Posted in Minimalism, Moving, Travel, Writing, Yoga

Love people, use things*

My daughter brought my attention to a concept called minimalism last year, through a film called ‘Minimalism-A Documentary about the important things’.

At the time we were just about to move internationally again, the movers were booked, I had already done what I thought was quite a lot of decluttering (and minimalising, I suppose, although I didn’t use that word), yet after watching the documentary, I looked around my house and went, ‘Ah, man! It’s too late this time around, I don’t have time to get rid of any more stuff!’. The concept resonated with me, however, as I looked around and wondered how on earth we had managed to accumulate so much stuff.

We moved in, unpacked some things, donated quite a bit straight away (I was quite proud of that) and got on with accumulating more stuff.

Fast forward less than a year later, and my husband and I are about to move again (our kids are both at university, but we still have all their excess stuff as well) and this time we are downsizing; our new house is significantly smaller than any space we’ve lived in for the last 20 years.

We have arranged to store some of our extra furniture, 4 or 5 larger items that definitely won’t fit in this new house (#theminimalists would say we are ‘hoarding’ our excess furniture; hoarding is a synonym for storing)… and as for the rest of our belongings, I am doing my usual clear out. Now, if you know me, you know that we’ve moved house quite a number of times. Many of these have been international moves. I clear stuff out every single time.

We once stored most of our belongings for three full years, having taken with us only what we were allowed, which amounted to clothes and some personal items to make it ‘feel like home’.  We actually came back with more than we’d left with, and when we got the rest of our stuff out of storage, we spent the first two weeks unpacking it all and saying, ‘Why did we keep this?’ before carefully storing it in our new home. (I know, I know…)

Wow. I didn’t realise I was quite as bad as that until I wrote it down. I now realise am a hoarder of cooking utensils and equipment, cookbooks, shoes, socks and underwear (WHY???) just for starters. I have more jute shopping bags than an entire small village would need, because I hate having to buy or accept plastic bags when I’m shopping, and I regularly forget to bring my own bag. We currently have 7 different ways to make coffee, never mind teapots we have never used. (One of them is just so beautiful and I am worried it will leak.) Is it useful? Probably not, the last one wasn’t fit for purpose, so we exchanged it with the potter. We thought it was a fault in the glaze, but I bought my parents one as well, and theirs leaked too…SO, if it probably doesn’t brew tea without leaking all over the table, why are we keeping it? You see, even with the regular clear outs, we have so much that we neither use nor need.

I have been listening to The Minimalists podcast this week. The concept of minimalism resonates well with yoga, mediation and mindfulness to me – to move all the excess, all the extra stuff out of the way (physical or mental) so you can focus on the important things, that’s what yoga, mediation and mindfulness are all about. Leading a deliberate and meaningful life, clearing out the stuff that’s not useful, or doesn’t add value. In yoga, I ask myself, ‘What is blocking your progress in that posture?’ In other words, what is stopping you from achieving what you are setting out to do. It can be a physical blockage like an injury or a mental blockage like fear or stress. I think it’s the same with our lives. What is important to you, what are you passionate about? Are you doing it, practicing it, spending time enjoying it? If not, why not? Move all the excess out of the way, the things that aren’t useful or adding value to your life; they are blocking your view of what’s important.

I have just put 10 cookbooks, one coffee machine, a popcorn popper and a pair of purple suede fur-lined FitFlop ankle boots into the donation box in my living room. I am not sure how I feel about that yet.  I will sleep on it.

Let’s be clear. I’m not solving the world’s problems by donating an ugly pair of footwear.  Also, cookbooks are useful. As long as you, you know, use them. I enjoy browsing through them, although I must admit that I have never cooked a single recipe from many of the ones I own. The ones I am (tentatively considering) donating (or recycling, let’s call it minimalising) are ones I haven’t even opened since they went into storage almost 5 years ago.

I could probably find most of the recipes from those cookbooks online these days. I could also scan recipes, borrow cookbooks from the library, or buy them from charity shops and re-donate when I’ve used them.I won’t be short of recipes just because I no longer own 10 Jamie Oliver cookbooks. Can you tell that I’m trying to convince myself more than you? We’ll see what happens in the morning.

I digress. You see, that is one area of my personality that highlights an issue. I’m clearly a hoarder at heart.  The words, ‘Oh, I’d better keep it just in case…’ feel very familiar. One look in my wardrobe would probably flag that up.

