It’s almost Christmas. So let’s give.

I sometimes feel old-fashioned, but I genuinely believe that Christmas – and all the holiday season, no matter how you celebrate – has gotten out of hand.

Didn’t it used to be about giving, caring for others who are less fortunate, and loving our families? Or did that get lost in translation somewhere in time?

These days, there’s so much pressure to spend, spend, spend. Our kids all want the latest gadgets. We seem to never be able to keep up with fashion. We’re told our Christmas decorations are “outdated” and our Christmas dinners are not flamboyant enough.

It all feels a bit crazy.

So I’m suggesting it’s time we families fought back. It’s time communities fought back. There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts to our loved ones, but there’s a thing called moderation that society seems to have forgotten.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a festive meal either, but there’s this old-fashioned sin called gluttony that does nobody any favours.

It’s time to take a step back, and remember what Christmas is all about.

Giving without thought for ourselves

I remember a scene from the wonderful classic children’s book, Little Women, in which the March girls give their Christmas breakfast to a hungry family. The girls were not wealthy by today’s standards, but they gave generously and were better people because of it.

It was a scene that made an impact on me, because I’ve never done anything so generous myself. Perhaps I need to. Perhaps we all do.

Quote from Lousa May Alcott's "Little Women". Image from The Salonierre's apartments blog.

Quote from Lousa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. Image from The Salonierre’s apartments blog.

Christmas is a time to give. It’s time to remember those who have nothing. It is a time to honour friendships and family, to make amends with those we have wronged, and to create peace in our communities.

So when you plan your gift list, plan your giving list too.
If you don’t have time, give money or in kind. If money is tight, plan to give time. If neither is an option, offer simple, random acts of kindness that will impact the lives of others in small, but significant ways.


Make a difference to someone you don’t know this Christmas. Make life better for a stranger. Make life beautiful for a child in need, or for a family without comfort.

Is it too early to say it?: Have a happy Christmas.

Children will listen: How to raise a terrific kid

We all want our kids to grow up to be good people.

When I think of the sort of people I want my kids (son 11 and daughter 9) to be, I think of words like these:

Good… happy… kind… honest… trustworthy… fair… generous… hard-working… dedicated… genuine… thoughtful… responsible…

Everyone has their own vision of what they want their child to be as an adult. To get their child there isn’t hard: we just need to be consistent, solid people ourselves who model the behaviour we want our children to possess.

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and it’s true. Parents who are responsible tend to raise responsible kids, and parents who steal raise up thieves.

We can say all the clever words in the world, but in the end our kids will practice what we practice. Our children will develop according to the behaviour we ourselves exhibit, not what we spout with empty words.

“Children may not obey, but children will listen, and see, and learn…”

Children may not obey, but children will watch and listen, paying attention to all you do. The following song is from the wonderful Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into The Woods”. Please listen.

When your child misbehaves, deal with it at immediately with appropriate consequences. Talk about how their behaviour affects others.

When a child has a tantrum, don’t let them get what they want because it’s easier than dealing with the ranting and yelling. And yes, teenagers have tantrums too!😦

Be honest with your children, and create family rules that are fair for everyone.

Expect everyone to get decent sleep, to eat 3 meals a day of healthy food, to do work before play, to share the burden of household chores, to participate in family life instead of spending all time on devices or in front of screens.

Make sure the same rules apply to yourself too.

And apply society’s rules in your own home. This teaches kids that the rules apply to everyone, and that the law matters. Follow DVD and game age guidelines and recommendations, and don’t let your child watch or play dangerous, violent or adult-related content, no matter how “mature” you think they are.

Teach discipline with keeping rooms and common areas tidy, reducing clutter, cleaning regularly. Children need a clean, safe home, and want to be proud to invite friends over when a home feels like a home, not a dump. They feel shame when their home is a mess. Your child should never have to refuse friends a visit because the house is untidy.

Teach kids the value of money. Explain when items cost too much, and question the sense of receiving everything they want. Talk about respect for belongings, the value of work, and the importance of the environment.

Discuss the abuse of natural resources that is taking place due to consumerism. Teach your child to think through what all the stuff in our lives means for wild animals, river systems, wetlands and oceans.

So teach your child consequences. The law of cause and effect.
Talk about how it feels to be stolen from, and why stealing is wrong.
Talk about how it feels to be bullied, and why bullying is wrong.
Talk about safe homes and unsafe people, and how it feels to be safe, to keep others safe, and respect consent.
Talk about sex, and why sex is always, always between people who want to be there and choose to do whatever is happening.

