My 5 Simple-Living Steps for May

I’ve never really taken part in a specific minimalism challenge before, though I know there are a few fun ones out there, but as April turned into May I was sitting here with the feeling that I I’ve dropped the ball a little with my pursuit of a simple life. In some ways it’s not hard to see why; life has been a little emotionally charged lately with illness, Kenny finishing his degree and a near-loss of my beloved cat, all playing a part. When things are ticking along and I’m in a little routine, I find it much easier to centre myself and to remember why I wanted to pursue a simple life in the first place, but, when sleeping is a rarity, or it’s hard to eat anything it can be harder to keep the momentum going with working towards simplicity. My personal stand point, is that I feel we’re all human, and everyone will have an off day, or have their arm twisted by circumstances on occasion and just kind of need to do whatever to get through a situation, so I’m not prone to give myself too hard a time for the occasional slip up, but I feel like over the past couple of months, it’s been one slip-up after another to the point where I’m struggling to see where the path was in the first place.

So for May, I’m going to be doing 5 small, easy things to try and help myself centre back in on what’s truly important to me. Please feel free to join me in this mini-challenge, or any part of it that appeals to you, and be sure to let me know how you get on in the comments below, or over on Instagram!

A mug of peppermint tea, and some banana on toast

 

1. No phone checking until after breakfast

For quite a while there I was in a great routine of spending the first hour of the morning reading a book, drinking some tea and hugging my cat… then all of a sudden I was the person who rolls over to turn off their alarm and simultaneously opens Instagram. Why?!? I understand for some people the struggle is real because they maybe have work emails they know they need to get to, or their job involves having a solid social media presence… but not me. Literally my emails exist to notify me that something from my Steam Wishlist is on sale and that Pinterest has realised I only spend 14 hours a day on their site and so, they’ve suggested some more content for me, because it’s time I started showing some real commitment.
So, knowing all this, why do I still feel the need to check RIGHT NOW, and once I have checked and discovered it’s just the usual spam in my Inbox… why don’t I just put the phone back down? It’s like once I’ve started, I just can’t stop checking, slowly working my way through each app until I’m sitting there trying to catch my 600th Pidgey on Pokemon Go.
The thing is, I’ve always really enjoyed that quiet time with Meeko in the morning (it’s usually before Kenny’s up), sitting with the window open and a warm cup of tea and a good book- somehow, I just forgot this a bit along the way, but almost losing Meeko this past month really drove home just how important time with loved ones, furry or otherwise, really is. Instagram can wait.

a paperback book, some banana on toast and a mug of tea,

2. Oh yeah, and actually eat breakfast

My previous point was about the importance of time before breakfast, which I guess heavily implies there is a breakfast, which admittedly, not so much recently. I’m sort of hoping that by slowing down my mornings again, pre-breakfast,  I’ll actually realise I’m hungry and so this problem sort of correct itself, but, in order for that to be possible, I do need to make sure I actually have suitable breakfast food in the house. I have eaten so many biscuits for breakfast recently that I’ve had to switch myself over to rich tea biscuits because they’re the least horrendously bad of all the biscuits.

While, of course, breakfast is nutritionally important, and than in itself should be all the motivation I need to get into, and stick to, a good routine, for me, it’s also an important part of the simple life I want to live. It’s taking the time to start the day with some self care in the form of feeding myself, it’s really a win-win… if only I can get back into the habit.

3. Plan outfits the night before

When I started using a capsule wardrobe system at the beginning of March, I also made a Spreadsheet to help me plan outfits and track how often I’m wearing certain pieces, amongst other things. While I can appreciate that this probably sounds really over the top to a lot of people, I find having everything logged on a Spreadsheet makes it a lot easier to keep track of things, and to quickly put together outfits, however, I really want to get back to doing this the night before. Why? Well, for some practical reasons, like if something is going to need ironed, I’d rather do it in the evening when I have plenty of time, rather than turning on the iron in the morning and spending the rest of the day wondering if I switched it off. But, even aside for the distinctly practical aspects I do better planning outfits the night before. If I leave it until the day of, I am much more likely to be in a rush and grab the same, basic, comfy outfits over and over again – meaning large chunks of my wardrobe go unworn, and I sometimes end up out of the house feeling not very put together at all. Given that it takes about 10 minutes of an evening to check the weather forecast and fill in my Spreadsheet, it’s something so easy to do that really helps lower my stress levels, and keep things running more smoothly for the next day.