So we are trying baby steps here. I have already donated novels we’ve both read, (though not reference books that we will use again, not maps and my dear husband has an obsession with anything that says ‘Wainwright’ or ‘Edward Abbey’ on the sleeve…you do what you can). We’ve done a clear out of old DVDs that we won’t watch again, and most of our CDs went years ago.

I’d like to free up space to make more space and time for people and experiences and writing and just being and breathing and yoga.

Kitchen cupboards are next. How many coffee cups does one family of four need? At a rough estimate, I would say (forgetting the ones the kids have taken to Uni with them) we’ve currently got over 50 mugs (and some ‘proper’ teacups with saucers as well). Don’t get me started on plastic travel mugs that neither keep the beverage hot nor allow you to drink it in the car without dribbling coffee down your blouse.

On The Minimalists podcast, they said that someone had said in criticism of them,’Oh, these guys say they are minimalists, they haven’t gotten rid of anything important!’ And that is the point.  You get rid of the excess, so that what remains is useful (or essential), adds value or brings you joy. I’ve added the ‘joy’ part, but I guess that falls into it adding value to your life.

Before he left the house this evening, as I’m preaching all about minimalism and clearing out the clutter, my husband looks up and says, ‘Do I get to stay?’ To which I replied, ‘Of course, my darling, but maybe not all your sports equipment that’s been festering in various storage spaces for the last 25 years.’ Actually I didn’t say that, I’ll let him wonder what’s missing when we move in.

I had a rather parallel conversation with my parents last week. They moved 16 years ago, and still have packing boxes that they haven’t opened. My mother still knows exactly what is in them, mainly because they were all the things that my dad decided to keep, ‘just in case’.  They were the ‘if there’s room in the container, throw them in’ items.

We’ve not got that luxury this time- the new house does have a smallish loft for storage, but no garage, a ‘summer house’ and potting shed but no real storage shed to speak of, which in itself may pose a problem. Here’s a little brain teazer: We are a family of four; between us, we own 6 bikes; one member of the family doesn’t own a bike at all.  How many bikes does my husband own? Answers on a postcard! (I tease him about his bikes, he teases me about shoes. We all have our weaknesses.)

Right, I’m off to advertise all of our furniture on Gumtree, wish me luck.

IMG_20180317_221154508 (1)
My Mother’s day card from my husband. Says ‘shoe hoarder’ all over it. Mine are more likely to be sturdy ugly boots, but they don’t make a card for that apparently. 

P.S. Lifejackets are useful, please wear them. Probably not necessary unless you are in water.

P.P.S. The lifejacket picture is for my parents, and my sister. They will understand.

*Quote from The Minimalists Podcast 



Posted in Minimalism, Moving, Uncategorized, Visa

Curate & donate

My donation box, my very messy and I-probably-can’t-lift-that heavy cardboard box of just some of our excess belongings. I have to tell you we’ve taken two car loads to the charity shop already, and we are nowhere near finished.

I feel lighter, yet the burden of knowing that it’s the tip of the iceberg is rather daunting.

Now it has just occurred to me that my lifelong habit of procrastination is another symptom of a hoarding personality. Put off dealing with that bill, applying for that visa (oh, that’s a whole other story, I could write a book about my passport, citizenship and visa debacles), all the ‘I’ll deal with that later’ clutters up later.

Before you know it, there are dozens of things you need to take care of urgently, which adds to stress and has the knock on effect of meaning that today’s small things will become tomorrow’s emergencies.

It’s like hoarding responsibilities, little jobs that, if done now will simplify later. Dealing with mail, emails, cleaning tasks, whatever it is, dealing with them now can be like a weight lifted. Leaving them to fester, as I do, just means when I finally get a few hours at home, there are many tasks waiting to be dealt with.

The *thief of time? Maybe it’s hoarding.

*Amended typo. Colour me horrified, being a card carrying member of the Grammar & Spelling Police.

Posted in Writing, Yoga

“Wordless” Wednesdays

My husband, daughter and I discovered a fantastic café in York last weekend called Rowntree Park Reading Café.  We noticed a poster advertising ‘Wordless Wednesdays’, when ‘all users are welcome but encouraged to respect those who wish to sit quietly and enjoy a coffee, read a book or perhaps work on their laptop’ (I’m paraphrasing, having not written it down word-for-word).

