How’s my New Year’s resolution going? February edition.

I’ve been trying to designate buy-nothing-days before they happen, so to speak – rather than leaving them to chance, I’ve been planning them into my diary. I’ve largely used days when I’ve been at work or at home all day for these.

One thing I’ve noticed as a result, is that I really get the desire to spend money when I’m bored, or sugar-craving, and mostly it’s about buying some food or a drink. I rarely want those things because I’m genuinely hungry, I am either doing it as a reward (I’ve worked so hard today) or as a pacifier and distraction (I’m so bored right now, I’d love some chocolate). Honestly, it’s been quite eye-opening. I’ve known for some time that I have the tendency to reward myself or cheer myself up with food, which is a terrible habit, but watching my spending has made it really obvious. After all, you don’t carry ‘reward’ foods with you, you have to go out and get them specially.

As a result, it’s been pretty tough. I get sugar cravings, and if I don’t have a some kind of chewy-bar on me I’m also usually really hungry by the late afternoon. And I am terrible when I am hungry, so that’s one to avoid! One buy-nothing-days I have often experienced thoughts along the lines of whatever, let’s just go buy x…. but I’ve mostly resisted them, and stuck it out. But it’s been rather sobering to realise how often I must have just given in to those thoughts in the past!

Overall I’m pleased that I have definitely made six buy-nothing-days this month. However it’s clear that if I’m going to break ten by June, I’m going to have to cut back in the random impulse food buying! I’m also going to need to take flasks of coffee with me on long drives to avoid service station coffee stops. The aim for March is seven days, so I’m going to try and plan ahead more, and see if that helps.

How’s my New Year’s resolution going? February edition.

3 Things that are saving my life right now

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was quite taken by one of Tsh’s (from The Art of Simple) recent posts about ‘things that are saving my life right now’. Perhaps the title is overly dramatic, but I think the intention and meaning is probably correct. There are always a few things in life which help save our mental health, and it’s worth taking a look at what these are and why. There are definitely some which are making life substantially better for me at the moment, so I thought I’d take inspiration from Tsh and start another series of themed posts. These will probably be occasional rather than weekly or monthly, and nowhere near the ‘7 things’ she manages, but I hope you enjoy them.

So, for the first time, here are three things that are saving my mental bacon right now:

  1. Being at home. I realised recently that it is critically important to me at the moment to have intentional time at home, with my partner, in my house. Part of this is because maintaining a home takes time and intention; it takes effort to keep it clean, tidy, to prepare clean clothes and have food in the cupboards. I need to be at home to do those things for myself. But part of it is also because I find it very grounding to be in my home, pottering around, tidying things and generally making small things better. To be clear – I don’t mean those times when I come home exhausted, slump on the sofa and watch videos and generally do nothing. I mean times when I am present and active and engaged with my partner and my home. Time to do this was one of the things I longed for in a soulful way at the end of my PhD, and it is deeply satisfying to be able to have that.
  2. Decluttering. I’m not talking about a going-for-it throw-down style decluttering extravaganza. I’m talking about a little here and there, a slow paring down of things. Hell, not even a paring down yet – I’m still in the process of getting rid of so much junk from my life and home. I mean, I’m still dealing with boxes of old photographs, hoarded cinema tickets from the 2000s, clothes that I haven’t worn in ten years. But I am slowly, slowly thinning it out a little. I’m not doing it because I want the house to look nicer, although that is a nice side effect. I’m mostly doing it because I need the mental space. I need to push back the wash of things all around me. I also desperately need to be in a space which is not dirty as it does bad things to my mental health, therefore I need a space which is clear enough to be cleaned with reasonable ease. So decluttering, as and when I find time in my pottering at home, is totally saving my head.
  3. Reading on the bus. My journey to work is 30-40mins each way, every day. But recently I’ve managed, for the first time in my life, to teach myself to read on the bus without feeling ill (most days at least). That means I hop on the bus, open my book, and before I know it I’m pulling up outside work. I don’t get stressed, I don’t feel overwhelmed by the press of people, and I don’t think about my day ahead earlier than I need to. It makes the journey pass without distress or annoyance, and I’m really appreciative of it. And it helps me work through my hoard of books-to-be-read, which helps contribute (however slowly!) to the decluttering. If you can read on a moving vehicle, I thoroughly recommend you try it on your commute!

I hope these provide some food for thought. Everyone needs some things that help save their mental health, and I hope you have some too!

3 Things that are saving my life right now

Friday’s Green and Frugal Five

This week has been quite busy, quite a bit of travel and an evening out dancing, but I feel like we made some saves.

