Tag Archives: Minimalism

Making Everything You Own Sacred

IMG_0691I am a minimalist because I LOVE stuff. This is the clash I seem to have with the minimalists I read about who don’t care about stuff. However after 5 years of reducing I’ve finally understood WHY I’m a minimalist who loves stuff, and what it is I’ve been trying to achieve.

My aim is to only own and use things packed with dense positive energy. In other words – I want all my possessions to be sacred objects

Those of you who don’t like the word energy might turn off at this point, but hear me out. If you don’t like that word, try sentimental value, or Marie Kondo’s “Spark joy” concept*. When I use and wear things on a daily basis which have this quality, I literally feel like they are transmitting healing me.

Sound crazy? Let me explain more.

I generally experience the following to have high positive energy:

  • Something I’ve had for a long time
  • Something a friend has given to me or made for me, or made by me
  • Something old that’s been used and loved by many people
  • Something made from natural materials (which I believe take energy well), such as wood, wool, cotton, metal.
  • Found objects.

I generally experience these things have low/neutral energy:

  • Something mass produced (in other words, something made without love, and likely during the trauma of poor working conditions)
  • Something brand new (in other words, something that’s never been loved)
  • Something made from plastic/synthetic materials.

Making my watch strap took 1hr and produced a much warmer result than buying factory-made.

Even if you’re not familiar with the concept of energy, can you relate this to your own life? Look around your home. Do you have more positive thoughts and feelings about by a handmade gift from a friend than you do for, say, an empty juice bottle? If nothing else, the gift at least holds warm associations. To be surrounded by these things is to be surrounded by our warmest memories, thoughts and feelings. Everyone has a “special” or “favourite” something. What if everything you owned had that quality to it?


If you habitually experience energy, these ideas might immediately resonate with you. Or if you’re simply curious, try picking up a pebble and carrying it in your pocket all week. Each night, take it out and hold it in your hand as you think of a happy memory from your day. At the end of the week, can you perceive a denser positive energy in that stone?


I use this knife for all cooking even if it’s ‘the wrong tool for the job’, such as for grating cheese or cutting bread. I’d rather give my knife more use and therefore more energy.

My perception is that natural materials take on energy better, but even something synthetic, with the right intention can become a “healing” possession or sacred object. For example, I have one gaudy polyester shirt which I bought 2nd hand as a joke. Strangely it suited me, and I ended up wearing it at my wedding, so now it’s one of my most energised possessions.

For me, one of the biggest things that gets energy into an object is use. To use stuff more often I have to have less of it – the result is minimalism. This is why I only cook and eat with one knife, and have done for 5 years.

Up until very recently I was doing this instinctively without understanding it. I’d upgrade something, like my rucksack, only to find myself taking the upgrade back to the shop and keeping the old one. I’d shy away from high tech traveller’s clothes, even if they’d make life easier, and stick to bulky cotton.


My rucksack, originally bought by my mother for our only walking holiday when I was 7. The trip was formative for me, so I wanted to use the bag as an adult, but also strangely wanted rid of it. Finally I remembered that my mother hated the trip herself! Once I addressed the imprint her experience still had on the rucksack, I stopped wanting to replace it and started using it.

Since I’ve fully understood that I’m creating a healing energy environment through “stuff”, I’ve changed tack and gone for it completely. I’ve got rid of stuff that I actually was using, because it wasn’t (and couldn’t be made) energy dense. Once rid of it, I could feel that even the energy between my possessions flowed much better. I’d no longer consider giving away highly charged items just because they are bulky (like hand knitted jumpers) but am cutting down on electronics.

If I need to acquire something I’ll make sure it’s energy dense, by perhaps making it from found materials, or asking a friend to do it with me, or buying 2nd hand. If I have to buy something new, I might decorate it. I’ll also look out for long lasting things, giving me years to put energy into them.

The result is amazing! I feel totally aligned and am truly supported by my possessions. This is not about loving stuff more than people. My stuff keep itself in check now, and I have more time for the people in my life.


