On not making plans, impromptu whisky sours and bathroom dining.

Last week I asked my sister what she was most looking forward to doing when she moved into her new house. She answered straight away: “Eating dinner in the bath.”

Her words came back to me today and made me smile, partly because of the absurdity of her answer and partly because of what it represented. Having dinner in the bath is really living life on your own terms: doing something other people think is crazy just because you want to.

This week I had lots of things that I thought I should do. It was supposed to be a quiet one, time to catch up on sleep, do my laundry, clean, tidy, write and reflect. But as soon as I arrived back in Oxford on Sunday night I received a text message: do you want to go for shisha? Which of course turned into shisha and wine and a late night.

On Monday night I ended up having a pub dinner and conversations that lasted until it got dark. On Wednesday night a throwaway remark by a friend – “I haven’t had a whisky sour in ages” – saw us camped out in a cocktail bar for most of the night. I returned home and collapsed on my bed. “Oh shit,” I thought as the room span around me. “I needed to do that laundry.” But it turned out I didn’t, because I wore a running bra under my work clothes today and nothing bad happened.

I have a nasty habit of trying to schedule every moment of my life in advance. I plan, I make lists, and I turn down fun to cross things off them.

This week has shown me that I can relax a little: not plan anything, not set expectations. Wonderful things can happen when you leave space for a little spontaneity. You’ll still do the things that matter (that laundry is in the washing machine as I type) but there’s a lot of things that don’t.

I’ll get more sleep when my friends aren’t in town. I’ll write when I feel inspired, not when I feel I ought to. This might lead to more infrequent blog posts but they will be the ones worth reading. Or it might not, because you don’t know what will happen when you leave space. It is okay to do whatever the hell you want to do in the moment, even it that’s eating dinner in the bath.

The Value of Money

Fresh flowers are always worth the money.

Fresh flowers are always worth the money.

I’ve already hit a stumbling block in my pursuit of things that I daydream about. This might sound like a problem, but it’s actually what I hoped would happen: I wanted this project to teach me about myself and the barriers I put up to prevent me living my ideal life. When I started out, I thought the biggest thing holding me back was my self-consciousness. But actually, the thing that I’ve been coming across again and again is the voice inside my head that says: “You can’t spend money on that.”

I’ve always felt guilty about spending money. Interestingly, I don’t think this has made me a particularly good saver. All it’s done is made me continually deny myself big things I want and exciting opportunities that come my way, while I fritter away all my money on little “treats” (coffee at the station, a chocolate bar at work, a magazine for a night in) that I tell myself I deserve because I’ve been driving the same car forever and not been on a holiday for over a year.

But recently, I’ve started to evaluate my relationship with my finances and what I choose to spend my money on. Before this, thinking about money just made me panic. I felt like I was constantly reacting to things that came my way and spending a lot of money without consciously ever making a decision about what I wanted to spend my money on. Without ever thinking about what is important to me.

Now I’ve realised that if I’m going to keep crossing things off my list, I need to stop being afraid of spending money to do so. Instead of feeling guilty about spending money I’m going to appreciate how much value spending money can add to my life – if I spend it on the right things.

So I’m going to stop money fears holding me back and start spending. But before I do, I’m going to ask “What value does this add to my life?”

There are a lot of things that I’ve always wanted or wanted to do but have been held back by how much it costs. I need to stop worrying that the product or experience itself may not be worth the money, and realise that the real value is to have tried it anyway. Some things are worth spending money on so I can stop wondering what they might be like, or stop wishing that I was brave enough to do it. To this end, today I’ve pre-ordered a Versalette; something I’ve been lusting after for years. Why don’t I deserve one, if I want one? It might be more than I usually spend on clothing but it’s something I can actually afford.

Sometimes you have to spend money on something once to discover that it doesn’t add long term value. For instance, just over a month ago I dyed the ends of my hair bright pink. It was fun for about three days but I don’t think I’d bother again. However, I’d been thinking about it for so long that the joy of finally seeing it happen was definitely worth the money, even if it wouldn’t be worth the money a second and third time around.

One thing that’ll always be worth the money for me is visiting people. Last week I travelled to London to meet some fellow Alivers for dinner and a drink. I have to admit that one part of my brain was adding up the cost of getting to London, getting across London and paying for a reasonably pricey dinner (in was London after all) just to spend a couple of hours in the company of some pretty awesome people. But wait, what do I mean “just”? Spending time with awesome people is one of the best things that life has to offer – far more important that having a bit of money sat in a bank. If I was too afraid to spend money socialising, all I would do is sit and home and feel lonely. I’d never meet anybody new, never feel that connection that you feel when you talk to someone who gets you, and risk never making another close friend.

