Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The life-changing magic of acquiring less

Unless  you've been living under a rock, you have almost certainly encountered Marie Kondo and her 'Life-changing magic of tidying up', either via her books or through the new Netflix series. I'll admit to being fully onboard with her process for decluttering, it certainly works to reduce the amount of stuff in your life, and I am particularly pleased with my streamlined wardrobe; her folding methods are truly a revelation!

Too many clothes!

And breathe: All that remains

However, in this world of excess and consumerism, Kondo is only addressing one end of the problem - how to get rid of the masses of things once it has already accumulated, which doesn't quite deal with the major elephant in the room. Instead of acquiring vast stacks of stuff (George Carlin says it best!), spilling over in piles and drowning us, maybe we should tackle the root-cause and stop acquiring so many things in the first place?

What drives the desire for stuff? The existence of the work of Kondo, the Minimalism movement and myriad other decluttering methods suggests that excess stuff is not a good thing for many people, and can be detrimental to people's mental health, as well as their wallets. So what causes people to acquire too much in the first place? Surely we should spot that stuff is not beneficial, and just not buy it?

A diet of over-accumulation

There are a range of possibilities, from excessive advertising to the demise of self-control. Interestingly, a lot of the explanations offered are remarkably similar to those given for why the populations of many developed countries are becoming more obese (See the excellent 'The Truth About Fat' for a detailed analysis of the problems around that subject). It therefore looks like a modern lifestyle problem, mixed with outdated evolutionary drivers. The abundance of cheap products coupled with more disposable income has made it very possible to accumulate far too much. 

Evolutionarily, accumulating and keeping things would have been beneficial, as hoarding food items and other useful items such as animal furs would have aided survival. Even collecting items such as attractive shells and pebbles may have been naturally-selected, as these desirable items could have been traded for food or other directly useful items. But the abundance of stuff in our capitalist system means we've broken this, and the drive to accumulate pushes us far past the point of need or necessity.

Accumulating too much then periodically throwing away piles of things seems beyond ridiculous when you stop and think about it for half a second. We are filling this planet with disposed-of items, and flooding developing countries with our Western cast-offs. How long until we get to that dystopian view of drowning in rubbish (is Wall-e an accurate depiction of the future?!). According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain (by weight) more plastics than fish, so it doesn't seem like that vision is such an outlandish possibility.

We all need to accumulate less

How do we fix this? A two-pronged approach is required: We need to break the connection between perceived status and the accumulation and possession of things, so people are less motivated to go and buy the newest shiniest object. We also need to make businesses responsible for the true cost of the things they produce, so that planned obsolescence becomes a thing of the past, and items can more easily be upcycled, reused or recycled.

The growth of the sharing economy could massively help with the first. Younger people in particular are already getting on board with this; technology is enabling ride-share, bike-share and many other sharing services. Why buy a car and pay to maintain and store it, when you can use an app to hail a cheap taxi that will arrive in minutes? Many of these services are imperfect, and are often only accessible to people living in urban areas, but technological improvements, e.g. shared driverless cars, are likely to make these services much more user-friendly in the near-future. 

A circular economy, and strength in the Commons

Kate Raworth writes extensively in 'Doughnut Economics' about moving towards a circular economy. We need to revive the commons and have publicly funded services that serve everyone. I like how George Monbiot describes it: 'Public luxury for all, or private luxury for some'. Libraries are a great example: My local service is very luxurious; more books than I could ever afford or house, that can be reserved online, with a notification service letting me know when books are available/due back, available to everyone for no fee. I am thrilled my taxes go towards such an excellent service - if only comparable services were available for other things.

The flip-side of this is that businesses need to be incentivised to produce long-lasting goods that will give the user value for money and fulfill a purpose, without stripping the planet of resources or polluting the environment. This is of course a massive ask, and is highly unlikely to happen whilst governments are driven by a desire for growth economies. Whilst the only measure of a country's success is whether or not GDP is growing, regardless of any social or environmental consequences, there is no motivation for businesses to provide anything other than growth to their shareholders. Again, Raworth has a wealth of information on this: We need to become agnostic about growth. I also just read 'Out of the Wreckage' by Monbiot, which also touches on this.

