Confessions of a social media abstainer

As we walked through Hyde Park today my boyfriend and I noticed the countless number of selfies being taken and conversation wandered on to the topic of self-promotion on social media.

What was the purpose of these selfies and why was so much effort being taken to get them perfect? No doubt many of the selfies were being taken with Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook as their end destination, most likely enhanced by filters and accompanied by any number of hashtags.

The selfie takers were largely quite young and it appeared that they were more caught up in capturing themselves basking in the late afternoon sun on camera than actually savouring and enjoying the moment for what it was. This seemed like a shame to us but we are not sixteen anymore and we really don’t get the appeal of broadcasting our every moment to the outside world.

Over the years I have had a Facebook profile but have never been particularly active on it or comfortable about posting status updates and photos. Largely my Facebook profile sits there dormant, until my birthday rolls around and people post birthday wishes or people tag me in photos.

For the most part I use Facebook for its messenger, to remind me of friends’ birthdays, and to receive event invitations. I also like to have the occasional scroll to see my friends’ travel or wedding photos, but that is the extent of my involvement.

By only using Facebook I am most likely perceived as a social media laggard, someone who is behind the times and not up to speed with the latest trends. My friends often tell me that I absolutely must get on Instagram. It is so much fun posting photos they say, and everyone is on there (apart from me of course).

The thing about Instagram, as fun as it may seem, is that it seems like something that is going to drain my time. One of my friends once told me that she wastes countless hours on Instagram scrolling through the people and companies she follows.

I decided that considering my past addiction to the Daily Mail celebrity sidebar, having Instagram and following countless people would not be a good idea for me, so I decided to abstain from Instagram completely which is a decision I haven’t regretted to this day.

On top of this, I simply can’t be bothered taking photos of every meal I eat or every place I visit in the weekends. I am simply too lazy and am more than happy to just have my memories, as much as they may fade.

Don’t get me wrong, an awful lot of people love social media and seem to get a lot out of it, but I read an article recently about the effect of social media on young people which concerned me.

This article stated that Instagram and Snapchat ranked as the worst social media for impact on mental health and well-being, largely because “both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

No doubt this inadequacy and anxiety is not simply limited to young people, inevitably it affects us all. People post perfectly composed selfies and images of their so-called amazing lives, painting a finely polished picture to everyone looking in, which then leads others to look at their own lives and lament the lack of excitement in their lives by comparison. It is a form of ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ and it is not healthy.

Taking all of this into account, this is why I am a social media abstainer. I think we could all benefit from taking a step back away from our phones and the keyboard and simply enjoying each moment for what it is, and not what a great Instagram or Facebook post it would make.

Confessions of a staycation lover

When it comes to the weekends, I am often counting down from Wednesday (hump day) to buzzy Fridays, filled with excitement about the fact that I am going to spend my Saturdays and Sundays staycationing in London.

London is an amazing city with so much to see and do and as much as I may feel like I deserve some down time in the weekends, I also know that it is a crime to stay indoors when there is so much happening across the city.

If you wanted to, you could live in London like a tourist – cramming your Saturdays and Sundays with market visits (Portobello, Borough, Broadway!), festivals, pop up events, museums and galleries, and more.

That is what I often did when I moved to London four years ago and I absolutely loved taking in everything the city had to offer. In fact I lived in a perpetually dreamy state for six months straight after I arrived, enamoured with the vibrancy of the city, which is always alive and brimming with possibility.

Now that I have been in London for several years and it has truly become my home I feel more comfortable with taking a more relaxed approach to my weekends.

These days most of my staycationing revolves around walking and food. This is a wonderful combination as you can indulge in delicious brunches and dinners and then erase much of the guilt by burning calories directly afterwards. You can’t go wrong!

London has every type of cuisine imaginable and countless restaurants, cafes, diners, market stalls, and more. Before I make eating plans with friends I often consult Google about the best spots in the hopes of unearthing undiscovered gems.

By the same token, as a creature of habit I also like to go back to my favourite places. There is something to be said about knowing what you are going to get and having faith in the quality of food they deliver.

