Have a Merrier Christmas With Less

It’s almost Christmas, and although it’s different to previous years, what isn’t so different is the mad panic to buy, buy, buy, either to show love to friends and family, or out of sheer obligation. 

But as I’ve turned minimalist over the past couple of years, dramatically reducing my possessions and experiencing endless self-growth, I’ve come to realise that stuff isn’t the key to love or happiness. In fact, an excess causes untold stress, financial hardship, damage to relationships, and to the Earth.

As a child, I’d physically always had everything I wanted, never going without the latest console, latest games, or best toys. The walls of my bedroom were lined with toy boxes, but even back then, I was never satisfied. There was always a new toy I wanted, a new book, or a new video game. 

From my teens to my early 30s, I was what you’d call an organised hoarder. I had so much stuff that it was breaking my bedroom drawers, had filled up several storage boxes under my bed and on top of my wardrobe, stuffed every cupboard and lined every shelf. But no matter how much I had, I wanted more, more, more. 

No matter how many games, consoles, books and trinkets I had, it wasn’t enough. I often dreamed of owning a bigger house, certain that if I only had more space to keep everything and entertain my friends, I’d finally be happy. 

It didn’t matter whether I’d just acquired an entire wishlist of stuff for Christmas, either, come January I’d hit the sales to fill the hole inside me. You see, I didn’t realise at the time that one of the sources of my unhappiness was the sheer amount of stuff in my life. Greed and excess. 

Another reason was low self-esteem which was further exacerbated from going down the path people expected of me rather than what I really wanted. Stuff was acting as a bandage for the trauma in my past, and as a smokescreen for decisions I had made that I wasn’t truly happy with. 

I hated myself with a passion, but as long as I didn’t face it and kept the smokescreen going, I convinced myself I’d be fine. 

Except I wasn’t. I was as far from fine as one could get.  All of this hoarding and consuming caused countless arguments between me and my fiance, Leighton (now my husband), and I was forever in overdraft with my bank due to spending splurges. I was also a hot mess inside. 

Then, one day, my mum had a declutter of the attic at her house. A huge amount of the stuff, she said, was mine, and she was bringing it to me to sort through. 

When she arrived, I was stunned. It took her several trips back and forth between my house and the car to bring the bags and boxes. Years of my childhood and school life bulged at the seams and was dumped on the living room floor for me to sort. 

At first, I wanted to put it all in our attic, but Leighton stopped me. “No way!”, he said, “That attic is rammed as it is with your crap and we aren’t having any more. Either you sort this or it goes in the trash!” So, with that, I was forced to confront some of my hoard, and the past I had been clinging onto. 

And 75% of it was trash. 

This experience didn’t instantly turn me into a minimalist, but unbeknownst to me, it was the first step. 

Fast forward to the present day and I can tell you with a hundred percent certainty that freeing yourself from the burden of your excess physical possessions is one of the most freeing things you can do. 

The second most freeing thing you can do is to free yourself from the desire to own more, and the pressure to buy more for others ‘just because it’s the norm’. 

Free yourself from the expectations of marketers and focus on being grateful for everything you already have, especially the people and experiences in your life. Advertisers would have you believe that to ‘give her the best Christmas ever’ you should buy their latest scent or designer handbag. That to be a true friend you should buy any number of random seasonal gifts.

Not true. 

Instead of buying your friend yet another pair of socks and a novelty gadget from the gift aisle, why not connect with them and get them something that aligns with who they are and what they want for the future? Maybe they want nothing at all, in which case you should believe them. After all, most people are already drowning in a sea of clutter and years of unwanted gifts. 

Why not spend time with them or donate to a charity of their liking instead? 

Not only will this be lighter on your wallet and your stress levels, but will help people (or animals) in need, and give you both a far longer lasting glow than any physical possession can. 

According to Nationaldebtadvice.org.uk, over 16.9 million people borrow money to pay for Christmas gifts, and one in twenty will skip paying a bill over Christmas because they can’t pay it. 