Before you think it, this isn’t all an excuse to spend money. This last week I also took the difficult decision to sell my car because it wasn’t adding as much value to my life as it should have been considering how much it was costing me to run.

Likewise, I’m often tempted by things that, on reflection, would not add that much value to my life. Even though I quite fancy them I know that I don’t need:

  • A kindle, because carrying a paperback in my bag isn’t that heavy, and I can buy them cheaply from charity shops and re-donate them when I’m done.
  • A newer bike, because mine gets me from A to B.
  • Magazines, because I only ever flick through them, and I’d get the same experiences from looking at blogs on my phone.

Sometimes value is about timing. For instance, I would love to learn a language but there’s no point doing it right away because I have no immediate plans to travel. When I do learn a language I want to be be able to use it every day so I don’t forget it like I’ve forgotten all the French and German I learnt at school.

Of course, what people value are so different, and that’s what makes the world interesting. Let me know in the comments what you consider worth spending money on and what you could sacrifice to make way for more value in your life.

Being an adult about money

Money-quote

So today I wanted to talk about something that isn’t really to do with craft, or clothes, or any of the things that I usually write about. But it’s something that I worry about, and suspect that others do to. It’s something that I’m only really starting to think about properly, and what I’m learning is that it does actually underpin all the other decisions I make in my life, even if it’s not obvious at first. I’m talking of course about money. Or more specifically, anxiety about money.

For the last few years the approach I’ve taken to my finances is to bury my head in the sand. I’ve done exactly what I’ve wanted to do, eaten what and where I’ve wanted to eat, and traveled where I’d want to travel. I used to hand over my credit or debit card without thinking about what I was spending and my bank balance at the end of the month was always a complete surprise. Sometimes it was a good surprise: I had somehow managed to save a few hundred pounds. Sometimes it was a bad surprise: I had somehow managed to become overdrawn and had been charged.  Generally things balanced out but I never felt like I was in control.

It started to dawn on me that my relationship with money was making me very anxious. One of the reasons I never thought too much about it was because every time I did it made me feel slightly sick.

Then this blog post changed my life. When Kathleen shared how she used to be about money she could have been describing my life. Then she shared some things that helped her. One of them was a sort of visioning exercise where you think about your ideal day:

“Take yourself 5 years in the future. You are your most perfect self and there are no rules. Wake up and describe where you are. Who’s in bed with you? What sounds do you hear? What can you smell? Get up and go look in a mirror. What do you look like? What’s your hair like? What’s your body like? Now go eat something – what are you eating? ... Now make 3 wildly exciting and improbable goals based on this future ideal day. Write them down.”

I read this post over a breakfast of instant porridge at Latitude festival. I was awake earlier than most other people and the campsite was eerily quiet. I sat in the entrance of my tent with a plastic cup of tea and thought about my ideal day and how I saw my life in five years time. I wasn’t overly ambitious but I realised with a clarity I’d never had before that I needed to start putting money aside.

The major revelation was finally letting myself admit that I want to own my own home. This has always seemed just a unrealistic pipe dream I had never let myself think much about it before: it just seemed too abstract a concept. But the glimpse of my future showed me that I do really want my own flat or small house, to decorate as I wish and to call home.

I also want to be able to buy good, nourishing, local organic food without worrying about the cost of it. I want to be able to invite people over and give them more than enough to eat and drink. I want to have beautiful hand crafted objects. And I want this when I’m in my early thirties.

The next step was to think about how much money I would need by when, how much I would have to save each month to get there, and which monthly expenses I was prepared to sacrifice to get there. I decided I could give up takeaway coffee and tea, magazines, owning books (I joined the library instead), and staying with a more expensive phone contract so I could upgrade my phone. I decided I still needed to spend money on rent, utility bills, visiting friends and family, yoga classes, good food and semi-regular hair cuts. I resolved to cut down on buying music, eat out less and try not to drink so much alcohol.

Having a vision of the future really helps me because when I’m deliberating over an unnecessary purchase I can ask myself “Is this worth sacrificing or delaying my dream future for?” The answer is usually no.

I’ve also downloaded a budget app onto my phone where I record everything that I buy: no more burying my head in the sand. To make myself accountable to something I’ve created a ‘Money’ category on this blog, so I can let you know how I’m getting on and share tips and tricks along the way.

