letterhead size paper and also on an 8×10 at home. Both had pretty distinct lines through the design because it wasn’t high enough quality. I still ended up using it for my graduation cap background and with the sticker words across the paper it made the lines not as noticeable.

I totally panicked, pulled the listing and did test prints of everything, as well as checking all the images digitally (they are all of course, high resolution). I also refunded the buyer and sent an email apologising, and asking of an image of her print-out so that I might understand the problem.

I never heard back from the buyer and could see no issues at all on any of my own print-outs. White lines across a print-out usually indicate a jammed ink nozzle or a low-quality print setting, and so I’m left to believe that this was the case here. But with only having 3 reviews, this reads pretty bad for me – with it being technically 4 stars though, I can’t respond to it publically.

This was really dis-heartening. I work really hard on the products I create, and I hate that someone had a negative experience with one of them, even if the issue was on their end. I guess this might just be the downside of selling digital-download items on Etsy though – I have no control over how people print, manipulate or compress the files.

What’s Going Well?

I’m really enjoying making the paper packs – I have a steady stream of ideas (my next 20 or so packs are planned out), and I’ve got a good flow down for making them. I’m also starting to see some click-throughs from Pinterest and some forums, which is exciting, and something I hope continues to grow

What’s Not Going Well?

Erm, I’m not selling much?

I know that taking a huge break this month was not a very smart thing to do, but even in the months before sales really haven’t been picking up the way I’d have hoped for. With Etsy it’s so hard to know, is it my products? My pricing? my SEO? And then what happens is, I read and watch a bunch of advisory content, change 10 things and then who knows what has an impact – for better or worse.

I need to be more structured, sort of pick one plan and stick to it for a while at least.

What’s my Plan for July – Where am I Putting my Time?

I’m going to spend less of my time frantically cranking out designs, and more time researching. I want to look into:

  • Pricing for my products, how am I comparing to competitors?
  • Trends, what’s popular on the forums, what’s about to be big
  • Niche, the paper packs that have done the best for me are actually more obscure, niche ones (like the infectious disease pack), so I’d like to come up with some more fun ideas like this
  • Possibly expanding out into other digital items such as clip-art packs or prints

What are my Goals for July?

I’d like to see a growth in sales and traffic, which, hopefully, with giving my store a bit more attention, should be quite feasible.

I’m also hoping that by implementing the points in the section above, that by the end of July I’ll have a firmer grasp on what I’m doing with my Etsy store, more of a business plan type of vibe, rather than me just doodling paper packs on an ad-hoc basis.

I’d love your feedback on my store – whether you’re an Etsy seller or not! Please feel free to leave any questions or suggestions below in the comments!

 

 

 

My First Time Putting eBay on Vacation Mode

The run up to going on vacation is always a bit stressful, or it is for me at least, but this time around I faced the new challenge of what to do with my eBay shop while I was away? I actually really stressed about the whole thing, envisioning returning to a bunch of messages from buyers waving pitchforks and torches in my face, but, spoiler alert, I was definitely over thinking it (what a shock).

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Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

What were the options?

We were going away to Florida for two weeks, and at first I definitely toyed with the idea of leaving my shop open and just simply extending the handling times (significantly), and messaging customers when they made a purchase to make sure they understood the situation. The pro’s for this would have been:

  • I wouldn’t have to have downtime where I couldn’t earn money and then additional semi-downtime as eBay re-added my listings and they took time to show up again in search.

I know that some sellers do this, even when they go away for weeks, but for me, the cons on this one just outweighed any benefits:

  • As someone who sells digital items on Etsy and has it stated as such in the images, the title, the description and the checkout process… I can confidently say that people buying things online don’t always read things, so people would definitely still check-out not realising they’d be waiting weeks for their items. This would, of course, lead to a lot of negative customer reactions and a lot of messes to clear up – potentially it could have been solved by manually messaging everyone that bought something but…
  • I didn’t really have reliable wi-fi. The hotel we stayed in had really patchy wi-fi access, and so I mostly relied on checking in on-line from Dennys or Starbucks, this is fine to send a few funny pictures to my family, but not really a great way to run a business, especially because I didn’t want the vacation to be dictated by me HAVING to go somewhere with wifi so I could sit on my phone and work – it wasn’t that kind of trip for us.
  • I probably couldn’t answer questions for potential customers. I don’t know about you, but while I always think I produce a pretty thorough listing for my clothing items, I always seem to get questions about the angle of pockets, or the specific shade of thread used around the cuffs or something else that would be difficult to answer while 4,000 miles away from my stock! Again, I could just have messaged customers to explain this, but that would take time out my holiday too, and also be a frustrating experience for them too, potentially.
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Photo by Alesia Kazantceva on Unsplash

So, in the end, I decided to put my shop into vacation mode, and put an out of office message on.