When it comes to walks, I have taken to walking to my many of my destinations instead of taking public transport. London has an amazing underground train service and it has served me well over the years, but it is a real treat to walk above ground across town and take in so many of London’s most famous landmarks.

For instance, a walk from home in west London all the way to London Bridge to get pasta at a wonderful spot called Padella takes me past the Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Southbank. I can assure you, walking past such iconic sights never gets old, no matter how many times you have done it!

So as the weekend approaches I am working out my plans, figuring out where to eat and where to walk to, and I know that by Monday I will feel as though I have had a relaxing and fun-filled staycation.

Confessions of a recovering book hoarder

Over the years I have collected a number of books which are now housed on a couple of overcrowded shelves in my bedroom, gathering dust for the most part.

I have read many of these books cover to cover as they are the kind of light-hearted material which I find easy to devour – memoirs or essays from Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, Mindy Kaling, Diane Keaton, Hadley Freeman and Lena Dunham. These are books that read as if you could be having a long one-sided conversation with a friend who absolutely loves to talk and who you are more than happy to devote your full attention to. You finish them almost as quickly as you started them and feel a sense of sadness when they are over because they became a part of your life for a short period of time.

Then there are the books that I bought with good intentions to read one day and which have laid on my shelves largely untouched, potentially for years, because they are not easy reads, but have more complexity in the ideas discussed and the topics covered. Books like The End Of Poverty and the Female Eunuch fall into that camp.

The reason I have accumulated so many books is I love going to bookstores and browsing for a long, long while, hopping from one interesting book to another and inevitably coming across something I want to buy with the greatest intentions of reading it.

When I was on holiday last week I finally finished reading The Marriage Plot – almost a year after I started it! Avid readers would recoil in horror at this delay but reading has not been at the top of my list of leisure activities recently and holidays are often the only time I dedicate solid time to it.

While on holiday I remembered what a treat it is to get fully engrossed in a book and in the world that is wonderfully visualised on its pages. It may not always be on the top of my list of things to do but I’d like to dedicate more time to this pursuit in order to branch out and broaden my leisure activities.

I have counted that I have eight books on my shelves which I have started and are at various stages on being read. In the interest of putting a stop to this bad habit and to prevent my bookshelves from buckling under the weight of too many unread books I am not going to allow myself to buy any more books prior to finishing the ones on my shelves.

This means I need to get busy with reading and look at gradually finishing each of the books that are partially read. After this I think it would be a good time to look at de-cluttering that space and donating the books I don’t need to own which is all aligned with my recent minimalist goals.

It’s time to get reading!

Confessions of a travelling city dweller

Today I am leaving on a jet plane and heading to Alicante, Spain. As I attempt to not overpack and get into holiday mode I thought it would be a good chance to ruminate on why I am so excited about this holiday.

It is not often that I really dig deep and look into the reasons behind why I travel, but upon reading some of Alain de Botton’s The Art Of Travel, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give it some thought before I jet off.

“At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves – that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us.”

– Alain de Botton – The Art Of Travel

My day to day life is filled with habits and routines, the daily grind of work and often the exact same scenery as I journey to and from work and pass through the exact same locales again and again.

Many of us live this life and it can seem like we are living out the Bill Murray movie ‘Groundhog Day’. We are in perpetual motion but not always fully conscious of what we are doing because we are performing rote actions and routines.

For me, holidays in exotic locales give me an escape from what can seem like the neverending hamster wheel we call life. I am released from the ordinary and confronted with an environment that is entirely different and new and this awakens something within me that can at times be forgotten.

Travelling provides the opportunity to take stock of life as you wander the streets of a foreign city, taking in the different architecture, sounds, smells, food and climate.

If you live in London climate is often key. So many days in London are spent with a perpetual blanket of grey cloud hovering above you (as well as smog which we only notice when we blow our noses).

This is why we embrace the sunny days in London so wholeheartedly and bring our shorts and dresses out prematurely. It is also why I have booked this trip to Spain, which is famed for its high percentage of sunny days.