That’s madness. 

We’re falling prey to marketing and trying to buy love and connection – things which cannot ever be bought. And when you think about it, would your loved ones want you to go into debt for them? Would you want your loved ones to go into debt for you?

Furthermore, an eye-watering amount of unwanted gifts end up in the trash or in charity shops, 60,000 tonnes of which simply gets sent to landfill.

When there are so many people in need, this is a troubling figure; not to mention the damage done to our planet.

I shocked myself last Christmas when I found there was nothing I wanted my family to buy me. I had minimised so much and had been practising gratitude whenever I could, so I felt grateful for what I already had. I also didn’t want to add potential clutter back into my home, undoing years of decluttering and emotional work. Instead, my husband gifted me money to put towards the counselling course I had applied for. 

Rather than short-lived pleasures from receiving physical gifts, I invested in myself. As it turns out, taking that course was one of the best decisions I ever made. 

Since then I’ve also bought a photography course because I love taking nature photos and want them to be the best they can be. Without minimalism, I’d never have discovered any of these passions or invested in them because I’d be too busy organising my stuff and looking for more. I’d be too broke.

It wasn’t easy to reach this mindset, especially as I was used to always receiving piles of presents and spending beyond my means for everyone else. Most likely, it won’t be easy for you either, but I can assure you it will all be worth it. 

If you’re new to this I suggest starting off with small steps and changes, which will gradually snowball into huge life transformations if you let them. 

With that, I wish all of you, my amazing readers, a Merry and stress-free Christmas. You deserve it. 

My tree

Stuff: The Thief of Time

It’s been a few months since my last post, and in that time I’ve become a mum again to a gorgeous little girl.

I’ve also got back to minimising and simplifying, which is now more important than ever with a family of four, even more so because my six-year-old son has just received an autism diagnosis. I know that simplifying his life and routines can help make a difference in his stress levels and sensory overload, but the same can be said for any child, and of us adults. 

Since having a new baby to take care of and settling into the new rhythm of sleepless nights, exhausting daytime hours when she refuses to sleep, and making my son still feel loved and valued, it’s forced me yet again to look at how I spend my time. 

Because all my time in the week is now spent on changing nappies, doing endless feeds, keeping up with the laundry, and other household chores,  the time I get has to be used intentionally whether that’s an intentional hour of rest, half hour of gaming, reading a book, or decluttering.

The past week I’ve spent a good chunk of my time decluttering the attic, not just because I love the sense of freedom and satisfaction I get, but because I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of my kids. And that involves me facing a prospect many of us don’t like to acknowledge – death. 

One of the many reasons I live a minimalist lifestyle is because when I’m gone, whether that be when I’m a hundred years old, or even next month, the last thing I want is to burden my loved ones with sorting through my stuff, deciding what to keep, what goes in the skip, what gets donated, feeling guilty if they don’t keep something, trying to figure out what best represented me, and frankly, wasting hours of their remaining time on this Earth. 

When I pass, the last thing I want is for people to look for me in my stuff. I want to be remembered for the life I lived, for my personality, for the things I said and how I made people feel; not the figurines I owned, the shoes I wore, the limited editions I collected, or the phone I had.

You may be thinking this all sounds a bit too much on the morbid side, but hear me out.

When I gave birth to my son six years ago, I lost 4 litres of blood when my placenta got stuck to the walls of my uterus. I almost died and one of the nurses told me how lucky I had been to have pulled through. Before that, I’d never really considered the life I was living or the impact my stuff was having. Soon after, it struck me that I wasn’t following my dreams, either. Rather, I was just floating along in life with no clear direction, buying more and more stuff to fill the sense of emptiness.

Back then I was still living as an organised hoarder, and to think back on it now, it’s sad how much stuff my family would have had to go through. Trinkets, old toys, old letters, old party invitations, tonnes of gaming paraphernalia, old stationary, overflowing boxes, relics of my past, painful memories, stuff I clung to because I thought ‘I wasn’t me without my stuff’. 