None of this stuff is hard. Not one bit of it. But it’s all the work of parenthood that goes into raising a terrific kid, bit by bit, one drop at a time. Show them who you are, and by doing so you’ll show them who to be.


If I had a million dollars…

When I was a kid, I used to sit with my best friend Bernadette, and we’d play the game “If I had a million dollars”. We’d imagine all the amazing things we’d buy, all the stuff we’d own – palaces and slaves (that was me!) and yachts and jewellery. So much stuff.

We had no idea how much a million dollars actually was, only that it was a lot.

As we got older, we remained friends, and the game morphed into “When I win the lottery”. We’d imagine buying nice houses and fancy cars and going on holidays all around the world staying in plush hotels with hunky pool boys serving us cocktails (that was me again!) and all the chocolate we could ever eat (me too!).

We’re still friends after all these years. Neither of us is a millionaire, and we’ve neither of us ever won the lottery.

But I know quite a few millionaires. Including my parents, and several of my old school friends. I even know a billionaire or two. And my uncle won the lottery before he died as well – enough that he never needed to work again.

Funny thing is, winning the lottery never made him happy. And all those millionaires and billionaires, they’re not any happier than me either.

In fact, I’d say I’m probably among the happiest of all my friends.

I’m no millionaire. I own about 30 items of clothing. A five year old car. Half a house. An old box-style TV and a beat-up DVD player. Some books, not even a bookcase full. A few dollars in the bank, enough to keep me going a few months should the zombies come😉

But I’m happy. I have a partner who adores me. I have awesome kids, and solid friends who are good people. I have everything I need. No albatrosses around my neck. Nothing to hold me down.

They say, Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. My treasure is here, with the people I love, and within me, in the memories I hold. It’s in the blue sky above me, in the earth below me, in the wind on my cheeks and the fire in my soul.

I could have a million dollars one day, but so what? It’s just paper.

I’d rather have my treasure.


What is minimalism? Not just weird art…

Minimalism is…

  • A growing movement in response to the crazy consumerist lifestyle that is killing our communities and destroying our planet.

  • A way out of the madness…a breath of fresh air…a way to find peace and solitude.

  • An understanding that less is more, and that too much stuff makes life stressed and difficult.

  • A recognition that there is such a thing as enough.
  • A philosophy that teaches calm, common-sense and practicality.
  • An idea that can work with any religion… or no religion at all.
  • A way to reflect on who we are and what we truly need to be happy.
  • A desire to place people and communities above things and profits.
  • An understanding that stuff will never truly fulfil us and make us happy.
  • Knowledge that the best things in life aren’t things.


Sick of consumerism? You might just be a minimalist!

Sick of consumerism?
Not into trashing the planet and buying stuff that you don’t need which immediately falls apart at discount stores?
Hate the idea of sweatshops and junk food and cruelty?

You might just be a minimalist!

I first heard about minimalism when I read a book years ago called Affluenza. At the time, I was living in a big city and spending every cent I had buying more stuff, but I didn’t know why. I was unhappy too but I didn’t know why.

I was trying to create my life in the image of something perfect – something other that what I was and what I had. Buying more stuff – which was supposed to be the solution – just resulted in more clutter and less happiness.

Oh, and more debt.

Affluenza is described in the book of that name as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more“. I had a bad, bad case of it, and felt the need to get away.

I sold most of what I had and moved countries, yet the clutter followed me, along with the unhappiness. I learned you can’t run away from your problems. I also learned that different stuff wasn’t the solution to my unhappiness.

I concluded that the problem had to be me.

It was only years later that I finally recognised the real lesson within the pages of the book: that more stuff won’t ever make anyone happy. I started a serious move towards minimalism three years ago and shifted away from my addiction to accumulating stuff, finally beginning to make peace with who I am.

Consumerism and minimalism

Our society is trapped in a spiral of consumerism, debt and misery. How far each person is trapped differs, but it is certain that worldwide levels of depression and debt have never been higher, despite affluence being higher than ever.

In short, our stuff isn’t making us happy.

General happiness levels were higher during the two world wars. Just think about that for a minute. That’s how bad a spot we’re in right now. Something is seriously wrong.

Our lifestyle of overload in overdrive is making us obese, sick, stressed, overworked, debt-ridden and miserable.