  • Switched my online grocery shopping to Sainsbury’s, away from the Walmart-owned Asda, and got £18 off with a voucher. We had to buy £60 worth of groceries, but I made it by getting a lot of cat food which was on special offer (double-savings!). Splashed out a £1 on getting it delivered, but chose a ‘green’ slot, where their delivery van was already in our area. Luxury!
  • Went dancing on Saturday, which is not frugal in itself, but we did catch the bus there and back, despite being highly under-dressed and the wind being brutal! I have a bus pass, so that meant we just paid for my partner. We didn’t give in to desires for kebabs either, but had vegan chilli-dogs at home before collapsing into bed.
  • Still working on letting one of our rooms, which meant doing the cleaning on Sunday morning despite being exhausted from dancing!
  • Took lunch and breakfast on the train when I travelled into the city on Tuesday, so that I wouldn’t need to buy food out. I still did, buying ice-cream (yes, in February!) from my very favourite place in the city, and buying coffee, but it cut down the overall expenditure and made it a choice to indulge, rather than a necessity. Not perfect, but an improvement.
  • Ate leftovers on Sunday evening, rather than cook new for both of us, despite being a little bored of Friday’s food by then!

Also, I still haven’t bought a new phone, and remain struggling along with my pretty broken old one. The digitiser is failing so the touch-sensitivity is very patchy, and it has intermittent problems rotating the screen as well. I’ve decided to see if I can save the money necessary to replace it from the pay cheque I got at the end of January, so I’m waiting until March at least to buy a new one. Ideally I’d like to build up some savings, rather than squander it on a new phone though, so I may just see how long my brick will last!

As ever, this post was inspired by Katy and her commenting community.


Friday’s Green and Frugal Five

Waiting for my pin feathers

Today I’ve been travelling on trains a lot, and using the time to work through old blog posts and newsletters from my favourite writers of the decluttering/minimalism/non-consumerism variety. One of Tsh’s old posts discusses a number of things that are ‘keeping her sane’ in the cold days of February.

It resonated with me a lot, particularly as she frames it in terms of her and her family being in a temporary, transitory place for the next year or two. I feel like that is where I am, too. I’m over the initial extreme disorientation of dislocation and change that came with the end of my PhD, but I haven’t entered a settled period either. I’m not living month-by-month anymore, as I was when I first finished, but I’m not investing in long term plans or settling down to a life of academia and struggle either. In some ways I’m waiting, not for anything external, but for my sense of self to fully return to me, for my heart to uncurl, for the pin feathers to grow back in my wings.

It’s almost exactly a year since I submitted my thesis for examination. Looking back at that last year, I do get a strong sense of disorientation. Of fear and desperation in beginning to come out of that trapped, constricted place that was the end of the PhD. I had changed myself a lot, repressed myself, muted my voice and expression to try and be what people told me I needed to be to be a successful PhD student. Then at the end, all those changes felt like they were for nothing. I passed, with little difficulty, but there was nothing waiting at the end, none of the feeling of acceptance I think I was subconsciously waiting for, yearning for. My irritating intelligence, nerdy interests and attention to detail weren’t suddenly welcomed, and I didn’t feel like I belonged any more than I did before. Which is to say, not a lot.

I clipped my wings to show how comfortably I fit in the box, but in the end was dumped out along with all the rest.

Coming to realise these things was a more immediately painful experience than the process itself. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I felt more numb and emotionless than I had in an extremely long time. The early months of the last year were a tumult of disorientating desperation, of stumbling around alternately numb and longing for something I couldn’t vocalise or reliably conceptualise. Of experiencing crippling moments of fear and anxiety and losing hold of half the reference points of my life.

In the end two things helped. The first was establishing new reference points. I decided not to fight the internal socialised pressure to ‘get a real job’, and did so: I feel like that’s a battle I can fight later. Now I’m working a regular day job which gives me confidence just because it’s so ‘normal’ and I’m very good at it. I’m also working another job which feeds my soul and my desire to do something worthwhile, and helps fulfill my need for meaningful relationships.

It was during establishing these that I first heard the ‘still quiet voice’ within me return. The voice that we all have, that knows what we truly want, that really embodies without fear who we really are. Realising I could still hear that innate ‘self’ under all the layers of control and tension was a moment of relief so strong I cried. I realise now that I was afraid I’d dismembered it so thoroughly it would never recover.

The second thing that helped was committing to do work on myself. There’s reasons I chose to mute and mangle myself, reasons I suffered such isolation and loneliness in my PhD. Certainly the environment is part of the cause, and doubtless I’ll talk about that at some point, but in the here and now what I can do is work on how I react to similar situations in the future. So I’m seeing a therapist and learning, slowly and painfully. I’m trying to actually be here, to be present with the people I love, and fully in this body that I don’t so much. I’m also going to evening classes, getting qualifications, learning new ways to communicate and construct meaning.

And slowly, the worst horror and fear and loss that erupted around the end of my PhD has subsided. A year later and I’m not ready to take on the world, but I am beginning to feel like I may be able to safely be in the world.