*A note on Marie Kondo: When I first read about Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” concept I was thrilled. With slightly different framing our ideas were similar, and she even writes about imbuing everyday boring functional objects with positive energy by complimenting them. What I’d add to it is that some possessions do not “spark joy” or are not positively charged objects because they either will not take energy or they have negative energy in them which needs addressing (cleansing). For example, if a loved one had a traumatic experience whilst wearing a piece of jewellery, then gave it to you, you may feel a heaviness, sadness or tiredness when touching it. However, the heaviness can be freed from the object, leaving only the warm intentions and generosity of your friend. Someone attuned will be able to tell if an object does not spark-joy because it needs discarding or because it needs attention.

Also, whilst Marie Kondo relates that most people naturally end up with less stuff after her process, I would argue that in the case of making objects sacred, it’s vital to have few possessions and the fewer the better. As long as the functionality of your life is not compromised, interacting with a smaller number of objects more often ups the energy in each one.

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Confessions Of A Minimalist – Getting Rid Of Stuff Hurts!


Powder pack – check! Carpet bag – check! Talking umbrella – check! All set!

You may be surprised to know that although I’ve been a minimalist for most of my life, I do find it really hard to get rid of stuff. Putting my sketches from school and uni in the recycle bin this morning was a real wrench (even though I’ve scanned them). Giving away books I can’t get digitally and would prefer to read again is tough too. It’s also a real pain having the feeling of wanting to play an instrument that I’m not travelling with, or don’t own anymore.

So why do it? Well, I’ve always said I prefer real books to e-books, but I prefer e-books to a mortgage. Many people say that they couldn’t do what I’m doing because they have too much stuff. Less stuff = more freedom.

Initially when I moved out of my yurt in 2013 I had no idea that I’d still be without a permanent dwelling 3.5 years later. I was not prepared for the transition. I had too much stuff, and no real way of dealing with it. It was a kicker taking furniture I’d hand made to the dump to be smashed up. 

Recently I’ve been brainstorming places to travel to after France, and some of them can only be reached van-free. I’d like to be prepared this time.

If I can make my life work on a day to day basis with what can be taken on a plane, I’ll be all set for international travel. I should be able to go abroad for a few months at a time, with no van, and still live my normal life with no disruptions.


  1. Clothes
  2. Phone
  3. Laptop
  4. Guitar

Ideally the top 3 would fit in a carry on bag (I also own other music stuff and bike stuff, which I’d store because it’s too expensive to sell and buy again when I get back).


Originally Bly was told she would never be able to do such a trip. Why? Because a woman would need too much luggage?!? As you can see, she managed with just one hand-satchel. See: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/bly/world/world/html


I’d like to get used to this early, so it becomes second nature. This means going through another purge, some aspects of which might seem extreme – learning to cut my hair with scissors and ditch the buzzer, learning to exercise barefoot and get rid of trainers, and chucking all sentimental documents (once scanned) in the bin.


I want to say at this point that this is tough. This purge not only includes things I actually use, it means saying goodbye to things that I psychologically depend on as constants since my surroundings change so frequently.

Down to a point, discarding can be fun and a good release. It can mean letting go of the weight of things you don’t need. However, I feel already way below that point, and it’s destabilising. Technology is on my side – all media can be digitised, but only the information content of a document can be captured in a scan. There’s no substitute for the real letters of a loved one, or the CD signed by your hero. Goodbye to those. 

Dave Bruno touches upon this theme in his 100 Thing Challenge, in which he purges some things which used often, were irreplaceable and meant a lot to him. Overall, it was worth it because of the personal developments he achieved by fulfilling his challenge. 

So, the question is, is worth it to me? Every time I come back to the same answer – I’d rather enjoy the freedoms that I have with less stuff, than reach into the recycle bin and draw out all my old letters. Every day I’m thankful for the life I lead and daydream about where I’ll travel next.

