Escape to The Chateau- A Home in France……

I have talked about guilty pleasures and the importance of escaping once in a while and the TV series that’s combines both of these is Escape to The Chateau. For DIY fans, budding interior designers and Francophiles it makes for perfect viewing. The ever-practical Dick Strawbridge, with the best moustache on TV and fabulously creative Angel Strawbridge are a wonderful team. This capable couple swapped their two-bed home in East London after searching for the chateau for four years and then spent a further five years turning Chateau de la Motte Husson into a family home. It was also to become a business, when Channel 4 commissioned a TV series. The programme became surprisingly popular and the husband-and-wife duo recently explained why they wanted to get involved with the series, they said We saw it as an adventure. TV presenter Dick and author Angel now employ a PR to market their thriving business empire which includes not just weddings, functions and housing B&B guests in their lovely home, but several books, homeware, gifts, soft furnishings, calendars, diaries and cards. The pair have also been seen on spin-off DIY series which shows them helping others to share the dream of restoring an old castle or house in France, to run as a business.

They have had quite a journey and we have been able to share this with them, they almost feel like old friends! They found the Chateau in 2014 and the purchase was completed 2015. Priced at £350,000, Chateau de la Motte Husson was an incredible bargain and their dream home except for the fact it had no sewerage, no electricity and no heating. Bringing a forty- five room, five storey house and its gardens, back to life after years of neglect takes hard work and dedication. Dick and Angel have proven to have these in abundance and the final result is well-worth their efforts. The couple have no plans to sell the chateau but could make a profit of around £1.5 million if they put it on the market. Dick has estimated that they have spent around £280,000 renovating the chateau. Their skills in re-making and re-designing must have saved them a small fortune, as well as showing us all how to give a new life to old furniture, attic and second-hand finds, which is so important for us all to start doing again.

I’ve dreamt for years about living a simple life with good food and wine, fresh air and two-hour lunches every day. So, when my partner Angela and I decided to start our French adventure, I could almost smell the roses 

Dick Strawbridge

The History of the Chateau de la Motte Husson is a long and interesting one, so I’ll give you, a short version: It all dates back to English kings having possessions on the European mainland, as far back as 1066.  When William the Conqueror, then Duke of Normandy, became the King of England. From the 12th to the 14th centuries the site of the chateau was in the parish of La Motte and was a fortified stronghold. It was not until 1406 that the Husson family, the Seigneurs of Montgiroux, named the castle Chateau de la Motte Husson, which remains its name today. In 1600, the estate was acquired by the de Baglion family. The castle was rebuilt in the enclosure of the old square moat during the period of 1868-1874. This was the time of great wealth in the aristocracy.  The Countess Dorothée told her husband that she wanted a grand chateau on the site of the fort. Her main residence was near Nantes and the family decided to spend winters in the milder climate and summers in the country at Chateau de la Motte Husson. They were privileged, didn’t work and were occupied with living life to the full, staying in their grand houses and in those of their friends. It was important at the time to receive visitors in grandeur and to display their great wealth. Passed down through the generations of the de Baglion family.  The last member of the family was Guy de Baglion de la Dufferie who owned the chateau until his death in 1999, when it passed to his wife and children. The château had remained unoccupied for nearly 40 years when it was put up for sale in 2015. By which time it had fallen into a very poor state of repair.

Dick was born in Burma, but raised and educated in Northern Ireland. He attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and in 1979 was commissioned into the Royal Corps of Signals. After serving in Germany, England, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Northern Ireland, he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2001. Then having a successful career as a Programme Manager for a large multinational company, before becoming a full-time television presenter and author. Dick is a man of many interests and talents. And first hit our television screens with Scrapheap Challenge.

Angela- known as Angel, is the founder of The Vintage Patisserie, a glamorous hospitality company and the author of the best-selling Vintage Tea Party books. Humble beginnings and hard work have secured Angel coverage in nearly every glossy and national newspaper. In 2011 she opened her first Vintage Patisserie in Hackney, East London. With eleven staff and ten events a week, business blossomed. A book deal followed and Angel’s books have sold copies all over the world.

This year as been a very different one for everyone and whilst Chateau de la Motte Husson was closed to guests, a new series called Make-do and Mend was filmed during lockdown. The 7th series of Escape to The Chateau is currently been filmed and is to be aired at the end of this year. I would love to restore an old property, a chateau is possibly to ambitious for me, but like Dick and Angel you can always have the dream, and you never know it might happen one day, like a true-life fairy-tale come true!

If you want more details, there is a website and a Facebook group which also shows the progress of the other Chateau owners. You can catch up on the TV series with Channel 4 or Netflix.

www. vintagepatisserie.co.uk/chateau-de-la-motte-husson

Escape For a Few Hours….

I had the idea about this blog a few weeks ago before we went back into a second lockdown. It has now become even more relevant. Sometimes we all need to escape; this is made ever harder by been confined to our homes once more. But you can escape without leaving your home or even your sofa for that matter! In my blog post on brainpower it mentioned than daydreaming is essential to maintaining a healthy brain, which is a big sigh of relief to the daydreamers (myself included) amongst us and payback for all those folks who always say that no good ever comes of day dreaming.

Many people use daydreaming as a way to escape their daily life or even the moment that they are in at the time. Daydreaming can provide a quick method to get away from reality, it can also be a healthy method for dealing with certain situations and ideas. Normally, this has a negative connotation but it can be useful when you need to induce creativity or a few minutes of relaxation. Depending on the way you use your free time, it can be either a positive or negative. Even though this is often a spontaneous action, you can still set a certain time when you sit in a quiet spot and begin daydreaming. Many people find this to be an ideal stress-relieving technique. Daydreaming allows your mind to wander and forget about reality for a short time. This attribute alone can help you keep your sanity when you are going through some rough times. By allowing yourself to escape from a stressful situation, you can return to the situation with a new attitude and possibly even a solution to the problem that may be causing the stress.