‘What a great idea!’ we said. ‘Let’s go this week.’  She is currently working on a report related to her degree;  I need to work on my very disjointed, disastrous ‘manuscript’. A change of scene seemed like a good idea, to offer us a bit of inspiration.

We set ourselves up for it well; we cycled to a 7:15am Yoga class at Yogabomb (excellent, thank you, Laura), got a spot of breakfast at Pig and Pastry (love that place!) and then wandered down to the cafe to enjoy a peaceful couple of hours of work.

Unfortunately, the staff at the Reading Café had failed to add, on their in-café poster the crucial words:  ‘Term time only’.  I found this on the website after we got home.

During school holidays it should be renamed ‘Rambunctious Wednesdays’ or ‘Lego Wednesdays’ or ‘Mum and loud children Wednesdays’.  Wordless is NOT a word that could be used to describe our experience in this otherwise extremely pleasant space.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud their encouragement of family time, books for children and the activities they offer. It is in a lovely location in Rowntree Park, overlooking the pond (and ducks); they serve great coffee and there are books available to borrow.

‘This is the noisiest cafe I’ve been in in a long time,’ my daughter says with a smile. Children are crying, a mother is reading a picture book aloud (VERY aloud), and giving a loud non-stop commentary about all the things her children are doing wrong. Generally everyone in here is being extremely WORD-Y instead of wordless. Though very busy, the Pig and Pastry was much calmer and quieter, probably because the clientele were all adults (parent-readers, please do not be offended, I am a parent myself – it is simply an honest observation).

We shall return another time, either during the holidays (with no intentions of working), or during term time if we ever get the opportunity. For now, home seems much quieter, even with our very own ‘judgy’ dog and extremely needy/noisy cats.

Note: on the shelf behind me was a novel titled Killing in the Café by Simon Brett. I think it was best that we escaped before we could consider its significance.

Photo courtesy of https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/cafes/rowntree-park-reading-cafe/


Posted in Technology, Uncategorized

iPhone iRritation (RIP)

Okay, some would say I shouldn’t complain, I’ve had a good 4 years out of my iPhone 5…but this morning I am sad to report that she’s… gone.  Not a peep or chirp, nor a flicker of light from her perfect unscratched screen (I have cared for her very well). She just passed away quietly in her sleep overnight. I assume she didn’t feel a thing.

To be honest she’d been going downhill for a while now, switching off with 45% battery left, losing sound and needing to be rebooted, that sort of thing. But I babied that phone, I really did. I thought I could manage to get another good year out of her, keep her limping along. Her quality of life was pretty good. We could still download apps, I always downloaded and then deleted pictures when I needed the space, to keep her running smoothly. I didn’t even keep too much music on there; we sang, we danced, but I used Spotify. I could even use Snapchat, if I kept the battery well charged and used it sparingly. (Note on Snapchat: my husband HATES it, so I only have two people who ‘snap’ me, and I have to watch their ‘snaps’ secretly when he’s out of earshot or I can hear him rolling his eyes. True story.)

So, back to the phone –  this all came as a bit of a shock, if I’m honest. What I am most upset about are my most recent photos. My husband and daughter ran the Hardmoors Half Marathon yesterday and I had taken some fantastic pictures of them, both before, during (start and finish) and after the race. I hadn’t gotten around to sharing or downloading them yet, it was yesterday. More fool me, and I’m pretty sure there will be nothing the ‘Genius’ at the Apple store can do to recover those photos. I guess we could take a trip back up to Hutton-le-Hole and stage it, but I doubt either of them would be up for that. I am kicking myself that I didn’t share the pictures with them both yesterday. At least they got to see them…

But it’s not just for myself that I am upset with Apple (but I am upset with them, let’s be clear). My son has had his iPhone SE for 18 months. About 8 weeks after his warranty expired, his phone started misbehaving, actually having similar problems to mine. It’s very annoying for me but it’s potentially dangerous for him. At 18 years old, he’s off galavanting with his friends in big cities, sometimes late at night, and not able to rely on his phone to keep him in communication with his ever so slightly needy parents. He’ll be off to University in September and I’d like to be able to keep in contact (the phone is only one of the issues we’re dealing with here, but let’s eliminate the easy, technological one, shall we?).

I don’t believe, at their ridiculous prices (the iPhone SE retails now at £379 and the most expensive iPhone is the 7 Plus at £719 – let’s face it, people, these prices are absurd) that the phone should then last less than 18 months. And then what? You just have to buy another one?

