Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Books and Minimalism

I dreamed of books as a child. Shelf after shelf after shelf of books. I imagined myself as an adult living in a home stuffed with the things. Floor to ceiling. Everywhere I looked.

As a child I thought in terms of fiction only. As a teen and early twenty something the dream swelled to include non-fiction and the concept of organised areas to reflect study and interest.

The me at 19 would not have anticipated that the me at 39 would have only two shelves of books to her name.

For a reader, books form a large part of your identity. They are one of the things that define you. If you love reading, the expectation is that you will have lots of books. The owning of books helps to prove your credibility as a reader. How can you say you love books if you don't possess oodles of them?

There is a real difficulty in the western world with being able to appreciate something without having the compulsion to own it; to feel resentment if you can't afford to acquire. Books are affordable nowadays. New books might be beyond the budget for some (I only get them as a rare treat) but charity shops, car boot sales, cheap outlet shops like The Works, library sales and the growing number of book swap shelves in public places mean that obtaining books is very easy. And, for some, a bit compulsive. It's so easy to pick one up and take it home. Maybe two. Maybe more. Then next weekend when you pop into a charity shop and see another title you've been meaning to read it's £1 or less to slip it in your bag, full of good intentions.

For me, letting go of books is also about letting go of an ideal - saying goodbye to a dream from childhood that no longer fits with the woman I am today. The need to partially prove who I am through the items I own is one I am working to address and books are part of that process. Books represent something different to me than they did when I was a child and a younger woman. Unread books are jobs waiting to be done. Non-fiction books are echoes of splinter selves that never took root and have long since faded away. Books are a reminder of lack of time and opportunity in my adult life - and of the new order of my priorities. And I don't want to give space to any of that baggage because life is short.
One of my favourite books is The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger. There's a scene where the main character discovers her own book mobile - the one which is filled with everything she has ever read, from pamphlets to novels. What a deliciously seductive image for a reader!

When I dream of books now, what form to those dreams take? I see a small collection, beloved books that I can return to both to enjoy something known and perhaps discover something new I haven't picked up on in previous readings. Books that give me echoes/ connections to my younger selves, a thread linking present to past. I think I'm nearly there. Everything on those two shelves of mine is now relevant. Every book means something and I feel like I have a living, evolving collection rather than an unwieldy heap I don't enjoy but feel guilt at the idea of parting with. I look forward to welcoming new volumes when the words of another writer tangle in my heart and mind, and to letting go of books as they cease to be relevant to me.

I am still able to appreciate those who have big libraries, of course, and to enjoy reading about people, like Susan Hill, who have vast collections of books. It's very pleasant to have the freedom to daydream of books without the conditioned compulsion to acquire and amass them too.
All images on this post from Pixabay

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Cultivating a Frugal Brain

Here are the questions I am trying to get into the habit of asking before I acquire something new:
  • Do I actually need this?
  • What are the environmental implications of this purchase?
  • Do I have something else that already does the job?
  • Is this something I could borrow rather than buy?
  • Is this something I could source secondhand?
  • Is this something I can make?
  • If I am looking to replace something that is broken, is there any way I can repair it?

Image from Pixabay
An example of these questions/ this thought process in action:

I am a list maker. If I don't write things down, there's a good chance they won't get done. Ideas burst in my brain like bubbles and if they aren't recorded, well, my brain has other things to think about and they are lost. So, I always have a little notebook with me, small enough to slip in a pocket or a bag. My current supply of mini notepads is practically used up and I need some more.

Do I actually need this?

Yes. It's something I use on a daily basis.

What are the environmental implications of purchasing this item?
Not good. The standard pack of 5 I get from Poundland has back and front covers that are made of plastic. The metal spirals have a plastic coating too. The packs comes with a wrapping of cellophane. Environmentally, it’s not the right choice to make.

Do I have something else that already does the job?
No. The other notebooks I have are too big.

Is this something I could borrow rather than buy?

Is this something I could source secondhand?
Possibly but it would require lots of rummaging through charity shops with no guarantee of success at the end.

Is this something I can make?
Yes. I have craft card. I have lined paper. Lots and lots and lots of lined paper. I have needles and thread, washi tape, stickers – all the things you’d associate with a stationery addict enthusiast. There's lots of inspiration and tutorials on the interwebs for makings mini exercise book ones, matchbook style ones and jotter style pads. It would bust some craft stash while also giving me a sense of achievement and a fun project to do in a spare hour. I might also end up making some very cute ones with specific people in mind for random birthday and Christmas gifts.

