August Break 2014, Week 3

Here's my third collage of weekly photos taken as part of The August Break 2014 challenge. I've taken all of these pictures on my phone and I'm really pleased that I've kept going with this project as I think it makes a great visual record of the summer and what we've done. We haven't had a break away this summer, although hubs has had 2 separate weeks off work, so these photos are kind of like my alternative holiday snaps.

Exploring our local area, using our National Trust membership and small treats like lunch out have meant that we've had a good break from routine and chores. Now that we're living a less hectic life 'Getting Away From It All' is not as important to us. We will have holidays in the future but for this year we've been content with having a few days out and the knowledge that our finances are under reasonable control. Being content with the here and now and gradually working towards simplifying our lives makes me happy most days. I do have my off days but I know that the simpler my life becomes and the less I succumb to envy the happier my general state of mind is. 

Here are the prompts for this week's photos (in correct order this time) with a sneaky extra one or three!

Jump. Great exercise this one! My version of a star jump.
Black and white. Local shops which I don't always appreciate the beauty of.
Peaceful. These 2 birds were very much at peace with each other and very tame too.
♥ (Garden) treasure. I picked this posy from our garden for our kitchen table. It's still looking good - I just keep adding a new poppy as each one finishes. 
Shadow. This photo of a tropical plant was taken inside The Glasshouse, Jephson Gardens, in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. The gardens here are well worth a visit and the town has lots of great independent shops and eating places.
♥ Handsome Regency houses seen from the park.
♥ The outside of The Glasshouse. Californian almost.
Adornment. Cute owls adorning the tropical plants inside the temperate Glasshouse.
Memory. This statue is part of The Armed Forces Memorial at The National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire. It depicts a serviceman, his comrades and his family looking on. So, so poignant.

Thank you so much for reading, commenting and following here this week. Your comments on my 40 piece minimalist wardrobe made me very happy. I do understand the difficulty in letting go of clothes (it's taken me almost 3 years to get to this point) but I would urge anyone considering a smaller wardrobe to give it a try. You really do get used to less clothes very quickly and value and enjoy the ones you have kept as well as the time saved in getting dressed with less items. Go on give it a go!

Enjoy your week xo


Introducing my 40 Piece Minimalist Wardrobe

This is my complete wardrobe: 40 pieces including tops, bottoms, coats/jackets and shoes. Now, I'm not claiming to have the smallest wardrobe but I am very pleased to show you that it is possible to reduce your wardrobe to a manageable size. This wardrobe is at least 20% the size of what I owned three years ago. My rationale in creating a smaller wardrobe was to create a flexible, minimalist wardrobe with well-made and well-fitted clothes that I love to wear for work, home and social occasions. After several rounds of Project 333 I know that I can live with a limited amount of clothes and that I've become more skilled in the complex art of compiling a capsule wardrobe. I've reached a point where I want a limited amount of clothes for all seasons in one place. But, could I achieve it? Would I ever stand in front of my dream closet?

I've read a lot about capsule wardrobes and studied lots of beautiful images of pared down closets. To be honest this research has largely held me back and led to a lot of confusion as to what constitutes a minimalist wardrobe.

I considered a monochrome wardrobe, wearing solely black, ditching all skirts and dresses and moving to Sweden or Paris in the hope of a style osmosis. The reality of creating a smaller wardrobe is that you have to work it out for yourself and be realistic about your lifestyle, budget and personal style. I almost persuaded myself at one point to go out and buy a black skirt and white shirt but in the end I realised my navy shirt and patterned tulip skirt were my versions of these said classics. In the end I got brave: it's my wardrobe, my rules.  

To pare down my wardrobe I attacked it in short bursts, really studied the condition and fit of each item, had lots of trying on sessions and wrote list after list. 50 items was easy to achieve but I wanted to challenge myself to get nearer to 30. In the end I've settled for 40 items. I feel my wardrobe is balanced, coordinated and reflects me. There are more basics and more monochrome pieces than ever before but also room for some of my favourite soft blues, purples and greens. I've ditched white trousers, camel, teal, lots of patterned pieces and pricey items that just don't feel right. I have 9 bottoms and exactly twice that amount of tops which gives me a Gok gold star and more outfit combinations than I've yet had time to try. 

