Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Difficult Art of Letting Go

The Difficult Art of Letting Go (via Slow Your Home)

So much of living a simpler life is about learning to let go.

We let go of clutter, junk and things we no longer need.

We let go of commitments, over-scheduling and endless activities.

We let go of expectations, perfection and comparisons.

For two simple words, the idea of ‘letting go’ can be a complicated one, tied up with emotional hangovers, memories, sentimentality and the notion that we should be living life in a certain way.

Can I tell you: it doesn’t need to be complex. The idea of letting go simply needs to be embraced.

Leo Babauta is a prolific writer and blogger. He has published books, written thousands of blog posts and inspired countless people with his words. A couple of years ago, he decided to uncopyright his work. All of it.

He let go and gave people permission to use his words however they wish. He let go of the stress and the worry of what people will do with those words. He simply decided that his time, effort and energy was better spent elsewhere. Like living his life. Spending time with his kids. Creating more art to inspire more people.

Years ago, before I began exploring the idea of simplifying life (or rather, before I had a massive breakdown and was forced to recognise that living life turned up to 11 was unhelpful and unsustainable) I ran an independent jewellery label.

It was successful-ish. I had stock in boutiques around the world. I was being mentored by a leading designer. We were talking about opening a shopfront. I had plane tickets booked for a buying trip to Thailand. I was planning big things.

When we discovered that our second baby was on the way, suddenly my ambitions felt less like dreams and more like enormous weights tied around my neck. I struggled through the motions for a while longer, pretending that I wanted to be successful more than I wanted to be sane. But it was a lie.

I let go of the business about 3 months before Toby was born. And as I began to discover the beauty of simplifying, I gave away all my stock. Tens of thousands of dollars worth: gone. Friends, family, neighbours, friends of neighbours, family of friends – my only stipulation was they weren’t to take it unless they wanted it. I didn’t want to burden anyone else with stuff they weren’t going to use.

And rather than lament the money lost or the dreams unfulfilled, I felt free. I had released myself from those weights – and that was worth a hell of a lot more than boxes of jewellery I no longer cared about.

If you’re just beginning the journey of simplifying, as I know so many of you are, there are a few things to keep in mind as you learn to let go:

  • letting go is not just about the physical item, dream or idea – it goes beyond that
  • once you declutter/give it away/sell it – really let it go
  • own the decision to let go, and refuse to carry any guilt about it
  • enjoy the feeling of being released from the weight, the worry and the stress of the thing

It has taken years for me to understand why letting go felt so good. But it’s in the art of letting go that the answer lies. So choose something that’s holding you back, and simply let it go.

(Insert pithy reference to Frozen here.)

The Slow Kitchen: Roast Tomato and Olive Pasta

This is such an easy, tasty pasta you can easily alter, depending on what’s on offer and who will be eating with you. Feel free to add and remove ingredients to suit.

Just like other recipes in The Slow Kitchen series, this weeknight dinner is simple, easy, healthy and full of real ingredients. Enjoy!

Roast Tomato and Olive Pasta - The Slow Kitchen

Roast Tomato and Olive Pasta

(Serves 4, Ready in 30min)

I’ve made this particular recipe up myself, so the measurements are more like guesses. Feel free to adjust as you need/like. (You’d have to try really hard to screw this up!)

You’ll need:

  • fresh tomatoes – a couple of generous handfuls per person (cherry, Roma, truss – it doesn’t matter)
  • crushed garlic
  • half a jar of kalamata olives, drained
  • fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • penne or similar pasta
  • salt and pepper
  • chilli flakes (optional)
  • parmesan cheese to serve

Simply:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 220C/420F.
  2. Cut your tomatoes into chunks, or if you’re using cherry tomatoes, leave whole.
  3. Place into a baking tray and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes. Put your water for the pasta on to boil.
  4. Take the tomatoes out, give them a shake/flip and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
  5. At the same time, put your pasta on.
  6. Heat some olive oil in a large frypan and cook the garlic and chilli for a minute. Add your kalamata olives, roasted tomatoes, torn basil leaves and salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or two.
  7. Drain your pasta and add to the frypan, combining well.
  8. Serve with parmesan cheese and fresh basil.