Waiting for my pin feathers

Friday’s Green and Frugal Five

Despite having a wonderful weekend at home, doing domestic things and dancing with my partner, I managed to spend money every day on little things (books, music). Ah well. My budgeting software tells me I’m not doing too badly this month, so hopefully I will be able to build up a little bit of money to deal with the first point below:

  • I haven’t bought a new mobile phone, despite my current one having a substantial screen failure that renders it barely functional. I looked at having it repaired, but at c.£100, the repair costs means it’s a better investment to buy something new. I just can’t quite face it yet! I’m contemplating a OnePlus Two, but I’m not sure if the customer service is good enough to take the risk…
  • I have to go away at the end of the month, to help run a small weekend event, but I’m feeling a little out of my depth, particularly as most of the materials I might need will be online – and I won’t be able to access them (see above!). So I got myself a cheap data sim for an old iPad a family member gave me, and saved a third of the cost by signing up for a monthly contract and then giving my 30 days notice on it the day after!
  • Didn’t get pizza delivered last Friday, but drove to the supermarket, did the weekly grocery shop, and bought a couple of much cheaper (and almost as good) ones there.
  • Spent a wonderful weekend at home, pottering around, and put together another bin-liner full of stuff to donate to a charity shop.
  • Got a new pair of comfy black leather shoes for work and general use, for just £24 reduced from £60 on ebay, from the original producers, Clarks! It’s a good season for cheap shoes, I’ve noticed.

As ever, this post has been inspired by Katy’s blog and her fascinating readers.

Friday’s Green and Frugal Five

Friday’s Green and Frugal Five

This week has been a bit calmer. I’ve still had things booked in every day, and a car to unpack, and endless washing and ironing to achieve… but it’s been a bit more peaceful.

  • I had training at my primary job on Tuesday, and got free breakfast and coffee from it. I purposefully used the ceramic cups, rather than the plastic ones, to reduce waste a little.
  • At the weekend I managed to get up to Leicester and back down to the south coast on a single tank of petrol, c.£40, despite the crazy winds. Keeping under the speed limit, being relaxed, defensive and concentrating on the road all made for a smooth journey with little stop and start. So minimised our petrol use despite…
  • …taking a whole boot full of books to a weekend party! We actually set off for the weekend via a charity shop, but they refused to take our books as they said they already had too many. They actually told us to take them to the skip! This put me in a bit of a snot, so I just drove off to the party without trying to stop anywhere else. Luckily, there were loads of people there, and on Sunday I pulled up the house, opened my boot, and hawked almost all the books away to new, excited owners! People were taking away armfuls, it was wonderful. I should be able to slip the remaining few into the next charity shop drop-off.
  • The party was a bit fancy dress, but I managed to pick up almost everything I wanted from charity shops over the last few months. We even picked up a load of glasses for the party (as the hosts had warned us they didn’t have enough) from a charity shop on the way up, which saved us from using any disposables.
  • Visited the cinema on Wednesday using the Meerkat Movies 2-4-1 offer. Didn’t buy anything there, and just took water in our usual bottles.

As ever, this post has been inspired by Katy’s blog and her interesting commenters.


Friday’s Green and Frugal Five

Friday’s Green and Frugal Five

This week has been crazy busy! I’ve committed to another training course, we’re trying to let the back bedroom, we are going away for a weekend party and need to pack costumes and bedding… all a bit manic.

  • This morning I cut my hair myself! I’d been putting it off for ages, not wanting to spend c.£20 just to cut off a layer of hair at the back which had outgrown the rest. But I gritted my teeth, sat on the edge of the bath, and hacked it off with a pair of scissors. I was a bit worried, owing to the fact that I couldn’t see what I was doing and had to navigate by touch, but it turned out great! It’s made such a difference – I feel really confident about my hair now.
  • I’ve signed up to a five-week training course on Thursday nights for my secondary job, which I won’t be paid for, but I will get a certificate for and get to put on my CV. Anything that helps me out with that job, where I’m doing a lot on little money and pretty much zero training, has to be good! I guess it’s not obviously frugal, but improving skills seems like a good long-term investment.
  • Despite having work in the morning, needing to clean the house, then needing to make a dinner to take to a new training course on Thursday… I managed to show the back bedroom to a potential house-mate. I’m not sure he’ll take it, but I made the effort, which is important as the room is empty and we’re not making any money from that at the moment.
  • Delayed a grocery shop until next week sometime. We have a bunch of stuff in the cupboard and freezer, and I’m eating a lot of canned soup at the moment anyway, so I’m not too worried.
  • I’ve started using a budget/account software. Sadly I’m having to do it on my iPad, rather than my Android phone where the apps are better, but that’s because my phone screen is poorly and I’m putting off getting it fixed. I haven’t enjoyed using budgeting apps before, as they made me rather depressed about money, but I thought I’d give it a go for a bit. It’ll make it easier to track my no-spend-days, and identify what it is I’m spending money on. Let’s see if it brings me down!

As ever, this post is inspired by Katy and her intriguing commenters.

Friday’s Green and Frugal Five