And here are the finished items.
Frugal Brain: 1

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Final InCoWriMo Tally

My final tally for InCoWriMo 2018 is (drumroll please) . . . .

Postcards: 11
Notecards or similar: 7
Gifts with a card/ note: 3
Letters: 14

Total items: 35 

Will I be doing InCoWriMo next year? 

What worked this year:
Planning for the event was very useful. I had a tray full of letters to reply to with writing paper and envelopes prepped, as well as a folder of postcards and notecards with ideas of who to send them to. I will definitely be doing the same type of prep in 2019 as some mornings time just slips away and the evenings after work are swallowed up with stuff, so having things ready to go is a real help.

What I'd like to do next year:
Make sure I have enough stamps to cover the whole 28 days. I did have to get some more towards the end of February, and print out some more of the #InCoWriMo labels I had made for the back of envelopes/ postcards. I also haven't kept a quick-to-reference list of the countries I have posted to, and would like to do that next year.

Pics of Days 1-18 are here.

19-28 below, taken from Instagram.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Goodbye, Things: On Minimalist Living

I've been interested in minimalism for over a decade now, following a variety of blogs like Miss Minimalist and Be More With Less (and others that have sadly fallen by the wayside). I'm drawn to the idea of decluttering and simplicity, of having less items that mean more. I daydream about having a tiny house though I know it is 99.9% likely to remain a dream. 

Sasaki is something of a hardcore minimalist. He doesn't have a family or a housemate or a partner to work out compromises with - he can reduce as much as he likes. T
he level of minimizing available to Sasaki will not be available to those who have a spouse/ children/ relatives/ other people in the house who have zero interest in minimalism. Still, I always enjoy reading about how people move from a maximalist state of mind to a minimalist one, and Sasaki is quick to stress that his take on minimalism is not the only definition of that state. He doesn't assert that if you have more than 100 items then you can't call yourself a minimalist and he is very much about people finding their own path.

With some minimalists I've come across, the obsession is to reduce, reduce, reduce until it begins to read more like a compulsion than a conscious journey. Sasaki has some things to say about minimalism which really struck a chord with me, specifically on how:

Minimalism is just the beginning. It's a tool. Once you've gone ahead and minimized, it's time to find out what those important things are. (page 153 in the copy I read)
Goodbye, Things is an easy read, much of the book written in bite-sized pieces so you can pick it up when you have a spare few minutes. It doesn't give you a room by room plan of how to declutter - there are plenty of books out there for that already. This book is more a consideration of the effects of minimalism on health, self-esteem, happiness and attitude to life. It's a list of all the benefits Sasaki has identified during his minimalist journey.

One of the things Sasaki did on his path to minimalism was address his huge book collection, and I found reading about this side of his journey very useful in helping me reduce my own books further. I only have a couple of shelves of books now anyway but I have cleared another shelf thanks to thinking about things from a Sasaki point of view. Imagine every possession you own having a voice or stirring an emotional response in you. Books which were given to me as gifts that I wanted to move on and felt guilt even thinking of getting rid of - they were taking up physical space and mental space. Donating them won't clear a huge amount of either but, cumulatively, each little thing I let go of will make a difference.

I did find Sasaki made some statements I didn't agree with. An example of this was when he wrote about how we stop appreciating things we have bought after we have purchased them in a kind of familiarity breeds contempt situation. He specifically referenced clothes but I have to say there are items of clothing I bought from charity shops years ago that I still get a buzz from looking at and wearing now so while Sasaki may have that experience it's not one I share. He doesn't like colour as he finds it distracting; I love colour. When he recommends a more muted colour scheme as being a minimalist friendly choice, it isn't something this budding minimalist would go for. Sasaki also refers to throwing things away a lot and though he does clarify about half way through the book that selling things or giving them to charity shops is better than putting them in the bin I did find myself wincing each time he talked about chucking things out. 

His isn't a minimalism that's greatly influenced by frugal living, so he doesn't reference visiting charity shops or seeking for things second hand when you need them so as to re-purpose an existing item. That's not his priority, and it doesn't need to be, but for my own personal definition of minimalism it is important. 