Sometimes you have those busy holidays which you return from almost in need of another break, but this break is a relaxing one, devoid of any real plans apart from eating, going on long walks across the city, hopefully getting enough sunshine to bathe in and eating some delicious local cuisine.

Ultimately I am in need of time to relax, to shed the stresses that can accompany my everyday working life and to reflect on what is really important to me. Perhaps this reflective state will also lead me to more creative ideas for my blog and other pursuits.

I am aware that I am also very privileged to be in the position to be able to afford to travel and to experience other corners of the world. I need to embrace this opportunity and have gratitude for the fact that I am able to hop on a plane at all.

I am about to close my bags and head off now a little more aware of why I am travelling and what I want to get out of it. I enjoy having this awareness. Perhaps I’ll have a different set of reasons next time. In the meantime, bon voyage!

Confessions of a minimalist hoarder

Recently I have spent a lot of time looking into the concept of minimalism and what it would mean for me to start minimizing my life.

I love the idea of eliminating aspects of life and material possessions that are bringing you little or no value. It is a process of de-cluttering not only your physical space, but also freeing up your mental space, so that you are able to focus more clearly on what you find to be truly important.

Historically I have been a bit of a hoarder. To clarify, I am not a hoarder in the sense that my house is so crammed with things that there is no visible floor space, but in the past I have had a hard time saying goodbye to things that I’ve held some kind of nostalgic attachment to.

I have clung on to old movie tickets for years to the point where the writing has faded beyond comprehension. I keep mementos from all of my holidays – postcards, old ticket stubs, brochures and other paraphernalia I picked up along the way. I cling to clothing that I haven’t worn in years with the thought that one day there may be an occasion to wear them…one day. My PVR is filled with TV recordings and movies I am adamant that I will watch when I can find the time – which is often never.

At the beginning of the year I decided to reverse some of my hoarder tendencies by clearing out most of the old clothes I had left behind at my parents’ house. As a former charity shopper I had piles and piles of clothing to sift through and set aside to donate and the feeling of clearing everything out was positively liberating.

After going through the process of eliminating so many clothes I realised that I have more than enough clothes, to the point that I really shouldn’t be buying any more. So as part of my attempt to become more minimal I have decided that I am not going to buy any new clothing unless I have items that are close to falling apart and need to be replaced. So far so good – I haven’t bought anything for three months and counting.

As part of reclaiming my time I have become more purposeful about how I spend my free moments. As an avid reader of the news I noticed that the largely negative focus of mainstream news on my commutes would start my days off with a cloud of negativity hanging over me.

I realised that part of clearing my mind in the morning would involve cultivating a meditative state and reading more optimistic articles, all of which has helped me to start the day from a more upbeat and positive place.

Another tenet of minimalism is to consume less and create more, which is where this blog comes in. Being productive and creating content as opposed to simply consuming it all the time has given me a more purposeful way to spend my free time.

Adding to that, the act of writing has not only provided a great form of creative expression, it has also provided me with time to focus and centre myself, akin to a state of meditation.

With all of the changes I have made towards leading a more minimal life, I can see that they have gradually made me happier and healthier by extension.

There is further to go, more ways that I can minimize going forward, but starting the journey is the hardest part and I feel good about the fact that I am on the path to a simpler, more minimal life.

Minimal

Female Solo Traveler

Traveling solo if you are a woman is not for the faint-hearted. It is a test for even the most independent of spirits but if you have ever done it before you know that it is well worth doing it at least once.

A word of warning – you must thoroughly enjoy your own company because that is all you will have for the many, many hours that you will be away. This experience is not for people who fear that people are staring at them as if they are the biggest loser on earth if they eat alone at a restaurant. Spoiler alert, you are likely to be eating alone, most if not all of the time. So you need to be at peace with solitude. Either that or you need to have the gift of the gab and the ability to pick up friends along with your travels.

I have traveled solo twice and I find that your choice of city can really make or break the whole experience. I like the cities to be compact and manageable; with plenty of sights to see but not so many that you don’t feel as though you have seen everything you wanted to by the time you leave. Verona and Lisbon perfectly fit that criteria and I had the most amazing time in both cities.