I’m part of a new generation of people who are nomads rather than holiday makers. We’re living normal lives, but moving location often. This being the nature of my life, I have to constantly let things go. In many ways that’s a good thing, and feels like a more natural way to be.  Doing so is good reminder that there’s more to life than stuff, and that nothing can truly be held onto… but this post acknowledges that it still hurts a little. 


Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

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Dawn of The Dead vs iPhone


The main characters in Dawn of the Dead, off on a shopping trip

How can we stop consumerism consuming our lives?

For those of you who’ve seen the classic zombie movie Dawn Of The Dead (spoiler alert), you’ll know it critically comments on consumerism and excess. Trapped conveniently in a deserted American mall during a zombie apocalypse, our heroes can essentially ‘buy’ anything they want. They’ve found a shopping heaven which can provide them with ‘everything they need’.

I’m sure 1000 analyses of the film have been done, commenting on the draw of shopping, even when society has broken down and money is irrelevant. They may be another 1000 covering the contrast between the seeming decadence of the characters lifestyles against the hollowness of their mundane and existence (being a metaphor for our modern isolated way of life). However, the one thing I’d like to focus in on is time – Time spent consuming.

In Dawn Of The Dead, even though they don’t spend money, the characters spend literally all their time ‘shopping’. Everything is free, but they take way more than they need and continually upgrade when they find better stuff in another part of the multi-storey complex.

But how are we similar to those trapped in a mall by the undead? Well, even though the apocalypse is nigh, and lifespans short, these characters choose to devote what time they have left to constant acquisition. On a longer timeline, we do the same thing when we buy things we don’t need. Our time is eaten up by it. Life is short, and each unnecessary purchase robs us of hours spent doing the following:

  • earning the money for the purchase
  • considering a purchase
  • shopping
  • dealing with the thing we’ve bought but don’t need – storing it, maintaining it or getting rid of it (which may also eat up more money).

But what about the time spent buying things we do need? I still spend a lot of time on consuming, even as a minimalist. How is this possible?

Three main reasons:

  1. Planned obsolesce
  2. There’s too much choice
  3. Quality doesn’t necessarily scale with price

Since watching Dawn of the Dead, I’ve been horrified to realise how much time I spend researching and carefully considering even necessary purchases. There’s a minefield of information, reviews, specs etc. Yet can I avoid it?

No, not really.

Let’s look at this through the lens of the iPhone. Mine is 4years old and it’s not broken, but for some functions needed to support my work and travel, I’m now forced to upgrade. This effect is known as planned obsolesce – the art of making a product no longer fit for purpose to force the buying of the next model.

But there’s so much choice! Should I just get another iPhone, or have Apple’s competitors got something better to offer? Even within the realms of the iPhone itself, there are currently 5 models, so that’s a pain too.

There’s no point just buying the most expensive thing on the market, because quality doesn’t necessarily scale with price. As a result, we’re all looking for that golden thing which was dirt cheap but flukily good quality. We’re also worried about buying something top of the range, only to find out we just paid for the logo. Shopping assistants are not experts anymore and can’t usually tell what’s suitable for us.

Basically, we can’t risk skipping the research. Buying the wrong thing could mean having to buy twice. This is worse with electronics, where we can’t judge the quality of the materials on sight. Since we don’t know how long each device will last, price-tags become a red herring.

Spending time, thought or any form of life energy on this problem, makes me feel worse. Why? To explain, I’ll draw on the Buddhist principle of practicing contentment. This concept teaches that seeking more and better material stuff beyond what you need, leads to distraction, dissatisfaction and of course discontent. Therefore, whenever I research phones, I’m essentially practicing discontentment! Not only that, but I’m exposing myself to countless hits of advertising, each strategically designed to activate discontent as their method of selling.

Bill Bailey has a joke about his tough job selling doors, door-to-door (“Bing bong. Can I interest you in a… Oh shit you’ve got one.”), making the point that nobody wants to buy something they already have, so adverts have to counteract this natural sensible human tendency in order to sell to us.

