2020 Has Not Been Completely Shit and Here is Definitive Proof

You heard me. I’d normally consider doing the Indifferent Ignorance awards, but I don’t feel like dedicating time to ignorant people… they are the reason I spent Christmas Day in tier 4. I’m also mindful that it’s important to count our blessings, not our curses, so in this post I’m going to share some of my favourite entertainment and arts discoveries of the year, plus a few personal/family highlights.

Things that blessed my ears in 2020

  • Lauv’s record, which I bought a copy of back in February or so, and kind of became the sound track to early lockdown.
  • Tim Minchin’s record. It’s… not his usual stuff. Some of the songs are sharp and sarcastic, but if you’re looking for more black comedy-philosophy, this album will disappoint. It’s mostly about how much he loves his wife and children. I cried.
  • The news my friend Tatchiana applied for a Master’s degree. MY FRIENDS ARE SO CLEVER YOU GUYS. I don’t even fully understand the topic she’s researching.
  • The Umbrella Academy put a soundtrack out and:
Klaus Hargreeves dancing in a liquor store
from Giphy
  • As well as re-entering the world of academia, Tatchiana introduced me to the Magnus Archives podcast and I guess I’m a fan of horror stories now? I’m kind of late to the party because it’s been running for years and finishes in 2021, but if you like a) creepy stories with the odd god that’s gross and really clever moment, b) short stories that slowly merge into one overarching Story and c) office politics, you’re in for a good time. (Aside: I realised partway through that Martin really reminds me of Arthur from Cabin Pressure. The programmes have nothing in common except that they’re audio, but I can’t unhear it. I don’t know if there’s a Venn diagram of Magnus Archives/Cabin Pressure listeners but if there is: do you hear it too?)

Things that blessed my eyeballs in 2020

  • I finally got around to reading the Noughts and Crosses series (or most of the series? There seems to be more books than I realised), and it is Very Worth the Hype. So’s the TV show.
  • I also got round to Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. It’s very long and a horror novel – this is a theme – both of which usually put me off, but I really got into it. Brilliant last page too.
  • Bill Bailey in Strictly Come Dancing.
  • The news that my cousin and her boyfriend bought a house! A whole entire property in this economy. Epic.
  • Real Life Money by Clare Seal. It’s a memoir-advice book by the lady who runs the My Frugal Year Instagram, and it’s really interesting. If you’re at all into finance, money management and/or consumerism, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I don’t usually love memoirs, or advice-y novels, but this one is non-preachy, well researched and quite important in these uncertain times.
Real Life Money, book by Clare Seal
  • If you want to buy any of these books, by the way, I have a Bookshop account. Every purchase made through my little page earns me one fifth of a penny or suchlike. Am I being shameless? Um yeah, I don’t have a regular job as of Christmas Eve. I’m also on Goodreads if you want to see what else I’m reading and chat about books. One upside of lockdown was spending so much time reading and I am already planning my reading list for next year. So many books, so little time! Speaking of books, the prettiest thing I saw this year was:
  • My book coverrrrrrr. Also, you know, seeing the book available to purchase. I wasn’t sure it was going to be released this year – or ever – and I’m a tiny bit proud of the work that went into it. Not bad going for someone who spent their A Levels wearing a wrist brace and their early-mid twenties dealing with chronic pain, crippling anxiety and on-again-off-again depression, huh.
blue and white illustrated cover of 'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories of Unlikley Heroes' by Francesca Burke, including stars, a large dragon, a skull, moon, swords, a rabbit and a tower
Cover by Nell from Instagram. Click here for book-related joy/info

Things that blessed my ears and my eyeballs in 2020

  • The second series of The Umbrella Academy. I love it. I love it so much. It has everything I want out of TV, plus a Baby Pogo. TRULY WE ARE BLESSED.
  • Videos by A Small Wardrobe on YouTube (I talk more about Patricia’s channel and learning about minimalism here).
  • Videos by Annie, who posts as the Green Witch on YouTube. Sometimes the algorithm suggests videos that you didn’t know you needed. Annie has a witchy YouTube and a nature-y YouTube. They are both very peaceful. Taking 10 minutes to watch calm, nature-y has turned out to be quite good for my brain.
  • In the same vein, I’m thoroughly enjoying videos by The Cottage Fairy.
  • Olive and Mabel.
  • Schitt’s Creek. I know I know, I was late to that too. I cannot recommend a more soul-warming programme. Other TV I’m brilliantly late to: Derry Girls, Nighty Night, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Ghosts.

What have you enjoyed in 2020? You’re allowed to say banana bread and Netflix. You’re allowed to say ‘realising that the friend I checked in with during lockdown never checked in with me, and now I am disengaging.’ You’re allowed to say ‘not having a big, overwhelming Christmas.’ What are you planning for new year’s eve?