I’m based in the UK, and just used the eBay UK page for the instructions on how to actually go about doing this – here’s the page.

I also made the decision to put my shop into vacation/holiday mode a few days before we actually left. This was to leave time for people to pay (I had been running auctions), and also just to stop any really weird eBay thing happening the night before we flew and me getting in a total panic about it.

The process is pretty straight-forward … unless, like me, you then spend hours trying to write your out of office message!

In case you are not familiar, an out of office response is an email that is automatically sent to someone when they send you a message through eBay. It essentially lets them know that you’re not able to reply to them until X date, because you’re away from work.

For some reason, I got so stressed about writing this message – I guess I kept thinking that if I was a buyer and had a problem with an order and sent a message, only to be told I’d have to wait 3 weeks for a response… I wouldn’t be best pleased.

So, here’s what I wrote that helped me feel better about it all:

Thanks so much for contacting Timorous Eclectic!

I m currently away and I ll be back on Monday June 24th – I will not be able to accept any new orders or respond to any emails until then. All outstanding orders have been dispatched on Monday June 3rd and, where applicable, tracking has been uploaded.

If you are an existing customer and have an issue with your order, I apologise for the inconvenience caused by my being away, but if you send me a message, rest assured I will be in touch on the 24th of June and we can discuss things then. If you are looking to return an item and the return window will end while I m away on holiday, rest assured that you will still be able to return the item when I m back.

Thank you so much for your continued support of Timorous Eclectic and for your understanding of me taking a holiday.

Best wishes,
Kitty

Reading this now, I realise I’ve used the phrase “rest assured” twice in one sentence, but hey, I had edited this so many times that it’s no wonder something like this slipped through the net!

I decided that, for me, it was important to include:

  • Specific dates as to when customers could expect to hear from me
  • What exactly me being “out of office” meant – in my case, no orders, and no emails
  • An apology for any inconvenience caused
  • Reassurance that any return windows etc. that would expire, would still be honored
  • A thanks for understanding and for supporting my small business

I’ve seen people write entire essays, and I’ve seen people write a few words, but this is what felt right for me – because it’s the information I’d want to recieve if I was in the buyer’s shoes.

What happened while I was away?

Erm, nothing.

While I put my out of office response on, and turned my app notifications off during the trip, I would still recieve a copy of any messages to my email and I could check them and reply if I had the chance/if it was urgent.

As it turns out, I got one message from a customer on the morning we were packing to leave for Florida, which I went in and replied to, and then after that… nothing. No messages, no negative feedback and no return requests in the three weeks I shut the shop down!

Don’t get me wrong, I get very few return requests, so I suppose statistically this wasn’t actually unexpected, but I worried about it so much the sigh of relief I let out when I checked my messages for the first time was HUGE.

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What happened when I got back?

We got home on Sunday the 23rd of June at around 2pm after more than 24 hours of travel and literally zero hours of sleep. Knowing this would be the case, I had stated in my eBay message that I would resume work on the 24th, but actually, I ended up lifting vacation mode off pretty much as soon as we got home as I just wanted to get started and get on top of any issues that had arisen.

Because nothing actually had come up that required action I left things alone for the rest of the afternoon, and then right before bed, I sent out “offers to buyers” on every item that I could – 19 in total. I woke up the next morning to one sale. Cash wise, it wasn’t great but I was keen to get the ball rolling again and hopefully just get myself looking nice and active for eBay’s algorithim.

The next day I listed a couple of new items (that I’d drafted before I went away) – again, just trying to get my account back to “normal” in eBay’s eyes. I then decided to start a week long 20% off sale to see if that would also help – having sold nothing for weeks, I was definitely of the mindset I’d rather get some lesser value sales moving in than just continue having nothing happening on my account.