Variations/Additions:

Need Meat?: Add some shredded chicken.

More Vegetables: Use sliced and sauteed zucchini, or sauteed cauliflower florets instead of pasta.

Vegan: You’re good to go as long as you leave out the cheese.

Gluten-Free: Use zucchini pasta or a commercial gluten-free option instead.

 

Does this sound good to you? It’s not quite 10am and I now have a hankering for this dish…

(image via Mallory Dash on Flickr)

Slow Home Essentials: Weekly Rhythm

Slow Home Essentials - Creating a Weekly Rhythm

There are 168 hours in the week.

You, me, the Prime Minister and Beyonce – we all have 168 hours, and we can get a lot done in that time.

But how often do you feel like those 168 hours are nowhere near enough?

There are too many tasks, too many appointments and too much housework. You’re pulled in all directions, and while trying to get everything done, you end the day feeling as though you got nothing done instead.

So you try to set up a strict routine, carving out specific blocks of time for specific tasks. It works for a while, but then life intervenes. Someone gets sick, the vacuum cleaner breaks, you have to work late or get called for jury duty.

Your life isn’t made for strict routine.

Rhythm Over Routine

I’m a huge advocate of living a rhythmic life, as opposed to a strictly routine one. The notion of rhythm is a much friendlier, more flexible option, and it fits comfortably in our life.

Over the years, I have adopted a rhythm to my mornings and to my days. And last year, when I reached a point of massive overwhelm, I decided to adopt the idea of rhythm into my weeks too.

For the last 12 months, I’ve had a crumpled piece of paper stuck to the fridge. It’s a simple list, written in my own shorthand. But it also plays a massive part in creating (and maintaining) our Slow Home. It’s my weekly rhythm.

 

What my Weekly Rhythm Looks Like

The list is divided into three sections.

1. Dailies

At the top I have a list of Dailies (thanks to Patty from Homemaker’s Daily for the term), which is simply every task that needs to happen on an-almost daily basis. Things like ‘get dressed’ or ‘feed dog’ don’t appear here, because, really, that stuff just has to happen.

For me this section includes:

  • sweeping (kitchen and dining areas)
  • make beds
  • load of laundry or two
  • wipe over kitchen benches
  • wipe over bathroom vanities

The aim of doing these little jobs every day is that it cuts down on the amount of deep cleaning I need to do. If I sweep, do a load of laundry and keep the bathroom vanities clean most days, I’m allowed flexibility. I can skip a day at home to go to the beach or watch my daughter’s ballet concert, and the house won’t be tragically messy when I get home.

It’s all about doing a little bit of work each day (15-30 minutes, maximum) to help minimise the workload later and keep your home running well. Which means you’re less likely to feel stressed, frantic and overwhelmed.

2 & 3. Weeklies

Below the Dailies is a row for each day of the week. Each day has two columns next to it.

The left column shows the household work for the day, while the right shows what activities we have outside the home.

I try to limit the number of items in either column to a maximum of three. Some days have only one task, and some days have no organised activities. Again, this builds wiggle room and flexibility into our days. If we want to go for a bushwalk, we can. If the kids are sick and need a quiet day, we can do that too.

For me, for our kids, for our stage in life, this idea of rhythm fits really comfortably within our days.

How to Create Your Weekly Rhythm

Print off the worksheets I’ve created for you. You can download them by clicking here.

1. The first worksheet asks you to write down all the jobs that you need to get done in any given week. Include things like cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry, ironing, vacuuming, mopping floors etc. Break the bigger jobs down into smaller ones if you need to (for example, I clean toilets on a separate day to the rest of the bathroom).