We all just need some time alone to heal and nurture ourselves. When we have this feeling, it might be that our minds and souls are sending us messages. We’re being reminded that it’s time to step away and indulge in some self-care. There are both healthy and unhealthy forms of escape. The healthy forms are a better choice as drinking and drugs whilst offering an escape can cause more harm than good.

As and aid to mentally escaping: reading, practising Yoga, music and film and TV can all help this process as well as just taking the time to relax on your own. I would offer the advice that computer games can be mindless but are not really offering the sort of mental release, I am suggesting. Excessive gaming can lead to dopamine exhaustion, emotional suppression, and lack of motivation, among other issues, so can be harmful to your health.

I love reading, and its totally possible to escape to a different country, time even world. Audio books and kindle books are free online through your local libraries though the Libby app. You could be attending a ball at the French court of Versailles, seeing the wonderful costumes, décor and dancing, perhaps you could be in a sunny, warm climate instead of a grey, dull one. You could be walking through a beautiful forest or climbing mountains to see wonderful vistas. The sheer number of places to escape is limitless.

Not everyone likes to read and apps like Netflix gives you a wide variety of films and TV series that offer a chance to escape of a short while. I am loving Rivera, I am on series 3 but you can catch up, if you haven’t seen this yet. Some critics have called this as a modern-day Dallas, and I don’t think it was meant in a complimentary way! But personally, I loved Dallas, the plots don’t always ring true, but the settings are fabulous as is the weather, designer clothes, fast cars, boats and amazing houses and hotels, so what is not to love? We will never live in this world so its great to see how the super wealthy live, be it fictionally.  I never totally get the popularity of the British soaps, set in markets and greasy joe cafes? Who wants to see real life, give me glamour every time to escape to once a week.

I do hope that you get a chance to escape just for a short while, taking time for yourself to clear your head, re-charge or relax is vital during stressful times. So, take care of yourself and don’t forget to keep day-dreaming…..

Millennials and Pre-loved Clothing

As a design student, I always shopped in second-hand clothing stores and charity shops, living close to Leeds and then in London, there was a huge amount of choice. As I could sew, I also customized my finds. Even as a schoolgirl, I never wanted to look the same as anyone else, I loved clothes but had a limited budget. The second-hand or thrifting market (I prefer the title pre-loved) was perfect for me, much to my mum’s dismay.

Shopping in charity shops and second-hand clothing stores used to be for students, low income shoppers and the more bohemian. But the expansion and diversification of the used clothing market is attracting a new clientele, many of them younger shoppers who don’t even remember when vintage was in fashion before. Millennials are turning to second-hand buying at a rate of 250% faster than any other age groups. Mercari noted in its research, that half of all millennial’s said they would rather own fewer, high-end designer brand items than more inexpensive, mass-produced clothing. A recent UK survey claims that more than half of the consumers in the key 25-34 age group are buying second-hand fashion. As well as that, 50% of them have repaired damaged or worn-out clothes and further down the age scale, 75% of 16-24-year-old Britons say they have swapped fashion items with others or would be interested in doing so in the future.

So, it’s worth considering why second-hand fashion is now so much more popular. Younger consumers have a few specific qualities that have driven the growth of the re-sale and second-hand market and that also has implications for our planet. In a world where social media is king, the need to repeatedly produce Insta-worthy or Pinterest-worthy posts is quickly driving young people to expand their wardrobe’s. If you don’t want to be seen wearing the same item twice, you’ll either need a huge budget, or you’ll need to look to more economical ways to subsidise your look. Vintage items and rare finds can be proudly shown off in Instagram posts to envious followers, in a way that buying on the high-street doesn’t.

Additionally, 50% of the same age group are turning their fashion into cash and selling unwanted clothes. (The number doing this for the wider age range is still only 35%) Websites like Vinted can be used through a phone App and are incredibly quick and easy to use. I have been buying and selling through Vinted for several years and I would highly recommend it. Buying and selling second-hand clothing is becoming easier and more fashionable. Consumers no longer have to go to charity stores and can buy on eBay or via higher-end resale sites. Charities are increasingly offering upscale items in their online stores and merchandising their high-street stores to a high standard. The fashion industry are starting to embrace resale, with some companies like Topshop and TK Maxx offering pre-loved items for sale. Fashion rental, which has been around for decades, mostly for evening wear, is also having a resurgence.

There is a really a clear trend towards adopting second-hand fashion, whether it’s for ethical reasons, money-saving purposes or style choices. Ethical fashion is becoming more important to us, but when trying to apply ethical principles to general fashion clothing, many UK consumers say they find it difficult to know which fashion retailers are truly ‘ethical’. Researchers at Mintel spoke to over 1,800 fashion shoppers of all ages and said that “savvy young Britons are buying, selling, mending, swapping and renting their clothes”.

Vogue magazine asked its younger readers about buying pre-loved fashion, many of the comments were similar, to the one below:

 Shopping vintage or second-hand has always allowed me to feel individual, and to find pieces which excite me. I have since become more conscious of the ethical and environmental impact.

The second-hand clothing market could not be growing at a better time. Producing and discarding clothing continues to have a huge impact on the environment, even more so in recent decades because of the shorter “life” of most fashion clothing.