So, what can we do? Seeing Dawn of the Dead clarified to me that, given the chance, consumerism will absorb all of your time. Is it better to spend less time considering a purchase, even if you spend more, since it saves on much needed brain space and time? *Danny Dover might subscribe to this one, but for me the juries out. I don’t know what the solution is. One strategy I’m still employing is to lessen the problem by buying less stuff. Another idea is to make rather than buy, where possible, even if it takes a similar amount of time and money. This is because making is a valuable creative process, including learning new skills and problem solving. It’s a connecting process, where shopping disconnects.

Your opinions please? Do you shop around meticulously to save a fiver? Do you know your brands and just stick to those? Do you have some other rule of thumb? Look forward to your responses in comments.


*https://www.lifelisted.com/blog/8-habits-can-break-improve-life/ – Danny Dover of lifelisted.com often comments “I am a firm believer that humans have a finite amount of decision making energy on any given day”, and advocates minimising that for a more productive and peaceful life. However, it’s not clear whether he applies this to purchases, or mostly to decisions based around daily routines.

Also check out the Symphony For Happines Vlog

… and connect with me @:


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Pros, Cons & Unexpected Benefits of Being a Digital Nomad

I get the impression that many people think being a digital nomad is like being on a never-ending holiday… which is sort of is, but sort of isn’t. The transition has been a huge learning experience for me, even though I’ve not been touring the globe. I work as an online tutor on a music BA and have travelled in the UK and rural France.


Here are some of the pros, cons and unexpected outcomes of living this lifestyle.


  • No more travelling to work: Actually, it’s likely you’ll still spend a lot of time travelling, from one city or one country to the next, but this feels more meaningful than running back and forth to the office every day.
  • New experiences: When you do new stuff, it leads to more new stuff. Meet new people, see new places. It’s said that people who try new things are happier, even if they don’t always like what they try.
  • Work from anywhere: I’ve had some completely amazing experiences whilst still maintaining my teaching schedule work hours. If I had a regular job, I’d be waiting till the holidays for these opportunities and even then they might never happen. I even rejoiced at being able to help my friend in Wales insulate her living room. Instead of having to say “sorry I’m working that week”, I simply ducked out to change my shirt and do a couple of tutorials.


  • Reliant on Internet: At first I’d envisaged myself as a permanent van traveller but that’s not possible because mobile-internet isn’t strong enough for my needs. Getting to a fast connection, in a quiet room, preferably where I can Ethernet connect my laptop is a restriction. I believe you should NEVER let a nomadic lifestyle compromise the service you provide in your work, so I worry about arriving in a house, only to find the router is unreliable. Having said this, it hasn’t happened yet.
  • Constantly moving my stuff: Some people are psychologically rattled by constantly having to move. I’m not really, but it sure is a pain moving all that stuff! I’ve obsessively read one-bag-travel blogs to see if I could cut down to that, but I just can’t without giving up music, which I obviously won’t. Having said this, I’ve already minimized more than I ever thought possible, and realized the existential value in that, as well as the logistical flexibility. Many people purge quickly, but I find it takes me time to learn to live without something.


Unexpected benefits:

You’ll get your work life balance sorted!: Many over-workers comment on how much they would love my relaxed lifestyle, but guess what – you take your baggage with you! If your work life balance is off, making your own schedule will only accentuate it. The good news is, being a digital nomad and designing your own timetable can give you the opportunity to examine this and change it.

I’m a recovering over-worker, and my big challenge is to be able to relax and do something else even if there is still more work to do that day, or even that week. At first I tried to do the week’s work (apart from scheduled online tutorials) the start of the week, but this plain didn’t work. Now I do a little every day AND do something creative every day.

For me the key is FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS – to be truly working when I’m working and truly playing when I’m playing. I never force myself to do anything anymore, I simply wait until I’m excited about it and then get started. The result is, I’m much more productive in everything I do, and enjoy it more, which was a complete revelation!