I am a pretty easy going person but I find that the biggest difficulties you get when traveling with others is people often have different ideas about what they want their holiday to be like.

When travelling solo you can prepare for feelings of pure joy at your ability to decide what time to start your days, where and when to eat, how long you want to spend poring over artwork in museums (or not), and whether you want to get around by foot/tram/rail/bus.

I am a big walker and can easily stroll across cities by foot for days at a time from morning through to nighttime with the occasional food stop. This hasn’t always gone down well with travel companions who aren’t up for such a walking-heavy holiday so when I get a chance to do whatever I want I get ready for my perfect holiday jam – walking, eating, reading, sleeping.

My days traveling solo in Verona and Lisbon were filled with blissful walks through bustling town squares, climbs to stunning lookouts spanning as far as the eye could see, meandering walks through picturesque gardens, with the sun beating down on me as my spirit was nourished and relaxation set in.

To beat solitude I had a never-ending soundtrack of my favourite music playing in my ear, punctuated by rest stops spent reading memoirs and essays by the likes of Norah Ephron and Diane Keaton. Their voices kept me company, as if I had a friend telling me funny, personal stories over a cup of coffee. So in a way I did have a companion with me, but one that had no demands whatsoever about what we should do everyday. Perfect company!

While I don’t mind eating alone, it became a bit of a dire situation on occasion. First there was the time that I attempted to get served at the restaurant of a popular site in Lisbon and was ignored, then told they were closed (they weren’t). I guess they just didn’t want a single lady cramping their style.

Then there was the time I was seated and then approached by wait staff who were somewhat concerned, telling me that they ‘don’t get many single women dining alone,’ followed up with recommendations about a music festival happening out of town ‘filled with young people’. Boy oh boy, I must have really been coming across as Sally no mates.

What these people didn’t understand was that I had made a conscious decision to travel to their city on my own, that I had planned my days there meticulously, and that I was having a ball being in my own company.

The memories of those solo holidays are positively dreamy. Awkward solitary meals aside, they were two of my best travel experiences and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Mary Poppins Syndrome: the curse of our bottomless handbags

The defining feature of Mary Poppins, for me, is not that she was wonderfully chipper or that she could really hold a musical note. It was that she had a bottomless bag, and I could really use one of those.

I have been called Poppins for the very reason that, like Mary, I try to be prepared for every eventuality. My oversized handbag is filled to the brim, packed with my necessities – umbrella (for rain), sunglasses (for rays), tissues (for sniffles), plasters (for scrapes), lipsticks (to transform), water bottle (to avoid dehydration), almonds (to snack on). It also happens to be filled with all sorts of floating debris, from opened, faded packets of gum which may no longer be edible, rogue nuts and half nuts, torn receipts and more.

Many woman understand my plight. I know this because on occasion I have held another friend’s bag and buckled under the weight of it, sighing with relief that I am not the only person to be suffering from what I like to call Mary Poppins syndrome.

I think it is a good thing to be prepared. The Scouts obviously think it’s a good thing to be prepared too. But on occasion I have had to pay the price for this.

Case in point being on a trip to New York when I ended up being labeled “Disabled Poppins” when I injured my leg after attempting to carry around all of the above contents whilst traversing the city day and night for two weeks.

Once my limp became unbearable I sought refuge in the nearest Duane Reade and bought a leg support band. This allowed me to continue to hobble around for a few extra days but I knew then that I needed help. Out with my 24/7 supply of water and any nice to have items, in with the bare necessities – wallet, keys, phone.

I have since discovered that I got off light with a leg injury. Apparently heavy handbags are a major cause of back pain, headaches and muscle stiffness. This is not in any way surprising but is still somewhat alarming given I live in London and must carry a bag when travelling by foot, bus and train.

The good thing is I have changed tack and bought the ultimate utility item for those days when I know that I am going to be pounding the pavement for hours – a backpack. It is medium-sized, black so that it goes with everything, and I can fit everything I need and still have plenty of space. This has been a revelation for me and there can be no turning back.

Here’s to being prepared – without causing grievous bodily injury.