assortment of different fabrics and jewelry

 

4. Resume Bullet Journalling

I took up Bullet Journalling at the beginning of 2018 and I loved it. I was initially drawn to it more as a creative outlet than as a life-organisation tool – mostly because after years of trying every method under the sun to try and get my shiz together, I was pretty much resigned to the idea that nothing would work for me. However, I was wrong. Bullet Journalling turned out to provide not only a great source of fun, but also the easiest, most effective method of organisation that I’ve ever come across. I think, though, I made a bit of a rookie error about the whole thing – through January and February I put together very extensive and elaborate spreads that yes, took quite a while to do, but hey, I enjoyed it. March rolled around and I had a lot less time all of a sudden, so pages got left unfinished throughout the month, which made me pretty unhappy. Then, April hit, and I hadn’t left myself enough time to put together the most basic of layouts, so I dropped the ball completely… and April was a pretty disorganised mess for me me! I think I just need to find a balance with how much time I invest in creating the spreads versus how much time and stress they allow me to save. I want to strip back the amount of time I was “having” to put into it, and to use it more as a tool, because honestly, it really, really helps me keep calm and focus on the things that are important to me.

Bullet Journal food tracker

5. Make time for meal planning

Kenny and I both love our food, and even though we’re currently in a bit of disagreement over what we want our diet to look like – one thing remains the same, and that is that we both appreciate a good, home-cooked meal. Meal planning and prepping is another task like outfit planning for me, in that taking the time to really give it my full attention and get organised, really has benefits that last all week long. I love being able to make a meal that  will include leftovers which will feed us the next night too, or being able to make sure that we’re buying ingredients in the right quantities, and with enough flexibility in the types of food, that we won’t end up generating a bunch of food waste, even if our plans change slightly throughout the week. I feel very grateful that I have the time to cook meals for us, and if I’m organised and know what I’m doing I find it very theraputic, and one of the true simple pleasures in life.

So those are the little goals I’ve set for myself in May! I’m excited about taking this time to improve my quality of life and I can’t wait to see the difference it will all make. Let me know in the comments down below if you’re joining me in taking part in any part of this challenge, or, what would you suggest I try to get back to a more simple life?

Minimalism Means Muffins

I’m not 100% sure where I’m going with this post if I’m honest; I’ve changed the title 11 times and normally that’s a sign for me that I’m not sure enough to write whatever I’m trying to write, but I’ve had the idea brewing at the back of my mind for a while and figured it was about time I try and commit something to paper, erm, web page. So, a lot has changed since I started embracing a “less is more” way of living – a lot of things that can be easily quantified or explained a la “oh my gosh, there was floor under all those clothes?!”, but some other things that are potentially even more palpable for me as experiences, but at the same time, a lot harder to pinpoint. This post is about two of those things.
 

 

So, guys I’ve been making muffins. Like on multiple occasions. I know, right?  Baking for me is one of those things that I always see myself doing (and for some reason I always tell employers I do when they ask me about “me outside work” at interviews – what’s that about?), but I actually never do. I guess it always falls below the other tasks in life like work, cleaning and making “proper” food, because apparently “brownies aren’t a nutritionally balanced dinner”, pfft. Even in terms of hobbies, baking falls way down on the list for me; something about the idea of dragging 18 utensils out from the back of cupboards, and then reaching for all the ingredients – about 50% of which will have now expired of course – and then after it all, I have to clean up, are you serious? Yeah, somehow reading a book with a huge mug of tea and a blanket just seems more relaxing somehow.

My muffins – because I’m only competent enough to make one kind, you see – are banana based, and one day, I was working at my laptop at the table and I noticed the bananas in the fruit bowl were really past it. Huh. Those would be good to go into muffins, or else they need to go in the bin. Then I literally just turned my head to the right – didn’t even have to move off my chair – and I could see we had flour, oil, etc. I could picture the mixing bowl’s location, the baking tray – heck, I even knew where my apron was. And all of a sudden I stood up from my laptop and I made some muffins.