As the world’s economy continues to suffer the monumental impacts of coronavirus and reduced consumer spending, the clothing re-sale market is likely to be an even bigger competitor to classic retail (i.e. buying new). Having less-expensive clothes delivered to your door via courier is also likely to compete with shopping in a physical store. I wonder how this will affect the ailing high street. Many well- know fashion retailers are struggling, some well-know brands have even disappeared from the high-street all together. The last few pieces of clothing, I purchased were from a charity shop and an online second- hand clothing website. I rarely find clothing I like in shops now. Fashion retailers seem to be out of touch with what consumers actually want to buy.

Thrifting, it seems to be the way forward, particularly among young (and even more mature) British fashion shoppers.

The New Normal- Working from Home

Working from home was seen as a temporary fix for an unusual situation. However, this has become a longer necessity than was originally thought. Many people had hoped to return to their offices and initially this was been encouraged by our government, but there appears to have been several U-turns on this policy. Most of the people I know who have been working from home, started doing so in March and in October are still working from home. (And they all really enjoy doing so) Localized lock-downs and Track and Trace, are keeping many of us in our homes.

The majority of office workers believe they will still be working from home until at least 2021 even with the government’s best efforts to get people back into the workplace. More than four out of 10 office workers are still working from their homes. This is despite around half of the respondents, 49 % stating their employer had requested that they return to the office. It shows businesses and the Government still have their work cut out to convince employees that it is safe to return to the workplace. A major obstacle for people going back to work is public transport, with the survey revealing that 57% believing it is unsafe to take the bus or train to work.

Many major companies continue working remotely and plenty have no immediate plans to return to the office. Indeed, and Google have extended their work-from-home policies by an entire year. Employees don’t have to return to their offices until summer 2021, and both companies plan to accommodate remote-working indefinitely in some capacity. Uber, American Express and Airbnb have also extended their remote- working policies.

The Understanding Society Covid-19 Study has stated that nine out of 10 those who had worked from home during lockdown would like to continue in some form. The increasing costs of public transport and overcrowded roads and trains have made getting to work, expensive and stressful. If you spend your working life at a computer or using a telephone, in therapy, could you do this anywhere? Are people much happier and engaged without the stress of commuting? We had even started to see a dramatic reduction in traffic, congestion, and pollution. The benefits to the environmental impacts us all.

Industry insiders estimate that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021, in both the UK and USA. In the last few decades, the demand for flexibility in where and how people work has been building. Before the crisis, surveys repeated showed 80% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time. Over a third would take a pay cut in exchange for the option.

Its not just workers who can see the benefits of remote- working.  Businesses desperate to shed costs could save money, occupancy studies have shown just how inefficiently office space was being used. Employees around the globe are not at their desk 50% to 60% of the time!

Covid-19 will also likely cause executives to rethink the need for travelling to meetings. Whilst virtual meetings may not have all the same benefits of being face-to-face, the savings may outweigh the costs much of the time. Zoom meetings are now very much part of so everyday life.

In Wales, their Governments polices differ from the English Government. Nearly a third of people should still be working from homes, even when coronavirus restrictions have eased, says the Welsh Ministers. Who aim to see about 30% of the workforce in Wales staying at or near to their homes in the long term, adopting a culture that supports remote-working. This move is seen as a way of reducing congestion and pollution and improving the work-life balance of the Welsh population.

I can see the good points and bad points of this move, and it will be interesting to see what happens in Scotland, as the UK is divided in its thinking of the best way forward. I think many things will not go back to the old way of doing things, the work-life balance has been lacking for many of us and having had the time to reflect on this people don’t want, in many cases, to return to the old ways. Not going out and seeing other people could potentially cause mental problems for workers isolated from their colleagues. There are social aspects to working with other people. Seeing and talking to others is vital to our well-being.

Other businesses in the high street, in particular coffee shops, are been badly affected by people not going out to work and not consuming as much. So, I guess this has to be addressed too. Its very sad that many businesses are having to close. In a changing culture, there will always be winners and losers.

Working from home permanently, would also require some re-organisation and adjustments in having an actual work space and not allowing your kitchen, living room or bedroom to become an office 24/7. A work environment which is over-cluttered can drain your energy and one which is well- planned can boost energy levels. An environment is the invisible hand which shapes human behaviour, according to author James Clear. Our homes are now our offices, meeting rooms, school rooms even our gyms. (Vital to our fitness, if we are moving less) As we live, eat, sleep and work from one place and life becomes more virtual. I hope that as our life’s change this is with positively moving onwards to better times.

 

Kindness For One Day or Everyday

I have been meaning to write a blog on Kindness for some time. I think this is the most essential personality trait that anyone can have. Also, if ever there was a time for Kindness it’s Now. I have in my life been given random acts of kindness, often from surprizing sources and these were very important to me at the time. Acts of Kindness, don’t need to be huge gestures, sometimes its small things that matter most and mean a lot. Research shows that helping others can be beneficial to our own mental health. It can reduce stress, improve our emotional wellbeing and even benefit our physical health. Almost everybody feels good when someone is kind to them. This is especially true for those who are vulnerable, like people who are recovering from depression or who are learning to live with  dementia. Acts of kindness and compassion can increase wellbeing and aid recovery.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  Leo Buscaglia, 1924 – 1998

In the business world, Kindness is not widely regarded as a matter for serious businesspeople. Corporate language is rife with going into battle and winning at all costs, the survival of the strongest, and kind, caring people are regarded as a bit soft and even weak. Think of Margret Thatcher and The Apprentice. The times they may be a changing. According to a recent Guardian article, a poll carried out revealed that just one person in eight wants life in the UK to return to exactly as it was before when the coronavirus pandemic is over. The article asserts that there is a widespread appetite for a kinder society that allows workers more time off with family and friends, cares about the environment, and ensures high levels of employment. So, I think even the business world is waking up to treating people with more Kindness.