So here’s what I discovered, after trying to live the perfect life, with the perfect stuff, at the perfect weight, with the perfect home and perfect clothes: Perfect doesn’t exist.

“Perfect” is a mirage. Just when you reach out to touch it, it shifts and changes, moves further away. As long as we try to base our happiness on stuff, and on our image, we’ll fail.

Even the celebrities don’t feel perfect. They’re rushing towards the next best thing, even faster and more crazily than the rest of us. They’re stuck on the mouse wheel, going nowhere for no purpose ten times faster.

That’s the trick of consumerism. Up to date right now? Give a month or so and the next trend will be in, or the next iPhone, or the next bigger flat screen TV, and we will be out of date, rushing like a mad thing to catch up.

More credit, more debt, the spiral downwards continues…

Minimalism changes everything. It’s the green flashing EXIT sign, the way out, if we want it to be.

The only way to win the consumerist game is to stop being a consumerist. Because there is no way to keep up-to-date without keeping up-to-debt.

So sit down and take a breath. Think about the type of person you want to be. Think about the things you want to do with your life – about the footprints you wish to leave behind for the world.

Do you really want to leave behind piles of sweatshop clothing that fell apart after a few wears and caused untold misery? Is that what you want for your epitaph?

Do you really want to leave behind piles of electronic waste because everything you bought was built with planned obsolescence?

Do you want to live on McJunk food that pays good people poor wages, and supports an obesity and diabetes epidemic in our population?

Who do you want to be?

When we buy less, we can be choosy. Instead of buying ten cheap t-shirts that will fall apart in weeks and were made in shocking conditions overseas, we can buy two or three good ones that last longer, and are made locally and sustainably.

Instead of buying that latest flat screen TV, maybe we can be happy with the old box TV we still have which is perfectly fine.

Maybe instead of buying junk jewellery, we can wear an inherited vintage piece that has a history with pride.

Minimalism starts with questioning what we actually need, and ends with finding an answer to suit ourselves, not society, or fashion, or anyone else. There’s no one right way to do minimalism – it’s whatever works for you. Some minimalists travel the world with just 51 items to their name, while others live in Dunedin with kids (*waves*), and are a work in progress, still finding their own level of belongings.

Do what works for you. Find your own path. Find the amount of belongings that work for you. The one thing all minimalists have in common is, they’re setting their own rules. They’re in charge. They’re finding their happiness in life, not in stuff. That’s what matters.

So do you think you might be minimalist? Take a look at your life, examine it. Find out. But if you think you’d like your life to be a journey with less stuff and more meaning, you just might be!


3 simple rules for keeping flat surfaces clear

Do flat surfaces in your home just seem to attract every single piece of junk that is lying around?

If you’re anything like me, flat surfaces have been an ongoing problem that can be hard to resolve – unless you have the tools and knowhow to stop them becoming serious clutter-collectors.

So here’s the three simple rules I use to keep flat surfaces clear:

1. If it isn’t a “display item”, don’t display it!
2. No more than three items on any flat surface.
3. Wipe down working surfaces at least twice a week.

I’ll be honest – these rules require discipline, and it takes time to learn to have discipline. But they’re great rules to have in your pocket, and they will keep flat surfaces clear if you begin to practice them throughout your home.

I talk about the 3 simple rules in a bit more detail below.

1. If it isn’t a “display item”, don’t display it!

In short, nobody wants you to display your clutter, your child’s dirty underwear or your unpaid gas bills!

Flat surfaces are for displaying items of value or purpose. They’re also for occasional use – for items we’re currently using then we put away again afterwards.

An example might be a television remote – we use it, rest it on a coffee table while we’re watching TV at night, then put it away safely in a drawer in when we’re done with watching.

In wet areas such as the kitchen, flat surfaces are for working and preparing food. Not for keeping knick-knacks and junk mail.

In the bathroom, flat surfaces are for personal grooming. Once we’re done using the flat surface to put our grooming tools on, the items are stored away again. Exceptions are a bar of soap, and maybe a glass containing toothbrushes and paste. Individual personal items should be stored out of sight and away, or a family bathroom can get cluttered really quickly!

If your flat surfaces are covered in stuff that isn’t “display” items or of current actual use, bag the items in a plastic bag, then sort through them. Discard anything you don’t use and find appropriate places for items of value and purpose.