Here’s the elephant in the room – why are we all so dependant on our smartphones? I’m not judging, I will admit to being a little lost today without mine. It’s been only a few hours, but so far: my cousin’s granddaughter was born, and I missed the Whatsapp message (but I did see her daughter’s Facebook post and pictures, beautiful);  my plumber texted me to arrange to come out to fix the boiler, but luckily had the landline and called me on that (and yes, we have a landline, how retro); my Fitbit battery ran out – it now will not show the correct time because to do that…you got it, it syncs with my iPhone. So I’m one hour and fifty two minutes behind, just hoping I can get it to talk to an old iPad so we can get back to the correct time. It’s a little unnerving.

Meanwhile I am waiting for my new employer to contact me (they have an email address but no landline) with details of my contract; my yoga classes are booked via an app on my phone, though I have found a way to do that online; I bought bus tickets from a mobile app for First Bus which still has some unused tickets on it; and mostly it’s still about those photos I won’t get back.

Imagine, a woman of my age being so reliant on a piece of technology, what hope do our young people have? I’m not addicted to Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and all those other apps they are on all day long, but still I am experiencing a significant amount of inconvenience.

I am taking the carcass of my phone to the Apple shop tomorrow to see if anything can be done, but I fear it will be a dead loss (pun intended). I shall have to wait for my son to return from his latest travels to check the status of his, but we may need to take it for emergency medical attention as well.

My current thought is that we might both (probably the whole family) migrate to a different brand in the very near future. One that, even if it behaves like an Apple phone (which it won’t), would be cheaper to replace annually and still not reach the exorbitant costs of a new iPhone.

My sister likes her Motorola Moto G5 Plus. I’m currently considering my options if they can’t revive my phone. Any suggestions?

RIP iPhone 5, we’ve had a good run of it.



Posted in Uncategorized

Returning Resident Visa…check! 

Quick update… I was impressed by the very efficient service when collecting documents: there were 5 people in front of me waiting for the office to open at 9am. They opened at 9:00 on the dot, within 6 minutes I had my passport (and my visa, thank goodness- sorry for the spoiler in the title) in my hand and was out the door again. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Waiting for UKVI

Just so you know, purchasing a priority service with a targeted time frame of 5 days does not mean you will receive any contact within the 5 day period. Just as, in Zambia, if someone tells you they will come back tomorrow, they don’t actually mean tomorrow, they just mean it won’t be today. Some point in the future, maybe, (if you are licky) but definitely not today and possibly not any time soon. 

I digress. 

In fact I received an email to advise that my passport was ready for collection after 9 working days (10 if you count the day I submitted the paperwork).  Considering that without Priority it can take up to 6 weeks I believe they quote, 9 days is pretty quick. 

They cannot and will not tell you what the decision is, even if you pay to call the enquiry number. The very pleasant young man did tell me the decision had been made on 12 June and that I could expect to hear something within 10 working days. It was in fact a lot faster than that, but they obviously have to cover their backs, ‘Don’t make any wild promises that might come back to haunt you!’, that kind of thing. 

So we’ll sit here in the 9th in a cool little extortionately priced cafe and wait for the collection office to open. 

It’s important to take time to slow down, stop and smell the coffee beans. 

(By the way, I think I’m allowed to take one of these coffee bean bags… “Open your purse…” – Sheila F. Remember that?)

More later when I have an actual decision to report. 

Posted in Insomnia, Travel, Visa


Yup. I could almost guarantee it. About 3 or 4 weeks before a move my brain just hits a road block and I either can’t get to sleep at all, or I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and only manage to finally drop off just before the alarm goes off. 

It’s brutal. Of course it comes at a time when I’m mega-busy with work, a son taking A levels, husband working away full time and another international move to organise. 

I can’t complain and I’m not: the packers pack, my husband is paving the way in the new place and getting on with it, dashing all over the UK and Europe and still managing to get home most weekends (without complaining either): my son has one job at the moment so I’m leaving him to revise. We’re all busy.  

Today I was up to my knees in cobwebs and dust clearing some outside storage areas, but I felt ok about it, I got quite a lot done. I’m organised for Monday, got some paperwork to post out and emails to send but it’s organised. I even got one of my final Yoga papers written in preparation for finishing the 200 hour teacher training. 