GIF of David from 'Schitt's Creek' saying 'I plan on popping a pill, crying a bit and falling asleep early.'

Jut kidding, mostly. I’ll probably have a bath, pour a wee drink, watch the clock to ensure this hellscape actually ends, and get my beauty sleep. I’ve got things to do in 2021! Nothing ostentatious, of course. My plans are mostly to read a lot and maybe bake some more banana bread. But I may as well do them on a full night’s sleep, especially as there is literally nowhere to go. I’ll talk more about that (my plans, not tier bloody 4) in my next post. Probably.

Look after yourselves and happy new year!

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So ‘The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes’ is out as an ebook. Behold, my guide for getting a free copy!

Oi oi! So you remember all the posts about writing and/or pitching The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes? I try not to either. Anyway, THE EBOOK IS OUT NOW. You can purchase it from all the usual retailers and leave gushing reviews on GoodReads, etc. etc. If you’re not doing anything else – and you probably shouldn’t be doing anything else, especially if, like me, you have been shunted into Tier 4 for Christmas – I’m hosting a Facebook Live release party today (23rd Dec) at 19:30 GMT. I’ll be doing some readings, answering questions and chatting about the writing and publishing process.

Before tonight’s release party (yeah, I’m calling it a party. It’s 2020, I can call a conversation with a friend who’s standing six metres away ‘a party’), I wanted to take a moment to pop in here and say HI, I DID SOMETHING I’VE TALKED ABOUT FOR YEARS. It feels sort of important to say that, both for my own self esteem and for this blog’s narrative purposes. I also want to share a list of ways you can access this ebook for free, because I am mindful that the economy, whichever country you’re in, is… not fantastic. Although the RRP of the ebook is £7.99, and most retailers have it discounted already, I know that lots of you will have other, more practical, uses for that money. So here’s a little guide for getting hold of this novel without spending a penny:

Borrow it from libraries

At time of writing, the only library app it’s available on is ProQuest. I’m keeping a list of retailers and library services, plus links, on my fancy website. My supplier sent a list of all the vendors that will host it, but it can take up to six weeks for the book to load on all of them, so I’m checking in weekly to update my list. But if you’re a school/college/uni student, you will likely find you have a login to one or more of these library services. They’re often designed for reading academic texts, but I think we can agree that The Princess and the Dragon benefits everyone’s mental health by providing four to five hours of respite from reality, which will in the long term help with your studies.

Join my blog tour

If you’re a book blogger, YouTuber, Instagrammer, etc., I am embarking on a book tour in the new year and into spring. Anyone who joins gets access to a free copy via an Advanced Reader Copy website (I am aware that now the book is out, the copy is not in fact ‘advanced’, ha). If you’re interested in being part of the tour, hit me up at info [at] francescaburke [dot] com with links to your blog/YouTube/Instagram.

Pay It Forward

I am kicking off a pay it forward experience! Is experience the word? Here’s how it works: I have some money left over from the publishing process. I will pay for three of you to purchase The Princess and the Dragon from the retailer of your choice (send me a link to the retailer so I know how much money to send. The prices are weirdly different on each site). It’ll be via PayPal or bank transfer, your choice. In an ideal world, all three of you pay for someone else to purchase the novel, and then those three people pay for three more people… but this world is not ideal, so if you can’t afford to pay it forward (I did say this was a guide on getting the book for free), I don’t mind in the slightest. Perhaps one of my other readers might like to hop in and buy a copy for someone else?

If you’re interested in pay it forward, leave a comment with your email address, or private message me on Twitter/Insta/Facebook! Now I am going to share the cover (because I am never not going to share the cover) and get organised for this evening. I’m not one hundred per cent sure which passages I’m reading yet. SUCH FUN. Look after yourselves!

blue and white illustration with a dragon, moon, stars, skull, leaves, rabbit and tower, reading 'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes Francesca Burke'

Want to support this page and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?

Minimalish, Part Three: a 1-month anniversary review of the Brick Phone

Before we start: this post got LONG. Just a heads up, especially if you’re reading on a mobile (ha). Here’s part one and part two of this tenuous series.

I was going to share this sooner, but I wanted to take a bit longer to get to know the newest electronic acquisition in my life:

Black Nokia 3310 2015 'brick phone'
Bow added for scale

Yep, it’s a brick phone. It’s a 2015 model, so it has 3G and an okay-ish camera, but that’s about it. I got it because my smart phone is dying (at the stage where you take one photo and 80% battery becomes 2% battery) and because I was fed up with spending all my brain power looking at one small, overly-delicate screen. I’m also trying to look after my mental health more, and although a lot of studies are observational and although the internet is generally a Good Thing, we know that increased screen time often contributes to worse sleep, which contributes to worse mental health. We know that the behaviour associated with bad mental health can also be associated with obsessive phone use. (This is a good article looking at various evidence for what I’ve just mentioned.) I know that my smart phone contributed to my appalling mental health, through the very scientific study of having used one for 10 years.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about consumption and the environment, so I didn’t want to get a new-new phone. When I scoured Southend’s second hand tech shops, I realised I couldn’t actually afford an old-new smart phone, even if I wanted one, because smart phone prices are like house prices. It doesn’t matter how many are available or what the quality’s like; someone’s realised that they can get away with adding a couple of zeroes to the market price every year or so. £400 for a second hand mobile that will stop accepting updates in a year or two? Haahahaa no.

From sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

So I got this little Nokia. Emphasis on the little. I’ve had it about a month now, so I thought this is a good time to take stock of its pros and cons:

New Brick Phone Pros

  • There’s no touchscreen; it’s harder to accidentally press something and message the wrong person.
  • It’s so basic there’s no need to pick it up unless it makes a sound.
  • Fits in most bags and pockets.
  • It has Snake!
  • It cost £23, aka a realistic budget for a full time student.
  • I’ve owned it for four weeks and, after an inaugural full charge, have only plugged it in twice. Maybe three times, but I think twice. I do a fair amount of calling on it too. My smart phone needed juice every other day at best.
  • It’s too early to say for sure (thanks lockdown), but I think I’m more present at social events. There obviously hasn’t been enough socialising to do a full study, but since there’s nothing to do on the phone unless I want to call or text, or maybe use the calculator or timer, there’s no point in it being in my hand.
  • I have to be more deliberate about doing the things I used to do in 2 clicks on the smart phone. For example, I use Headspace, and I try to do a few minutes’ meditation (or sitting to try to meditate) everyday. Now my smart phone is usually turned off or failing to charge, I often use the desktop version of the app, which means I’m planning my meditation more. It’s the same for my banking app: I used to check it as though I had a nervous tic. Now I spend a minute logging in on desktop, so I do it less but now I know what I’m looking for when I am on there.
  • I think I’m not tapping my card to pay for ‘little’ purchases quite as much either, because I can’t do a quick balance check to see if I can justify the payment. If I’m right, it’s probably going to save me cash in the long run because let’s face it, ‘checking to see if I could justify the purchase’ did not necessarily mean I could really afford it, but it meant that I told myself that I’d done my due diligence.
  • I’ve done at least one Proper Drop and the thing damn near bounced. There’s barely a scratch on it, and it was second hand to start with. I can’t believe how much I’m going to save on screen protectors, cases, repairs, etc.
  • No creepy adverts on the phone that reflect something I Googled on a separate device.
  • No noisy, headache-inducing apps enticing me to stay a minute longer.
  • I don’t feel like every tap is being tracked by the government or satellites or whoever owns or hacks the satellites. It doesn’t even matter if I am being tracked, man, I just don’t like the feeling that I might be.

Brick Phone Cons

  • Manual button pressing for texts = painful on my achy fingers (on the plus side, I find I am saving things for when I can have a proper conversation. This might improve my memory in the long term?).
  • No notes app (ditto; I carry a pen most places anyway).
  • No track and trace (although the track and trace app fried my smartphone to the extent I couldn’t turn on the location or the Bluetooth until I was zapping a QR code, which called into question the point of having said app. Also haven’t they decided track and trace in England doesn’t work?).
  • No emojis. You can insert basic smileys, but I miss the eye roll emoji.
  • It’s so small I keep losing it in my pockets. Do you know how small a phone has to be to get lost in women’s cut pockets? I can actually keep the phone in my purse haha. I keep leaving it around the house, too, and forgetting where it’s gone because I haven’t needed to look at it for six hours.
  • No WhatsApp or work banking apps.
  • I would love a better camera.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty positive about the swap. For anyone wondering about phone contracts: I have a SIM only pay-as-you-go whatsit. At one point I topped up my smart phone with £10 or £20 a month, depending on how much data I thought I might need. Gradually I reduced it, because I wasn’t really using all the calls or texts, and I realised that a lot of my smart phone use was just me checking emails or messages that could wait until I got to a computer. Have I ever mentioned that I’m not very good at work-life balance. So I have a bundle thing that works out as £1 a week for calls, texts and data. I thought I might have to pay more when I bought the brick, because it doesn’t have wifi capability – you have to use 3G. But the internet system is a) quite shit and not worth bothering with unless it’s an emergency, and b) so low tech that your data gets you more browsing time.

There are a couple of things I’d like to improve.

