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I’m quite house proud. Not something immediately apparent when you visit…

Buying better

As those of you who have met me in ACTUAL REAL LIFE (cos hey, us Bloggers also exist in the real world) can no doubt attest, I am not the most fashion conscious person. I’m aware of high street trends but my exposure to that is largely what I see out and about, I don’t read about fashion, I don’t get exposed to many adverts about fashion, I am not fashionable. I’m comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, sometimes a shirt, and whilst I don’t mind dressing for the occasion I tend to view clothes as a necessity rather than a delight.

And no, that doesn’t mean I would rather be naked all the time, no-one needs to see that…

Before I moved to my new flat I went through a de-cluttering process of all my belongings. Part of that included going through all of my clothes to pare down my wardrobe and I ended up donating a few large bin bags worth to charity. It was a very satisfying activity and at the end I felt very pleased as not only did I have less ‘stuff’ (which was the main aim) I was also giving to charity and that’s always a good thing. Right?

Yet there was an undercurrent of unease as those bin bags filled with so many barely, or completely, unworn items. It was far too easy to part with far too many items as clearly they held little to no value to me. If ever there was a literal pile of reasons that I’d succumbed to the lure of blind consumerism there it was, right there at my feet.

Speaking of feet, I also had a few pairs of shoes in the pile but that was largely a fashion choice. I tend to pay more attention to footwear when I’m buying something new than any other article of clothing. Does that maybe hark back to getting my feet measured as a child, in one of this big mechanical things that I was always semi-convinced were gonna crush my toes? Perhaps, but I’m willing to spend money on good footwear so it’s not something I lack.

So where did it all go wrong, how did I end up with bin bags full of clothes that I didn’t need/want? Well it’s not hard to figure it out. For starters when I do buy clothes these days it’s usually online, which means I’m guessing at sizes, and I’ve never been that good at returning things so they just keep adding to the pile. And then even if I do manage to sum up the energy to go clothes shopping in actual shops I rarely stop to try things on, and I’ll shamefully admit there were a few items that went into those charity bags that still had tags on.

Like many people I justified this stockpiling of un-worn and un-loved clothing to myself by reasoning that I was just holding on to them for ‘when I lose weight’ or ‘just in case’ but let’s be honest, that pile of clothes in the wardrobe that you rarely look at are very much out of sight and out of mind, right? And hey it’s fun to buy new things – there is a reason it’s called retail therapy – so what’s the harm? The end result was a wardrobe chock full of clothes of which I was regularly wearing about a quarter of all the items crammed in there.

During the clear out I took the time to try on every single item and it helped me fully understand why I wasn’t wearing each item. It came down to some pretty simple reasoning; they either didn’t fit comfortably, they were never quite right (wrong shade of blue), or I just didn’t feel good when I wore them (I don’t suit many greens). On the days when its hard to ‘people’ who wants to go out already thinking you don’t look good and spend the rest of your day uncomfortably tugging and re-positioning your clothes, wishing you’d just worn that favourite t-shirt and to hell what anyone else thinks? No-one, that’s who, so you turn to the old favourites time and again.

There is also, in the back of my mind somewhere, the example of President Obama who only had two colours of suit to choose from in the morning. The fewer decisions we have to make, over the smallest things if needs be, the more energy we have for all the other ones we have to make each day. I am not the President of anything so this might be stretching things but it’s why those well-worn jeans are reached for when I just can’t be bothered trying anything else. It’s a very easy decision to make.

After that big clear-out I was left with clothes that fitted me and that I felt comfortable wearing (these are not mutually exclusive statements, trust me) and it turned out to be an easier process than I thought, although that is probably more a reflection on how I view clothes in general as I ended up getting rid of a lot of shirts based on style alone. For the items that made the cut I went through a second round of trying everything on and making sure that I felt comfortable wearing them. No matter how much I may have liked the pattern or design of something, if it didn’t feel right when I put it on, out it went.

Throughout this I had a strange mixture of pride and achievement, with a growing under-current of shame as I did slowly tried on and rejected item after item. Watching the pile of clothes grow and grow it felt good to be taking action, to be actively assessing my clothes for a change, but as that pile got larger I started to realise just how much money I had wasted and how little thought I’d given those purchases; the manufacturing of those clothes, the ethical decisions around the company who made them, all of these things I’d completely ignored as I barrelled headlong into the modern consumerist trap of ‘more is good’.