Yes, girlfriend this really does feel like a new wardrobe. 

A complete clear out and clean of the space, new wooden hangers and hanging rails for accessories really helped to turn my wardrobe into my dream armoire. 

My 40 items:
1. Blue skinny jeans (M&S)
2. Blue bootcut jeans (Next)
3. Black work trousers(Next)
4. Black smart trousers (Principles by John Rocha)
5. Black linen trousers (F&F)
6. Black jeggings (M&S)
7. Black/grey linen skirt (M&S)
8. Tulip skirt (Laura Ashley)
9. Pink velour skirt (Seasalt)
10. Green cotton summer dress (Laura Ashley)
11. White v-neck t-shirt (Boden)
12. Grey v-neck t-shirt (Boden)
13. Black v-neck t-shirt (Boden)
14. Blue modal light blue round neck t-shirt (Gok for TU)
15. Purple draped t-shirt (Laura Ashley)
16. White/black stripe 3/4 length sleeved top (Gap)
17. Black /white stripe 3/4 length sleeved top (Gap)
18. Coral sequin 3/4 length top (M&S)
19. Navy smart blouse (M&S)
20. Purple linen grandad shirt (Wallis)
21. Check blue/green check casual shirt (F&F)
22. Black round neck long sleeved t-shirt (Next)
23. Blue round neck long sleeved top with cuff detail (M&S)
24. Light blue round neck long sleeved top (M&S)
25. Green striped woollen tunic (Seasalt)
26. Grey cashmere cardigan (F&F)
27. Blue cardigan (New Look)
28. Black boyfriend cardigan (M&S)
29. Black blazer (F&F)
30. Black biker jacket (M&S)
31. Purple gilet (Gap)
32. Blue storm coat (Berghaus)
33. Purple parka (M&S)
34. Olive green cord coat (M&S)
35. Black and cream ballet flats (Debenhams)
36. Flat sandals (local boutique)
37. Black small heeled brogues (Rieker)
38. Brown Chelsea boot (Next)
39. Purple patent Birkinstocks
40. Black tapered heel ankle boot (M&S)

Most of my unwanted clothes have been sold or donated but It does take time so some items are still waiting to be cleared. My enthusiasm for car boot sales, charity shop drop offs and Ebay is waning as once my shopping sprees did. 

Have you made any recent reductions to your wardrobe? What's the biggest hurdle in downsizing your clothes collection? I'd love to hear. More minimalist wardrobe outfit updates to follow.


August Break 2014, Week 2

Just popping by to bring you this week's photos from The August Break 2014 that I'm participating in this summer. I like them displayed as a collage as I can see rhythm and links between the photos and between these mid August days: mellow moments, an appreciation of time gone by, the beauty of the summer and, of course, lots of foodie treats. 

Here are the prompts - in reverse order, oops:

Drink. My favourite (non-alcoholic) drink of the summer is ginger beer.
Handwriting. Beautiful writing in a beautiful book of Dylan Thomas' poetry.
On my table. Tea in a pot, biscuits and pretty crumbs. One cup is not always enough.
Guilty pleasure. A splash of wine in the pot and a glass for me. Has to be red.
Hands. My parents own this magnificent clock that previously belonged to my grandparents and was made by a local clock maker.
Blue (picture 1). Luscious blue agapanthus at Packwood House, Warwickshire. I love the planting at this National Trust property - my third visit this year.
Blue (picture 2). A perfect summer sky on Friday.
Look down. My happy feet at Packwood House.
Book shelf. I don't own many books anymore but I adore seeing interesting collections of books. Yesterday, after a walk, we visited a favourite vintage cafe; luxury mocha and lemon drizzle cake made the visit complete.

Thank you for reading, commenting and following here this week. 

I'm hoping to update you on my minimalist wardrobe this week. Today I think I've done my last car boot sale and my last major clothes drop off at our local charity shop. It wasn't much fun holding onto a swaying clothes rail in the wind for several hours - I would have happily let them all fly away - but we made some money to help my son out with a trip next summer and it's good to see unwanted clothes finding new owners.

Have a great week xo


August Break 2014, Week 1

Hello. Firstly, thank you so much for your kind words about our revamped tiny garden. I'm so pleased you like it too. 

