Tuesday, 10 April 2018

7 Ways to Start Simplifying Your Life

Let me ask you a simple question: what do you think of when you read the word "simple"?

Pic from http://www.becomingminimalist.com/

To some, a "simple life" might sound unpleasant, boring or even a sign of poverty. However, to a growing number of people, simplifying and downsizing means many things: it's a statement against a system that helps the rich get richer and the poor grow poorer, a step away from consumerism and towards a deeper, perhaps spiritual appreciation of life, as well as being a great way to save money and reduce stress.

If you're unsure about why simplifying is a good idea, check out my recent post 5 Reasons to Simplify Your Life.

Through future blog postings I hope to help show you some of the various ways in which you can de-clutter and simplify your life, as well as bringing your awareness to some of the individuals and groups across the globe who are already embracing a more authentic, compassionate, simple and sharing-based lifestyle.

For now, here are some starting points for some of you who want to take a step back from the stress and clutter of modern life and start to simplify. I've gone with the theme of areas of your life (physically and otherwise) where you can start to act.

1. Your Kitchen

You'll see from other posts that I'm a big fan of cooking your own simple, vegetarian, healthy food. Ideally, you should aim for local, seasonal vegetables, avoiding things that have been flown halfway across the world, as simplifying also means doing things like reducing your carbon footprint.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Does Money Buy Happiness?

Ask most people these days what would make their lives better, and they reply almost instantly -  "more money". Yes, we could all do with a bit more money in the bank, I'm sure. But the big question is: does money really make you happy?

Well, I think you only need look at those celebrities who definitely aren't hurting for cash (or fame), but who fall into a series of bad relationships, strange cults and unwise investments, or visit a third world country and see how happily the children play together, to see that having money doesn't automatically make you happy and being poor doesn't throw everyone into depression. But those celebrities, you think, are just foolish. You would know what to do with all that money, right? 

Friday, 3 March 2017

10 Bits of Mindless Plastic you can Stop Wasting Today!

You've probably heard of the Great Pacific Garbage patch/vortex and the fact that it's mostly comprised of plastic; the fact that seabirds are mistaking bits of plastic bobbing on the ocean surface for food, feeding it to their babies and killing them; and the fact that plastic never fully biodegrades. Oh, and it's mostly made from oil, you know - that thing we're using up at a rapid pace and going to war over.

Yet, every day we consume and throw away plastic, probably without even realising it. Once you start to think about it, though, you realise with a creeping horror that plastic - like an alien species just waiting for us to turn our backs - has slowly take over our lives. And worse; many types of plastic can't be recycled. What am I talking about, and what can we do about it? Well:

1) Plastic stirrers - why does this tiny little piece of plastic need to be made, packaged and shipped  somewhere just so I can stir my coffee with it for about 3 seconds before throwing it in the bin for eternity? Petrol/gas stations and take-away coffee shops: I'm looking at you. It's bad enough that take-away coffee cups aren't recyclable without adding this to the mix. Some places carry wooden stirrers, which are much better, but you can never be sure.
Solution: carry a spoon with you in your handbag.

2) Plastic knives/forks/spoons - they come with take-aways, with meals bought in shops (also in plastic tubs, usually) or even, to my great dismay, in some restaurants. I usually keep them in my bag for weeks, telling myself I'll use them again instead of throwing them away, until they end up snapping somehow.
Solution:  carry cutlery with you and make sure you tell the servers at these establishments that you do not want them. Preferably, don't order take-out, because it inevitably comes in loads of plastic packaging.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

How Tidying Your Desk Can Make You More Productive

Do you find it hard to concentrate on what you're doing? Is it impossible for you to schedule drinks with your friends because you have so much work to do? Do you struggle to put your thoughts into words?

The problem might not just be with your mind, but with your desk.

Go on, be honest - which one is the most like your work space?

You know how it is- you sip on a nice cup of tea as you work, and you never get round to taking it to the sink. You have twenty different documents that you have to keep looking back at, and now they lie in a pile beside you. You have all those little bits and bobs that don't really belong anywhere, so you try to arrange them neatly near your computer. The result? An untidy mess that you are constantly looking at from the corner of your eye - which actually helps to make your mind just as messy. 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Making Your Own Honey-Roasted Peanut Butter

Mmm, peanut butter - great for spreading on your toast, bagels or crumpets, throwing into cake recipes,
Find out how to make this below! Mmmm
even just spooning out of the jar when you're feeling a bit naughty (come on, haven't you?). It can also be an interesting addition to curries and soups. Whatever you do with your PB (we won't judge you), you may be wondering what's in the jar. I've broken down the ingredients in just 3 of the easily available brands from my town.

Sun-Pat Smooth Peanut Spread - boasting 95% peanuts, it turns out that the other 5% is made up of: stabiliser (E471), cane sugar, peanut oil and sea salt.

