There’s some exciting news regarding Minimalism – The Documentary… it’s now available to watch on Netflix. This means I can watch it again. and again. and again. It’s probably one of the only films I have ever watched more than once. Why would I want to?
How many of you have heard of Agnus Castus? I think I would be happy to be my last 50p on the fact most of you haven’t. Although this post is one for the women, so men you’re excused! I had never heard of it before my wife started taking it for PMS (premenstrual syndrome to give it its Sunday name). I scoffed at thinking I had PMS and carried on my merry way but I started noticing after stopping my anti depressants some time ago that I would get more stressed, more angry and more emotional and feeling really unsettled at specific times and so the wise woman that is my wife thrust a capsule in my hand and said ‘take this’. I trust her enormously so swallowed it and carried on, and it was only after a few days when I started dancing around the house which I hadn’t done for a long time that I thought ‘Well what is this miracle cure?’
I’ve just become an auntie again for the third time. A proud auntie of a perfect little boy. Some might say the novelty should have worn off now but it never does. To see a little person , with perfect ears, a little nose, a great pair of lungs breathing, feeding and pooing all of it’s own accord and to know it came from a tiny seed and a little egg…to me that’s a miracle. These miracles happen every day all over the world. Tiny babies, learning to breathe and feed and poo. They come into the world and from day one start to learn about life.
This Christmas things are very different in our household. The decorations will be up, the cards will be written and sent, the mince pies are already being tested, but there’s one big change. We’re not sending and receiving presents.
With the exception of a secret santa, and a few homemade biscuits for our families, we have made the decision not to give or receive gifts this year. This has caused some upset, and has made us seem probably a bit like a 21st Century version of Scrooge to others. Yet as I investigated the internet to see if we were the only ones, I came across people time and time again agonising over whether to give or ask not to receive gifts, for many different reasons; finances being a big one, but also the over consumption of ‘stuff’ for themselves, their children and the vast wastage of goods when you either get something you really don’t like or won’t use, or even the fact of just having to remove the enormous amount of packaging that comes with everything.
For us there are a few reasons we took this decision. We are trying to be minimalists, and we have a small home. Every Christmas although we’re extremely grateful people want to give us presents, we have to find room for more and more things. As the years are going by our wants are getting so few, it’s harder to find anything we need or desire and so we end up wasting people’s money.
Secondly present giving is often a ‘I’ll spend £30 pounds on you, and you’ll spend £30 pounds on me. What do you want for Christmas?’ Given what I’ve said about being hard to buy for, it’s no wonder poor people ask everyone what they want for Christmas so as not to waste their hard earned cash, but it begs the question to me, if you don’t know what I want, please get to know me better so you know what to buy me. I’d much prefer that. You see to me the gift of showing up, the gift of time, the gift of being there for the shitty bits far outweighs any gift I might get. I’m not being glib, I do love presents sometimes, but I also prefer to spend time thinking about the person I’m buying for, get some nice wrapping paper, or buy them an experience they’ll remember. I would prefer it when times are down that someone says ‘What can I do to help?’ That to me is the greatest gift anyone could give. Their time and their love.
Christmas was once (in case any of the younger generation aren’t clear) a religious festival. I’m not religious, I don’t celebrate Eid or Ramadan, so why would I celebrate a Christian festival? Now it’s just an orgy for over consumerism, and getting worse each year, and I don’t celebrate that either.
I like to give gifts but on my own terms. Something I spot for someone that makes me think of them, something that cheers someone up like a bunch of flowers or a gift that I’ve really thought about. I didn’t ever want people to think I don’t love them. I’m a big old ball of love, but I just want to express it by showing up and being there, not by buying a Boots 3 for 2.
The other key aspect of not buying gifts is of course the finance. This year if I’d bought all the gifts I’d done in years before I would have had to use my credit card. Money is all budgeted out for us, and a big expense like that just can’t be taken out of a monthly budget. Yes I could budget for 12 months to pay for a days worth of excess, but that just doesn’t work for me right now.
The result is although it has been hard to explain to the people I love why I am not buying gifts this year, it’s been worth it. I am far more enjoying Christmas without worrying who to buy for, what to buy and how I’ll pay for it. I feel festive, and free and for the first time in years, I am looking to enjoy Christmas for the key parts for me; family time, good old films and mulled wine! So now off to perfect the homemade Christmas biscuits…
For those of you who don’t avidly Pinterest or Instagram, or follow a number of the more hipster types on twitter (or you’re Danish) hygge might have bypassed me up to now. Let me introduce you. Visit Denmark puts it far better than I can…
A hygge definition
‘Hygge is as Danish as pork roast and cold beer and it goes far in illuminating the Danish soul. In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family – that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking – preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life. ‘
Essentially hygge is simple living Danish stylee. Friends, family, candlelight, food, warmth, cosiness. All the ingredients for an experience that money does not buy.
