Sometimes it’s OK to have too much

There are some things you can never have too much of and in a world where I’m trying to live with less, today I’m celebrating abundance. In my world there can never be enough friendship, love or creativity, but I feel oppressed when I’m surrounded by too much unnecessary “stuff”. I try to see having too much as a welcome opportunity to share, celebrate and find joy in excess.

Aren’t these sunflowers beautiful? I took this photo on holiday in France last week. We were driving to the local market when I shouted out to Mr T that he must “stop the car now”. We spent at least ten minutes gazing at their beauty, the field seemed to go on forever and we were mesmerised. They may seem gaudy and excessive to you, but I am transported back to that sunny day every time I looked at that picture.

On holiday, we seemed to have too much of everything. No wifi meant we weren’t distracted by emails, social media or checking our phones for updates there was time to just sit and talk. We rented a cottage from an English lady who was bemused by our lack of intention. Did we not have  a list of places to go and things to see? Did we want her to recommend restaurants and bistros? No, we were content to visit the market, buy bread and cheese for lunch, which we spent watching the Tour de France. We spoke to the locals who pointed us in the direction of tiny coffee shops, we drank espresso and visited places you won’t find in the tourist brochures. We came across the remains of a Roman bath house next to a municipal car park and a beautiful garden tended by a 103 year old French man who insisted we took away garlic and artichokes from his plot. We had lazy breakfasts and we sat in silence watching the sunsets.

We celebrated having too much time, too much sunshine and delicious wine. We enjoyed the company of birds and butterflies and when Mr T went out on his bike I swam in the pool and read books (averaging one a day, sheer luxury). We truly were busy “doing nothing” and it was bliss.

I truly believe that you can never have too much of a good thing. Having too much is the perfect excuse to share and to give. My garden is a perfect example right now. After two weeks of neglect while we were on holiday, there is plenty of everything (especially weeds and long grass, but I’m calling that a wild flower meadow and the bees are happy). Gluts of soft fruit mean visits to the neighbours to offload excess, resulting in conversations, shared coffees and exchanging gooseberries for radishes or carrots. I’m making fruit flavoured gins and vodkas to give away at Christmas and of course I’m freezing, making jam and ensuring there will be good things to eat in winter.

Whatever you have too much of, find a way to share it, rather than discarding or wasting it. Whether it’s money, time or food, small acts of sharing make us feel better. I’m not talking about organised volunteering or philanthropy, just the small acts of kindness that can become part of every day. Buying a couple of extra items in the supermarket and popping them in the Food Bank collection point. Gifting your unwanted books to a community library or even just taking the time to chat to a lonely neighbour instead of dashing inside when you get home from work. An added bonus is that you’ll find this kindness returned in unexpected ways. We have a green house gifted by a neighbour who had become too infirm to enjoy his garden, he was going to sell it, but overheard my husband telling a friend I wanted one but couldn’t afford it. My freezer is full of a friend’s “glut” of raspberries and my wardrobe full of charity donations.

Celebrate excess, seize the opportunities and remember that sometimes it’s OK to feel good about having too much.

This is an extended version of a post that originally appeared on Medium.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast (Got to Make the Moment Last).

20160325_134452OK, so that’s paraphrasing Paul Simon, but I find myself singing this hippy, trippy song on my daily walks. It makes me smile as I wander.

I don’t wear headphones when I walk. I think I would miss the sounds of nature, the blackbird singing her heart out in the trees, the laughter of kids in the forest school, even the whoops from Go Ape when I get closer to Delamere Forest car park.

I know that walking, commuting or doing chores are prime candidates for multitasking. For listening to podcasts, audiobooks or a random playlist. But I just don’t enjoy noise when I walk (or when I write / design / proof read). My brain only seems to be able to do one thing at a time. I can’t read and listen to music; I can’t walk and listen to podcasts. I can breathe fresh air and notice the world around me.

In search of slow, I wander in the woods or step out of the garden gate into the fields. I take time to look around and to listen. I mull over the tasks ahead, I dwell (too much) on yesterday’s failings or problems I can’t solve. I might meet a neighbour, also out walking; often they’ll remove one ear bud and try to hold a conversation whilst their playlist continues. A tinny background noise as we exchange village gossip (garden produce successes, a new neighbour or another house for sale).  I want to shout “Unplug yourself”!

But, shutting ourselves out from the world has become the norm. I am the odd one out on the train because I’m not constantly scrolling through my smart phone or wearing headphones. I used to worry about this. Friends told me I was leaving myself exposed, that random strangers would “bother” me, that I would feel safer and more cocooned if I took refuge in my electronic devices.