As it turned out,  the ‘me’ I was clinging to was the biggest piece of clutter of all, and the real me was waiting to be discovered in empty spaces, free of the hoard that weighed me down, free of the physical weight of my past, and with more free time that wasn’t wasted on organising and acquiring more. 

We all have limited time on this planet, and that also goes for our children (if we have any). 

Why keep a bunch of stuff for them, for our partners, for our parents or siblings, to have to spend hours, days or weeks going through our stuff when we pass on? As uncomfortable as it is to realise, it’s not like we can take our stuff with us when it’s our time. Instead, the weight of our life cascades onto family and friends. Sadly, that stuff sometimes even harbours the power to cause heated arguments and family rifts. Families get divided for decades over an antique vase, a china collection, or money, which, ironically, would probably be spent on acquiring more stuff. Stuff that won’t even matter when we’re gone. 

Remember, we can’t take our stuff and whoever deals with it all can’t get back their time. Time which is so important and passes in the blink of an eye. 

But enough about death, let’s go right back to the very beginning. 

We’re born owning nothing. Blank slates of endless potential. All we want is the love and attention of our caregivers, and whatever we need to survive. Then suddenly, at some point along the line, we accumulate stuff. Stuff to speed up our development, stuff to teach us about the world, stuff to entertain us, stuff to distract us, stuff to show us how much we’re loved.

We grow up and we want more. More toys, more gadgets, more games, more clothes, more, more, more. Where once we were happy with love and experiences of the world, we’re taught by the people close to us,  and through endless advertising, that we can’t be happy without the latest toy, the fullest wardrobe, the biggest game collection, or the trendiest coat. 

We’re taught that we’re not enough, that if we don’t receive more, we aren’t loved or not worthy. Our ‘self’ gets hidden by the sheer amount of stuff, and that pattern continues through life until we break it or we die. 

Let me give you an example of how too much stuff affects us as children. 

Recently, I was forced to declutter my son’s room. He struggles to let go of things regardless of how many years it has been since he last played with that teddy bear or can no longer fit in that favourite t-shirt. Finally, the drawer under his bed broke under the weight of years of artwork and plastic toys that he never played with. Yet despite it all, he complained he was ‘bored’ or would roll around on the floor in a state of overwhelm. Whenever he wanted a particular toy, he always came crying to me or his dad that he couldn’t find it. I’d go to his room and it would look like a hurricane had passed through it on his hunt. 

At bedtime, he couldn’t even decide what book he wanted me to read to him; he either made me choose or constantly chose ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’. Even though it’s one of his favourite books, I realized he wasn’t even listening to it anymore, and had become bored with it. He was simply choosing it every night because there were far too many books on his shelf for him to process. 

So, I got to work removing most of the plastic McDonald’s toys, Kinder Egg junk, and things he never touched. I also removed a pile of books he’d either outgrown, or seemed to hold no interest for him. Then, I went through all his artwork, discarding the damaged pieces, paper with hardly anything on it, or pieces I knew he didn’t care for as it was something he had done when he was two. I’m ashamed to say that most of the artwork clogging his drawer wasn’t even his doing; it was pieces I hadn’t been able to let go of because I was still clinging to his toddler stage. Most of those went in the bin once I had taken a few photos. 

Before and after decluttering my sons art drawer. As you can see, the drawer above had snapped off its runners

Bear in mind, instead of instantly donating the toys and risking upsetting him, I put the bags of his stuff into the attic to be sorted at a later date. That way, if he wanted his jingly bells back, or the teddy he had picked up that time he went to hospital when he was 2, he could have them. 

Now, here’s the surprising thing. 

He’s never once asked for any of it back, nor seems to have noticed that 70% of it is missing. And he’s started choosing books other than ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ all by himself. There’s also been fewer instances of him crying because he can’t find his Nerf gun bullets or other favourite things. 