As always, it’s the logistics that are tricky when moving countries. What to do with the pets is currently my dilemma. We’ve worked out how to get them from Paris to York, but not what to do with them during the move and the overnight in a hotel (that I’ve decided is going to be necessary). It’s all coming together…sort of. 

Yet here I am, 1:30. My alarm would normally go off in 4 hours and I havent slept a wink. They say screens don’t help but I avoided them for hours before bedtime, made no difference at all. Postponing the alarm to the latest possible time that I can, whilst still getting to work on time. 

I suppose I am anxiously awaiting a decision on my visa, so that could have a bearing on it. I’ve tried chamomile tea, breathing exercises, Reiki, counting sheep. I lied, I didn’t try counting sheep. But I’ve featured a picture of one anyway. 

Let’s hope sleep comes soon, I’m turning off the screen again. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Returning Resident 

Warning- unless you need a visa for the UK, this post is mega dull! This is my life right now, no apologies. 

So on to the next phase – applying (again) for a Returning Resident Visa. I applied at the end of 2015, and was granted one; it expired a year ago. 

I only applied at that time because I knew a return to the UK was likely at some point BUT a) I had no idea how long the process would take and b) I didn’t know that they only gave a validity of 6 months. Had I known all that I would have waited. 

I just hope it won’t hurt my application this time that I already had a visa and failed to take up residency. 

So off I went with more evidence than I probably needed, got as far as submitting my documents and sat in front of the person who would take my biomemtric details only to be told that the Immigration Expert who helpe me complete the application had purchased the wrong Priority service. Later I’ll have to apply for a refund, but immediately I had to exit the visa office to use their computers in the foyer area to buy the correct Priority service. 

€224 and 15 minutes later, I’m back in front of her again and we’re in business. 

On the plus side, instead of 15 days it should now take 5, which is excellent news when I’ve got travel plans on the 23rd June and they currently have my brand spanking new passport. 

Another balls-up with this application, I wasn’t aware til I got there today that you could pay extra to keep your passport while they decide. I didn’t feel the need to once I had to pay this new fee, as this way should only take 5 days, but when it was going to be 15 working days, it would have been good to know, I could still have gone away as planned. Like I say, a balls-up. 

I hadn’t anticipated quite how stressful this process was going to feel now that it’s such a crucial step. I’ve done what I can, there’s no interview in this process so you don’t get to explain face-to-face or argue your case. Everything you want to express has to be explicit  in the application form and the documents you submit. It is out of my hands. 

Now I wait. 

#visa4UK #returningresidentvisa 

Posted in Uncategorized

Passport Part II

So far so good – not only did I manage to submit my passport application, the official I spoke to let me keep my current passport until the new one could be collected. That was a huge relief as I had booked a weekend in England to support Husband and Daughter, both of whom are clearly complete nutters and were running the Snowdonia Half Marathon. (They ran, they finished, got the t-shirt and TWO medals!)

Anyway, he (Nice Embassy Man) told me that it would take 2-3 weeks to get the passport back, and 13 days later I got the call. Hence I am back to collect it. 

I’ll report back once I’ve got it, but I must say so far my experience with the Embassy staff this time has been great. They’ve been helpful, someone actually CALLED to tell me it’s ready and when the call dropped before she finished telling me what to do, like a decent human being she CALLED  BACK! 

Emails have been answered almost immediately, and I mean like within 15 minutes. I think that’s quite impressive. 

Like I said, I haven’t actually got the passport yet, but I should have it within the hour. 

Meanwhile here’s a Frenchman in a kilt. 

Breakfast in Paris: you never know what you’ll find. 

Update: after just 1h40 mins of waiting this time, passport is in my hands. The fact that I somehow look like I belong in The Addams Family is somewhat unfortunate in a ten-year passport. But I can start the next step now…Returning Resident Visa for the UK. #iloveredtape

Posted in Uncategorized

Into the unknown…

I am about to disappear into the vast abyss that is the US Embassy here in Paris in the hopes of renewing my passport – that alone is a stressful event, I find (queues, paperwork, pictures, payment…take a number, hurry up and wait). 

I, however am in the unfortunate position of needing it expedited, hence the personal visit. Eek. 

They will take my phone away on the door, so here goes nothing. Wish me luck, y’all.   (Not sure where that came from, there must be a Texan nearby.)

No photos of embassy, not a wise move.