I love those random conversations; if I am occasionally “bothered” by the person next to me I move seats. More often I discover fascinating stories, a man fresh out of prison on his way to visit the son he hasn’t seen in 15 years; the grandmother off to meet her first grandchild (yes, lots of photos, plenty of proud smiles); the teenager visiting a favoured university for an open day who has never been on a train (“Mum drives us everywhere”). We once took a train trip around Europe; we met friendly, interesting people on our travels. In cafes they would recommend their favourite flavour of ice cream or tell us where to eat dinner (In Italy a waiter at our hotel told us to eat at his brother’s restaurant “I grow the wine he sells, it’s my hobby”. It was the most delicious Montepulciano I’ve ever tasted).

On my walks I learn to recognise the call of birds, to hear the wind as it rushes through leaves in autumn, I hear the crunchy frost under my feet in winter. These are my mindful moments. I don’t need a 10 minute podcast to show me how to slow down, empty my mind and let go of those anxieties that cloud my judgement, The sights and sounds of nature are all I need.

Do one thing at a time, do it well. It sounds fine in theory, but it’s so tempting to rush through the “to do” list, to move on to the next chore. My working life is governed by deadlines, sometimes I need to work late, long hours or weekends. It’s not healthy and not always productive, but necessary. Finding ways to slow down, to relish the small moments of joy keeps me balanced. If your balance is an audio book on the daily commute, then that’s fine. I’m not suggesting everyone should unplug all of the time. Maybe some of the time? Use your time in ways that are productive and satisfying, ask yourself what strategies work for you. Find your own slow.

You and me, we’re different people. There’s no right, no wrong journey the slow life. Just a gradual shift to happiness and contended living.

I tread my own path. And I’m feelin’ groovy!

What is a Capsule Wardrobe? (and why I don’t care if I don’t have one)

A photo of my wardrobe

My not so capsule wardrobe – it appears I like pattern!

So, what is a capsule wardrobe? I am reading so much about streamlining, de cluttering and minimalism at the moment and at every turn I come across this concept of the capsule wardrobe. Now, I remember years ago reading about this in Women’s magazines. There were features every month about how a grey / black / neutral limited wardrobe would simplify your life and turn you from a Slummy Mummy to super together Mum about Town overnight. I tried them, but I’m just really bad at following rules!

The idea of a streamlined, simplified wardrobe does sound appealing. I just can’t see how it would work for me. I’ve looked at the Konmari method, Project 333  and dozens of podcasts, blogs and Instagram feeds promising me the secret to a minimal wardrobe. Wouldn’t it be great to open your wardrobe every morning and not be faced with that “Oh my, what am I going to wear” dilemma? I solved it by working from home – honestly – the Amazon delivery man doesn’t blink an eye if I  open the door three days running in the same t shirt and yoga pants I laughingly call “work out wear”. When I do venture out, pulling on a Seasalt tunic and a pair of jeans works for me every time! Have I got a capsule wardrobe already, but just don’t know it?

Because I wanted to write this post, I took a photo of my wardrobe. The truth is, I don’t really have that many clothes. Do I? Living in the UK, I definitely need to dress for the seasons.  There are winter clothes (down coat, waterproof, sturdy boots), gardening clothes (jeans, t shirts and jumpers that don’t mind getting filthy when I’m weeding), decorating and housework clothes, special occasion clothes and then the stuff I wear every day. I pulled apart the hangers and thought about what I could throw away (in the words of Marie Kondo, what doesn’t “spark joy”). Honestly? I couldn’t say every item in my wardrobe sparks joy, but it does serve a purpose. There is nothing I could throw away.

I don’t buy clothes very often, but when I do I definitely fall into the “buy once buy well” camp. I like clothes that will last and earn their keep. Some are from charity shops, some were swapped with friends and there are a few “special” purchases bought for occasions such as weddings or my daughter’s graduation. I’m a big believer in clothes meeting the  “30 wears” rule. A reaction against disposable fashion, buying clothes you’ll wear at least 30 times certainly encourages you think about longevity, not just seasonal style. I have a functional wardrobe, and it serves me well