2. No more than 3 items on any flat surface.

This is what I call my “Enid Blyton” rule, and it’s a good one😉 In Blyton’s “The Naughtiest Girl in the School”, the protagonist learns that each child may have three items on her nightstand.

Three items should be enough for anyone on any flat surface. Having a set number of items for flat surfaces makes them easy to dust and keep clean, because you don’t have to move a host of items to wipe the surface down. It’s also safer in earthquakes or fires.

Some people choose to rotate their items, and others keep their items the same year after year. But the 3 item rule will help keep your flat surfaces clear.

flat surfaces clean

The top of my tallboy. Two perfume bottles and an antique horse that I’ve had for 30 years now. It’s easy to keep uncluttered surfaces clean🙂

3. Wipe down working surfaces at least twice a week.

I wipe down bathroom and kitchen surfaces about twice a week. My mother would be shocked at this – she wipes hers down every morning and night!😉

Wiping down working surfaces helps keep things tidy. As you wipe, put away anything that shouldn’t be out on display, and bin anything that is post date. I’ve a habit of leaving cleaning products out after I’ve done with them, so wiping reminds me to put everything away.

For kitchens sponges and plugs, I keep a plastic container under the sink. I wring out anything that is wet, and store it out of sight. Because we have a dishwasher, there is no need to keep our plug and dishwashing liquid on the sink the whole time.

Items I keep on the kitchen bench all the time include: handwashing soap and the kettle. Sometimes the loaf of bread that is currently being eaten, as we go through a LOT of bread!

Why these rules? Why bother?

I like living in a relaxed, peaceful haven of a home. I don’t feel like I can ever truly relax when I’m looking around at piles of junk, washing to be sorted and put away, or clutter on flat surfaces.

Living in an uncluttered home is healthier, especially for people with allergies and disabilities. Clutter-free homes are easier to keep clean, and have lower levels of dust and dirt. It’s well-known that people who live in clutter-free homes are also relaxed and less stressed.

Then there’s the issue of health and safety. People have been trapped in homes and died in fires and earthquakes because their homes were too cluttered, especially in hallways and corridors. If nothing else, keep these narrow spaces absolutely clear.

Then there’s the cleaning. Anyone who is the principal cleaner in their home (*waves*) probably feels like they do enough of that already! Reducing the clutter makes cleaning easier and less time-consuming.

Give 3 simple rules for flat surfaces a try. Let me know how you get on!🙂

Do the poor deserve our junk?

I dropped off a box of donations at the charity shop today. What I saw made my heart break.

The whole of the back of the shop was a junkyard. People had dumped broken tables, broken chairs, a mattress so stained and old I’m surprised anyone had used it in years…or maybe they hadn’t.

When I put the box of carefully folded, sorted clothing inside the door, I passed a single broken shoe that someone had carelessly thrown in the porch.

People are using charity shops as junkyards, not as a way to genuinely help those in need with items we don’t need any more.

I’ve talked with the staff there. All volunteers, apart from the Manager. They’ve said they get so much rubbish they don’t know what to do with it. A full sized skip (dumpster) goes out every fortnight, and it’s packed full.

That skip is full of rubbish we’ve dumped at them, because we were too lazy to sort our cast-off belongings. Or maybe we saw it as the cheap alternative – instead of disposing of things properly, using the charity shops as a dumping ground for trash.

Do the poor deserve our junk? That’s what I’m asking. Do we really think they deserve our rubbish? Because I’ve known plenty of poor people in my life, although I’m been blessed enough to never have been poor myself. They were mostly ordinary people just like me, who were doing it hard through no fault of their own. They didn’t deserve to be poor, any more than me.

I don’t think anyone deserves my junk. If the best I can give is my rubbish, then I am the problem here.

And look: if you think all poor people deserve to be poor, please just walk away from this blog now. Because we have nothing to say to one another right now.

When we bring items to donate, we should be asking: Could I use this? Would I give this to a friend in need? Would I give these shoes / this jacket / these jeans to a little girl or boy I genuinely cared about?

If the answer is no, then cut them up for rags or throw them away.

And no, nothing is ever “too good” for the charity shop. Giving our best to charity should be a natural thing, not something we avoid.

Charity should be a gift from the heart, a gift with kindness and thought attached – the only strings it should ever have. It should be something we do because we care, not because it’s a convenient way to dispose of junk.

Kindness is a virtue. Maybe it’s time we all remembered that.