I’m now writing this on the morning of the 27th, and I’ve consistently had one sale a day since I came home. Most of them have been low-value items that I’d already priced low and then became further discounted by the sale, but really, it’s good to move those items out anyway – even if higher value sales would be nicer after weeks of no income!

If, like me, you’re a newer eBay seller and maybe have never had to leave your shop, I hope this post was maybe helpful. Of course, experiences are going to differ quite a bit, but I thought I’d share my own experience – I’d have loved to have found a post like this a few weeks ago!

If you’ve shut your shop before, how did it go? What do you include in an eBay out of office message? Have you ever gone away and just extended handling times?

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Home from Florida

Trimble Park Florida

Hi friends,

This is just a quick post to let y’all know that I am home from 2 absolutely amazing weeks of vacation in Florida. I’m also heavily jet-lagged while I write this, so try not to judge my word-putting-together-ing skills too hard, ok?

So, yeah, 2 weeks in the Sunshine State, and while I’ve been more than a few times before, this trip was completely different! Not a theme park in sight as we instead filled our time with visiting State Parks, nature reserves, beaches, and many an hour spent in rocking chairs, just taking it all in.

I took a real break from thinking about work, and social media – in fact, I didn’t even take my laptop with me – a vacation first for me! This time away really did have the effect of being very head-clearing – I was able to be much more in-tune with myself and see what I am authentically drawn to, and writing is definitely one of these things. So, now that I’m back from the trip, I’m going to be giving myself the gift of time to spend on writing this blog.

I spent a bit of time trying to really work out the focus of the content I create, and I think I’ve managed to break it down to: “a blog about simple living – using entrepreneurship to help with mental health, and to create a life you love”. It might not be super-catchy, but I think it sums it up for me.

With this new mission-statement in mind, I’ve also come up with a sort of content planner, so that things are nice and easy for people to follow – particularly for readers who may be interested in one or two topics, but not everything I write. So, here’s the plan:

Mondays – posts focused on entrepreneurship, and self-employed life

Wednesdays – posts focused on mental health, or wellness issues

Fridays – posts centered around simple living or minimalism

Sundays  – posts about applied minimalism, primarily about my capsule wardrobe.

Tuesdays and Thursdays at the beginning/end of the month: additionally, I’m going to write monthly update posts on each specific area of business that I’m working on. These posts will slot in on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the end of the month, and rolling over into the beginning of the next month.

So there we have my somewhat ambitious content plans for the blog – if you have any specific post requests or questions you’d like me to answer, please feel free to share them in the comments below, or via email at timorousentrepreneur@gmail.com

Right, I’m off to eat something and attempt to change out of my pyjamas… or not, jetlag is rough!!

 

Goodbye, 2018

Wow, 2018, just wow. You’ve been and gone and raged like a tornado through my life. As with every year there’s been heady highs and scary lows, but I really feel like 2018 as a year, has changed me so much more than any other year I can remember.

I found Kinning Park Complex

Well “found” is probably the wrong word, since I had actually been walking past it almost daily for 3 years, no I suppose it’s more accurate to say I “ventured in” to Kinning Park Complex. It’s actually impossible to overstate how much impact KPC and the people there have had on Kenny and I – it’s changed everything from our career paths to how we spend our free time, not to mention we’ve met some truly amazing people and eaten (a lot) of really good food.

I began my transition to veganism

If I’m being honest, my omnivore lifestyle hadn’t sat well with me for quite some time, but I buried my head in the sand, because, hey – cheese is tasty. Like, really tasty. 2018 saw me finally face up to things and begin the move towards veganism. Some parts have been easy, some bits I have failed at, miserably, but I’m excited to finally be on the path that feels right for me – and I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot more about it as we head into 2019.

I made the leap to being self employed

After years of my mental health issues making me miserable when trying to hold down a typical job, 2018 was the year that, with encouragement from Kenny and my family, I finally said, “enough”, and decided I’d figure out another way to do this. Unlike a lot of people I didn’t have savings to fall back on or, you know, a plan, just sheer determination to stand on my own two feet and to prove that my anxiety and depression wouldn’t hold me back from being successful in life, even if they did in a “normal” job.