World Kindness Day is an international observance that falls every year on the 13th of November. First launched in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, is an organisation formed at a 1997 Tokyo conference of like-minded kindness organisations from around the world. There are currently over 28 nations involved in The World Kindness Movement which is not affiliated with any religion or political movement. The mission of the World Kindness Movement and World Kindness Day is to create a kinder world by inspiring individuals and nations towards greater kindness.

In the UK, Kindness Day UK is organised by Kindness UK, a not for profit organisation. Kindness Day UK was launched on 13th November 2010. On this day, participants attempt to make the world a better place by celebrating and promoting good deeds and pledging acts of kindness, either as individuals or as organisations. The event has continued to grow in popularity every year with increasing numbers of individuals, schools, charities, institutions and businesses taking part.

For more details visit Kindness UK website http://www.kindnessuk.com.

These little gestures are sometimes also known by the acronym RAOK (Random Acts of Kindness) and whilst you don’t really need an international day to do any of them. ( Do you?) It does get the message out there, which has to be a good thing. Random acts of kindness could be: paying it forward, volunteering, sending notes of gratitude or cards and smiling at strangers. It could help both individuals and communities to flourish. Is there anything you can do for someone that needs help? We can all benefit from giving or receiving an act of Kindness. Research is showing that people who are kind and compassionate are more satisfied with their lives, have better mental health and have stronger relationships.

So being kind and compassionate can help other people and make you feel good too. The more you give, the more positive you feel.  So, do be kind please……

                                                                                                                     

Style at Any Age

Now this article came up in my feed a new days ago, it was from 2015, yet its as relevant now as it was five years ago. I do follow That’s Not My Age by former fashion editor, Alyson Walsh on social media, and I fully agree with what she is saying. As I’m the same age and grew up in Generation X, I was a Peacock Punk in the early 80’s which was more like early Spandau Ballet and less like the Sex Pistols. (Ask your parents, if you don’t know the difference) It was about dressing up in your own way rather than following fashion trends.

When Alyson talks about the fashion industry not recognizing woman over 50, I can hear myself, in my head of course, going Here, Here! Alyson’s motto is refusing to be invisible; I suddenly became invisible for the first time in my life in my late 40’s, I had always thought this was an urban myth until I found out it was actually fact. People talk about “Women of a certain age” which generally goes hand-in- hand with past it? Well, we all have an age number, don’t we? But does it really matter?

That’s Not My Age began in 2008, when Alyson noticed a space online to celebrate women of all ages. Over a decade later she still provides expert advice, style tips, interviews and podcasts, That’s Not My Age has been at the forefront of a movement empowering women and calling out ageism and sexism. The website was until recently free and there is now a small fee. Alyson has also produced a great book called How to Look Fabulous Every Age and is on Instagram and Facebook.

The most stylish and fashionable women that I know are in their mid -sixties and seventies and there are some wonderful examples of famous older women who look amazing, in fact far better than many famous twenty-year olds. Yet the fashion industry still caters for the young. My seventy-six-year-old mother wears skinny jeans and looks great in them, but the fashion industry thinks she should be wearing polyester trousers with an elasticated waistband. It does not make very good business sense to ignore one of the most cash- rich age groups in society.

Over the years I have worked for many well- known fashion companies. I remember one company that decided to pursue a younger, trendier market and dumped its loyal customers of over twenty years. Now trends come and go, and been totally on-trend is very fickle. So, it found, its new customers ditched them for the new latest company after a short time leaving them in serious trouble!

“Fifty isn’t that old. But the fashion industry sort of ignores you” Alyson Watson

I have worked in fashion since I was a teenager, but oddly enough I have never aspired to be fashionable, on occasion, despite this, I have been on-trend sometimes by accident. But I love clothes, more than fashion and hope I have my own style, which suits me. Because, lets face it not every fashion trend looks good on everyone, and some trends don’t look great on anyone. But it would be lovely to be able to find more clothes I actually liked on the high street. In my teens and early twenties, I bought a lot of second-hand clothes and I have started to do this again. I think pre-loved clothing is important for many reasons, but it also gives you the chance to have your own unique style rather than just wearing the same as everyone else, that season.

If you want to see something a bit wackier, a book called Advanced Style features some unbelievable woman with very distinctive styles like ninety-six-year-old fashion icon, Iris Apfel. Photographer and author, Ari Seth Cohen the creator of Advanced Style has devoted a project “to capturing the sartorial savvy of the senior set.” He says, “I feature people who live full creative lives. They live life to the fullest, age gracefully and continue to grow and challenge themselves. I noticed a lack of older people in fashion campaigns and street style sites. I wanted to show that you can be stylish, creative and vital at any age.” His first book published in 2012 has sold over 150,000 copies worldwide. In 2015, The New York Times fashion director, Vanessa Friedman, credited Cohen with helping to create the recent movement towards the fashion industry embracing older models.