So, I'm participating in The August Break 2014 this year via Instagram and so far...  I'm loving it! I've managed 10 whole days of following the photo prompts and have discovered a new enthusiasm for photography and a huge admiration for the creativity, positivity and community of all those participating in the project. Also, I managed a half decent selfie and that wouldn't have happened without this project - I'm far too self-conscious to post this sort of photo, normally. It's been quite a discipline recording a photo each day and it has made me reflect not only on my daily life but also on the bigger picture of this huge, diverse and wonderful world we live in. 

Here are the the first 9 prompts:

Lunch. A rare treat - Friday lunch out with hubs at a bistro in Moseley, Birmingham. A lovely break. I had goats cheese salad. Nom, nom. 
Pattern. Raspberries and mint, which were later eaten with lemon tart. Again, nom, nom.
Window. I spotted this striking purple barge on one of of our canal side walks. I love canal boats, as you may know. I think I'd like a purple one. 
Orange...  for the life ring, but this barge also bears our youngest's name, Marcus, so that made me coo.
Three. On Monday I went to a short service to commemorate the anniversary of the start of World War 1. We listened to prayers, poems and Bible readings under the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral. It was very poignant and I then stayed up to watch more on TV and lit candles. Did you?
Reflection. Sunglasses, worn on my regular lunchtime walks. Time to step out and enjoy the day. 
Today is...  Yes, on Thursday,  "tall, purple" decided to bloom in our garden. I still don't know the name of this plant but I like its magenta flowers very much. 
Selfie. Seriously, do I have to? Eventually, I submitted. This is me unleashed August 8th 2014. 
In my bag. Some tools of my teaching trade.

I'm looking forward to the next week of The August Break. Anyone can join in anytime at any level if you're interested. 

Have a great week xo


Small Garden Makeover on a Budget

One of my minimalist goals this year was to create a low maintenance courtyard garden. We started this project in April and have almost finished it. Anyhow, it is finished enough to be a very relaxing space now (especially with no lawn to maintain and our recent glorious weather) and I think I owe you more than a peep of the revamp. 
These photos have been taken over the last few weeks.

As you can see we pretty much stuck to our design. To keep costs down we didn't make any structural changes but a lot of labour was involved: digging up and disposing of the lawn; measuring and cutting wood; laying membrane, slate and bark; painting the deck, fence and shed; adding compost and grit to the soil and finally cleaning the slabs without a pressure washer - no gym membership required round here!
The table and chairs were passed onto us by my mum and dad and some things like the box in large tubs, the lanterns, cushions and rope lights we already had. Our planting was also done as cheaply as possible. Many of the plants were from local plant sales in May or donated by friends and family. It's been very exciting watching some very tiny plants grow so quickly such as the verbena bonariensis which has grown and flowered like crazy in the last few weeks. Our friend Elizabeth sent tiny seedlings of this plant from her gorgeous garden in Cornwall. It's hard to believe they were lost in the post for several days, looking at them now. 

We are really pleased with the grasses we have planted (Karl Forester and Mexican grass) as they add height and movement. Our colour scheme is purple, white and green which I hope to follow through in the autumn by planting bulbs such as white narcissi, alliums and purple tulips. Lots of herbs have also been planted to provide interest and free food: chives, tree spinach, rosemary and parsley. 
There is also lavender although it has stopped flowering now.

You might have noticed a blue sail above the table; this is temporary and we're hoping to replace it with a white version soon. Also on our to-do list is creating a screen for our two wheelie bins which are near the back gate. Plus I have a wish list of more plants but I am holding back until next year. I hope you've enjoyed this garden tour as much I've enjoyed creating it. I can't tell you how much pleasure I'm getting from pottering about in my tiny garden.
And how much more relaxing this space is now whether we're alone or entertaining. 

Not bad for a small garden on a budget (we spent less than £300). 

And it's bee friendly too.


Simple Pleasures: July

Oh July, so much to celebrate, not least the, almost, unending sunshine. We could get used to this, given the chance. 

Here are some happy memories from the past 4 weeks - all taken on my phone. This is my second month of creating a gratitude collage and I'm enjoying the process of wrapping up each month by reflecting on it. 

Some highlights...