IMG_0123Overcoming feeling displaced: Although I don’t really experience displacement, that’s partly because I’ve got some strategies to combat it. It helps that I’ve got a van – a mini-room in itself which can feel like my own space. It’s not big enough to live in, but it’s a constant.

Since I have few possessions, I interact with them often and they become my portable environment, which helps me feel grounded. It may surprise you to know, that even as a minimalist, when possible I travel with my own knife, spork, mug and bowl, because these little things help me feel at home anywhere. If I’m on a shorter trip with just a backpack, I still bring my meditation mat – my smallest portable environment.

Coming out of my shell: Although the requirement for a strong internet connection stops me from buying a big van and moving in, it’s forced me to seek housesitting opportunities, which has led to meeting wonderful people, seeing more new places and generally being out in the world more. What I’ve learned is that although it seems like we might be safer and happier keeping ourselves to ourselves, in my experience the opposite is true. This is a big topic (which I’ll do a full post on soon) but it stands to say, a nomadic lifestyle challenges your ideas about what you’ll need in your life to feel safe and happy.

So that’s it. For me, the pros clearly outweigh the cons, and the unexpected benefits can’t be measured. However, I wouldn’t say it was easy – I welcome the challenges because they are part of my choice to live this way.






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The Wooden House



Wooden House living room

I’m writing from a farmhouse in the Loire Valley, just having completed a 10 week house sit in a beautiful self built eco Wooden House just 30mins from here. Our host and friend arrived yesterday for a handing over of the keys, welcome meal and an afternoon’s unpacking and rearranging before we headed on, van packed to the gills.


At 10 weeks, this is the longest house sit yet, and although I’ve been calling it a “sit” that’s not truly accurate, because I don’t honestly think this friend needed their house occupied for that time period – it was more of a favour/exchange. It’s been the most ambitious house sit yet, being abroad in France where I don’t (yet) speak the language plausibly. It’s also my first try at being a true digital nomad, in that over 95% of my income for the period was from online work (Skype teaching).

DSC01545.JPGAs you can see from the pictures, we have been exceptionally lucky with a gorgeous location and beautiful house, however I wanted to write mainly about the challenges presented by a longer house-sit abroad and what I learned from them.

Van: I travelled without breakdown cover, because it would have cost £200 and I was advised that in France garages are plentiful. There were two problems in 10 weeks (that’s the type of van I own!). One non-starter – the local garage came to fix it, and one flat tire – I actually managed to drive to the tire-shop without creating further damage.

IMG_0056.JPGHaving no cover is quite high risk and I do still feel uncomfortable with it. Because I didn’t speak French, it took me two weeks to get the van fixed in the first instance, meanwhile cycling 14miles back and forth for food shopping. My bike was my “breakdown cover”. If you’re thinking of travelling without cover, it’s best with spare food, a bed and a bike in the van, not to mention never leaving the house without your phone and wallet. I learned that the hard way.

DSC01573.JPGHouse Care: With a longer house sit, it’s much more difficult to remember to put everything back in its original place. You might move furniture, or hide away precious ornaments you feel nervous about. I took reference photos, but even then it was tricky – which cupboard was that cheese grater originally from? I’d also ended up leaving my own stuff in many different places in the house without even realizing – a pain for packing up. If I did it again, I’d be stricter! I also wish I could travel with less stuff:

IMG_4460 My Stuff In France.JPG

My things. Music stuff on the left – recording studio, keyboard, guitar, flutes, live kit including amp. On the right, my personal possessions including cycling stuff (bike in van). May not seem like a lot but feels that way when you have to keep moving it. Sadly I’ve actually used all of it, so what can I discard?