I think true style is ageless and totally personal. One of the most original style icons is Iris Apfel, she has always espoused the virtues of not just dressing for yourself, but for being true to who you are and doing it unapologetically. Her colourful, bold style is not for everyone but then that’s the point and this makes her wonderfully true to herself. One of my personal style icons is Lauren Hutton, she has understated elegance, is ageless and totally comfortable in her skin and yet is over Fifty years young……

Style Forever: How to Look Fabulous Every Age by Alyson Watson

Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen

Both are available at Waterstones or Amazon

The Effects of Coronavirus- Good and Bad

Six months on, whilst I truly hope the worse effects of coronavirus are over and that some sense of normal life can return. It has to be said that life may never be quite the same as before. Now, I’m asking about the effects of the virus on our life’s both, good and bad. Now I realise that for many people it does seem all bad. With job cuts, worries about future loss of work and businesses closing, there is much too worry about. But I always feel that from bad situations some good must come too.

This was such a huge wake-up call for us all. Having to stay in our homes with our partners and families for months was a challenge, as was not shopping or going out. But how many of us, have become closer to our loved ones, having spent more time with them. Parents tried home-schooling and many of us had a go at new and old hobbies. Rather than just watching The Great British Bake-off we actually started baking ourselves. And to help us keep active Mr Motivator came out of retirement and back on TV to keep us moving. Joe Wicks kept your children active and let’s face it, cheered up a few mothers too. Gardening, decorating and all those unfinished tasks were finally done. We all got to meet up with family and friends via Zoom or Messager. My family has been having weekly quizzes on Zoom, which has been fun as well as educational. Puzzles, jigsaws and reading became cool again.

Oddly enough despite the restrictions many of us ate a healthier diet and got more exercise. Families cooked and ate together. Younger generations were forced to stay in and actually interact with their families. We found ourselves time rich rather than time poor. Socializing outside the home ceased. We have been forced to spend less, travel was impossible and we mostly could only spend on food. Its been a time to reconsider what is essential, to reappraise life and decide if we needed to spend as much as we did? Are we living to work or working to life?

Some industries were able to adapt to home-working and this may become a more flexible way for people to work in the future which may benefit working mothers and reduce long commutes to work. We have seen how different ways to work can succeed. Even our Queen has been using Zoom. Unable to source goods from China, British factories produced what was needed. Will we continue to manufacture our own goods instead of importing?

Communities have come together to help those less fortunate than themselves. Many have volunteered, or shopped for those that couldn’t leave their homes or have helped to make extra uniforms and masks for our hospitals. Businesses, both local and national have donated to the health service and to those that needed the help most. Despite the restrictions incredible individuals still continued to raise valuable funds for charities. Our wonderful National Health service has been honoured every week when whole streets around the country came out of their homes to clap for them together.

I do hope that the renewed sense of community can continue as this will surely aid our recovery.

Now for the bad, the stock piling of food and essential cleaning products was shocking, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic. I had to go to eight different supermarkets to find cleaning products to clean my shop, whist it was open for business and as the shelves were all empty I had to take my own cleaning products to work. Essential workers like nurses and doctors were unable to get food for themselves and their families, the older members of the population also had to go without because of stockpiling which was a downright disgrace. Particularly as this only happened in the UK and not in other countries.

Over-eating, drinking too much, over sleeping and spending too much time gaming or watching TV and not getting exercise at all was the new normal for some. My heart does go out to anyone having to go into isolation on their own or to anyone who found the situation caused great anxiety, fear and depression. I do hope than this has now improved a little for you.

Moving on, slowly things are returning if not to normality then to the new normal. Perhaps our values have changed, we can see what is more important to us. Many lost loved ones. The most precious thing of all is to spend time with the ones we love.

The virus lockdown has suspended life and in the return to our everyday life’s have we been through too much to return to our old habits?

Sustainable, Ethical and Fair-Trade Fashion Brands Making a Difference

The latest fashion trend to hit the catwalk isn’t a seasonal colour or a must-have style, it’s the concept of sustainable fashion and ethical clothing and it’s actually not that new either. This has been happening quietly in the background for some time and is only just going mainstream. Many different brands have been focusing on combating various issues in the fashion industry. As I said in my last blog post, this will not happen overnight but as Safia Minney says if we all bought only one piece of ethical clothing, life’s all over the world would be transformed.

Finding fair trade and ethical companies is not always easy, which can sometimes be a deterrent in shifting your buying habits, but companies like Good On You and Buy Me Once are making it easier. The positive impact of spending time researching what you are buying can have on the environment and third world communities is absolutely worth it. There was a time when sustainable clothing would conjure up images of unflattering and suspiciously scratchy styles. Thankfully, there are now a wide number of fashion brands that are changing that perception.

In addition to its implications for the environment and ethical practices surrounding the production of garments, one of the major benefits to purchasing ethical, sustainable, and fair-trade clothing is that it is almost always of a higher quality. This means garments last longer, and when they do show signs of wear, companies encourage you to repair, rather than replacing it. Some businesses even recycle clothing. I send my old cashmere sweaters to a UK company who use the yarn to make new products.

One of the leading lights in ethical clothing is Safia Minney, with her company People Tree. A pioneer in sustainable fair-trade fashion, her story started in 1991. The core mission has stayed the same over the past three decades since award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney founded the company. Every product is made to the highest ethical and environmental standards from start to finish, yet the ranges are still contemporary, versatile, affordable and look great while respecting people and the planet. The fashion collections feature organic cotton, Lyocell and responsible wool and are made using traditional artisan skills such as hand weaving, hand knitting, hand embroidery and hand block printing. Employment is created in rural areas where work is often scarce. All clothes are dyed using low impact dyes so are free from harmful azo chemicals which are frequently used in clothing manufacture. Natural materials are used where possible, avoiding plastic and toxic substances.

