For as long as I can remember I’ve been taking steps to simply and live a meaningful life.
Helping people through my work. Spending time with people who are important to me. Taking time to stop and notice beauty every day. Appreciating what I have instead of always wanting more.
This is what I’ve learned.
1. Remove clutter regularly.
Clutter distracts and overwhelms me. William Morris was right when he said ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ I regularly clear out cupboards and drawers. As soon as I no longer need something, out it goes.
I sit in my kids’ rooms with them once a quarter while they clear through their stuff. The last time I did this with my daughter she filled a black bin bag and it was so heavy we could hardly lift it. She said she felt so much better afterwards. My son is great at deciding what stays and what goes, and I never argue. If he doesn’t want it – even if I like it, or it was a gift – out it goes.
2. Buy fewer things.
Shopping used to be a recreational activity for me, but not any more. If have to go to a department store or a shopping centre I feel overwhelmed by the overconsumption in our society.
Buying things online has made some shopping easier for me. Otherwise, I just try to keep it fast. Go to the shop, buy what I need, get out again. I still love browsing vintage and craft markets – but only take a small amount of cash and I’m super-strict with myself. Why do I need this thing? Where am I going to keep it? (Maybe I just want to admire it, and walk by.)
3. Shop locally for food.
We had supermarket deliveries for years until I reached a point where I realised I was relying on special offers to decide on what we were going to eat. We were also wasting food regularly by overbuying.
For more than a year, I have done all our family grocery shopping on foot. I use my local market to buy fish, fruit and veg. There are a couple of great bakers nearby where I buy bread. The rest I buy from a local independent shop or from a small supermarket nearby. We eat more home cooked food, and waste less. Knowing that we are supporting small local businesses instead of big corporations gives me a good feeling.
4. Simplify clothing.
I realised some years back that I only wear dresses, or jeans with a top. That has simplified my wardrobe hugely. That, and going shopping with my friend Gabby, who used to be a fashion stylist. She makes me try everything on, and asks me, ‘Do you love it?’ Or she might say, ‘We can do better.’ These two phrases have become mantras for me when clothes shopping.
Nowadays I only have a few clothes, but I buy good quality, fairly classic things. I’ve lost weight over the last year, and had all my dresses taken in. Much cheaper than buying new ones.
5. Watch films rather than TV.
When I was growing up my parents watched TV every evening and I wished they didn’t. That said, I loved the regularity of scheduled TV in the days before satellite and iPlayer. I never missed Top of the Pops and I’m happy I grew up in those times.
I know there are excellent documentary, comedy and drama programmes available, but it just isn’t how I want to spend my time. There is so much choice, too much really, and I just find it overwhelming.
Instead, I watch a film occasionally. A few years ago, I realised that my teenage daughter had missed out on seeing all the classic films I used to watch on Sunday afternoons, so I created a list of films I loved and wanted to share with her. We make popcorn and cuddle up under a quilt with our cat and dog. It’s great to spend that time together.
6. Buy music instead of streaming it.
Music is important to me but it’s taken me a while to figure out the best way to access it. So much music is available on Spotify, but not all artists are there, nor is every album. I dislike the fact that artists receive such minuscule royalties when their music is streamed rather than purchased.
I feel happier when I buy all my music. I know what I have and can find it easily. I don’t have to think about whether my music is public or private. I can buy music that is only available on CD or Bandcamp and have it in my collection. I have favourite playlists on my phone and the whole library is also on an iPod to make it easy to listen on the go. We have a lot of music, and we love using the Genius feature of iTunes to make new playlists everyone in the family can enjoy.
7. Write things down.
One of the first things I did after I left Uni was to enrol in an evening class to learn to touch type. I did classes one night a week for a year and still think it was one of the best things I ever did. I love sitting in front of a keyboard and typing without having to think about it, But I also love writing things down.
I have an online calendar that I share with my husband so we both have access to each other’s schedules. But the detail goes in my paper diary. I keep documents in DropBox and weblinks in Evernote, but I also use a journal to make lists and notes of ideas. I love to write with a pencil so I can rub out easily. I keep a sharpener to hand. I find that if I write something down on paper I am more likely to remember it. My diary and notebook help me clear my mind so I can focus.
8. Put things away.
Living in an uncluttered home is one thing. Being able to find things is something else. When I can’t find something, it’s usually because I haven’t put it away.
I’ve worked hard on finding places to put things so I can find them easily. This seems like a small thing but it has made a big difference to how quickly I can get ready to go somewhere.
9. Keep Sundays simple.
I used to treat Sundays like any other day of the week. I’d take exercise, go shopping, go out for the day, see friends and family, catch up on work. Last year I realised that Mondays were often a stressful day of the week for us, and when I thought about why that was, I realised that our Sundays were often too busy.
I talked it over with my husband and we agreed to keep Sundays simple. Our Sundays usually look like this. We have breakfast, take our dog to the park, come home, make pancakes, spend time on our hobbies, cook a Sunday dinner, eat as a family, prepare packed lunches, read or watch a film together.
I really look forward to our Sundays. I know that I feel more ready for the week after having a restful day, and the rest of my family appreciate it too.
This might make it sound like I have everything sorted, but really, it’s work in progress. I just try to make space so I can focus on what is important to me.
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