I could go on, and on, and on – rapidly realising that starting this post may have been a mistake. I could talk about how my family rallied around each other – as we always do. I could talk about how proud I am of Kenny for surviving University and landing an amazing job. I could share stories of barbecues and cutting a fringe in my hair (bad move btw),  of finally finding our local pub, learning Sorani and completely failing at a capsule wardrobe system – yeah, 2018 was a lot. Big mood.

Ultimately though, I’m all about looking forward, not back. So thank you 2018, for the lessons and the snow, for the scares and the seitan, the hugs and the hellos and here’s to 2019! Wishing you all a Happy New Year for when the time comes – I hope 2019 is good to you.

What was 2018 about for you? Let me know your highlights down below in the comments!

 

The Best Non-Fiction Books I read in 2018

I’ve always been a total bookworm – a lot of my childhood memories centre around a leg going completely to sleep after I’ve been sitting in an odd position, reading for too long. Ah, the good ol’ days. I’ve always read primarily fiction, I love getting lost in new world and falling in love with people who don’t exist (Aragorn for life <3). In 2018 though I’ve read far, far more non-fiction than I ever have before and I’ve been absolutely loving the conversations its encouraged me to have with other folks and the ideas it’s caused me to churn over in my little noggin. I thought I’d share my absolute favourites with you here, in case you’re looking for some inspiration.

Stuffocation non fiction books favourites reading

I’ve linked to the books on Amazon in case you’re looking for more info/reviews/to purchase (they are affiliate links), but remember you can check with your local library before purchasing, I was pleasantly surprised by how many were available through Glasgow Libraries.

2018 was the year I found Caitlin. For those of you who don’t know, Caitlin runs a YouTube Channel called Ask a Mortician, and throughout the year she has become my favourite content creator. Her ability to talk about some of the topics considered most taboo in Western culture, and to do it with humor, sensitivity and transparency is truly incredible.

A lot of her work is centred around creating Death Positivity; encouraging people to have conversations about death and what we want to happen to our bodies. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is Caitlin’s memoir about her time working at a crematorium – it covers everything from little things you might always have wondered about (“what exactly IS embalming anyway?”) to discussions of much deeper topics that maybe we don’t often wonder about.

While the book is certainly emotional in places, it also made me laugh out loud and yeah, start having some conversations with family members about death. If you’d asked me at the start of the year if I thought I needed or wanted to read a book about working in the death industry I’d have firmly said “no”, but as it turns out, of all the books I’ve read this year, this has been the most valuable and thought-provoking.

Book flip through

I know, two books by the same author – but I honestly couldn’t pick just one! From Here to Eternity follows Caitlin on a journey around the world to find out how death is treated in all different cultures. She visits places where death is treated with the utmost clinical attitude, to places where people are a lot more comfortable with death and corpses. Again the book is wonderfully written in Caitlin’s voice, with her humor and absolute passion for the subject shining through. Such an eye-opening read!

While I do have a huge amount of interest in the concepts of mental wellness, self-improvement and living your best life, I also generally have quite a lot of skepticism about books or programs that promise “miracles” or such in those fields, especially those, like this book, that talk about them happening pre 8am! I am not a pre 8am person!

Had I just picked this book up in a store, or seen the title as I was scrolling through Amazon I’m honestly not 100% sure I would have picked it up, however, I saw the lovely Kay from Living the Life You Love talking about it, and the way she described it actually made a lot of sense to me.

What I like about this book, as opposed to some other books I’ve come across in this genre, is that yes, it promises big results, but it also gives you very tangible, logical steps to get there. This is not some airy fairy wishy washy thing, but rather an actual concrete program of simple things you can do in your own living room without buying anything. The Miracle Morning involves you completing six steps – you can do it in 5 minutes, or 2 hours or anything in between. You embrace silence, you vocalise affirmations, you visualise, you exercise (don’t panic, yoga is fine), you read and you write.

Each of the steps is enjoyable and I do genuinely find them to be enhancing. Have I started getting up at 5am? Uh, no. But as someone who used to start work 5 minutes after I got out of bed and was a ball of stress by mid-morning, this book hs given me a lot to think about in terms of establishing a strong mental foundation for the day.

Tesco refreshing mint dark chocolate

James Wallman is a trend forecaster who has worked with massive organisations like The New York Times, The Financial Times and GQ to analyse and predict upcoming trends. In Stuffocation, he looks at our current consumerist lifestyle and why it’s bad for the planet, the economy and why it’s leaving us all feeling Stuffocated.