Normally, I plan baking like a week in advance, warning friends and loved ones not to call that day BECAUSE I’LL BE BAKING, only for it all to end up in a frustrated mess starting as soon as I lay the scales out on the counter. Normally it seems arduous and like it takes hours, and now, suddenly I’m that person that just “whips up” some baked goods in time for Kenny coming home – I mean, just the one type of baked goods really, but you know. Could this spontaneous muffin spawning be related to minimalism somehow?

Another thing that happened is my return to the world of lasagne making. I’m not a great cook, I’m not even really a good cook, but I am competent, especially with simple recipes, but guys, can I make a lasagne? No, no I cannot. Every single one is either too dry, or to saucy, or the béchamel is sweet or something else weird. I actually gave up altogether a couple of years ago because I got so frustrated and it legitimately made me feel not so great about myself – I’m the daughter of the world’s best lasagne maker you see, although I could be biased there. Anyway, one day recently, I woke up and I wanted lasagne, big time. I went to the store and I’m peering into the ready meals cabinet, having resigned myself to something sub-par and preservative laden, and suddenly I think, “no, I’m going to make a lasagne for dinner tonight”. I Google a recipe on my phone and standing there in the store, I’m able to recall what ingredients I have, what size dish I’ll use, and exactly what’s on my schedule for the rest day – so I know how to time this out. I was so calm, so able to make this split-second decision, whereas normally with my legitimate anxiety issues and my not-so-legitimate lasagne angst this would have had me in cold sweats and ready to hide under the duvet. Long story short, I made a lasagne, my béchamel vanished altogether (?!?!?!?!) and we ate dinner at like 9:30pm, but you know what I did after dinner? I didn’t cry. I didn’t apologise 8,000 times to Kenny for making us eat so late because I had some weird whim. Nope, I cleared up and then I reached for my cooking notebook and made some notes re: my discovery of vanishing béchamel. I stored the leftover pasta sheets, calm in the knowledge I’d be reaching for them again soon, and I went on with my life. Could this be a minimalist thing?

Erm, yes I am aware that all of the photos in this post are in fact of pancakes, but I didn’t take photos of the muffins ok? So these are banana pancakes instead. Close enough.

It’s very hard to see how muffins and lasagne would be related to it all if I look at the big picture, but I think when I break it all down it becomes pretty clear that all of this was a direct result of my adopting a more minimalist lifestyle. Everything from the fact I could actually see the fruit bowl on the table to know that we had bananas that needed using – rather than finding some furry blue unidentifiable shapes in a bowl under the clutter three weeks later – to knowing what ingredients we have and where they are, to not being so hooked on some trashy Netflix show that I feel I don’t have time to make a lasagne. I could make notes in my cooking book, because I could FIND the cooking book. I didn’t end up a frustrated, sauce covered mess while cooking, because I had my apron to hand and I wasn’t multitasking 17 things so I actually remembered to put it on.

I feel this may not come across that clearly, like I said, it’s harder to draw an arrow pointing to it and say “result of minimalism”, but for me, the connection is as clear as day and I honestly, truly, would not have believed before I saw the results for myself that learning to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle would have opened up my mind and my mood and my opportunities so much that I would feel like I had the time, or the ability to make muffins – as silly as I’m sure that sounds. I feel more in control of my own time and my own mind; there is no “chore I should be doing”, there is no Netflix running in the background to distract me. I feel like I’m really starting to see the effects of my hard work to “live lighter” trickling down into real world results, and I like what I see. Now, does anyone have a good lasagne recipe they’d like to share?

The Cabinet.

When Kenny and I moved into our flat we didn’t have a lot of money and so we were incredibly lucky that the previous owner left us all his furniture (actually, he just packed a suitcase and moved out so he also left cupboards full of food, his slippers by the bed and 72,000 containers of shoe polish, but that’s a story for another day…). Anyway, yes, we were very, very fortunate not to need to worry about buying furniture or appliances for the flat at all initially, however, as grateful as I am, there were two big downsides to this. 1) I got kinda lazy about the furniture. I really didn’t like a lot of it, but hey, I mean, it was there. Even when I did have decent money coming in, I kind of didn’t bother to even look on GumTree or anything for something I liked more (we live on a third floor flat, so moving furniture in and out is not the most fun thing ever), so I was never really happy with how the place looked. When people came round I often felt uncomfortable. 2) You know how they say that fish grow as big as their pond/tank allows them to? Well, I did that with my posessions. If there were 8 drawers to fill, I just kept shopping and filled them. Whereas if we had initially had zero furniture, and everything was in bags on the floor, I think I’d have been much more aware of what I owned.