2. Include all the tasks you like to get done on any given day. Things like making the beds, cleaning the kitchen benches, wiping down the vanities, doing a load of laundry, etc. Don’t forget you may not get every one of these done every day, but if you get the majority done the majority of the time, you’ll be golden.

3. List all the extra activities or regular appointments you have during the week. Include your work hours, school or preschool times, dance classes, sporting matches and training, regular catchups with friends, play group, church, etc.

4. Take some time to look over the list you’ve just created and give some thought to how you like to structure your week. For example, do you feel better if you can clean the bathrooms and floors just before the weekend? Then think about scheduling those tasks for Thursday or Friday. Are the kids at preschool on a Monday? Use that time to do the grocery shopping or do the ironing.

5. Using the second worksheet, list your Dailies and then plot out every day, listing 1-3 tasks for both housework and activities.

Stick the list on your fridge and refer to it every morning. Even if you know what’s on for the day, having a point of reference and a short list of tasks makes your day seem much more manageable. Plus, I find it helpful to be able to explain to the kids that I have to clean the bathroom, then I can play with them.

This stuff isn’t sexy.

I feel weird writing about it in such depth, to be honest.

But you know what? Thinking through this stuff in depth, right now, will set you up for a much smoother, easier, more flexible rhythm at home. One that will last you for months or years, and free you up to do the fun things like playing with your kids, or going for a coffee with a friend, writing a blog or reading a book.

Putting in the work now could reap benefits for years to come.

 

(Looking for more ideas on rhythms and rituals? Grab a copy of Destination: Simple – Rituals and Rhythms to Simplify Your Daily Life.)

The Slow Kitchen: Spinach, Mushrooms and Eggs

Votes are in (thank you for being so enthusiastic about good food!) and a recipe will now appear on the blog each fortnight. The recipes will be:

  • simple
  • quick
  • healthy
  • family-friendly (depending on the kids, of course!)

While the series is called The Slow Kitchen – on account of the simple, good, real food we’re preparing – the recipes featured are focused on healthy, tasty, real food that can be made in 30 minutes or less.

Many of you have asked for vegetarian/vegan options, as well as gluten-free. While I’m none of those things, I do enjoy a lot of vegetarian meals and avoid too much gluten in our diet, so many of the recipes will apply. Not all though, sorry!

The Slow Kitchen - Sauteed Spinach, Mushroom and Eggs
{via Queenie and the Dew on Flickr }

A note on eggs:

We use eggs from our backyard chickens, and the yolk is out of this world. Not everyone is able to access eggs quite so fresh, but I would suggest using the best quality, freshest eggs you can find.

To poach, there are a few methods. The traditional (and delicious) method of poaching in a pan of water is explained here and will provide you with the best tasting eggs. Considering this series of recipes is all about quick and easy, you could also simply use the microwave to poach your eggs. (This is how we do it during the week. The weekends afford a little more time).

This recipe is easy as pie, and a regular on either our breakfast or dinner table. Ben grinned one morning and said, “Just like a cafe, but in our pyjamas,” and I have to agree.

Sauteed Spinach, Mushrooms and Eggs
(Ready in 10 minutes, Serves 2)

You’ll need:

  • 3 cups soft leafy greens, washed (baby spinach is perfect, or you can try silverbeet, chard, English spinach, kale)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • knob of butter
  • 2 cups firm-fleshed mushrooms, sliced
  • eggs (free-range/organic if you can)
  • salt and pepper
  • hot sauce (optional)

Simply:

  1. Melt the butter over a hot stove. Add the garlic and sautee for a minute.
  2. Add the mushrooms and sautee.
  3. Meanwhile, poach your eggs.
  4. Once the mushrooms begin to soften, add your spinach and stir until it begins to wilt.
  5. Plate up the veges, add your eggs to the top and season with a little salt and pepper.
  6. Add a dash of chilli sauce.