More is not good. This is something I’d figured out a few years ago when I started to reduce the clutter in my life, going through household items like a man possessed. Once you’ve started on that path it’s easy to look at all the things you own and question why you have it at all and once the mindset is in place you do look at all the things you own, and all the things you are about to purchase, in a different light. It also helps you realise how much more important every other aspect of life is, how much you need to be out in the fresh air, how good it feels to spend time with friends, and just how much you love your dearest closest friends and family.

It was around that time, whilst my life was changing around me, that I stepped back and looked at what the future might hold for me. What did I want for my life? What trappings and artefacts would that require? I soon came to the realisation that the bulk of the things I owned were superfluous to how I wanted my life to be and that made me start to question everything, not quite with the Kondo ‘everything should delight’ mindset but certainly something along those lines.

I realised that I’d been starting to change my approach to making purchases, initially to stop myself spending money just for the sake of it but that built in ‘pause’ in the decision made it easy to then look at the items I was purchasing with another lens on. Why own something ugly and unwanted? Why buy something that is cheaply made as you’ll get better value from paying a little more upfront? (mostly, this does not always hold true). I’ve slowly been replacing furniture and household items with replacements that are not only better quality but which I enjoy owning, enjoy looking at, enjoy using no matter how banal the item is (seriously, my can opener is always a delight to use) . So even the simplest of chores brings a little delight, which in turn improves my mood for larger chores, which in turn makes it more enjoyable to keep on top of those little things and keeps my home clean and tidy, which in turn helps my brain stay calm and relaxed. It sounds a bit bonkers I know, but it really does work.

Despite applying these considerations for household items, I hadn’t extended that thinking elsewhere, especially not with clothes because, in case it’s not yet clear, I’m just not that bothered. They are just clothes, I don’t care if what I own is up with the latest fashion trends – skinny jeans are NOT for me and I like wearing socks god-dammit – and after that it’s more about frivolity and function, or at least I think it should be.

But I should be bothered. I know I should.

And then I read this post by Lori on Fashion & Sustainability which outlines much of what I’m now struggling to articulate:

You may think that clothes becoming more available and affordable can only be a good thing, but encouraging us to buy more means that we no longer think about our purchases properly, and we get sucked into a cycle of spending more than we (and the planet) can afford.

These days I care more about the quality of what I’m buying for financial reasons, but I’m now starting to look at how sustainable the manufacturing processes are, what material is being used, how is the item packaged, what are the ethics of the company that made it? Those thoughts also mean I stop and pause and consider what I’m about to buy, which means fewer impulse buys, which in turn means I’m looking through all my clothes more often and wearing that long forgotten shirt at the back of the wardrobe. And this thinking is starting to spread to other purchases, where reducing my plastic footprint and improving my recycling efforts, mean I’m more mindful about the sustainability of all my purchases.

We all have a choice, and whilst finances will obviously be a factor, the more we all think about what we are purchasing, ultimately the better it will be for ourselves and this amazing planet we inhabit. And as we head for the traditional season of massive overspending I think it’s worth while taking stock and seeing what else we can all do. Every little helps, after all.

Switching Off

My bedroom is never completely dark. Sure, the black out curtains help, but the gentle glow of street lights still sneaks into the room, the orange glow casting gentle shadows. Once my eyes adjust I can make out the detail of the print hanging opposite my bed, the sleeve of a shirt hanging off the back of a chair.

In a bid to lull my brain into a state of rest – I’m not sure what woke me at 3am but I was most definitely awake – I started pondering what was in store for me tomorrow. Starting with the basics, what’s the date tomorrow?

And then it hit me, it’s March. The third month of the year. Already! Where does the time go? Christmas was only a few minutes ago and yet here we are in the beginnings of Spring. What happened? How did we end up here so soon.

These are the thoughts that flitted through my brain as I lay staring at the ceiling. I finally accepted that I wasn’t going to get back to sleep anytime soon and reached over and pick up my phone to see if anyone had posted any updates on Social Media. Just a few minutes distraction, what’s the harm?

Nothing on Facebook. Nope. Instagram. Nope. Twitter. YES! a few tweets from some Americans I follow. OK, checked those.

Now what? Another quick check of all three again, refresh, refresh, refresh. A link to a video, click that.

An hour later I’m somewhere in the depths of a YouTube shaped hole. I’m not quite sure why I’m watching what I’m watching, but as I glance at the clock I realise I should probably put the phone down and try and get some sleep…

Sound familiar?