Over the 2 years we’ve been here, we’ve been able to swap out almost everything in the living room and kitchen area (except the sofa, which is filthy underneath the 20 blankets covering it, but I swear it is the COMFIEST sofa of all time…), but until very recently there was still one hold-out from the original storage-set. The Cabinet. It was actually one of a pair, which, for most of the two years we’ve been here were JAMMED full of stuff – to the point where I couldn’t close the drawers a lot of the time. Then, when my KonMari-ing hit full swing last Autumn, we finally got rid of one. FINALLY. The other one was still an absolute mess though, in fact, I think I somehow smooshed contents from the first cabinet into The Cabinet, just so I could actually get rid of one. It was just this huge, unworkable mass of stuff that for whatever reason, I just could not break down. I mean, I think I knew, even then that most of it was ‘junk’ (as in, dead weight, things that didn’t add any value to my life, not actually broken things) but I just couldn’t see how I could possibly reduce it. Eventually, after a lot (and I do mean, a lot) of discussion, Kenny and I decided to pick up a set of the tall Malm drawers from IKEA to replace the cabinet – a lot shorter and neater, and more in line with the other furniture in the room, but still a lot of storage. We picked a day to go and get them and on the day I just shrugged off the plans. Time, and time again.  Day after day.

I don’t even know why the whole thing bothered me so much. Given the size of the room, it certainly wouldn’t have looked ‘too much’ to have the Malm drawers there, and let’s face it, if we ever didn’t need them, we could shift them on GumTree or Free Cycle, really quickly. But it bugged me. I would just stand and stare at that cabinet. Then open a drawer. Then close the drawer.

Over the Christmas period I managed to pick up some retail work, which saw me doing a lot of hours and I swear, literally every day I would come home and stand at the doorway and just glare at that stupid Cabinet, filled with all my stupid stuff. Knowing I had no time to deal with it, suddenly lit a fire under me to face up to it at the first possible opportunity. So January 1st rolled around, the tree came down, my contract ended and I had time to finally take care of the thing – finally.

Going through this Cabinet is the only time I’ve really been angry or frustrated with myself during the whole decluttering process. Usually, even if I feel inner turmoil or I’m just not thinking rationally, I’ll just kind of let it go that day and go back to it when I’m in a better zone. But not this Cabinet. Inside it was my ‘memories’ drawer, my art supplies, my documets (which actually, if you consider the fact I’m a collage artist who works in quite a frenzied manner, perhaps storing necessary documents right next to scrap paper for collage was a really bad idea…), just paper, paper, paper. Piles of it lying about the floor, stacks and flurries and the cat making a nest with some. I was so angry; angry at myself for keeping SO MUCH PAPER, angry at the fact I’d moved almost all of it into this flat with me two years ago, angry that I didn’t practice my art much any more, angry at finding that document I thought I’d lost… for some reason, this Cabinet just took me to a bad place.

So this was the only time I broke the ‘hold each item and see if it sparks joy’ criteria. I just couldn’t. Not with this Cabinet. Not with this paper. I separated the documents, because I had to, and then with all the art paper I just grabbed chunks and bagged them to donate. I filled bags and bags. I kept barely anything at all actually; sitting deliberating between shades of salmon paper just seemed so ludicrous all of a sudden. Honestly, I still have no idea what I all got rid of – which I think says something in itself. All that paper, all those pens that over my years as an art student I researched and shopped for, cared for, used, shared and loved. I sat there looking at it all, and realising that I couldn’t even tell you specifically what a lot of it was for (I mean, I still know what a pen does, but I couldn’t tell you why I liked a certain brand or which ink was the blackest), and it made me really sad. I didn’t just study art at university, I freaking lived it for years. I made art every day, almost subconsciously, as naturally as breathing and now, it would be about as natural as that scene where Bambi takes to the ice. I do still draw, sometimes, sort of, but the person I was years ago at uni was in that Cabinet and in a lot of ways I was saying goodbye to her. I don’t understand what changed and why I broke away so much from my art, and I think I just sort of froze everything in time, hoping that someday I’d figure it out, and maybe I will, maybe one day it’ll all come flooding back, but for now, it hurts too much to look at it all everyday and wonder why I lost what I did. So it’s almost all gone.