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to people who have made headway with decluttering and are considering the benefits of the work they have done thus far. 

7 out of 10 Sasakis

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Ballet Dancers Fold & Mail

Another bargain caught my eye on Ebay - the Ballet Dancers Fold & Send stationery set for less than £4. Result! 

Unlike most fold & mail sets where you get about 5 different designs max this pad has 8 designs. Mucho cuteness. Though some of the patterns proved tricky to get good photos of so I don't have examples of all of them.
One of my favourites . . .
I love this one - another of my favourites from this set.
Each different envelope has a different diagram on the inside.
I don't think this little ballerina is meant to be smoking but the diagram
unfortunately makes it look as if she's puffing away at the keys . . .

Monday, 19 February 2018

InCoWriMo 2018: Progress

The story so far . . . (all pics taken from my Instagram, many taken early in the morning in far from ideal lighting).

Days 1-3

Days 4-6

Days 7-9

Days 10-12

Days 13-15

Days 16-18

In total, I've sent 23 items of correspondence in the last 18 days and have loved having InCoWriMo to focus on in dreary February. I've used up postcards I might not otherwise have got round to using so soon, sent notecards and hellos and thank yous to people, and have got a buzz out of the thought of how they will enjoy getting a bit of surprise post that isn't a bill or junk mail. 

If you're doing InCoWriMo, how are you finding it?

Friday, 2 February 2018

2018: The Year of the Capsule Wardrobe?

I moved recently from an old 3 story house with decrepit radiators and noisy heating, a bathroom that bred mould and mildew to Olympic standard, very little insulation and a core column of cold that began at the kitchen and went through the centre of the house. Often is the time I could be heard shrieking at my husband in the winter months 'SHUT THAT DOOR!' as our old home had three hot spot rooms where the warmth had to be jealously guarded or else it evaporated. 

Another thing about my old home was that it was a 40 minute walk to work.

What does this have to do with a Capsule Wardrobe? you may be wondering.

I will tell you.

A cold house necessitates a large supply of big socks and big jumpers to help insulate the body. It also means that jeans and trousers need to be worn far more than skirts and dresses as even with leggings these latter fashion choices leave you a bit chilly. A 40 minute walk to work, in my case at least, generates sweat, necessitating a change of top, meaning that I tended to wear trousers with a scruffy t-shirt for walking in and then a work top to change in to at the office.
Time for some style sudoku? Some tips from Su Sews
My new home is a bungalow, built in 2009 and has fantastic up to date heating that WORKS. My journey to work now involves a 15 minutes walk, a 30 minute bus ride, and a 10 minute walk. Combine these two facts and I am now in a prime position to:
* Reduce my collection of big, chunky, unattractive but fit-for-purpose jumpers 
* Reduce the number of scruffy tops for sweaty activity to less than half what I own now
* Wear more skirts and dresses, both around the house and to work, which is what I have been wanting to do for ages, and decrease the number of trousers/ jeans in my closet

In short, it means I can have a go at creating a proper capsule wardrobe! I can get rid of (i.e. donate to charity) all those clothes I have been keeping not because I really like them but because they fulfil a basic necessary function. I can consult the articles I have been pinning on Pinterest and get inspired. For a few years now I have been reducing my wardrobe to the point I own nothing now that I don't wear, but I've never felt able to consider my wardrobe a true capsule offering because of all those 'necessary' clothes that I needed to wear but didn't feel great wearing.
From Looking Stylish
I can consider things like colour schemes so all items co-ordinate and I have the chance to create a number of outfits from a variety of pieces. I don't have a specific number in my head to limit my wardrobe to at present. I love seeing what people can do with only 12 items but, as I don't have a tumble dryer and English weather can make getting washloads dry in good time a bit of a challenge, I wouldn't want to have such a tiny 'pool' of clothes to work with just in case.

Tonight, I'll be getting all the clothes I own out and on the bed, possibly tussling with a ginger cat or two as I endeavour to sort things properly. I'll pick a palette of colours I want to work with, get any accessories I have in my possession out in the open air too, shoes, coats, jewellery, the whole shebang. Pants, socks, you name it, out it will come. Will the final curated result be a mega-neat inspiring selection that would make a great photo to rival all the professional ones out there on the internet? I imagine NOT. However, it will be a start. The journey towards a capsule wardrobe begins with a couple of empty hangers after all.