Creating space

For I while I’ve been reducing my physical possessions but now I’m trying to make space in my virtual life. I have too much on my to-do list, too much on my to-read list, I’m overwhelmed by my twitter feed and my personal email inbox. Over the last week or so I’ve been asking myself questions about how I use and what value I place on different social media and online communications channels, and gradually unfollowing and unsubscribing to things I think I could live without.

Usually when I stumble upon someone or something that looks interesting online I add the site to my favourite’s folder to read later. The list had gotten a little overwhelming because ‘later’ almost certainly never comes. In an attempt to halt my rising panic about it, I set aside some time one evening to spend a few hours reading everything. I found there were some great blogs that I wanted to delve into but you know what, there’s just too much.  I want to spend less time consuming and more time creating but find it hard to stop in case I “miss something”. The internet is full of so much amazing writing, inspiring people and beautiful images (granted, a lot of rubbish too, but also a lot of great content) and however hard you try you can’t read it all. So you have to accept that you will inevitably miss something, but that’s okay.

So how do you choose? How do you decide to follow one blog but not another, like a page at the expense of something else, and stop your twitter feed being an overwhelming barrage of noise? At what point to you say, ‘Okay I’ll stopped trying to find new people and build new connections now and need to focus on building relationships with those I’ve found?’

As well as trying to spend a little less time online, these are the questions I’m going to be thinking about over the next few weeks.

How to be excited (hint: it’s not about money)

For months now I’ve been meaning to open an Etsy shop but something is holding me back. I keep almost getting there: I’ve registered an account, I’ve designed a shop banner, I’ve taken pictures of things I want to sell. And yet, I can’t quite bring myself to put all of it together. Every time I think about it my heart sinks.

Basically it’s become something I feel like I ought to do rather than something I want to do.

Fuck that.

We have enough of this kind of thing at work without putting ourselves under obligations in our spare time.

I started to think about the reasons I feel I ought to do this:
1. I have lot’s of jewellery that I’ve made but don’t wear.
2. As a minimalist, I don’t want to store things that I never use.
3. I don’t feel I can give it to friends and family because they either have very different taste/styles or I’ve already subjected them to a lot of this tat already.

And then I thought: is there another way?

Well yes. Taking everything apart so it can be made into something different.

This suddenly sounded exciting, liberating, in a way that selling stuff never has to me. I started to look forward to getting home and making a start on it. The only way to live is to follow your excitement, so I knew that I was on to a good thing.

Why did it take me so long to figure out that this is what I should be doing? I get enjoyment from the creative process, from making things. Perhaps then the objective isn’t the end result but the process itself? I had unquestionably believed that the only logical thing to do with things I’ve made was to sell them, because they are only valuable if they make me money. That value can only be measured in financial terms. But if the value is in the process and not the end product, then taking things apart to make different things is the logical thing to do. That way you get the most value because you can be creative with the same things again and again.

This seems like an incredibly childish notion, because only as children do we build things (as play) and then put them away and build things again. But who says we can’t continue to play as an adult?

Some people might ask ‘what’s the point?’ or ‘Isn’t this a waste of time?’ Fun is the point. This is what I do for fun, and what greater point is there than enjoyment. And no, I love creating and time spend doing what I love is not wasted time.

This started me questioning a lot of assumptions about what activities we see as valuable. I think all too often we place things that make us money above things that bring us joy: spending time with loved ones, playing games outside, curling up with a good book.

How can you better prioritise things that bring joy into your life?

On value and shoddy upcycling (in which I cut up a pair of high-tops)

shoes

After my last pair of canvas shoes fell apart, I decided to mix it up a little bit and try a pair of high top shoes. I thought it would be a good idea because I could wear proper socks without hooking them back over my heel. It turned out to be not such a good idea because I just didn’t like how they looked (with shorts, with skinny jeans, with dresses) and never wore them. As a bit of a minimalist, I started to resent owning something I never used and started to feel guilty every time I saw them at the bottom of my wardrobe.

“Why don’t you just cut the tops off them?” said my Mum. Could I? Could I really? Just destroy a perfectly good pair of shoes because they weren’t quite what I wanted.

Yes.

I realised that things only have value if they are actually valuable to us. Despite paying more than I usually would for these shoes, they had no value for me while they remained unworn. Sure, to some people they might be less valuable now that they’ve been shoddily chopped of and left to fray, but I’ve worn them more in the last week than I have in the last two months since I bought them. So I’ve actually increased their value to me.