DSC01578.JPGBeing in a house for longer there’s also more chance that something might break. I’d never broken anything during a house sit, but this time there were two broken glasses, a joint snapped on a chair and the plumber needed calling out when the toilet leaked. This panicked me! I prefer to leave a house just as I found it if not better, often cleaning, clearing or sorting some corner as a thank you to my hosts. Although we did plenty of that, I was still terrified. In the end I just had to accept that these things will happen from time to time.

IMG_4483.JPGFrance: The house sit was located in rural France, meaning that for the whole stay I really only spoke to 5 people besides shop staff. Although I wasn’t lonely, I felt very exposed, lacking the recourses of a more populated area. If I needed something, it wasn’t always possible to buy it. As a result, I joyfully found that the few neighbours were extremely collaborative. One picked me up from the rail station an hour away(!), after my train was delayed and the busses had finished. Another neighbour I took to work when her car was totalled. A culture of lending and giving freely was engendered by this isolation, despite the language barrier. Amazing!

Being a Digital Nomad: Focus focus focus! Many people must be imagining me leading the French lifestyle, a man of leisure, never having to go to the office. Whilst it is pretty idyllic, of course I go to the office, or rather the office comes to me. IMG_0087.JPGRight now, this is my view, sat in my van working. I’ve just had a Skype call with a colleague discussing a student’s essay draft, and look forward to writing up my lesson reports this afternoon, and preparing my tutorials for the evening. My schedule is different every week, but the most important thing is to be focused – both to be working when I am working and to play when I am playing. I’m still learning this and will write a post on it soon.

Hope this post has been useful to anyone thinking of trying house sitting, digital nomading, or other alternative lifestyle ideas.





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Infectious Minimalism (Guest Post)

My Minimalism has somehow become infectious. It inspired my best friend to have a major clearout, and then write this article. Thanks Katie!

“Minimalism seems to have made it into the mainstream, in parts thanks to the New York Times No. 1 best selling books by Marie Kondo. Their success comes from understanding that our relationships with our possessions are not just practical but emotional too; and although I began my journey towards minimalism because I just want to be able to keep track of what I had, it quickly became a way of an emotional decluttering too.

belongings as art

Here are my beautiful bags, all lovingly altered/made for me by my friends and family.

Less Choice is More Freedom

 We spend our day making constant choices about small or unimportant things – what to choose from the menu, or in the supermarket, what clothes to wear in the morning, which books we read. When I began getting rid of stuff this was something that concerned me – what if I want to read that book again? Or wear this skirt ? What if at some point I desperately need this automatic avocado peeler and slicer? (Okay, I made the last one up….).

emotional things packed away

Box-love. Finally, I can actually find things in their rightful places, and even the boxes they are stored in are things of beauty.


But although there have undoubtedly been times I have felt a pang of absence for something I no longer have, there is a bigger payoff: an absence of what I call ‘mind-clutter’. To chose between 6 pairs of trousers and 10 tops creates needless choice. As Neil Gaiman says “the main reason I’ve been wearing more or less the same thing for about 20 years is so that I don’t have to think about what I’ll wear”.

Removing these constant tiny choices has stilled my mind and allowed me to chose what I focus on, like my underlying thoughts and feelings, or the world around me. And having less choice makes me appreciate the smaller choices I do make – which cup of these two to use, which of my two scarves to wear, where to sit to be in the sunlight. Consumerism teaches us that constant choice gives us freedom, but it often just shackles the mind. There is a joy that comes from these small choices and even a joy from having no choice at all.

The Spark of Joy

And joy is what Kondo’s second book is all about. Every time we see something we react to it – often on a deeply subconscious level. For me a large part of choosing what to keep was bringing these reactions into the conscious level. Kondo has a simple but effective way of determining what to keep – if it doesn’t bring a ‘spark of joy’, ditch it.

For example, I had a big stash of clothes I couldn’t wear anymore because I’d put on too much weight. I kept hanging onto them because I did not want to let go of the thought that I am not that person anymore, and did not want to think I might not be her again. But the truth became that every time I saw them I felt sad, and guilty and bad about myself. When I gave them away I also gave away these feelings.