Variations/Additions:

More Vegetables: Add cauliflower and broccoli to the mushrooms if you want to add more nutrient-rich veges to the mix.

Need Meat?: Add some bacon or smoked salmon.

Vegan: Substitute egg for tofu scramble.

 

I know it’s not a ground-breaking recipe, but this is such a great way to start or finish the day. You get the benefit of eggs (one of the best whole foods around) and a nutrient boost from the leafy greens. Plus it tastes good and is ready in less time than it takes to order a pizza!

Doing Nothing is Doing Something

The Undeniable Power of Doing Nothing

When two of my favourite things to do are sitting around a campfire and listening to the rain, it’s rare that I get to enjoy them at the same time. They tend to be mutually exclusive.

But on Saturday night, as a light rain fell on my umbrella, I sat in front of our small backyard campfire and did nothing at all.

No camera to document the moment.

No conversation.

No planning.

No phone to tweet or Instagram my evening.

No urgent need to rush off and be productive.

No anything.

I sat in front of that fire and listened to the rain drops hit the hot coals. I watched the smoke rise up and over our wooden fence. I felt the warm, heavy weight of our dog as he slept on my knee. I heard the distant rumble of thunder.

And it was beautiful.

But it was hard. At least to begin with.

It was hard to sit there and do nothing. More than once I thought, “I’ll just run inside and grab my phone. I can take a photo.” Unspoken were the additional tasks I would then do – check Twitter, maybe Facebook, definitely take a moment to Instagram the fire photo, possibly check a news website and see if any urgent emails had come through. (Urgent emails? Really? Who am I – the Prime Minister? Come on.)

But I did none of those things, and I was rewarded. After about 15 minutes, I noticed my brain doing two unexpected things.

First, I got really creative. Words and ideas and stories and pictures formed in my mind. I head-wrote a book chapter, I thought through two or three blog posts and I imagined a series of photographs I want to take.

My brain was unencumbered by constant input and was allowed to create output. The only stimulation was the flickering of the fire and the patter of the rain. My brain had room to be creative and I was amazed at how clear my mind felt.

The second thing that my brain did, was that it let go. I got sleepy. It was only 8:00pm and I felt properly and deliciously drowsy. My body relaxed and I felt comfortable enough to simply sit there and enjoy the feeling.

My eyes and brain are used to staring at a screen of some description in the evening. Be it the TV, while watching our current series of choice on Netflix, or my iPad, while reading a book, my brain is often exposed to the blue, flickering light of a screen at night.

Considering those blue, flickering screens actually promote wakefulness, it’s no surprise that I felt sleepy in their absence. My brain was just doing its job, after all.

So I sat by the fire for an hour or more. I soaked in the peace. I let my thoughts wander where they liked. I looked at the world around me. I noticed little things that so often go unnoticed. I ignored the need to do something, and instead, I did absolutely nothing.

In a world that values action, and results, and success, this felt like a counter-cultural thing to do.

How often, when asked what we did over the weekend, will we respond, “Oh, nothing much.” When the reality is that we cleaned the house, visited friends, took our kids to sport, grocery shopped, watched a movie, had a BBQ, bought a birthday present, cleaned out the garage, paid some bills and felt overwhelmed.

These things have to happen, they are everyday tasks – mundane, even – but they are not nothing.

Saying these tasks are nothing simultaneously makes them seem insignificant (they’re not, it’s called life) and makes you wonder why you’re so tired when you haven’t done anything (because you never actually stop).

We need to carve out a little more space in our lives for truly doing nothing.

  • Lay on the grass and stare at the sky
  • Sit on the lounge and close your eyes
  • Light a campfire and watch the flickering flames
  • Walk out the front door with no idea of where you will wander, then do it aimlessly
  • Turn off every single screen in your home and lie quietly on your bed

Let your thoughts go where they will, and resist the urge to get up and do something.

If we all embraced the need to do nothing at all, a little more every day, I wonder how different we would feel?