It's a year this month since I first started writing this blog and I never would have believed, at the outset, exactly how much of a positive difference downshifting would make to our lives. So much so that I have had to think really hard about the things listed below as they have come to be so much a part of my everyday life that I have trouble remembering a time when they were not. This is not just a case of rose-tinted spectacles on my own part; we have had our fair share of troubles - in particular just before and just after Christmas - but we have got through them and lived to tell the tale. We're not bankrupt and we don't hate each other and we're very much looking forward to year number 2. The list below is not exhaustive, and I'm sure that over the coming days and weeks I will remember lots of other things as well, but setting limits often helps to determine that which is most salient.
1. THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE This might sound like a terrible cliche but it's true: sunshine, fresh air, compliments, a smiling face, a hug from your children, good sex with your beloved, the company of family and friends. In fact, if you look at it like that, it makes me wonder why we hanker after what we can actually buy to improve our lives at all!
2. MOST PEOPLE ARE LARGELY UNAWARE OF THE HUGE INFLUENCE THE MARKETING MACHINE HAS OVER ALMOST EVERY ASPECT OF OUR LIVES We are bombarded with images through all types of media that encourage us to spend or aspire to spend. From the soft, persuasive voice of the woman on the M & S telly advert to the toddler on the toilet roll one, they are subtly designed to hook us in and persuade us to part with our cash, sometimes cash we don't actually have. In combatting this, I've found Martin Lewis's maxim to be most helpful, "Do I need it? Can I afford it? Have I checked if it's cheaper anywhere else?" If the answer to any of these is 'no' then don't buy it. It can stop you in your tracks with those impulse purchases, in particular. The same can be said for choosing premium brand goods, the ones in the attractive but excessive packaging. Just remember, fancy packaging and peak time advertising are expensive and someone has to foot the bill. This excess cost does nothing for the quality of the product and just leaves you with additional rubbish to dispose of!
3. DOING IS MUCH MORE FUN THAN HAVING If you think about your fondest memories, how many of them are from things you did or experienced and how many are from buying something you wanted? The trouble with buying things you want is that you then go on to want something else, so nothing in particular stands out in what we remember but memories of things you've done - in particular, successfully - can last a lifetime.
4.LIBRARIES ARE AMAZING PLACES I've relied on mine so much this year and find it incredible that we have such a service (ostensibly, anyway) for free. Books, internet, newspapers, local history, posters advertising what's on - they're all there for our cash-free perusal. Why shell out when so much is free in one place? In cold weather they even heat them well too!!!
5. FOOD REALLY DOES TASTE BETTER IF YOU GROW IT/ MAKE IT YOURSELF It stands to reason that if you're going to the trouble of doing either or both of these you will put effort into making it good: time spent preparing, freshness of ingredients, etc, etc. By and large, those who want to sell the same to you - especially supermarkets - want to make a profit. This is not necessarily compatible with making it good. Enough said.
6. JUST BECAUSE WE ARE DESCRIBED AS A THROWAWAY SOCIETY DOES NOT MEAN WE HAVE TO WASTE SO MUCH There is a lot of satisfacton to be had from finding other uses for things that might otherwise go to landfill. From making meringues with your leftover egg whites, turning your empty pop bottles into mini cloches, through to taking those clothes that don't fit to the charity shop/ Freecycle there are a myriad ways to re-use your rubbish. The good feeling you get is free and is not 'costing the earth'.
7. A TREAT IS A TREAT ONLY IF YOU INDULGE IN IT OCCASIONALLY If you think about it, if you buy yourself little 'treats' all the time they become the rule rather than the exception. They are not savoured as a one-off but accepted as everyday necessities, which rather misses the point, I feel. Save your money for a better treat just once in a while and you value it so much more for its rarity.
8. A WOMAN'S/MAN'S BEST FRIEND IS A DOG You could feel quite put out at this one if you are one half of a dog owning couple but think about it for a moment. Your dog is always pleased to see you; it will probably greet you even if you've just popped out for a paper and will welcome you with all the enthusiasm of a long-lost friend if you've been out for any length of time.It will not have had a bad day, hold a grudge because you forgot a special date or require much of you at all except its tea, a walk and a cuddle. Dogs do unconditional love best - my advice is to let them!
9. LET YOUR LIFE BE YOUR MESSAGE This sounds incredibly high-brow but is really very simple. It's not about talking the talk but walking the walk and is inspired by a quote from Gandhi. We might profess to be very green or very well-informed (or whatever) but do our actions really match our words? Talk is cheap, as they say, and my own thoughts are that if you want to see something happen around you then begin to live it. If you want the people you meet to be more friendly then be more friendly first; the same goes for kindness, generosity and a myriad other things. Too many people spend their time moaning instead of acting. Is that what we want to be remembered for?
10. "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” This quote be Helen Keller has always strengthened my resolve at difficult times and it seems particularly poignant in todays uncertain times. It reminds me of a journey. Life can be full of diversions and forks in the road; some of these can cause frustration at times but ultimately the trip is a rewarding one. Or you can stay on the motorway; you're getting somewhere fast (though you're not certain where), the journey is predictable and often monotonous and there are few surprises to add interest. What's more, you miss the scenery! Just over two years ago my life was turned upside down and what started out as dipping my toe in the water, followed by a tentative paddle, now sees me swimming with confident strokes. If you are at a similar crossroads in your life then I would encourage you with the following: come on in, the water's lovely!