Sometimes the emotional reaction to things is not that simple, for example, there were some things from my ex that stirred fond memories in me when I saw them. But at the same time it was bitter sweet because we’re are no longer in contact and I am sad to have lost him. Some things I got from him I gave away, some I kept but put in storage. It’s important to remember the past, even the sad bits, but to be constantly be reminded of it by your possessions can encroaches upon the present.

Be Friends With Your Pen

stationary sparks joy

I actually can barely physically write because of problems with my hands and use a dictation program most of the time. So on the rare occasion that I am able to, it feels good to have a special pen.

The anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that humans can only really have strong connections to about 150 people in their lives. I think that this is also true of our belongings. Every time you see or use something your own it is an interaction, like a human one, it demands our attention, even if it is only to pick up a pen and paper to write a letter. My possessions are now like friends – each one needed and wanted.

I started my minimalist journey because I had 4 rulers but everything was so cluttered I couldn’t find anything. I now have one ruler and can find it most of the time! But it has also been a surprisingly spiritual journey. I understand more now why nuns and monks give up their possessions on entering the religious life. I thought it was all about self denial, but it is as much about freeing your mind from negative relationships with the world around you and there by giving you the space to be more aware of your inner self.

  • Katie Moudry

http://lookingthroughcracks.blogspot.com ”













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Interesting Parenting Idea To Teach Kids About Money / My non-mis-spent youth

Pocket_money_640x360-600x360My parents did a very unusual thing when I was 12. They decided they were going to give me an allowance, but it was a different kind of allowance. Instead of giving me a certain amount of money to buy what I liked with, they sat down and worked out exactly how much money they were currently spending on me, and then gave me that money on the first of each month. This didn’t include groceries or family meals out, school clothes or textbooks, but it did include other clothing, recreational books, magazines, movies, art materials, school lunch money and school bus fare.

Amazingly, as a 12 year old I took to this idea straightaway and began to budget. I never had a month in which I ran out of money, probably because I took my parents totally at face value. It was implied that the allowance would be taken from me if I failed to buy the essentials with it. I didn’t want that to happen, because I knew that if I could get that stuff cheaper than my parents could, I would have more money to spend on what I really wanted.

One reason this worked so well was that my parents were quite inefficient with money. Before they gave me an allowance they used to buy my non-school clothes quickly on a busy Saturday, without shopping around. They were also hooked consumerists, and insisted on replacing things more often than I thought necessary. With a bit of thought, it would be easy to get things cheaper, and spend the extra money on sweets.

The first thing I did was shop around for clothes. I was amazed to find that a t-shirt in M&S cost the same as a Red Dwarf T-shirt mail ordered from leaflet in the back of the video. No contest! I bought a few of those (too big so I wouldn’t grow out of them) and wore them to death. I refused to replace them when they got holey from tree climbing. This bothered my mother but she kept quiet. I used the cash saved to buy books, magazines and art materials. An instant winner – now I had clothes I really loved, and money left over for entertainment!

Soon it became like a game – the more aspects of my spending I could cut down on, the more I’d have left for what was important to me. False economy quickly showed itself too. My first t-shirt purchase had taught me that buying something that lasted two years instead of one, meant I could spend twice as much on pens. It also meant I took really good care of my stuff to make it last longer.

A few years later I had discovered charity shops, and was making my own clothes with my mother’s sewing machine. I suspected that my parents would cut the allowance if they noticed me skipping lunch to save money, so I never tried that. Instead I started secretly cycling an old beat-up bike to school, leaving the house after my parents so they wouldn’t notice. Yet I was still being given bus fare!

I used some of the extra money to maintain the bike, but now I was saving up for musical instruments. In retrospect, I my parents must have realised I was ripping them off at this point, but kept quiet. Why? Because it was a win-win situation. They were giving me bus fare even though I cycled to school, but at least I wasn’t pestering them to buy me musical instruments, or in fact, to buy me anything at all. Overall, they were still making a saving, whilst teaching me important lessons about budgeting. My parents showed restraint by never making a judgement on what I bought, even when at times, I wasted money on tat. They just let me learn the lessons.