Number one is WhatsApp and the banking apps. I’m in a couple of groups with family and college people that are really useful. You can get WhatsApp on desktop (so much easier than typing on a phone) but it needs to connect to the smart phone. Which is entering that can’t-hold-charge phase of its demise. Can I really do without WhatsApp? Not sure. I also liked the Facebook messenger app, because I do a fair bit of selling on Facebook and it’s convenient to be able to message people in situ. There are also friends who I only get hold of through Facebook, so sometimes I’d like to be able to message them a bit more easily. Furthermore*, I did like apps like Depop and Headspace (infinitely easier on the app than on desktop) and my work banking apps. I can’t not use those banking apps, because they don’t have desktop versions. I could use a different bank to make up for it, but that’s a lot of admin (and I like those services).

Number two is the camera. I’ve still got the smart phone, because I don’t own a proper camera, and I do need a one for general photos/videos for members of the No. 1 Readers’ Club/product pictures. The brick does not cut the mustard, so I’m sort of juggling between the two if I need to film something.

Finally: you sort of need to tap more on a phone with buttons. Although I used to scroll various apps and send messages when I could’ve phoned people on the smartphone, I loved the qwerty keyboard because it’s kinder on my hands and fingers than the traditional brick phone keyboard (to an extent, of course. I fell down with the smart phone because I used it until my thumbs were numb and I could hear my wrist bones clicking). Now I have to press-press-press to get the letter C, or press-press-press to turn the phone on and off silent mode. On the plus side, I’m now more inclined to ring someone if they require a long text, which means the conversation is actually over faster.

Soooo the verdict?

The brick is staying for now. I really like that I’m less tethered to one device. There’s less risk if I drop it, it’s cheaper (both in terms of running costs and in terms of paying up front for the device) and my mental health is almost definitely better for it. I’m not feeling as though I’m beholden to something that ostensibly is there to make my life better and easier, but was actually making me anxious, frustrated and easily-distracted. It sounds ridiculous, but the plain-black screen is nicer on my eyes (no bright apps shouting in my face), the interface is so empty it’s quite calming and I’m not tempted to waste my life mindlessly scrolling. Those are things worth hanging on to.

That said: I am still juggling between the brick and the nearly-dead smart phone. The camera could become an issue, and if they ever improve test and trace, I’d like to use it.

My plan for now is to keep using the brick and eke as much life from the smart phone as I can. Depending on how much money I find myself with in spring (at which point I’ll have had six months of using the brick, so I’ll know what I’m willing to compromise on), I might do a spot of shopping. There has to be a smart phone on the market that has zero bells and whistles. Or a brick phone with a couple of bells. I know some Nokias do have WhatsApp options. I feel like there must be a kid on Kickstarter crowdfunding a phone that offers all the convenience and genuine positives of the smart phone, with none of the shouty, advert-y, brain-frying creepy tracking of the current market.

Of course, I could get a proper smart phone and just not load up the apps that had a bad impact on my brain (so basically, everything except Headspace and my banks. Sorry Depop, I love your convenience but I have made multiple purchases on you just to make myself feel better. WHICH THEY DIDN’T. Now I feel guilty when I look at those clothes). But do I trust myself not to crack and download Instagram when I’m feeling low, even though I know it’ll make me feel lower? No. I might download Instagram so I can do a fun Insta Live with my lovely followers, but keep it on there ‘just in case’ I do another soon. Which I won’t. I’ll just sit on it in bed, scrolling past the posts that I know are lies, let those lies make me feel bad about myself, lose sleep… and wonder why I feel crappy the next day.

So for now, the little brick is staying with me. Maybe in six months I’ll buy a smart phone but keep the brick as a back up, so if I notice myself falling back into bad habits, I can just pop back to the brick until I’ve rebooted my brain. We’ll see.

Have you ever considered swapping your smart phone for a brick? Do you know any good low-tech smart phones? Let me know in a comment! I’m curious to see how many people have thought about doing this, or have done it. If you can’t imagine swapping your smart phone, why not? (Okay, I kind of know the answer to that.)

Look after yourselves!

*Furthermore. Can you tell I’m writing essays again?!

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Minimalish, Part Two: RIP my Killjoy boots plus sage, sage words on mental health and clutter

So where were we? Oh yeah, I’m kind of a minimalist now. Except am I? As I write, there are two computer monitors on my desk, my floor is clogged with folders and… I’m bullshitting you guys, because the spare monitor is going to be sold as I have a new all-in-one-computer. The folders are my A Level notes, pulled down from the loft, hoovered and slooowly sorted through. By sorted I mean, I’ll photograph a couple of funny notes to share with you guys, keep anything that might come in useful for work and burn the rest.

But I still don’t know if I can claim to be a minimalist, though. As I said last time, I own a lot of wall art. As in, I don’t have any more space on my walls. I don’t really collect stuff, but I love picking up little pieces of arts and crafts when I travel. It’s nice to bring a little bit of there back here. There’s quite a lot of framed MCR posters and photos too. Again, I said last time, I genuinely like it all. The first thing I did when I moved back into this bedroom was put up as many pictures as I could; I think they make a space feel like it’s yours. But then, I also own four mugs worth of pens and highlighters, plus spares (possibly not minimalist). I still own CDs, because I own a CD player. I use the CD player, because it’s also a radio and I love the radio, especially at night. I could use my phone as a radio, but that a) fries the battery and b) makes me sit on my phone in bed.