I really enjoyed this book (though I’ll admit I lost interest a bit towards the end), as Wallman seems to be coming at things from a very objective point of view. He’s not a card-carrying minimalist or a die-hard consumer, he’s simply applying his huge amount of expertise in trends and forecasting to our current consumer climate and talking about how and why we got to this point and what on Earth the solutions could be.

Fun fact, I am incredibly squeamish. I grew up with a mother (and many of her friends) who worked in operating theatres, ICU’s, Accident and Emergency – all the gory places. If I’ve heard one intense description on what can happen in a motorbike crash, I’ve heard a thousand. If I’ve eaten one plate of pasta while listening to a step by step walk-through of a tricky surgery… well I think you get the point.

But, despite having so much medical chat in my life, I still grew up with the inability to handle the sight of my own blood. Or any medical procedures. So it’s safe to say that I wasn’t drawn to this book for the potentially intense medical details – it honestly isn’t very gory at all – but rather to hear the account of a junior doctor, having read so much about their plight in recent years.

It definitely was interesting to hear about how Junior Doctors are treated, really it was, but I got so much more from this book. I burst into fits of the giggles, I got the sensation of my stomach plummeting, and I cried very genuine tears. To use a cliché, this book is an emotional rollercoaster; a very personal account from someone who felt very passionately about the work they did.

It is on one hand so very human and relatable, and at the same time, so alien to think of the pressure that doctors – who’re just humans like you and me – have to work with.

Candle and Stuffocation book

This is the first book from The Minimalists that I’ve read, though I’ve been a long time follower of their podcast and blog. I really enjoyed this book, after years of hearing The Minimlaists discussing various issues, it was interesting to actually hear, not just their thoughts on something else, but their own stories of how and why they came to minimalism.

I feel like this book came at a good time for me, as while I could remember the “whats” of minimalism, I was losing touch with the “whys”, and with minimalism, it’s not really about the “what” of, have less stuff, it’s about “why” you would do that and “why” it matters.

The book was an easy read, it flowed like a conversation, and every so often I would read a paragraph or a sentence that resonated with something deep inside me, and it was like hearing a little bell chiming and feeling like, “oh yeah, I remember this feeling”. For all it felt like quite a casual read, it definitely had a lasting impact on me and left me feeling a lot more centred than I had been in a long time.

So that’s it then, the best non-fiction books I read in 2018! What about you? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? What did you think? Or, since I now well and truly have the non-fiction reading bug, do you have any suggestions for me?!

What’s on your reading list for 2019?

Best Non Fiction Books 2018 flatlay

 

 

Dark Winter Nights | Mindfulness for the Seasons

Rainy Weather Winter Scotland

Depending on where you live in the world, winter may or may not be a big deal. Here in Scotland, while we don’t typically experience heavy snowfall and absurdly cold temperatures, what we do get instead are months (and months) of very little daylight, it almost always raining even when it actually is daylight, and a colour scheme that features 17 shades of grey and bleh. It can be kind of tough. And then, once you get to the point of it being tough, you realise it’s only November, and it’s only just getting started.

So, why is it so tough?

We have electric lights, we have central heating and waterproofs; we’re not exactly camped out on the hills at the mercy of the elements here. For some people, clinical depression and S.A.D come into play of course – and just to clarify, while I have a long history with clinical depression that is typically worse in the winter months, I have never been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) – so know that this post, as ever, isn’t intended as medical advice, just well-intentioned stories of experience and some suggestions.

I think there are a few reasons why it’s tough, especially here in the UK:

  • Looking out the window, words you might use to describe the view in winter might be “bleak”, “grey”, “lifeless” or something like “grim” – none of these words really hold positive connotations. We don’t get a lot of the blue skies, and crisp frosty mornings – it really is months of dullness, or as we would say in Scotland, it’s dreichit.
  • It’s all everyone talks about (Or at least it feels like it). I go into the Post Office and the lady at the counter greets me by grumbling about the bloody rain being on again. I call my Dad, who regales me with a story of how he had to put the lights on before 4pm (that’s BEFORE 4pm, Kitty). Even if you yourself are trying not to focus on the rain and the wind, it is constantly discussed and put to you – and it is almost never in a positive light.
  • It feels like it makes your world shrink. Some of this is real – like for me, as a petite woman, I can’t go jogging in my local area in the dark… so that’s anytime before 8:30 and after 15:30 then. Wow. And some of it is more of a perception, I think. A lot of the things we might enjoy or fill our time with in the lighter months, suddenly aren’t so enjoyable or viable. It’s all too easy to fall into a rut of just sitting in front of the TV every night.

rain winter cars traffic city

So, how can mindfulness help?