So, what do I mean by a “functional” wardrobe? Every thing in my wardrobe serves a purpose. The high waist bootleg jeans for those “fat and frumpy” days; the straight leg petite fit jeans that look great with heeled boots and a smart shirt for “daytime smart / casual”. The John Rocha dress I bought in the sale that only comes out for weddings and christenings. The basic t shirts and sweatshirts I wear every day, paired with jeans and the summer skirts and strappy tops that only see the light of day for two weeks every July! There are leggings for running (currently unworn because bloomin’ Lupus is flaring), the paint spattered jeans for annual decorating, the dressing gown and nightie that only come out for hospital visits. The Christmas t shirt that only gets worn in December and the beautiful beyond imagination embroidered and sequinned wool skirt that cost an arm and a leg 20 years ago, but still comes into it’s own for winter “formals” (works Christmas parties, the day I met Prince Charles* and those days when I really need to dress to impress!) and there, lurking at the back is the leather jacket Mr T bought me 15 years ago –  which truth be told –  no longer zips up. It’s job is to remind me I was once a little bit sassy and could carry off a strappy cocktail dress and leather jacket combo!

Even my undies drawer works hard. 3 bras (black, white, “neutral”), 10 pairs of knickers (ironed and folded  – is that too much information?) and a couple of camisoles for low cut tops that reveal too much middle aged flesh! Of course, we’ll skim over the sock drawer, I do have a little bit of a hand knitted sock addiction!

hand knitted socks

My current favourite pair of hand knitted socks

Is a functional wardrobe as good as, or better than a capsule wardrobe? Could I make do with less? If I threw out everything I haven’t worn for six months what would  I do when summer comes? (or was summer ’17  that glorious week in May and now we’re declining into autumn)? Should I throw away the leather jacket, wool skirt and killer heels just because I don’t wear them very often? Nope, they’ll have their day and having them means I won’t be tempted into spur of the moment or panic buys when the need for such an outfit arises.

You see, all these bloggers talking about their capsule wardrobes seem to be  constantly buying new. They’re all about this season’s sneakers, coat and must have  dress. My summer sneakers are both over ten years old and the Birkenstocks, just in view in that photo of my wardrobe are equally mature. At the end of the summer I’ll clean up my summer shoes, repair the heels, buy new laces and swap them out for my winter boots (similarly vintage).  You see, a capsule wardrobe isn’t the same as a minimal wardrobe and my functional wardrobe probably falls somewhere in between. My wardrobe isn’t full of mix and match separates, I can’t make 20 different looks from six Key pieces. Nor have I pared down my wardrobe to the extent that I have conquered my laundry mountain like these ladies from the Purposeful Home Podcast. But I am still wearing this shirt and denim skirt I bought in 2006!

classic white shirt and denim

My favourite white shirt and denim combo

So I don’t have a capsule wardrobe, who cares? Living with less, doesn’t mean living  with little. Minimalism, intentionalism, slow living, whatever we choose to call it is about living unencumbered by the stuff that causes stress and anxiety.  Taking the time to make considered purchases, valuing what we have and not being weighed down by the pressures of conforming to what we think is expected of us. That’s true minimalism in my book.

*a girl is allowed the occasional name drop, surely?

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Intention, Not Perfection

Well, first news is  we’re “normal”.

annie-spratt-89768

I’ll qualify that. I’ve been struggling with how to describe our lifestyle to others, and eventually I’ve realised the obvious. We’re normal. Our lifestyle is normal for us. And, just as in every other aspect of our lives, everyone has a different idea of what that means. We constantly compare ourselves to others, which can be quite unhealthy and unhelpful. Whether its jobs, homes, holidays or the behaviour of our little ones, it seems we can always find a way to shame others or feel bad about ourselves. But I’m not into shaming, I don’t buy into the idea that my life is “better ” or worse than anyone else and that means I’m giving myself  (and you)  permission to stop the guilt and the anxiety.

I’ve been fretting about all that plastic in my waste bins (the recyclable and the non-recyclable). I feel really guilty that I’m deliberately buying stuff that will never go “away”. It’s become something of an obsession. I can’t stop myself reading and googling about the truth behind plastic’s short term convenience over long term harm to people and the planet. Someone recommended I read Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson; she wrote a blog and now promotes her book and her lifestyle all over the world. It’s a great read, plenty of food for thought and her commitment to not bringing potential waste into her home and a refusal to throw stuff “away” is admirable. I’ve also been recommended that we go “plastic free” or “waste free”, in fact any number of lifestyle choices have been presented to me which involved, refusing, giving up and going without.