Over the past couple of years I’ve focused a lot on my belongings, slowly shaping my life towards having fewer things. Fewer things to clean and maintain, fewer things to clutter my living space (and so clutter my mind) and throughout that time I’ve always known that, at some point, this focus would shift from physical objects to digital ones. After all, my entire reasoning behind this drive to simplify my life has always been about creating more time and energy to allow me to do more of the things I love; rather than tidying up and cleaning and other chores, I’m reading books and magazines, going for walks, attending more gigs and events.

Top tip: I’ve ended up managing to stop buying things on a whim. If I see something I think I want, I pop it on a list with the promise that if I have money spare at the end of the month then I’ll buy it. If I don’t have money, I don’t buy it but it stays on the list. Knock-on effect of this approach is that I’m spending more on gig/theatre/event tickets which, ultimately, are better for me anyway. Who needs a new lamp when you can go and dance like an idiot for a few hours at a gig, right?

Having tackled some of the physical objects I own(ed) my mind is now turning to the digital ones and where else to start but the most often used device I own, the one I turn to in the wee small hours of the morning when I can’t sleep, my iPhone.

It only takes a quick look to see I have a LOT of apps I don’t use at all, and many that I use occasionally but only when I remember I have them, which begs the question, do I really need them?

But simply removing apps I don’t use is a small step and, let’s be honest, it’s merely glossing over the real issue; the impact social media is having on my life.

This is not a new idea but more and more recently I’m seeing mentions of other people taking their own action to counter the time and energy drain that social media can be, and reading these articles has made me realise just how much time I spend on my phone and, now that I’m aware of it, I’m also becoming aware of how much that it’s annoying me. All too frequently I’ll pick up my phone and when I put it back down an hour has passed. It’s more noticeable of an evening during these darker nights, I get home from work as dusk is descending, pick up my phone and … suddenly it’s dark outside.

All of which annoys me, I could’ve spent that hour reading a book, or cooking a nice dinner, or phoning a friend, or… well, you get the picture.

The triumvirate that take my time the most; Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (in descending order at the moment) are the apps which draw the most ire. Obviously the solution is to cut back, or better still CUT OUT some of these? Perhaps, but which and how? Each app has a distinct use, and a distinct level of energy to which I attribute my usage so it’s not all that straightforward to just dump one, or any of them.

I find myself drawn more and more to Instagram these days, preferring the visual over the textual as a quick way to get an update on the goings on of the people I follow. Equally I enjoy photography for the sake of it and this is as good an outlet as any for my amateur snaps. I can’t remember the last time I took a picture with my camera, and my recent trip to Barcelona was entirely captured by my iPhone and I don’t feel the snapshots suffered because of it. I also, genuinely, enjoy Instagram as I follow not only friends but some photographers and benefit from a few moments of beauty filtered into my feed every day.

But not everyone is on Instagram so it’s not a ‘connection’ place, it’s more just a media channel for me.

Facebook is where most of my local friends/family are and is a good way to keep up to date on what they’ve been up to. My usage has become a bit more focussed on Events recently which means I spend less time idlly scrolling and more time hunting around for specific events and business postings. Equally the addition of the Facebook Local app has moved a lot of my event based interactions to a different app, meaning my use of Facebook is a lot more focused around getting updates from friends and family (judicious use of the ‘Following’ options also helps!).

Then there’s Twitter. I’m using it less and less these days and whilst it has historically been the place where my ‘tribe’ exist it feels more and more like nothing but noise, or at least, the nuggets of delight are harder to find amidst the rest of my timeline. Perhaps it’s time to trim the follower list? Or time to switch it off altogether? Of the three social media behemoths, Twitter has consistently offered me less value outside of itself; Facebook is more about events and people I care about, Instagram is a delight and opens my mind to other places/things to see, but Twitter is a mess of overly long threads (write a blog post already) and inane chit-chat that, it appears, I no longer really have the time to indulge in. That said, Twitter is still where I tend to post things to share more often than Facebook (blog posts, instagram posts, random tracks from Spotify). So I don’t know if I’m ready to give it up completely. Yet.

Am I doomed, forever trapped in a social media whirl of my own making? I don’t think it’s THAT bad.

Am I over stating some of the negatives and ignore many of the positives? I think so. It’s clear I’m not really ready to give up social media, or even one channel in particular as each offers me some level of value. So what to do, what to do?