I think there’s actually a few ways that practicing mindfulness can help us not just  endure, but in fact, thrive in the winter months. If we apply some of the core principles of mindfulness, like slowing down and practicing awareness, and focus them on the winter season specifically, I think we can make a big change in the way we perceive and therefore experience things.

  • I think it can be easy for winter to seem to represent death, or the end. The trees are leafless, so many animals are hibernating – or keeping a low profile – and we ourselves may feel sluggish in the cold weather. I like to take the time to re-enforce the idea of winter, not as a time of dying, but as a time of resetting. It can be a time for looking into ourselves and doing some resetting of our own – of using meditation, and the wonderful stillness that winter brings, to work on closing some now un-needed chapters within ourselves, and preparing for a time of growth, of blossoming and of change.
  • Winter is easily seen as a time “without”. Without sunshine. Without warmth. Without the buzzing of bees or the fluttering of bats. It can be easy to feel that winter has a lot “wrong” with it; as if Summer is our norm and somehow winter is the antithesis of that. I find that it helps me to focus on the idea of impermanence – that everything is fluid and without a fixed state. Like the seasons, like my thoughts, my feelings and my very existence. The cycle of the seasons creates balance, and we can relax and know that this cycle will continue – whether we moan and resist and fight it, or not. Winter may feel difficult sometimes, but as with all struggles, it will pass – and I think being mindful of this fact can be a big help in keeping things in perspective.
  • Create light and joy for yourself. Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned above, I am usually all for trying to embrace winter for what it is and to love it, but sometimes, as the rain lashes against the window and the wind howls, it can be nice to draw yourself inwards instead. Close the blinds, light some candles or fairy lights (or, “winter lights” as my dad insists on calling his), make a hot beverage and take time to be still. At these times, I like to meditate on feelings of gratitude – which can be abundant in winter, if we give it a little thought. That I have a warm, safe house to retreat into, that I don’t have to worry about a bad winter leaving me without enough food, that I can have the time to simply sit and breathe when outside the weather is in such chaos – all of these things are huge blessings, and I do my best to stay mindful of them throughout the season.
  • Keep busy. As we spend more time with ourselves, perhaps reflecting more than we do in the busy Summer months, pay attention to ideas that may spring up. Winter can be an excellent time to pursue a hobby. I’m not suggesting that November 1st you go out and buy a shop’s worth of yarn or anything, but, if we slow down mindfully – rather than zoning out in front of the TV each night – we may find we have time, and the desire to learn something new, or return to neglected creative practice – whether that’s baking, playing the drums or crochet.

Rainy weather winter Scotland rain

But, we’re all still human…

Let’s be honest, while the points I’ve listed seem (I think) sensible and fairly logical, we’re all human and we will all still have days where we show up at work soaked to the skin, or when our heating breaks during the coldest week of the year. And what then?

Yup, winter does suck sometimes. It just does, and honestly, I think it’s perfectly okay to feel that way –  the one suggestion I would make though? Don’t be the person that greets strangers on the street with a “morning, horrible day, isn’t it?”. Try and remember that most people struggle with the long winters here, and honestly, contributing to the constant moaning about it isn’t helping anyone – although I’ll hold my hands up and admit I totally do this myself sometimes. I’m not suggesting you stand there in torrential rain and gale force winds with a slightly manic smile on your face as you declare, “BEAUTIFUL DAY ISN’T IT!?!?”, but rather that, when possible, we adopt a Thumper approach. You know, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – about the weather or lack of daylight, anyway.

I hope you found this post helpful, or that it gave you some food for thought. I’d love to hear from you on what your winter experience is like – are winters hard where you live? Have you typically struggled a bit in the winter months? Do you have any suggestions for me, or other readers, as to what we might try?