So I think I’m a minimalist in the same way I’m a vegetarian. 95% of the time, I won’t eat meat because I don’t really like it and it flairs up my IBS and it’s terrible for the planet and cows are cute. The other five per cent is when I’m in Greece and there’s bikiri meze at one of my favourite restaurants. Good luck keeping me away from that food-based piece of heaven.

Jerry from Tom and Jerry', eating an entire block of cheese
from Twitter

I suppose I’m increasingly aware of the sorts of things I want in my life, and the sorts of things I don’t. Some things won’t get replaced when they fall apart, so as time goes by I’ll end up with the objects I really want and little else.

So, what have I decluttered? Bloody loads. I thought about photographing various points where I had piles of clothes on my bed or tonnes of books in a pile, but it felt weird. I didn’t start thinking minimalist thoughts to try out a trend, although minimalism is definitely a trend. I did it because the thought of moving all that stuff from one building to another gave me a stomach ache. I’m still doing it because of that. Here are a few bits and pieces:

Clothes

It might be a throwback to when my IBS was really bad, but I kept too-big or worn out clothes for ages, because on days when I was bloated and uncomfortable, I couldn’t fit into my regular clothes. I also had no desire to wear anything that wasn’t absolutely comfortable. Over lockdown, that desire rekindled, so I’ve gotten rid of a lot of underwired bras (the devil’s instrument, but I’m keeping a couple in case we ever get to socialise again), platform heels that I bought for a specific occasion even though I had other platforms that were comfier. Yes, you can get comfy platform heels. Comfy-ish. I got rid of the murderous ones, and any shoes that were too big (funny story: until recently I thought I was a size five. I measure as a size three. Once I noticed, I couldn’t un-notice). I passed on clothes that didn’t suit me, clothes that weren’t easy to move in (bye, jeans), clothes that reminded me of a bad occasion. I probably have A Small Wardrobe to thank for this, but I’m being more considerate about what I actually wear versus what I think I’ll wear, and what I wear is beginning to match a lot more.

I’ve still got way more clothes than the average minimalist YouTuber has, partly because in the UK there is a limit to the practicality of a capsule wardrobe… none of my jumpers were suitable for use this last July; none of my strappy tops are suitable for use now, because there is only so much one can layer. But I’m building a wardrobe that looks cool, is really comfortable and requires minimal ironing, so result.

Books

Dundunduuuuun. Look, there were some that were very boring. Some I would never, ever read. Some I tried and decided my time was better spent elsewhere. Books that aren’t going anywhere: my Maggie Stiefvaters, Harry Potter (my set is practically antique; there’s an epic stain on The Prisoner of Azkaban from a glass of Pepsi when I was about eight), my guide books (they’re proof we could once travel widely, and I have every intention of returning to Corfu/Malta/Vietnam). I’ve been rereading copies of Miss Marple that my grandmother gave me. They are staying for the time being, because I bloody love a murder mystery and because I don’t have many things to remind me of my grandmother. Which brings us to…

Sentimental Stuff

This is hard. I understand the basics of keeping hold of something long after it has any practical use, or when you think it’s ugly or takes up too much room. You keep it because it reminds you of a specific time or experience, and in getting rid of the item, you’re getting rid of the person who gave it to you, or letting go of that time. This is why my brother and I protested when our mum wanted to get rid of a VHS collection of James Bond films. That giant box took up more room in our childhood than most of our aunts and uncles. It’s funny, because I’ve had no trouble chucking the stuff that reminds me of bad memories. Get this item out of my space, please, it’s interfering with my mental health.

It sounds dramatic, doesn’t it, but an upside of having less clutter has been that I feel calmer. Not zen-calm, but not as messy. If you’ve been here for a while you’ll know I have a very messy brain. Less stuff does seem to equal less brain mess. As I said last time, I’d like to put my mental energy toward things that aren’t, well, things. But when that stuff is a reminder of better times? It’s hard, dude. Some objects I have aren’t being decluttered yet, or ever, because I’m not ready to consider getting rid of them. Other things, I looked at for a bit and then my desire to have an easy moving day won out. For example, these boots:

Studded black faux leather boots

I called them my Killjoy boots. I got them in Paris in 2009 and wore them to death. I realised in about 2011 that they were knackered and hurting my feet, but they were too much part of my identity to part with. One of the cool girls at school came up to me on a non-uniform day and asked where they came from. Paris. I think it was a chain store, they were probably about 40 euros, but still. So I moved houses with them, twice, even though I never wore them. A couple of months ago, when I was having a wobble about how much shit was in my bedroom, I pulled them out and realised the faux leather was shedding everywhere. So I took photos for posterity, said ‘thanks, boots, we had a great time’ and then put them in the textiles recycling (there was no rehoming them. Look carefully and you’ll see a random shoelace replacing a zipper. I had them reheeled too).