When Safia ordered a Tradicraft mail-order catalogue herself to buy fair-trade clothing, she realised how much power her money had when you shopped ethically. Like many people she felt that fair-trade shopping at times, conjured up images of macrame potholders and soapstone elephants. Recognising that: most people were happy to buy something that was fair-trade as long as it looked good, they don’t want shoddy goods.  If she was going to offer a lifeline to Third world artisans their products had to be saleable and that meant stylish. Whilst living in Japan, she published an organic directory, which evolved into a catalogue. Sourcing not just from other fair-trade organisations but actually dealing directly with the producers; weavers, dyers, jewellers and other craftspeople. By dealing directly, more money could go back into the community as there were no middle-men, like importers. Their first fashion range in 2006 met the Global Organic Textile Standard certified by the Soil Association and People Tree was also the first fashion company to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organisation product label. These certifications guarantee their dedication and compliance to the principles of fair trade, covering fair wages, good working conditions, transparency, environmental best practices and gender equality. This UK brand sells everything you need for your wardrobe from tops and dresses to underwear, sleepwear and active-wear.           http://www.peopletree.co.uk

Now, there is a distinction between ethical and fair-trade clothing. Fair-trade fashion must be certified, and specifically focuses on the compensation for workers and farmers associated with its production, while ethical fashion aims to reduce the negative impact on the environment. But I think that both are about sustainable clothing and about the money we spend been for the greater good.

The Patagonia clothing company is definitely setting the bar very high for other outdoor clothing manufacturers. Patagonia, allow you to re-cycle in store and provide guides for repairing and caring for other items. All of the cotton garments from this brand are certified organic by GOTS, so you know the entire manufacturing process follows organic guidelines. They’re also fair-trade certified. The clothes themselves are mostly comfortable, simple ever-day staples for men, women and children. Their website has a lot of great content and information.    eu.patagonia.com

Now, some very well-known names have started to join the movement for ethical and sustainable fashion. One of the biggest names in fashion is Ralph Lauren. This is a great example of a large brand making a simple change, yet it has the ability to make a significant impact on the environment because of its sales volume. The Earth Polo, also available in men’s and children’s variations, is made of recycled water bottles and uses dyes that don’t require water in the application process. Even though it’s just a shirt, Polo Ralph Lauren estimates that it will save the equivalent of 170 million plastic bottles from landfills by 2025.

One of my favourite designer companies is New York-based brand Theory. They have been committed to sustainability since the launch of its Good Initiative in 2017. Theory for Good spotlights the supply chain with the brand’s aim to make us, the customers, aware of where our clothing comes from and whose skills contribute to making our clothing. Originally focusing on wool sourced responsibly in Tasmania and South America and linen consciously crafted in Italy. The brand has now upped its sustainable credentials with Good Cotton, a newly launched capsule collection.

One of the UK’s most successful knitwear companies is Pringle.  For over two centuries this brand has embraced the traditional, the innovative and the unexpected. They have been using recycled fibres to creating limited- edition jumpers. This knitwear shows a commitment to the environment in more than one way as it featuring a graphic earth print and the word Re-Loved. No new raw materials were used in the production of the two jumpers made with 100% recycled fibres even the garment tags are recycled. Whilst not cheap, you can count on the brand’s knits to stay in style and the quality to last for years so consider these sweaters a long-term investment.

Now, these are all high- priced brands, but high-street brands and stores are still making changes. The fashion chain H&M has a Conscious collection, in which each item in the range has an aspect that lessens its environmental impact, like been made of organic cotton or recycled polyester. The prices start quite low so you don’t have to spend a fortune on sustainable fashion. I have bought items myself from this range and was impressed by the quality too. You can also recycle your unwanted clothing at H&M stores for a discount, even if it’s torn up and can’t be re-worn, the brand makes sure the clothes are used for something else and won’t end up in a landfill.

If you prefer to shop by mail-order, British brand- Boden is sustainable. The company, which was founded more than 25 years ago, is renowned for its clothing collections which are both ethical and expansive. Customers locally and abroad can shop for the whole family, as the brand offers expedited worldwide shipping options for its sustainable and affordable clothing for adults, children and babies. The clothes are shipped in recycled and recyclable packaging too.

We can try and make our wardrobes more planet-friendly in non-shopping ways by organising clothes swaps with friends, which could also be a fun way to spend an evening. There are also a number of high street initiatives that allow us to recycle our well-loved clothes when we no longer need them.

If we can direct our conscious spending towards clothing habits that make us feel and look good, without breaking the bank but also can contribute to others then we are all playing our part in the larger scheme of things. Remember as consumers you do have the power to change the way goods are made!

A Minimalist lifestyle- Good or Bad

I wrote about de-cluttering a short while ago, having worked in the past for a de-cluttering guru. When people talk about minimalism and having a minimalist lifestyle what springs to my mind, is a white room, with the minimum of furniture and only a few well-chosen pieces like a single flower in a simple vase or a lone plant. Like many, I viewed this movement, wrongly, as merely a design statement. Followers of this trend, say that it’s something deeply life -changing. You could define a minimalist as someone who chooses to be intentional with what they allow in their life. Most often, this refers to physical possessions but it can refer to people, tasks and even ideas. The purpose of a minimalist life appears to be about having more of what matters to you and less of what doesn’t. Well that sounds like a great idea but just how practical is it to achieve?