Deeds not words

We need to think big. It just doesn't look possible to tackle the climate crisis and ecological collapse by tinkering around the edges and letting business and society continue as usual. But we also need to look at ourselves and question whether we are doing everything we can, whether we are leading from the front. 

So, by all means, 'Kondo' your wardrobe, declutter your space, and minimise your stuff. But ask yourself next time you are wandering round a shopping centre, or idly scrolling online, "what if I had to keep this item for the rest of my life?"

Friday, 1 February 2019

One Thing Better

As I touched on in my last post, there are some big problems that we as a species need to tackle if we are to stand a chance of leaving a decent world for the future. That can be really daunting, and it can all seem rather hopeless; what is the purpose of tinkering whilst the world burns? Of course I think we should all be pushing governments and companies to make dramatic changes, but we should all be looking at ourselves and what we can do personally.

As I mentioned, you should look at making some big changes, some of which are not at all difficult (e.g. changing electricity supplier), but we can all also look at small changes too, even if just to keep the momentum going. All that is a roundabout way of saying I’m going to talk about a tiny and frivolous personal change, which everyone should do too!

The bathroom seems to be the next household location after the kitchen which contains a lot of single use plastics. The standard bathroom is likely to contain myriad plastic bottles, toothbrushes, toothpaste, razors etc etc. Some of those are super easy to swap, like switching to a solid shampoo bar (my usual is from Lush). One that is perhaps a little more challenging is how to substitute disposable razors/razor blades. The offering on the high street and in supermarkets mainly consists of a variety of plastic pastel-coloured monstrosities with an ever-increasing number of blades. They are also very expensive, considering they will be thrown away after a few uses! Of course an option for the braver among us is to just not shave at all; I certainly partly manage that out of sheer laziness (once a month for the legs in winter!). I do like to keep the armpits tidy though, and legs in check in the summer, so I thought I’d see what else was out there.

And behold, the double edge safety razor, a perfect plastic-free option! I feel like this is something that has been hidden from us, presumably in the hunt for ever-increasing profits, because after the initial outlay this option is CHEAP. I paid £29 for the metal handle (this one), which should last for years as it is nice solid metal. If anyone wants to go delving around on Ebay there are people selling vintage handles that are 30+ years old, so they are built to last! There are also some seriously slick designer options out there, if you want to spend a bit more. The blades though are really cheap, I bought a mixed pack to try out some different brands, and it works out as 24p per blade, but you can definitely get them cheaper if you buy in bigger packs.

The best bit though is this thing works as well, if not better than, the plastic modern version. I haven't had a single cut or nick and less irritation after. As the blades are stainless steel they should be recyclable, I plan on collecting them in a tin and then taking to the local recycling centre. As I've only used one blade this month (1 x leg shave, 3 x armpits shave), it'll take a while to amass some for recycling!

In conclusion, there is no reason not to switch, I absolutely recommend it! Do you have any easy bathroom substitutes?

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Big Changes, Small Changes

As soon as you look to the media and news outlets it feels like the world is slowly imploding. Putting aside the nonsense of UK (and US) politics, the really big concern is the state of the environment, and the big one: Climate change. If you pay attention to what the scientists and experts are saying, it increasingly feels like a full on, hair on fire emergency. I want to stand on the rooftops and shout about it: Why aren't governments acting?! There is no time left! I know that direct action is needed if we are to have any chance of getting the idiots in charge to listen to us. I'll admit though: I don't know how to get involved in direct action or activism. It's something that I want to get better at; it seems that the likes of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have the right idea. We have to get everyone to realise that there is no time left for debate, we must act.

Sometimes the problem seems too big, and terrifying, but whilst we are shouting at the powers that be to make policy changes, we can all be making personal changes that make a difference, even if only to draw attention to the problem, to make our peers aware, and to help drive changes in the market. If we demand a change, things might start to move. Just look at what is happening with the car industry; have we reached peak ICE?