Quite often, we think we need more, and we assume the same for our children. Whenever we’re bored or unfulfilled, we might order something new on Amazon or go shelf-browsing until we spot something we like. 

And when they’re bored, we rush to buy them another toy or download yet another app. 

Instead, we need to rediscover simplicity,  then do the same for our children.

We need to reconnect with loved ones, and claim back the time that is so precious, and we need to remind ourselves that we’re worth it, despite what marketing would us believe. 

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

The Helping Hand of Failure – Why I Recover Faster

Photo by Vicky Sim on Unsplash

I’m not perfect. 

Nobody’s perfect. 

Yet there’s this expectation in society that if you don’t have a high-profile job and don’t own the latest and greatest stuff, you’re no good. 

Marketers constantly try to convince you you’re lacking in life if you don’t own the latest phone, celebrity endorsed cologne, or the sexiest sofa.

You’re not a good parent

You’re not a good runner

You’re not beautiful enough

Not smart enough

Not cool enough

Not happy with your life

But that’s OK because if you buy today, you can rest assured that you’ll be the envy of your friends, and you’ll be so much more interesting. 

We rarely realise it, but after a while, those messages add up into an essay about how much we lack,  and life starts to feel intensely unsatisfying. Depressing, even. 

While embracing minimalism definitely made me see that happiness doesn’t come from a delivery van, it certainly hasn’t made me immune to slipping up and making bad decisions. 

On this blog, I talk about achieving goals a lot and simplifying your life so that you can discover what’s really important to you. I even share my successes so that you can hopefully start to realise the potential in you. 

But what I don’t talk about often enough are my failures along the way. The times where I take five steps up the ladder but fall down ten. 

Let’s face it, even though we need failure to grow,  it’s embarrassing to talk about and even scarier to experience. 

First off, here’s a little bit about me so that you get a little bit of context: I’m generally happy and cheerful (sometimes to an annoying degree according to my husband), I have several obsessions including writing, reading, gaming, minimalism, and self-growth.

Come into my living room, and you will see that everything is a calming white and pastel green with loads of empty space. I’ve got my future planned out, an incredible family, and quality friends. 

But it wasn’t always like that, and sometimes I fall into the same quicksand I had escaped before, slowly sinking back into old habits and ways of thinking. 

I used to be a hoarder. Not the kind of hoarder you see on those TV shows, but an organised hoarder. I was in serious denial about how much I owned. It caused arguments with my fiance, and allowed me to carry on hiding behind my stuff. 

You can read the story here, but basically, I was keeping it all because I was deeply unhappy, didn’t believe in myself, and identified strongly with my past. 

It took my mum bringing it all down to my house and my husband threatening to bin the lot, for me to finally confront the lonely memories and dusty old beliefs that kept me clinging on. 

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Now, I am living and loving a minimalist lifestyle but although I’m reaping all the benefits, I’m not totally free of my old coping mechanisms. 

You see, minimalism will make your life a hell of a lot calmer and easier, and it will help you to discover yourself, but it won’t solve every problem for you. Especially those that are nestled deep inside. 

It also won’t cure bad habits because they won’t go straight in the trash with your physical clutter. Rather, they get recycled into new, useful habits. 

Sometimes, when things get me down like an argument, symptoms of chronic illness, or even writer’s block, I will find myself clicking over to Amazon and Ebay. Other times, I just feel stale in myself, like a mouldy piece of bread. 

Suddenly, the bag I bought just months before has a fault and I need a new one. I need a new game despite having a mile long list of unplayed titles. I could really do with that lovely looking lunch box as it will ensure my food doesn’t leak in my backpack (despite never having that issue).

Of course, those are all elaborate stories I weave in my mind which will lead to me buying the product of interest. 