People get minimalism and de-cluttering confused a lot because they are often mentioned together, but they are not really the same thing. De-cluttering is a vital part of a minimalist lifestyle. Some minimalists, say you don’t need to have a clutter-free home, but personally I don’t agree. I can see that having a minimalism lifestyle is much more complex than simply getting rid of as many things as possible. When we de-clutter, unnecessary items are removed from a room. De-cluttering is an action which has been taken, it doesn’t have to involve any changes in our mindsets. Minimalism, then, is not just about getting rid of stuff, it’s a mental shift in the way that we think about things which could, in turn, impact the decision- making in all areas of our life. Over the past few years many have jumped on the minimalism bandwagon not truly understanding the deeper meaning.

The minimalist gospel is the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, the celebrity de-cluttering guru, which has sold more than ten million copies. Which views minimalism, as a focus on self-improvement. The KonMari Method is not just been about transforming your space.

 Once you have your house in order you will find that your whole life will change. You can feel more confident, you can become more successful, and you can have the energy and motivation to create the life you want. You will also have the courage to move on from the negative aspects of your life: you can recognise and finish a bad relationship; you can stop feeling anxious; you can finally lose weight.

 A lot of claims to make, but this book has sold in 30 countries with great reviews, so for many it works!

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, known as the minimalists, help over 20 million people live meaningful lives with less through their website, books and podcasts. Rather than less is more, they write that been a minimalist is about more; more time, more passion, more experiences, more growth, more contribution, more contentment and more freedom. Clearing the clutter from life’s path helps make that room. Minimalists say that by keeping expenses low and purchases to a minimum it creates a life that is clear and streamlined. This could also lead you to the conclusion that not only is there too much stuff in your own home but too much stuff in the world. We are facing an epidemic of over-production, over- consumerism and over-spending. For some, minimalism offers psychological self-help to cope with the over-supply of modern times. For others it’s the need to contribute to more sustainability in society through changing their own consumer habits.

When researching, I found many contradictory statements about the movement, finding some in favour and some against minimalism.

The opposition states that the trend towards post-modern minimalism is primarily a phenomenon of our prosperity culture and can therefore only be understood by those who live with too much. You have to have been experiencing a highly consumed life in order to consciously decide in favour of rejecting this and accepting less. Simply put it’s a middle-class movement. Ever with the current world changes and shortages,most of us live in abundance. Never before in human history has there been such an abundance and variety of food and goods at our disposal. Should we only consume what we need. A large part of our consumption is based on the social pressures of having to have the latest model rather than the actual need to replace something. For several months, we have all had a decreased ability to consume as many businesses closed temporarily. We managed to survive this hardship with no ill-effects. Its too early to tell whether this is will impact our future spending habits. Will materialism matter less?

Minimalism is said to be life-changing, but there are downsides, especially if you are starting from a place of less. If you don’t have that much to begin with how can you justify getting rid of things. Minimalism says, Get rid of it! If you really need it, you can always buy a new one later. Here’s the dilemma, what do you do when you don’t have the income to do this? I think it is important to remember that minimalism comes in different forms, it isn’t own the least amount possible which is often how the message comes across but about valuing what you have and become more intentional with what you buy. You have to apply some common sense; minimalism for a single person will not look the same as for a family of four. Those in support of minimalism would argue that a clutter-free environment and home decreases stress and reduces the time spent maintaining your belongings. This benefits everyone, whatever your financial status may be.

So, it seems that minimalism is about living more simply, with less and to enjoy more of what you really value. Minimalism can impact our choices at home, in our careers and in the way that we choose to our life’s. It has been likened to a form of meditation with more opportunity for a clearer mind than someone whose space and mind are both over-cluttered in thoughts and things. Minimalism involves intention, enabling you to focus and achieve better mental clarity and determine your goals.

I don’t live a minimalism lifestyle, although I can see many aspects that would improve my life. Honestly assessing the value and meaning of things in your life and deciding what you love, sounds a very positive thing to do. Getting rid of the rest of my stuff, does seem a bit of a challenge to me. But then life is about taking challenges……

https://www.theminimalists.com/ for more information.

De-Cluttering in The Home.

I have found myself with extra time on my hands and I thought I would use this time to have a bit of a sort out at home. I don’t have a great deal of storage space, most of my previous homes also lacked storage. Whilst I am by nature tidy, I do need to be quite organized, as I often work from home and despite my best effects do still have too much stuff. I set up The Holding Company in London, with Dawna Walters of The Life Laundry, where we sold useful storage and items to help you get organized, I still use many of these today. When clutter starts to gather in my home, I begin to feel stressed. When I have dealt with said clutter, I feel much calmer. The way we feel about our living space has a big impact on our state of mind, so I guess it’s no surprise that when our home feels cluttered and chaotic, we feel the same.

A place for everything and everything in its place, what a wonderful idea! More and more studies are showing that a clean, organized living space is an important factor in our wellbeing. Clearing clutter from our homes is an important step towards creating that clean, organized space. Now many of us don’t have huge amounts of spare time for decluttering and organising our family homes. But there some great books and websites, like Pinterest, with helpful tips that can really help you to make a start.

 If you’ve been putting off decluttering your home and your life, chances are there’s a lot of work to be done. Don’t let that pile of junk overwhelm you, start small and tackle it one bit at a time. Set yourself a daily task of one box or bag per day and if that still seems overwhelming, try setting a timer for 30 minutes and do whatever you can in that amount of time.

Clutter is anything that is no longer useful in your life, if you have any of the following it needs to go: broken items, worn out items, things that don’t fit, aren’t used, are no longer loved, aren’t played with or don’t suit your lifestyle anymore. The Four-Box Method is a great technique to use to declutter any space. Get four boxes: rubbish, give away, keep or relocate. Consider each item and place into one of the four boxes. Carefully storing the items you are keeping is vital so that clutter does not built up again. Lots of high street shops like Ikea have afforable storage systems.