But is it achievable for me and the Mr? I don’t think so. The whole concept, of “giving up” and going without just doesn’t sit comfortably with me. I’m not a “giving up” kind of person. As a Catholic child I rebelled against Lent, choosing positive actions over weeks of self-denial. I could never give up chocolate, but I would promise to make my bed every day instead. Bea Johnson’s approach is to rethink those 3R’s we’re so familiar with (reduce, reuse recycle) and instead she advocates a 5 R’s approach. The first of which is “Refuse”.  She says we should all learn to say “No thanks”, more often. I take her point, but I prefer to reduce. Choosing to take a cotton tote bag shopping, using a washable cup for take away coffee and carrying my own water bottle I’m already choosing to refuse disposables. I think my approach is more positive. It allows for the inevitable “blips”, those trips when you just aren’t prepared. I also think that the concept of refusing is quite negative. At one point Bea Johnson talks about asking her boys to refuse candy when out trick or treating so they don’t bring waste into the house. That’s a big ask for a small boy – I’m not sure Mr T would give up his packets of crisps and chocolate bars so easily! I’m uneasy with the idea of any philosophy that invites failure. That’s why diets don’t work for me. I beat myself up every time I “fail”.

Mr T and I live an intentionally simple life, but we certainly have acquired a lot of stuff we don’t need.  I was mulling over this concept of reducing versus refusing when I opened the drawer of my dressing table. The one where I keep my beauty essentials along with all those freebies and samples that seems to accumulate almost without thought.  I like to think I buy natural beauty products, avoiding products that have been tested on animal, but  I’m wary of  companies that boast about their eco credentials. You’d think those claims would mean the packaging was easier to dispose of or recycle. However, even the organic hair serum I paid an arm and a leg for turns out to be packaged in a non-recyclable pump dispenser (and annoyingly, I can’t see how it can easily be taken apart when I get near the bottom. So unless I attack the packaging with a bread knife I’ll lose the last inch of product). And what about all those tiny sample pots and single use sachets? It always feels great to snag a freebie at the makeup counter or to be given a free sample. But my dressing table drawer is full of unopened tubes and sachets I’ll never use. Those trial sizes that come free on magazine covers or with a full size purchase always seem so exciting, but judging by my dressing table, they soon lose their appeal.  In an effort to make my morning and evening routines less complicated I’m going to think more carefully before I accept those freebies in the future. Not just because their plastic packaging can’t be recycled and won’t break down in landfill, but because accumulating stuff for the sake of it is making me uneasy. I intend to bring less free samples into the house, but I’m not going to beat myself up when the occasional trial size finds its way into my home.

I used to make my own hand salve and lip balm, and so I’m going to find that recipe and start making my own again (I have lots of tiny pots and containers thanks to all those beauty freebies). That will stop the flow of empty hand cream tubes and lip salve tubs that fill my bedroom waste basket. It’s going to be hard to stop myself asking for “nice hand cream” at Christmas – but if I intend to make more and buy less, then I won’t need any – and less trips to the beauty counter means less opportunity to dither over a free sample!

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be asking myself some hard questions and searching for answers as I figure out how I can simplify my life and lift this feeling of unease that’s affecting me so much right now.  So, if you’ve got an eco-worry; a recycling dilemma or just want to know more about living with less; just ask. I can’t promise to know the answer, but we can find out together and help each other.

I’m not going to admonish myself when my Lupus means accepting a supermarket delivery filled with fruit and veg in non-recyclable packaging. But’ I intend to plan and prepare better so those emergency deliveries aren’t needed as often by stocking my freezer. Life is about intention, not perfection.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt for Unsplash

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#badbirdwatcher #girlgardener #gardenbirds #gardenorganic #twitcher #blackbird #nothingisordinary #naturelovers Classroom window view. I spent today at the Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port.  learning to use my digital camera - thanks Eve & Carol from @going_digital for getting me off auto!
#goingdigital #allthegearnoidea #ihavethisthingwithwindows #ellesmereport #slowliving Remembering our family outing to Beeston Castle last week and how it only seems like yesterday that  my heart would beat faster when my little girl (now in her 20's) would run full pelt over that bridge & down into the woods! Just dropped ff some advent garlands for @ditzyrosemakes , swipe for more examples of new stock. For crocheters, I'll be sharing the patterns on www,grannycoolcrochet.com over the next few weeks.
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#lovecrochet #crochetersofinstagram #makingchristmas  #amakerschristmas #haaktechniekenbijbel #amigurumi #adventcalendars Today's walk was mostly sheltering under the trees and dodging raindrops! I know the tv adverts are hurtling towards a Christmas shopping extraveganza, but  for me, this month is about admiring the colours, kicking up leaves & marvelling at the beauty of nature.
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