As I click ‘buy’ I feel the anticipation of the item’s arrival and start getting rid of things that are relatively new. The dopamine rushes through me, even though I know deep down that two clicks and a parcel won’t bring me satisfaction. 

But my brain doesn’t care about that fact because of the temporary feelings of elation.

Days later, the package comes, and as the packaging goes in the bin, so does my excitement. I realise I didn’t really need it, that I could have saved the money, invested in more skills, or gone on a day trip.

‘Call yourself a minimalist? Ha! You’re a phoney, you’re weak’, my brain chatters. 

Just to be clear, I don’t have a shopping addiction, because these slips ups don’t happen very often. But the shame is no less intense, and the bad decisions can lead to me making other bad choices such as eating a luxurious helping of Nutella on toast when I know I’m gluten intolerant, or having a second glass of wine even though I know I’ve had enough. 

However, unlike in the past, I find that I can get back up from the fall much faster than before. The injury doesn’t go as deep. 

I know that I’m not a phony because I strongly believe in what I practise and what I say. As sickening as it sometimes feels, I acknowledge my mistakes, and that makes me self-aware. 

Experiencing failure makes you feel like masking the feelings that come with it, and all the mean things the gremlin in your brain might be hissing at you. 

But here’s the thing: the more failures you have, the more wise and resilient you become. You grow. You learn. You start to become aware of why you made those bad choices. 

I’ve discovered that, generally, when I’m craving something new and making up stories of validation, it’s not the stuff I’m craving but experiences. 

It’s not a new outfit I’m after, but love and acceptance. 

I don’t want to own new stuff, I want to see new places, learn new skills, walk a new path, blossom into who I know I can be. 

However, even though I’ve taken action and forged a new path for myself, the path is long, sometimes a forest gets in the way, and you know how excruciating it can be when what you want is just a little bit further, and a little bit further. 

But what we often forget is to enjoy that journey. We can get so focused on hacking through that forest that we don’t see the beauty, or notice the undergrowth teeming with life.  

The trick is, to not lurk in that beautiful forest for too long, and if you fall, get right back up. 

Remember who you are and what you stand for, and walk hand-in-hand with failure no matter how scary, because it is your best teacher, and your greatest friend. 

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

How To Minimise the Past And Maximise the Future

Photo by Brian Erickson on Unsplash

If I told you minimalism and self-growth is straight-forward and easy, I would be lying. 

Minimalism requires lots of hard decision-making, consistency, and dealing with memories both good and bad. 

Self-growth requires confronting and accepting hard truths about ourselves and our situations and learning to move forwards while becoming better people in the process. 

Because that’s what it all is. A process. A journey. And a bumpy one at that with twists, turns and long stretches of smoothness.  

I used to be what I call a tidy hoarder (although I didn’t realise I was a hoarder at the time). Candles, mugs, trinkets and figurines lined shelves and window sills while cupboards and drawers were bursting at the seams and collapsing under the weight. Boxes hid under my bed collecting dust and the top of my wardrobe towered with boxes, storage containers, and soft toys. 

My hoarding habits were a source of frequent arguments and discussions about my ‘trash’ in the home.

I kept all sorts. Masses of keyrings collected over the years, old party invitations, old school work, old defunct cables, those little badges you can get with rebellious statements on, old jewellery, old stationary, little notebooks and relics I’d got from cereal boxes as a kid (including a Rugrats flip book). 

I’d even kept a ring from when I was seven years old, simply because I’d worn it at primary school.

As a person I was angry, unfulfilled, lost, and confused, with severe identity issues which caused massive problems in my relationships. Until I discovered minimalism, I didn’t realise that the state of my stuff reflected the state of my mind, and my past. 

Just like with my drawers and cupboards, I kept parts of myself hidden away in dark dusty corners of my psyche, and every so often, bits would burst out and everyone around me would be left picking up the mess, only for it to end up back in the box it all burst from. 