Slightly bad news for vegans or Muslims - E471 is mainly produced from vegetable oils, although animal fats may be present. There is a chance of pork fat also being present; so E471 is best avoiding when you can't know for sure that it is entirely from from vegetable oil. There's sugar, which may or may not really need to be in there, but the good news is there's no palm oil!

Marks and Spencers' Crunchy Peanut Butter - only 91% peanuts in this one, with the rest being from sunflower oil, palm oil, cane sugar and sea salt.

You may remember that palm oil is best avoided as it causes massive environment destruction and human rights abuses, so I wasn't too thrilled when I noticed this!

Tesco Value Crunchy Peanut Butter, by far the most delicious (I think) and cheapest, contains only 87% peanuts, sunflower oil, dextrose, vegetable oil and salt.

Dextrose is another name for glucose, and is a type of sweetener made from plant starch. Vegetable oil could also be palm oil, as there's no requirement to label palm oil as such.

Of course, there are some brands of peanut butter that contain 99% or more peanuts, which you can find pretty easily online (for example, Holland and Barrett stocks Meridian peanut butter, which is £5.99 for a 1000g tub), but I decided to test out my new food processor and make my own!

What you need:
Peanuts (ideally unsalted, in their skins)
A drizzle of honey
Optional - a splash of peanut (groundnut) oil

Step 1: Spread the peanuts onto a baking tray. DON'T use foil, as I did, because the peanuts will stick to it
and take ages to remove! Drizzle some honey on them and place under a grill at around 120C for 10-15 minutes.

2: Remove and let cool for 5 miutes.

3. Throw into the food processor and switch it on! As with Cashew nut butter, the trick is to leave the food processor on for a minute or so, turn it off, scoop the peanuts back onto the blades and keep going. It will seem to take ages but eventually your mixture will start to become a little less like powder and more like butter. 

4. If you're struggling, add a splash of peanut oil. This will make the blending process go a little more smoothly.

5. Pour into a cleaned out jar and enjoy! This particular peanut butter was smooth but a little gritty, which I came to really like. If you're struggling to spread it, you can add a little more oil or honey.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Are you Getting Enough Nature?

Last year, I spent a little time helping out some lovely folks at Project Wild Thing. David Bond, director of the documentary, was worried that his children would rather sit in front of their screens than go outside. Realising that the beautiful scenes outside their homes had to compete with the shiny advertising for Angry Birds, he set himself up as the Marketing Directing for Nature.

I'd strongly recommend checking out the film if you can, and looking at their website:


Getting outside can be tough, and it's especially off-putting when you're faced with grey days and rain (as we so often are in the UK). With late mornings and early evenings, there isn't a lot of daylight to catch - and if you're at work during those hours, it's even harder. Still, it might turn out that getting outside a little more could be the secret ingredient to your happiness.

Here are some facts that might get you thinking. Children who regularly play outdoors have a stronger immune system, lower levels of stress, better imagination and creativity, higher self-esteem and respect for others, better vision and motor function, and better social bonds.

On the other hand, children who have 2 or more hours of daily "screen time" are at a higher risk of obesity, have less regular sleep patterns, delayed language acquisition, more hyperactivity and attention problems, lower levels of creativity and more trouble forming social bonds. Yet 64% of babies and toddlers are, on average, watching 2+ hours of TV a day. If you think I'm just making things up, my sources are the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the National Centre for Physical Development and Outdoor Play.

It isn't just children who are affected by too much screen time and not enough green time. Adults who don't spend enough time outdoors are just as likely to be overweight, irritable, depressed and anxious, and those who spend a lot of time outdoors are generally happier and healthier. Sometimes you don't even have to be outside - even having a view of green space from your office can make you more productive than workers with a city view or no view at all! The book Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality is full of information about studies looking into the relationship between humans and nature.

What is it that boosts our well-being? It might be that fuzzy feeling you get when you look at a beautiful scene, which can be calming or exhilarating. It might be the feeling of being part of something greater and wonderful; a feeling you don't get in an office cubicle or your apartment. It might be a chemical reaction brought on by the fresh air or something in the soil. Whatever it is, I know I certainly feel better when I spend some time outside. I get sick less often, I feel calmer and better able to face life's stresses, and it reminds me that - in the grand scheme of things - any little problems I have are fleeting. We're all part of something much bigger, and those hills have been there for thousands of years and will continue to stand there long after any of us.

So, do you think you get enough nature? What barriers prevent you from it? Where are your favourite green spaces?

Friday, 1 July 2016

Are You Addicted to Pleasing Everyone? Learning To Say No...

OK, it's time for me to confess something to you. I have an addiction. No, it's not crack, it's not gambling and it's not caffeine (well, OK, maybe a little bit of caffeine addiction is going on)... it's saying "yes" to too many things. 

Have you read "Yes Man"? It's a lovely idea, and I'm all for saying yes to more exciting opportunities. Most of us could probably do with more adventure in our lives. The problem is that many of us say no to the good things, and yes to the bad things. If you say "yes" to everything that comes your way, you might have the time of your life, fall in love or land your dream job. But, of course, there are times when saying "yes" could lead to trouble.