For sure, there is a middle ground to be found. Recently I’ve spotted a few people saying that they are taking a day away from social media; #SwitchOffSunday. It’s an intriguing idea, an entire day away from social media, away from notifications and distractions, a day to reconnect with yourself or with loved ones, a day to do something just for you with no need or pressure to share it with the world.

Which definitely sounds like something worth trying and if my current train of thought really is about giving myself time to indulge in things that I’m passionate about, then it should make space for that, even if I’m only really achieving that by gaming myself. Perhaps it’s telling that the ‘day away’ is a hashtag?

What I’m realising is that social media isn’t the problem at all. I’m pretty sure I could turn off ALL of my social media and still end up suffering the same root problem. My social media usage is, more and more, a symptom of one undeniable fact.

I get bored and social media is an easy distraction. As soon as I realise I’m in midst of an endless scroll of nothing in particular I get annoyed with myself, after all there are so many more valuable things I could be doing; reading a book, playing the piano, hell I’d even suggest doing the hoovering is in that list too.

For now I think I’ll settle for taking a day away as one step to remove slowly break the habit that social media is ohhhh so good at creating and re-enforcing. One day where my phone will be in a different room, the laptop will remain closed. I might go for a walk, or read a book, or visit some friends, or all of that and more.

Yes. That’s what I’ll do, I thought, and as the clock ticked past 2am I closed my eyes and finally drifted off to sleep.


P.S. I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago. Since then the Cambridge Analytics/Facebook news has broken. This has, naturally, skewed my thinking somewhat and made me realise I missed an entire side to my thinking when I was writing this. Privacy. More on this later.

Embracing change

Given recent events, I’ve had a few weeks of free time/garden leave and if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve probably not done everything I could with them.

Of course I’ve had some things to think about, finding a new job being a not inconsiderable part of that, but on a personal level I’m trying to use my recent redundancy as a reason to do something positive. Change is good, so it’s time to embrace it!

Less is more

I’ve read their blog and cherry picked some bits and bobs from it in the past but today I’m starting their 21 days into Minimalism plan.

I’m interested to see how far through this I’ll get but, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m still on a minimising, decluttering kick. I am determined to have fewer things so this is a good chance to fast forward this train of thought.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this stuff recently, one recent thought was to ask why I have books on bookshelves that I’ve not read. I like reading, but I now do most of mine on a Kindle (or iPad for articles). Is having unread books actually adding a tiny bit of stress to my life? Is the answer to plan to read them, or admit that I’ve passed over many of them when I had the choice so they’re better off being given to a charity shop?

Anyway, I’m interested to see where this 21 day plan will take me, or even if I’ll make it past day 5!

Starting this one today.

Apple Watch Activity Ring Challenge

Simple enough. For this month I will complete all three circles every day.

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for gamification and the Apple Watch activity rings play right into my sweet spot.

The main challenge will be to hit 30 mins of exercise every day (Activity and Standing I already manage most days) as I’ve realised, having spent a few days doing literally nothing, that I feel better for it. Oddly if I spend too much time sitting down I feel sore, but if I manage to get out for a walk or a cycle I feel much better. Who knew! (I know, I know, EVERYBODY knows… whatever…).

The Activity Rings track the following:

  • Red = Activity – basically tracks estimated calories burned through your day. At the moment I’m hitting it easily so will up this one a bit by the end of the month.
  • Green = Exercise – 30 mins where your heart rate is elevated, doesn’t have to be continuously.
  • Blue = Standing – for 1 min of every hour, get up and move about. The target is 12, so easily achievable as long as I don’t lie-in every day!

Here are my circles from July. Not great (spot the days I barely moved from the sofa).

July Activity circles from Apple Watch

I tend to thrive when I have goals, so this plays right into that sweet spot for me. And I’m telling you all to try and keep myself accountable.

At least, 30 mins exercise everyday, shouldn’t be that hard. Right?

Rug

New Rug

I’ll happily admit that whilst I might not be the best at it, I do love a bit of interior design. As such I’ve been trying to find a rug to ‘fit’ my living room.

The main highlight colour of my living room is red, with some red striped cushions (from Next) and a red TV unit (a hacked Lack unit from IKEA) and this is hopefully completed by walnut woods and the brown leather of my sofa. I think it works, which is all that really matters. I might add in a couple of red lamps soon too…

I know, get me!

I’ve still to replace the coffee table, a tricky choice as it’s a piece of furniture that will be central in the room, but the new rug has already brought things together nicely.