I guess I lied about not photographing anything. I thought I might talk about minimalism on here one day. I couldn’t make a big social-media-sharing thing out of it, though, because the entire process feels really personal.

This post has gotten really long, again, so I will keep talking in the next one, which is about technology. Do you have any decluttering stories? Horror stories? Have you ever kept a pair of shoes for nine whole years because they made you feel cool when you were 15? Let me know in the comments.

Look after yourselves!

Here is part three of this series., about swapping my smart phone for a brick phone.


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Minimalish, Part One: learning about minimalism and I might be a bit of a hippie

Hellloooo and happy almost-Halloween! (I’ve just remembered that tomorrow is MCR’s one year return anniversary and I’ll have been blogging here for eleven years. ELEVEN YEARS. What.)

I’ve been thinking about writing about this for a little while, but I thought it might be a) boring and b) preachy, which are two of my least favourite attributes in blogs or videos. But I reckon I can strike a good balance… I’m also not sure what else to talk about, because most other things I’m working on are either very personal and therefore secret, or not-quite-done and therefore currently secret. So let’s talk about minimalism!

First of all, what is minimalism? Wikipedia has some ugly tables and blocky architecture. Good Housekeeping thinks minimalism as a lifestyle might be Buddhist and essentially revolves around having less stuff, so you appreciate the stuff you do have more. All the other articles I could find were on sites about being minimalist, which I’ve avoided because you wouldn’t trust a unicorn to write a book about magical creatures. Okay, you might. I just thought it’d be good to share links to sites with relative neutrality. So, yeah, having less stuff. Taking care of the stuff you do own.

Sooo am I here to out myself as a minimalist and talk about how everyone should throw away anything that isn’t sparking joy then paint their entire house white? Nope and nope, god. At least, I don’t think so. I’m here to chat about my current head space, I suppose.

This might require back story. Okay. So, thinking back on it: I have moved three times and each one of those times was in less than fun circumstances. The first time I was 10, so it was your standard house move in which no one consults their children. I hated the entire process. The second time was when my parents split up and I moved out with my mum, back to the place we’d moved out of when I was 10. I think I was 19. I didn’t hate the entire process, but the ‘separating parents’ situation isn’t as fun as the normal ‘moving out as a young adult’ situation. The third time was last January (um. 23? Time has been hard recently), when I moved back to the house my parents moved us to when I was 10, where my dad and my brother live. Also not fun. Three house moves, two houses. A bajillion hours of where is this painting going to go and you need new bed linen because it’s a different sized bed and this box is really too heavy and a general sense of… why is this a fucking toothache.

The last two times, I packed up dresses I hadn’t worn for years. Books I never got round to reading, boxes of gifted notebooks I hadn’t used because I write quickly but not that quickly, random receipts from when I started my stationery business and didn’t have a filing system. I knew that I needed to take some time and figure out what I really wanted and needed, but both moves were pretty quick and/or very stressful, so I did what I could in the time frame and told myself I’d deal with all the extraneous stuff later. There wasn’t that much, actually, not when you minus all my work stuff (computer, novel notes, stationery stock, paperwork). You could fill a moving van – maybe one and a half moving vans, if they’re small – but I wasn’t hauling dozens of coats and eighty pairs of shoes around. Most of the personal stuff was books and a lifetime’s collection of junk jewellery.

That’s not to say I never cleared things out except for in a pre-move dash; I got rid of a lot when I came back from Asia, because living out of a backpack for three months gave me a lot of perspective… I also realised that pre-Asia, I’d kept all my holey socks. I had loads. I’m not sure why. I put them in the textiles recycling the day I got back.

It’s a long winded back story but my point is: I’ve developed a bit of a thing about moving. As in, I bloody hate it. But I also love that crisp new feeling when you realise you’ve got a fresh start. You can leave your baggage at the old place and make new memories! Except… even when I’ve had that crisp new feeling, I’ve always brought baggage. The physical type and the mental type. Suitcases everywhere. Boxes with that indestructible brown tape. Random nicknacks from a holiday several years ago. It’s probably because I’ve pinged from one house to the other predominantly because of my parents’ lives, not because I moved for myself. I’m also very aware that I’ll move again. Not specifically to anywhere or on a certain date, but I won’t live in my dad’s house indefinitely. When I go, I want it to be as hassle free as I can possibly make it. (In my Psychology AS level, we looked at stress and apparently moving house was up there with getting married and a loved one dying. It’s never going to be smooth, but I’d like it to be less of a nightmare next time.)