I’d grown up with such a turbulent school life among other things, that by the time I got to college and made the life-long friends I have now, I’d become a master of wearing a mask of silliness and extreme cheer. I was so skilled at this it became a genuine part of who I am today. 

The first time I got confronted with my hoard was a wakeup call for me. I was renting a house with the man who is now my husband, when mum brought over all my old stuff from their attic. Bags and bags of stuff. Bin liners stretching with the weight of the memories inside them I’d carelessly stowed away. 

Photo by Onur Bahçıvancılar on Unsplash

At first, I just saw it as a monumental physical task I needed to work through. I couldn’t escape it because there was nowhere else for it to go. The attic was already rammed with game consoles, Christmas decorations, old memories, and other paraphernalia I’d just shoved up there when we moved in. 

But as I emptied the bags and started to work my way through them, I felt all kinds of emotions, even over innocent things like soft toys.

Sadness, grief, nostalgia, warmth… such a mixed bag of feelings all attached to these objects, many of which I’d owned since I was a child. There were several piles of old school work, even my old school planner, complete with sad, angry scribbles. 

To the people around me, that was all junk. Why hadn’t I put it in the bin ages ago? Why was I storing all that garbage? But to me, they were feelings and parts of me.

That school planner represented the part of me that expressed my feelings when nobody else would listen; proof that I experienced those feelings.

My school work was a trove of teacher praise, writing, and essays which I’d poured my soul into. I’d even kept hilarious pieces where it was clear I hadn’t understood the task or concept. 

I found gifts from people who’d long since left my life, and a tower of children’s books I used to treasure.

By the end of the day, I charity-shopped about 90% of the bag’s contents, and I felt so light that I could have floated a metre above the ground. It was as if those bags had never been stowed in the attic but been tied to me the whole time. 

I also felt emotionally drained. 

That was my first step into self-growth and into what would later reveal itself to be the path to minimalism, but it took a long time for the universe to make me and the concept cross paths. 

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Since discovering minimalism, I’ve not only unearthed many parts of myself that I didn’t realise existed, I’ve discovered and reignited my dreams, and have worked persistently to accept the past and make way for who I’m becoming.

Clearing the clutter in my life was the same as clearing out the drawers of my heart and the closets of my mind. It took a lot of soul searching, confronting parts of myself and re-discovering where I wanted to go.

I had spent a lifetime living in the past, believing that I was worthless, and that the feelings I had were nothing but a lie if I got rid of the stuff I associated with them.

Without going into too much detail, this is because I grew up unable to express my feelings. It was taboo. It was wrong. It was weird. So I ended up attaching them to tangible objects. 

When my heart got too heavy and full, it got emptied into cupboards and boxes, instead. 

Of course, minimalism isn’t a cure-all and I’ve had to do a great deal of self-growth. Self-growth is something which never stops and should never plateau because people are forever experiencing life and taking on new beliefs and values. 

For me, minimalism is the foundation to grow a new successful self. One not weighed down by stuff, the past, and outdated subconscious beliefs. 

It’s my hope to help you on your journey, too, whatever your values or your past may be. It’s deep, hard work, but you can get there.  

Remember, just as you don’t grow from toddler to adult in a day, you won’t change and grow your core values and beliefs overnight, either. 

Since we’re entering the festive season, let’s consider Scrooge from ‘A Christmas Carol’. He changes from a lifetime of being cruel, miserable, greedy and selfish, to jolly, charitable, fun, and caring. All in one night. 

While the story is great and has a powerful message, in reality, Scrooge would have taken years to change because his persona would result from various factors throughout his life; beliefs instilled into him by his parents, the people around him, his circumstances, and his environment. 

Every single person has their own story, background, and beliefs. You can’t change a lifetime of beliefs and behaviours overnight, no matter how much you want to. And while throwing them out with the trash is freeing, you still need to do the emotional work to prevent returning to old habits and circumstances. 

With consistent action, you can and will get to where you want to be!

Photo by Ev on Unsplash