The rug came from an online store called Not on the High Street which, I warn you now, will throw up all sorts of wonderful things you will want to buy all sourced from small British businesses.

Disclosure: I received the rug for free in return for this blog post. Regardless, I’ve already got my eye on some other bits and bobs on the website, it’s well worth a look!

The last weekend

Sunday night will be the last night I spend in the house in Hamilton (trying to get out of the habit of calling it ‘home’). Removal van arrives on Monday morning and, by the afternoon, everything will have been moved into my new home.

So, barring a final visit to give it a quick clean at some point during next week, from Monday I’m officially moved.

Now we just need to finalising the paperwork for the sale of the house and we are done.

It’s still a bit weird at times, and as I’m spending most of my time either working, or making sure I’ve not forgotten to pack something, or complete a form, or make a phone call, I’m bloody knackered and a bit prone to mood swings. So I veer from being hugely tigger-bounce-excited about getting my own place, which I love and will bore you all with photos of at some point, to being a bit maudlin about missing the cat and generally the habits and patterns which we had.

It’s still unsettling for a lot of our friends, and family, that Louise and I are still on good terms and will remain friends, even if we fall out of contact with each other, but I just don’t know how we’d have gotten through the last six months if we’d fallen out and been fighting and horrid and nasty to each other.

The next post on this blog will be from my new home, but that’s dependant on when my broadband installation happens so, until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful!

Style by list

I’ve never been to Moscow, but we talk about it all the time at work and, cos I like to plan things and use lists to help me cope with stressful times, like moving from a house to a flat and the splitting up of 14 years accumulated crap, well the topic of Moscow has reared in my brain.

For the most part, the furniture is the main thing that we’ll need to split up or, as is most likely, give away to charity. That’s the thing about co-owning things, they end up being to the taste of neither of you so when it comes down to it we are both of a mind to replace items so we get things that we like.

Over the past few months I’ve visited a few antique and thrift style stores, missing out on a fantastic lamp base made from wooden letterpress blocks, and I’ll do the same once I’ve got somewhere to live sorted out. Understandably this is the top item on my list and it is titled “Get roof over head”. Alongside this item is the letter M.

Which brings us back to Moscow. Or, as some of you will already have figured out, to categorising list items into the Must haves, Should haves, Could haves and Would like to haves.

This way I can make a big list of things that I want to buy and ordered them such that I don’t end up, for example, buying a Mac Mini instead of a bed, or a new set of kitchen knives instead of food.

It’s exciting, making lists. I’ve always enjoyed it but this list has much more gravitas to it, this list is all about me and it’s been a long time since I’ve both taken that view, let alone been able to. So there are such items on the list as a pair of Grado headphones, an M-Audio keyboard, an Eames armchair, as well as a bed, a mattress, a new sofa and a smattering of smaller items (lamps and whatnot).

Not everything is needed, nor will be bought. And everything that is needed won’t be bought immediately either. I’m happy to take my time, and buy items I like and which offer good value (I really don’t want to be buy these things again any time in the next 20 years or more). It’ll also be a challenge, a fun one, to find my own style.

A closing example then. Here is an item that is a Could have on the list. It is a rug that I quite like, and somehow it will have to play alongside something I’ve already purchased. A giant Lego head.

Hmmm, this style thing might take a while to crack.

Maybe I need to start a new list…

Too hot, too cold, just right

I plonk myself down on the sofa.

“Nope, not squishy enough”

I plonk myself down on another sofa.

“Ugh, too firm”

I don’t plonk myself down on that sofa.

“What a horrid shade of puce, looks like a Ribena berry has puked all over it”

I plonk myself down on another sofa.

“Ohh this is nice but the padding on the arms is rubbish”

I don’t plonk myself down on another sofa.

“Who the hell would have that in their living room?!”

I don’t plonk myself down on another sofa.

“Or that, has it come from the set of the Sweeney or something?”

I don’t plonk myself down on another sofa.

“Seriously, who designed these? Blind giraffes?”

Several hours and many shops later.

I plonk myself down on another sofa.

“Ohh, this is just right!”

I sit for a while, luxuriating in the perfect harmony of style, comfort and texture. I run my hands over the smooth leather, let my head rest on the cushions and imagine myself at home, cold beer in one hand, a favourite movie on the TV. Oh yes, I think. This will do just fine.

I look at the price*.

I get up and plonk myself down on another sofa.