So, minimalism. I first started thinking about it when I was searching for some certificates in January and accidentally began decluttering paperwork as I looked (I actually mentioned it on here at the time). Around then, YouTube suggested I watch something by A Small Wardrobe, which is clearly proof the devices are listening. At first I watched a few videos and thought ‘this woman owns ONE hat? Nope nope nope.’ Then, when Covid reared its head, I decided to get a head start on quarantine activities and tidy up my bookshelf. Which became a tidying of the wardrobe, which became ‘why do I own this hat which I have not worn since 2011?’ It dawned on me that one of the reasons I felt mentally cluttered could be that I was surrounded by actual clutter, a lot of which felt like it belonged in someone else’s life. It’s a natural side effect of being in your mid-twenties, I suppose. Something from just a few years ago can belong to a completely different time. Keeping it around might not be doing you any favours, even on a subconscious level.

I should probably add that around the same time, my mum was clearing out her stuff in preparation to move abroad. She hasn’t moved, because 2020, but she had way more stuff than I did, and the process of watching/helping her organise bits and pieces was eye opening. Some of it was really nice (we had a hilarious afternoon going through my primary school projects. There were very early signs of genius). Some of it was depressing as hell, because it was like watching someone’s entire life go to a charity shop. I should add she still has belongings. She owns six squillion pairs of shoes. It was just quite disconcerting. It made me think of when my grandfather died, and my nan chucked out most of his stuff. He wasn’t a hoarder by any means, but he’d kept bits and pieces that meant something to him, like cards from his parents, and my nan got rid of virtually everything.

I guess a combination of all those things have done a number on my brain, because here I am discussing how I might be a bit of a minimalist. A minimalish. Have I painted my room white? Hahah, to do that I’d have to move some paintings. Are you allowed to own paintings when you’re a minimalist? I think so; all mine spark joy. Some aren’t paintings. Some are ceramics. A couple are necklaces suspended from a nail. THE JOY IS SPARKING. But I have been getting rid of what the kids would call a fuckload of stuff. I’ve passed on some books. Actual books. I didn’t think authors were allowed to give away books, but this one doesn’t want to try getting them all down the stairs come moving day, so byeeee. The upshot is, I’m becoming increasingly aware that objects take up mental energy, and I’d rather put my energy into other parts of my life. Especially in a world where we might lose all our stuff to floods or wildfires or coastal erosion, or where we might die from Covid before we’ve had a chance to enjoy all that stuff we’ve accumulated. But do we really want all the stuff, or do we just feel like we should own it because it reflects where we think we ought to be in our lives? God I’m becoming a hippie. If you see me wearing hemp, throw a glass of water over me.

This post has become really long, so I’m going to wrap it up here and continue in the next one. I guess this has been an introduction to my becoming a minimalish. For sharing/SEO purposes, here is a photograph of my old desk. There is very little on it because I took the photo just before I moved. Also the desk was in a cupboard, so you couldn’t really clutter it up. I’d love to tell you that it influenced this mindset I find myself in, but I just used my bed as storage space instead. When I needed the bed, the stuff went on the desk. When I needed the desk, the stuff went on the bed. I was very organised, though.

desk and shelves inside a cupboard

Look out for the next post soon-ish. Have a lovely Halloween and look after yourselves!

Here are part two and part three of this series.


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‘Tis the season for singing pumpkins!

Evening! I think I had something to say, but it went completely out of my head when I saw this:

Why do I want an illuminated pumpkin as a kind of witch’s familiar, growling advice at me in James Hetfield’s voice?

Speaking of pumpkins. Is it just me, or has October really out-autumned itself this year? It’s been absolutely stunning in Southend. Very orange and gold, lots of crisp wood smokey mornings, the return of the snuggly dressing gown… it’s been lovely. Cold, but lovely. I may purchase a pumpkin and do some carving. I never normally bother because when you put them out, you get eight billion small children wiping grease paint over your front door, but that’s banned this year. I think. It may or may not have been banned or reinstated by the time you read this and/or Halloween happens.

In keeping with the time of year, I am virtually ready for bed (it is half past seven) so I think I’m going to trot off to make cocoa and catch up with some online seminars. Seminars? Interviews? I don’t know if there’s a name for them. ‘Events that used to be in person and therefore out of reach for many of us due to geography and money, but are now online.’ I’m really enjoying the ones I’ve been a part of (loose term, since all I do is log in and paint my nails). I hope they remain a staple of the book/film-release-tour-circuit, because as electric as in-person events are, there is a quiet joy at being able to be part of something global, while sitting in your comfy clothes with a drink that didn’t cost £9.50.

Look after yourselves!

In which I am grateful to be kind of snotty

Evening! (It’s not five as I start this but it’ll be waaaay past five by the time I publish.) How is everyone doing with the new-ish social distancing/lockdown rules? I’m assuming they’ll have changed by the time you read this. At time of writing, I’m 90% sure that I can’t socialise with more than 6 people, and probably shouldn’t hug my nan, but I can go to my local, badly-ventilated Spoons with 100 other people as long as we all get up and leave by 10pm?