So why is everyone getting obsessed with hygge over here all of a sudden? Because actually that kind of life, with no pressures, no deadlines, long leisurely dinners with candles, lingering over a glass or two of wine (rather than a bottle or two) is just not the average Brit’s lifestyle these days.
We’re obsessed with more, more, more, faster , faster, faster. There’s no doubt that the simple living and mindfulness movements are gaining ground in response to this as people like me step off the treadmill shouting ‘enough already’.
Actually hygge is just another way of slowing down and experiencing, just like mindfulness. Of being present, of lingering in cosy surroundings and not putting pressure on yourself about tomorrow’s problems or worrying about yesterdays slights. Of being here, now.
Isn’t it interesting that so many people are turning towards ideas that involve less buying, less time beavering away at work, less time trawling social media and the internet in exchange for time spent with yourself and a good book, with your loved ones and supper?
I think we’re actually fed up with the fast life and are desperately looking for solutions that give us an antidote. For those who shiver in horror at the thoughts of meditating or moving mindfully around a bit like a Tai Chi master, hygge offers a more down to earth alternative.
Hygge and mindfulness
It sits very much with the mindful concept of being compassionate to yourself and others. What greater gift can you give someone you love than to spend quality time with them? Embracing comfy pyjamas and a night of the Archer’s omnibus is a great way of showing compassion to yourself in an otherwise hard edged week. So let’s embrace this latest craze. I’m off to light my candles.
If you’re interesting in exploring hygge for yourself here’s five ways you can get started:
- Turn down the lights – a big part of hygge is cosiness. Harsh overhead lighting does not make a cosy atmosphere, so turn off overhead lamps, change your lamps to soft lighting, and light some candles. If you’ve got a log burner, light it or turn on your gas fire. You don’t even need to have it on heat, but the flickering light of the flames will create the look you’re after.
- Use lots of different fabrics – Part of hygge is about blankets and cushions and getting wrapped up warm. Try a faux fur blanket, with a wool cushion for extra warmth, or mix Scandi colours such as slate, ice blue and heather.
- Get into your comfiest PJs or invest in some lounge pants. However you dress down, hygge is giving you permission to do so! Put on the PJs or if like me you have dogs to walk, get a pair of comfy jersey lounge pants and a woolen jumper. The wool will keep the heat around your body, and you’ll be able to curl up with a book or a movie and feel really comfortable.
- Cook up some winter food – Get some big stews on the hob or roast some vegatables. Hygge food is all about sharing, and comfort food, so pick your best winter comfort food, invite some friends and have a hygge party!
- Take time out – our busy lives mean we often struggle to make time for others, let alone ourselves. Hygge gives us permission to do that. Turn off the phone, take a Facebook break, read a book, invite some friends over and have quality time. Step away from busyness to relax and enjoy the important things in life.
I was browsing Facebook today and saw an article shared by a friend who lives in the Yorkshire Dales – an article from that bastion of fact (please notice the irony) the Daily Mail, by columnist Liz Jones about her experience of living in the Yorkshire Dales.
I myself lived in the Yorkshire Dales for 8 years as a teenager and couldn’t wait to get out, to hit the bright lights and big city. Funny that now I spend an awful lot of time there with my family who all live across parts of it. At that time I felt constricted and strangled by it. Cue 20 years later and an ability to drive and now I see it as it is a beautiful location that is lovely to visit, right for some to inhabit and not so for others. No-one can argue that on a sunny day it’s one of the most breathtaking places to be but upping sticks and living in the country, particularly somewhere that’s at least an hour and a bit from things like a hospital and miles in some cases from a town with all the amenities that brings takes some thought and consideration.
Liz talks about how in the Yorkshire Dales it’s a 500 mile round trip to London (so far so good right?) the broadband’s crap (it is- very frustrating), there’s no Waitrose (this is when it started to get even more than slightly ridiculous) the Co-op doesn’t stock tofu (sigh), and the one decent bakery is 15 miles away. However these are things that the average country bod does not expect or desire halfway up a mountain. There’s something to be said for growing your own and never having been to Kensington. It’s precisely this that winds the Yorkshire folk up (and I consider myself now one of the Yorkshire folk albeit an incomes). We like it this way. We don’t want a Waitrose in Leyburn, or a crossrail link in Hawes that will connect us to London in 35 minutes. People move to the country to leave all that nonsense behind. By the way for those of you who haven’t experienced Liz’s country diatribes, this isn’t the first time she has lived in the country – in 2012 she fled back to London from Somerset claiming that she had come to the end of a prison sentence. Yet now she finds herself lonely and isolated in the Dales. Clue could be in the fact you love the idea of the romance of country living, but don’t actually like the reality Liz?
As someone who has considered (and decided against) a return to the Dales, I can identify with some of what Liz Jones talks about; the job market in the Dales is poor to non existent meaning many must travel a good distance to work. This is one of the key things that put us off moving up there. There are large areas of rurality where you are miles from anything, and actually that isolation that some desire wasn’t right for us. I actually like a Waitrose, I admit it. Although it wasn’t the dealbreaker – travelling an hour and a half each way and spending most of my money in petrol and Band C Council Tax was. However we did our homework before making that plunge. We thought about the massive journey, the trek to the nearest conveniences that we take for granted and weighed everything up, and we decided against. We found an alternative to such extreme country living by moving into a village with a little shop, where York is just 20 minutes away, yet you still wake up with the bird song and silence in the morning, and the cows are just a couple of minutes away.