I still got Christmas and birthday presents of course, but because of this scheme, for my entire teenage-hood, my parents and I didn’t argue about money. Not only that – my allowance never raised and I never asked for it to be. By the time I finished school it was the same as it had been when I was 12, even though by that time I was also using it to buy school clothes, and for days out to Oxford and London.

Over the years I have hugely underestimated the value of this leap of faith my parents took, letting a 12year old handle money in this way. By the time I left home I was excellent with money. During university I watched my friends splurge on nights out and then struggle to pay bills. But I’d having already had 6 years of practice taking care of the essentials before buying the fun stuff.

I’ve often wondered what made me conceive of the £0 Challenge which I took in 2014, and hugely added value to my life. In a sense, I was refreshing and deepening the ideas that I learned about as a teenager. My parents hadn’t needed to be good with money to teach me about it – their allowance idea was all the teaching I’d needed. I’m not saying every parent should try this – maybe I was an unusual kid… but it’s worth a thought…

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Trapped By An Obsession With Freedom?

What I take on short trips where I'd need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn't it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

What I take on short trips where I’d need stripped down live kit and recording studio as well as general luggage. Wouldn’t it be great if that were all the stuff I ever needed?

For the past year I’ve been obsessively paring down my stuff, and eliminating consumerist spending habits from my life. Essentially, I’ve become a minimalist. It’s freed me in all sorts of ways; given me more time for music and for the sweet and simple things…yet I’m still not satisfied. Recently I’ve been considered the 100 thing challenge, the project 333 or 10 item wardrobe etc etc…but then I realised something about minimalism – it’s about freedom from stuff. What good is becoming minimalist, if I spend so much time obsessing about being minimalist? Isn’t that simply being trapped by stuff in a different way?

The weird thing is that since the criteria for these challenges is quite wide, I already qualify for all of them. I thought people felt free after completing these processes, yet I still feel trapped! Why? Well, partly because I hate dealing with stuff. I suppose I could cut down to owning only what I can carry? Wouldn’t that be ultimate freedom?

No, in my case it would just be silly. I’d have to give up the things I use to do what makes me happiest; my recording studio and musical instruments, The other reason I feel trapped must be in my head. When I set myself a goal I put all my efforts into fulfilling it, even when that defeats the object of the exercise. This in itself is what makes me feel trapped. I feel enslaved by the target, without even knowing why anymore. But life is simple when you can pretend that it’s about reaching an arbitrary target. It’s a way of holding onto something solid in the world. So many of us fall into that trap. This isn’t to say that aims and goals are a bad thing.

It’s said that people are happiest when they are doing something that they find difficult, but that’s important to them. We can challenge and express ourselves by doing something that we believe in. We are happy when our goals reflect what we believe in, but unhappy when we’re asked to meet targets that mean nothing to us personally (“I want that report on my desk first thing tomorrow!”)

“Having minimal stuff” has been a good target for me. It allows me physical freedoms (travel, less tidying up, being able to afford experiences), but it’s important not to confuse that with my own inner sense of personal freedom.

It’s also important not to think “I will be happy when my next goal is completed”, because that’s like saying “I’ll never be hungry again after my next meal”. It doesn’t matter whether you think “I will feel free when I have a paid off my mortgage in full” or “I will feel free when I own less than 100 things”… it’s time to give it up!

Freedom or happiness are not defined by these arbitrary goals, but are fluid and reside within us. Targets are measurable and external. We cling to them because we are terrified by the idea that happiness is not a solid object: we can’t build, buy or define it. Over and over again we strive to achieve targets, only to find that all we achieved was the target, not the ultimate happiness we imagined would come along with it. It’s time to get re-alligned.


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