The Cabinet, the empty shell that it was in the end, is gone too, and nothing was bought to replace it. I moved over drawers I already had, and we got a lamp (because our ceiling light is as atmospheric as grocery store lighting) and now that corner feels like me, like part of my home. I have claimed that space and banished The Cabinet. But it still makes me a little sad. Yes, it feels like me now, yes I no longer spend time glaring at that corner of the room, but I guess it raises other questions too, about who ‘me’ is. About why I don’t practice my art much, about the feeling of disconnect – of trying to understand if I’m meant to say goodbye to that part of myself, or dig her out from under all the makeup and candles. Art student me would have hated this room. But I am not art student me. I’m mid-twenties me, I’m enagaged to be married me, I’m anxious and minimalist and Glaswegian me. Or am I? How do I know? How can I tell? Who the fuck am I?

So the Cabinet is gone, taking it’s prescence; it’s weight and shadow with it. Out of sight, out of mind I guess. I hoped emptying it out would close the chapter and let me move on – that making a firm decision would have earned me some closure. But it hasn’t. The Cabinet is gone but the doubt remains. I don’t regret physically letting go of… well, whatever it was that went, but I do wonder where the path is taking me now. To loop back around to my art with fresh eyes, and someday end up with another cabinet of paper, or to continue to move further away from one of the keystones of my identity.

Stupid Cabinet.

 

 

 

Is Minimalism Like Camping – minus the bugs and the rain?

I’m talking wild camping; load up a backpack and trek into the wilderness, spend the day gathering firewood, wash in a lake, kind of camping, and I know it seems like a strange comparison, but heare me out. 

When you go camping like this, you spend a couple of weeks before the trip writing lists. You think of everything you could possibly need for every eventuality – from the obvious stuff like flashlights and first aid supplies, to trying to work out how to look ‘cute’ when you’ve been away from indoor plumbing for more days than you want to think about. Normally I end up making a list a mile long and I rationalise it all too; it does make sense, Kenny. Then, we get the drybags out and Kenny ‘helps’ me pack, which basically involves him packing all the essentials (afformentioned first aid supplies and, y’know, food) and then telling me I have the rest of the bag to fill. That’s it. There is no other possible way for us to transport more than I can fit in that bag and if you’re like me, you see this as a challenge rather than a limitation. 

Generally I squeeze, I fold, I roll, I crush and I swear a lot, before admitting defeat and asking Kenny to actually help me work out what a necessary item looks like – I can never get the hang of it really, you mean brow product is not a survival essential? But here’s the thing; once we actually get out wherever we camp, the feeling is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced (and not just because of all the peeing outdoors). I am calm in a way that defies every other day of the 20 years I’ve suffered with anxiety. I am content. I am in the moment. Every item in that bag is perfect for what I need it for – and I am grateful for them all. I want for nothing. There is no feeling of restlessness, no being pulled in 100 different directions by my phone beeping, or adverts on a web page – I am one person, in one place, doing one thing. 

The level of appreciation Kenny and I have for those few items we take with us is incredible – the joyous sensation of putting on clean, dry thermals after accidently getting soaked is almost impossible to sum up in words. Preparing the simple meals together over a fire; it’s a wonderful, heartening experience. And most curiously of all, I never reach for those clean clothes and feel disappointed I went for the black rather than the navy, we never cook together and then sit wishing we had a McDonalds – every need is attended to and because we know what we have out there is all we have, we give up feelings of dissatisfaction and instead embrace being there in the moment. 



I wonder if this is what everyday feels like if you live a minimalist lifestyle. That would be… incredible. Some parts of it sound appealing; the slower pace, the lack of decisions, the simple pastimes, and other parts sound really scary – the slower pace, the lack of decisions, oh, hang on. I can’t help but feel it’s a double edged sword for me, with my anxiety. Is cutting down everything I can’t deal with in my life a sign of weakness or is it a strong, conscious choice to live more happily?