I’ve got a cold at the moment – standard autumn snottage, nothing corona-y – and I can’t lie, it’s nice to have a different type of illness to think about. I might be a brain foggy sneeze machine but my toes look all right and I don’t need to lock myself in my bedroom for two weeks… ugh, the luxury of a common cold.

I feel like I have loads to update you guys with, assuming you’re here for hot gossip about my life. Over the last few weeks, I’ve discovered that 25 is the birthday at which people start gifting you candles, and that Microsoft Teams is infinitely superior to Zoom (remember Skype? Awww, Skype. I don’t know why I’m saying that, I still use Skype). WHAT AN ADULT SENTENCE. What a 2020 sentence.

Why are you using Microsoft Teams, I hear you wonder, are you conducting online tarot readings?

Ha, no. I was supposed to start a degree this week, but the college cancelled it back in August; I deferred my place and I’m doing a diploma for a year instead. Then the diploma went online-only because you need so many metres between so many people and the upshot is Microsoft Teams. I bought a folding screen to block the sunlight and create a ~ dedicated workspace ~ so now I have to do my homework, because folding screens are weirdly expensive given how little they weigh.

I’m only a week into lessons and have so far learnt that a) my note-taking technique is hellish, and the Cornell method is something secondary school teachers should have a legal requirement to suggest and b) I’ve very slightly improved my attitude to homework and time management since I left school, but like I said, it’s only been a week.

Speaking of time management, I’m going to be closing my Folksy and Etsy shops for a few weeks of October, November and December (and realistically January, etc.) so I can meet my college deadlines and my story deadlines. Also so I don’t, you know, drown under pencils come Christmas. Or drown a little less than I did last year? Maybe?

I secretly love drowning beneath pencils. Ugh. Please buy some. Oh! I almost forgot: I have an offer-y thing going on the No. 1 Readers’ Club until Wednesday 30th. Anyone who joins until the end of Wednesday will get a cute little story, by me. Well. It might not be cute, it might be ghost-y or magic-y since Halloween is coming up. Also since ghosts and magic are two of my favourite things to write about.

Right. Pitch over. I’m going to go nurse the cold and check my homework’s done for tomorrow – no call to 111 required! Just an early night and lots of liquids! I’m almost enjoying thinking about it! – so I will leave this here.

How is your autumn going? Has anyone else started school/college/work? This time of year always feels like a mini-new year and a fresh start. I’ve been watching YouTube videos by people who vlog entirely about studying. I feel like I might have turned over an academic new leaf… I am realistically going to continue watching Schitt’s Creek, as soon as I’ve checked my planner, though. Maybe I’ve turned over a baby leaf. A little petal. Ha.

Look after yourselves!

Clearing Out

So, I’ve redecorated (it feels so pretentious to say that when all I did was change the blog theme and tag line, but I don’t think there’s another word). I fancied something a bit cleaner, with less clutter. I’ve been clearing out real life belongings, too; I’ve noticed that the inside of my head is naturally quite messy, but it’s marginally less messy when there’s less actual mess in front of me.

I said in my last post that I’d been doing some thinking about where I’d like to focus my time, and where I could take this site. 2020 feels like the best and the worst time to make big decisions? On the one hand, THE WORLD IS ON FIRE. Might as well focus on what’s important. On the other hand, THE WORLD IS ON FIRE. Basic survival is enough; there’s no need to complicate things with existential crises.

In a similar vein, the whole concept of running a blog feels quite strange these days. I love popping in here for a natter, but do I have anything to say about the state of the world that hasn’t already been said by someone more eloquent and qualified? This site used to be somewhere I’d share things about my life and what I’m up to, but I’ve realised that I’m increasingly very private. I think it’s why I have a love/loathe relationship with social media. The more you share, the more people expect you to share. I’m online partially to promote my billions of projects, but promo posts never get as much engagement as personal ones. If you want an online presence, you need an online persona, or people might not connect with you (and why should they when there are thousands of other creators they could give their time to?). That consumerist aspect of the internet makes me feel icky. The fame game (or the influencer/content creator game) is not one I have any interest in playing.

Then there are the topics I’d like to discuss: some are fairly personal, or have the potential to be. I’m disinclined to overshare, even if I’m not writing about something for the clicks, but it feels dishonest to discuss something without context. How can I claim to write with integrity when I’m being selective with the truth? That sounds like I’m hiding a major crime. Bahahaa. I couldn’t be bothered to pickpocket.

Anyway, it’s felt nice to be honest about not knowing what to discuss next. If you have any ideas (or thoughts on internet consumerist ickiness), do let me know in a comment.

Look after yourselves!