♥ I spent a wonderfully exciting but tiring day in London with my 15 year old son. We visited The British Museum, popped into the new Peddlars General Store and Cafe and had tea with my brother in St. Albans.
♥ So we did have some rain as I captured this rainbow on my phone.
♥ Pimm's to celebrate my dad's 78th birthday.
♥ Pavlova to celebrate my father-in-law's 70th.
♥ I bought some eighties shorts from a vintage shop to replace the denim ones I sold at last month's car boot. These are so cool and comfy.
♥ Hubs and band nailing it at our local festival Fuse. Very proud of him.
Beetroot and feta salad a new recipe which I'll make over and over again, I'm sure (I left out the spring onions though).
♥ 22 hearts for our 22nd wedding anniversary.
♥ Verbena bonariensis at Baddesley Clinton, a National Trust property in Warwickshire. This is a new plant to us and is looking stunning right now in our tiny garden too. 

Thank you for reading, following and commenting here at Just a little less. You're very welcome xo


Minimalist Monday: Is a Simpler Life Attainable?

Question: do you want a simpler, more contented way of life that isn't consumer driven? OK, right now it may seem unattainable, but it really is within your grasp if you're ready to start making just the smallest adjustments to your life. Believe me, a few years ago I didn't know that a more minimalistic life was within my reach - I thought it required more discipline and radical action than I was capable of.

Almost 4 years ago, when I started to make my life simpler, I had no grand plan, just a desire to start reducing my possessions, my consumerist ambitions and to calm down the frantic pace of my life. Back then although I sought change, I couldn't envisage a newer, simpler life ever being a reality for me. Paying a large mortgage meant working full-time with little energy left to implement change. When I first discovered minimalism downsizing wasn't yet on my horizon but the more I learned about it and practised it the more my perspective changed. I began to see that my life wasn't fixed and that I could choose a simpler, different life. New possibilities started to shimmer on a newly expanding beautiful horizon.

Little bits of decluttering here and there led to the realisation that we could fit our family into a smaller house; cutting back on spending and living well on less gave me the courage to eventually leave a permanent job that was overwhelming me; slowing down and resisting the urge of busy-ness brought balance, self-acceptance and contentment to my life. 

Nowadays, almost 4 years into my my minimalist journey, I may not be keeping up with the Joneses externally, but internally I have gained so much self-knowledge and peace. In letting go of valuing status I'm beginning to let new values into my life: quietness, nature, improved health, closer relationships and a new found spirituality. In focussing less on the external I'm beginning to discover new ways to happiness.

Living in a smaller house with less stuff and less commitments doesn't happen over night. It takes time, discipline and a lot of fear has to be overcome along the way. Like working on a fiddly jigsaw, what seems impossible at first is achievable if you work on one area at a time. Piece by piece your new life will begin to fit together. There may be pieces missing but that's OK. The first step is to listen to what you really want from life and the rest will follow in time. 

A consumer driven life or a simpler life? It's your choice. 

Have you made that choice? Are you ready for change? I'd love to hear from you. 


Minimalist Monday: Easy Squeezy Tray-Bake Roast Dinner

It's been a while since I wrote either a Minimalist Monday post or a recipe post so I thought I'd combine the two today. As an update, I'm doing well with continuing my effort to keep our grocery budget well below £100 a week for 2 adults and 1-2 teenage boys. Cooking most meals from scratch can get tedious though, so it's quite exciting when we come up with something that suits days when we're feeling lazy but in need of something tasty. This recipe is basically a tray-bake; even the green cabbage gets thrown in the oven. And if everyone gets involved in chopping up the ingredients then the preparation time really is minimal. The salad potatoes I used are from this week's Aldi's Super 6. I keep limes slices/chunks in the freezer but you could use a lemon instead. A perfect recipe for a summer evening giving you plenty of time to enjoy a glass of something chilled in the meantime. 

You will need (serves 4-6)

4 medium chicken breasts (or equivalent weight in thighs) cut into chunks
200g chorizo sausage, cut into chunks (you could use more but this amount is adequate)
1 kg diced salad potatoes (no need to peel)
1kg carrots cut into batons (no need to peel)
2 red onions cut into chunks
1/2 green cabbage shredded
1 chopped chilli (optional)
a good glug of olive oil
a sprinkle of fresh or dried mixed herbs
1 lime cut into chunks - reserve 4 wedges for garnish


Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6/ 400F. Use two large roasting tins and put an equal amount of the chopped ingredients in each with the exception of the green cabbage which will go in later and set aside a wedge of lime per person (the rest of the lime goes in the oven). Season the mixture, add the herbs and drizzle over enough olive oil to coat everything lightly (I like to use my hands to get an even distribution). 