Top of the list for reducing your personal impact:
  1. Change to a renewable energy supplier (no excuses, do it now!), and if you own your home insulate it properly and look at renewable energy production, e.g. solar panels + battery
  2. Eat less meat, and support local farmers that grow high quality high welfare grass-fed meat
  3. Consider transport: Do you REALLY need a car? If you absolutely do, can you switch to electric, or have you considered an e-bike? Bike/walk/use public transport as the default - cars should be used as a last resort.
  4. Vote for Green parties or political parties that support tackling climate change as their highest priority

Any suggestions for how to get involved in direct action? Time to walk the walk...

Sunday, 13 January 2019

A Change of Direction

It’s been a while! I planned to get back in to posting regularly, but it just didn’t happen. I think it is perhaps because the whole ‘lifestyle blog’ thing isn’t really me; it just felt a bit like going through the motions, and I wasn’t excited by what I was writing.

This time round, I just want to WRITE more. Not necessarily more quantity, but more meaning, and about things that really interest me. So there might be fewer pretty pictures, and probably more controversial opinions, but I want to practise the art of writing, and find my voice.

I’ll leave up the archive for now, but I might get ruthless and thin out some of the more vacuous posts at some point.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Island Life Part Two

Well, it has been a little while since part one! It has been such a long time that the memories of what we got up to are a little hazy, but I thought I had better complete the set, as the suspense must be killing you all by now!

At the end of part one we had reached Newchurch and had a delicious dinner at the Pointer inn. Day 3 saw us staying at the same Airbnb for a second night, so we spent the day exploring the area (luggage-free!). We followed the traffic-free cycle path to Sandown again, then continued along the beach front to Shanklin. There, we stopped and had a little look at Shanklin chine, which is a big gully in the cliff that has been landscaped. It was very pretty, and there were lots of rescued parrots and other birds in a aviary, which added an interesting soundtrack!

We then continued to Ventnor, again finding another traffic-free track following an old railway line. Ventnor is a good looking town, although it is built on the side of a cliff, so rather challenging on the bikes! Brakes were squealing on the way down, and we definitely walked back up the other side, I was very glad that I didn’t also have my luggage in tow.

For lunch, we found a nice Italian restaurant called the Rex, unfortunately they weren’t serving their highly recommended pizza as it was too quiet for them to have the pizza oven on (!) but we did have some lovely pasta, and the view was excellent! A must-visit in the evening for pizza if we find ourselves back there again.

After puffing our way back up the hill we headed back to base in Newchurch, and finished off the glorious day with another delicious dinner at the Pointer inn; it was too good not to go back again!

Day 4 was another bright and beautiful day, and we set off early for our longest mileage day, heading further west to Freshwater. We stopped in Godshill for a bacon roll, and a slightly bemused wander, many coachloads of pensioners were unloading as we were heading through at about 9am!

We are wimps so we missed out the massive hills right in the south, and joined the military road at Chale. From there, it is a clear run to Freshwater, apart from a couple of decent hills. The military road is great fun to cycle, with the Needles slowly revealing themselves in the distance.

We had an early start as we thought the ride would take most of the day, but we were rather pleased to find that we arrived in Freshwater before lunch. Luckily our lovely Airbnb hosts let us check in early, so we ditched the bikes and luggage and had a wander. It was blazing sunshine so we had a chilled out afternoon.

We rounded off the day with a Chinese takeaway, then a stomp up Tennyson Down to try and get a view back to Swanage across the water, unfortunately it was a bit too hazy, but the sunset was lovely.

 Our finally day was just a short cycle across to Yarmouth, along yet more traffic-free path (so much good cycling!). We arrived in plenty of time for our ferry, so admire the ‘old gaffers’ - wooden masted boats - which were all gathered in the harbour for a festival. A great end to a lovely trip! We thoroughly enjoyed our short tour of the island, it is a lovely little place with lots to see, and really cycling friendly too. All the Airbnbs we stayed in were excellent, and I think we enjoyed the cycle-touring experience, and I hope we’ll do some more trips soon.