What annoys me about Jones’ article is her vitriol to an area that others choose precisely for those reasons she lists as abominable. Don’t get me started on the gross exaggeration. Will people who read the Daily Mail actually believe people do set out to hit every hedgehog in their path and skin every rabbit they come across? Probably. The reality is actually there’s so many of us city dwellers living there now, we wouldn’t do anything to a rabbit but admire it’s little white tail. The rural life is one of survival. Whether you agree with it or not some people farm animals, some people eat rabbits, and they don’t often eat tofu. That’s why co-op don’t stock it by the way.
It strikes me that Liz Jones is running from something in London and looking for something in Yorkshire which she cannot find. She speaks of loneliness…it can be incredibly lonely wherever you are if you’re not happy. Sometimes you have to accept what’s within you, and stop blaming the external environment for that which you cannot solve. And for those of you who have never been to the Yorkshire Dales, as long as you don’t mind being 100 miles from the nearest branch of Boots that sells Clarins, give it a try, it’s a beautiful place.
This post sounds all wrong doesn’t it? How could anyone not be looking forward to a holiday? What about all the people who can’t afford a holiday right now and would kill for one? How ungrateful can you be?
Well yes. It is completely ungrateful and very unmindful, but let me tell you all about it.
After we moved to our new home this year, we impulsively booked a week away. We hadn’t been on a big holiday for over two years as we’d been saving and scrimping, covering payments to two homes and then getting mortgage ready. Finally when we moved we started to become more settled, and wanted to celebrate. For us the ultimate in feeling that we’d moved on from a financially difficult time was being able to afford a holiday. So on the internet we went. We picked somewhere completely random, Madeira, sounds nice enough but not somewhere we’d ever yearned to go, or thought much about. however it’s by the sea, pretty, warm, relaxing. So all booked. Mostly paid for.
Now the holiday is almost upon us and we’re both having cold feet. Why? Well it turns out, even though we both completely agreed and were desperate to go initially, and were excited about going on holiday, independently we’ve both realised this is not the kind of holiday we’re really into. We like shorter mini breaks; city breaks where we get to take in a beautiful place we’ve always longed to go to or holidays in the UK that involve our dogs, which for us are the equivalent of our children. We’ll be leaving them for a week instead and we feel kind of sad about that.
For me, I have never enjoyed summer sun holidays and though I can while my way through a book for a whole morning, and possibly an afternoon, I’d rather do that cosied up to an open fire than on a sun lounger. I’m no longer the drinker I once was and so the chance to be hungover for a week without having to go to work doesn’t do it for me either. We’ve tried to fire ourselves into excitement mode tonight by looking at pictures of Funchal, where we’re staying. It’s an incredibly beautiful place, architecturally there’s lots of old mixed with new, there’s a botanic gardens (for some reason I always love a botanic gardens on my hols) and it’s by the sea. What’s not to like? Yet we’re still asking ourselves why did we book this?
You see we didn’t book with authenticity, or very much mindfulness. We booked in auto-mode. What do people do when they book a longed for holiday to relax we thought? They go for a week in the sun of course (I’m sure many of you will tell me I’m wrong now). We didn’t take the time to consider actually we probably would prefer to do something completely different and that’s OK. It’s OK to be different. We’ve not had a summer holiday for two years we said. This is just what we need. So when I think back the last time I had a weeks summer holiday in a sunny place by a pool was nearly 20 years ago. There’s a reason for that. It’s just not my kind of thing. So why? Why? Why did I not remember this? I’ve had some amazing holidays over the years; city breaks to Amsterdam, Paris, New York, a tour of Italy, lovely cosy holiday cottages. I’ve enjoyed so many of them. They were not summer sun holidays.
I’ve learnt something from this costly, and hopefully retrievable mistake. Take some time to really think about what you want before you go ahead and do something. Don’t follow others paths to happiness as if they are your own. I committed myself to something I thought I wanted, that I thought would make me happy, and that is actually causing me some anxiety now.
I know that for many people, this post will seem strange. How can anyone not want a relaxing week away? This woman is clearly mad. Perhaps, but what it tells me is I wasn’t listening to myself and this is a real trait of over buying, over eating and over indulging generally. Being on auto pilot. It’s a real wake up call for me to be more mindful in making big decisions and to really feel how I am feeling about something before I commit to it.
Anyway I am going to put a beginners mind to Funchal. If I let myself get more and more anxious and unhappy about going, it’s going to be a waste of my life. I am going to explore the city with a curious mind, and eat , drink and be merry. I just won’t be booking a return visit. I will do a few blogs while I am over there, so I have to make an effort for you guys if nothing else!