Cook for 45 minutes then scatter over the shredded green cabbage on top. It basically steams on top of the other ingredients and soon wilts down. Cook for a further 15 minutes. Heap plates generously and garnish with one wedge of lime. Easy, squeezy.


And Breathe it's the Weekend

If last weekend was busy then this weekend is going to be busier. Do you get spells like that, when it's all go and life has to be scheduled almost an hour at a time? Last weekend we celebrated a family 70th birthday and my dad's 78th. We saw all the family - on both sides - in less than twenty four hours. We had a lovely lovely time. Champagne, Pimm's and the most delicious food. I'm not complaining, especially as we were able to take home this spectacular pavlova from the party and serve it the next day for my dad's birthday lunch. 
This weekend it's our local free community arts festival, Fuse. As well as the whole family volunteering, hubs' group, The Sleaze Brothers, are also playing there on Saturday night. The original line-up from 1986 is back together after a break of, ahem, a few years. There have been many rehearsals. I've been a guitar widow these last few months, but I don't mind one little bit; it takes guts and hard work to get back under the spotlight after a break of several years. Facebook has been awash with retro Sleaze Bros photos. The photo below is from 1989 at our brilliant local arts centre (sadly now a restaurant) and the ticket price was just £3. I love the atmosphere in this photo - I was there in the audience, somewhere, dancing my socks off.

The Sleaze Brothers play blues, soul and rock and roll numbers inspired by The Blues Brothers, although they are not a tribute band.

I think they've had a lot of fun getting back together. I hope they enjoy tomorrow night, I certainly will.

Wishing you a good weekend, whatever you're up to xo


The Good Life Experience Launch at Pedlars General Store and Cafe

On Tuesday lunchtime I was invited to celebrate the opening of the new look Pedlars General Store and Cafe in Notting Hill, London. Feet weary (I'd forgotten how much walking is involved in getting about the capital) I was soon revived with an excellent espresso and a pick of the most irresistible sandwiches and pastries. I was warmly welcomed by the Pedlars team and had a fantastic time discovering the delights of the refurbished store and cafe and learning more about Pedlars new baby of a festival, The Good Life Experience. Smokin' music from Paprika brought a flavour of the festival fabulousness to come and bright sunshine and glamourous smiles filtered the store (Cerys Matthews and Bill Granger were there - if I dare to name-drop).

Pedlars General Store and Cafe is a treasure trove of vintage goods, fine stationary, cool creative magazines, fun prints, bags, homewares and more (you can also buy sweets and fresh bread here) all oozing Pedlars signature style of colourful, cheerful and character full products made to last a lifetime. Set against a luminous background of the prettiest pale blue walls offset with splashes of neon pink and orange at every turn, I must confess, this is interior heaven. A huge window and oversized statement lamps flood the space with light.

The new cafe area, towards the back of the store, has an ambient mood with its dreamy aqua colourway, squashy cushions, patinated table tops and wooden stools. 

This is the perfect place to hunker down for good coffee, eats and chat.

The Good Life Experience is a new venture for Charlie and Caroline Gladstone, co-founders of Pedlars, but one that they are more than qualified to deliver. Their three prime passions are culture, food and the great outdoors (in fact they've written a family focused book of the same name) and this one day festival in Flintshire, Wales will encompass all three. Charlie and Caroline are keen to bring an outdoor adventuring vibe to their festival with activities such as bushcraft skills on offer. Cerys Matthews (recently recognised for her services to music with a MBE) is curating the music whilst the Howarden Estate Farm Shop and Glynne Arms are curating the food. The Good Life Experience is set to be an all round feast for the senses.

My time at Pedlars gave me a taste for the feel good outlook on life: forget mass production insist on buy to last, slow down, have fun, get outside and make time for simple pleasures such as music and cooking from scratch. 

Thank you Pedlars for such a lovely time. The Good Life Experience here we come!

Readers, I'd love to know what you think of Pedlars new look store and ventures.