Donate things that can be used, and feel good about sharing your items with others who might truly benefit. Sell items that have value and make some extra pocket-money, eBay or Vinted are low cost and easy to use. De-cluttering is different from tidying. When you tidy, things are put away, that are out of place. When de-cluttering you are removing things from your house and life. It’s a positive step that can be taken towards improving our well-being.

Before you begin the de-cluttering process, think about why this task is important to you? What is the end vision for your life and your home? What goals would you pursue if your clutter wasn’t blocking your way. The idea of living a simplified, uncluttered life with less stuff sounds attractive to many, myself included. The benefits of owning fewer possessions are: less to clean, less debt, less to organize, less stress, more money and energy for things you are passionate about.

Remember, clutter isn’t just about stuff. It can be the outward symptom of an internal struggle, stemming from grief, loss, fear, self-image or even depression. Many people who suffer from compulsive hoarding have built literal walls around themselves. They are comforted by being confined by all their stuff. We can have a lot of things that don’t make us feel happy, by holding onto clutter because of the guilt of letting it go. Stuff guilt is a big obstacle to living clutter- free. We feel guilty about getting rid of stuff; because of the cost, we don’t want to be wasteful or because someone gave it to us and we don’t want to be ungrateful. Sometimes it represents all the things we said we were going to do, then didn’t like starting a new hobby. As an artist and crafter, I often have unfinished projects, these can really weigh me down. Now I finish the project or get rid of it, why torture yourself with lots of things that are half-finished.

Growing up we might have been faced with times of hardship when we struggled. One of the reasons we become so attached to items is because of the idea of scarcity. My Grand-parents lived through the war-time period and they saved all kinds of items: paper, packaging, out- of- date foods, newspapers etc. All because they knew what it was like to have nothing. Similarly, if you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, you might hold on to an item that identifies with a happier time. Or we may believe that holding on to items will somehow shield us from the pain of loss or grieving. But memories and stuff are not the same. This can be one of the most difficult things to work through when it comes to letting go of stuff. When we’re holding on to emotional baggage, it can literally become physical baggage we carry around with us. The reality is that at some point, it is no longer practical or healthy to hold on to things we don’t need simply because you’re trying to hold on to a memory. Don’t forget that you can take a picture of something you want to remember. How about a digital memory book? What about a creative way to deal with sentimental clutter and find a new use for an old thing? Upcycle or recycle your treasures into something you’ll use. (I will write a blog post about upcycling)

Whatever the reason for keeping it, hanging on to stuff causes a kind of guilt, the guilt that comes from feeling like our lives are cluttered and out of control. It causes you to feel totally overwhelmed physically and mentally, you can waste a lot of time looking for things, you can be too embarrassed to let visitors into your home, cleaning can take so much longer, so it doesn’t get done as well and important items get lost. It’s so much easier to function when you have a house that is well- ordered and free of clutter. It’s a happy, healthy space where you and your family can thrive.

There’s no doubt about it, once you deal with your clutter, you’ll feel more relaxed and in control. De-cluttering will also help relieve negative emotions such as guilt and embarrassment. Feelings that prevent you from living the life you want to live. De-cluttering will help relieve the stress and anxiety around those negative emotions, and help you move intentionally toward the life you want.  Any progress, big or small, is a great mood booster. The feeling of lightness you’ll get from removing the things in your life that are no longer serving you is wonderful. ( This can apply to people and habits)

Over-buying, is addictive, when we buy, we feel great at first then feel guilty, often hiding things in cupboards with the tags attached, it’s very tempting when spotting a bargain even when money’s really tight, many of us can’t stop shopping. Believe me, most of the stuff we buy is making us miserable. Try and get into the mindset of buying and having fewer things, but make them the best quality that you can afford. Who wants to fight through a wardrobe overflowing with clothes, that don’t fit, don’t flatter you and you don’t even like that much. Only buy what you love and wear it, don’t save it for best, enjoy it now, life is too short!

Books and media can be problematic. It feels lovely to have a book collection, but be honest, there is no reason to keep all those books we have read, unless they are first editions or heirlooms. Do you keep piles of old magazines? Instead just keep the recipes or articles you want and get rid of the magazines. These pages can be put in a file or scrapbook. Get rid of old planners and notebooks just take out the pages with the stuff you want to keep. If you have stacks of CDs you can trade these in and go digital. The same with photographs, store on your computer and back up to cloud.

If you work from home, once you’ve de-cluttered, and everything is in its place, you’ll be able to find what you are looking for so much more quickly and easily. And you’ll be less likely to lose things, how frustrating is it when you just can’t lay your hands on something. Distraction is one of the biggest obstacles to being productive, clutter is a visual form of distraction. It draws your attention away from what you really should be focusing on, impacting on your ability to make decisions and process information. Check through your supplies and see what you have unnecessary duplicates of, what is broken and what you don’t need. Been creative it’s hard for me to not look at everything as something I can use later. In my studio space, I try to only keep things that I have a specific use in mind. Donate to a craft centre instead where old supplies can be put to good use.

If you are temporarily working from home, putting everything you require in a box and get it out when you are working. This is far better than leaving your work stuff laying around as well as more productive.

Its always hard to let go of stuff that may have been important once, but why not let someone else benefit from what no longer serves your need. I am not a hoarder but I am also a long way off living a minimalism lifestyle. I think having things around you that you love and use is just fine as long as you can find everything when you need it. So if you put things away after using and have a home for everything all is good.

To quote -William Morris- Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.