Have you ever been to the Island? Any top picks for other easy cycling tours?

Island Life Part One

Having lived for a large part of my life in sight of the Needles on the Isle of Wight, you'd think I would have been a regular visitor to that small slice of England. But, as silly as it may seem, I had never crossed that stretch of water, and neither had Mr. GCP. Now that I have a job, and, you know, some of that money stuff, we decided to finally take the trip and go explore. I recently got a beautiful new bike and have always fancied the idea of cycle touring, so we planned a nice easy introduction to the concept, taking in a good portion of the island.

We said goodbye to the mainland and Lymington pier, taking the Wightlink ferry to Yarmouth. This crossing is super easy as the train goes right to the ferry terminal at Lymington, and as foot passengers with bikes it was only £21 return each. We tucked the bikes to one side of the car deck and enjoyed the slightly grey views across the solent. We made landfall in Yarmouth 40 minutes later; arriving by boat does get the excitement levels up!

Our accomodation for the first night was on the outskirts of Newport towards the North of the island, about a 10 mile ride from Yarmouth; I told you we planned an easy introduction to cycle touring! We managed to find some nice quiet lanes for some of the ride, and link up with some of the many off-road cycle paths that criss-cross the island, but did end up on some faster roads for a part of the route. At least the island drivers seem to mostly be very sensible about overtaking! After puffing up a few hills in the drizzle we got to our rather special accommodation, a lovely yurt set in a pretty garden, complete with Indian Runner ducks for company! Sidenote: We booked all our accomodation for the trip through Airbnb - lots of great interesting and unique options on the island.

We loved the space and atmosphere in the yurt, it was really nicely decorated and massive too! We want a yurt now...

Day two dawned a little brighter than the first, and we had a great cycle ahead of us, following the Red Squirrel trail down through the centre of the island. I should say that the Isle of Wight is an excellent cycling destination, there are loads of off road cycle paths mainly following the routes of old railway lines, and there are plenty of quiet country lanes. Even the busier roads we found to be not too bad. The tourist board actively promotes the island as a cycling destination, and I would definitely recommend it. My new bike (the beautiful Genesis Croix de Fer on the right of the pic below!) is a gravel/cyclocross type, meaning it has drop handlebars like a road bike, but chunkier tyres and disc brakes, so was ideally suited to the gravelly off road routes we found.

Through the course of the morning the sky cleared and we were treated to some lovely early summer sunshine. We arrived at our next accommodation in Newchurch just before lunch, and found a excellent cycle-friendly café called Peddlers just around the corner. Our hosts were kind enough to let us check in early, so we ditched the luggage and headed to The Garlic Farm just up the road. After lots of delicious tasters we decided we need to go back to the island with the car just so we can stock up on goodies from the farm! There were also some test plots of different garlic varieties which was interesting, and some beautiful meadows of flowers.

We then carried on down the Red Squirrel trail to the coast at Sandown, saying hi to some friendly highland cows (a little far from home?!) along the way!

Sandown is a pretty typical seaside town, and we enjoyed having a gentle spin along the promenade in the sunshine.

We rounded off the day with a truly excellent dinner at The Pointer Inn in Newchurch, I would highly recommend it if you are on the island; we loved it so much we went back the next night! Do book though as it was rammed both nights we were there. Stand by for part two of our adventure!

Dorset Insider

I'm currently residing in the beautiful county of Dorset on the south coast of the UK. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the area, and have made my return now I have finally finished being a student; I'm sure you'll understand why if you study my pictures closely enough! I'm most familiar with the area called the Isle of Purbeck (spoiler: not really an island!), right in the south of the county, but I'm trying to spread my wings and explore a bit further afield, as there are plenty of great things to see. There is of course the stunning Jurassic coastline - lots of dinosaurs! - Lovely rolling hills, cute chocolate box villages and charming seaside towns. And possibly the best bit; lots of excellent local food!

Here is a taster of the delights on offer! I'm planning on some detailed posts exploring some key sights and delights of the area. Any ideas for places to see?! I know I should be pretty familar with the place, but it is always good to get another perspective :)