2016-06-29 When You Do Everything Right and It All Goes Wrong wyldeandfree.com

When You Do Everything Right and It All Goes Wrong

I was reminded this morning of the most famous story in my faith – that of a young girl who did everything right and for whom it all went wrong.

It started off well: she was young and betrothed to a man she knew to be good and respectable. Strong, fierce and assertive, she had kept faithfully to the requirements of her faith. In doing so had laid a solid foundation for her future – she had every reason to expect a good reputation, a husband who would treat her well, and a thriving family.

She Did Everything Right

angel - its all going wrong - wyldeandfree.com

Photo by Unsplash user Marcus Dall Col

Of course, she was not expecting The Call.

When it came, it was dramatic and ambiguous. Confused and disturbed, this young girl tried to think what the enigmatic words she was hearing could mean, but she had little time to make sense of it all before she was given the strangest and most audacious of prophecies.

Unfortunately, though the prophecy was specific, it did little to bring clarity or reassurance. Ever-audacious herself, she found the courage to challenge this strange, speaking angelic being.

He assured her (if you could call it that) that she would bear a child despite being a virgin. Furthermore, this child would be the long-prophesied, long-awaited Messiah of her people and, unthinkably (as if it had somehow been thinkable thus far) he would not only be her child but would also be called the child of God: this baby would be divine.

To this, she humbly and courageously said “OK, then. Let it be.”

(But more eloquently, because as well as being one of the fiercest pre-teens the world has ever known, she was pretty articulate too).

But It All Went Wrong

mary - its all going wrong - wyldeandfree.com

Photo by Pixabay user kershnek

In that single act of courageous submission, the bottom of this young girl’s world fell out. If ever a person lost the grip of control over their own respectable life in a moment, then this is the story of that person. From that day on, this bright girl’s life was pretty much all downhill.

She did get pregnant, of course, and unsurprisingly not many of her relatives or neighbours imagined that this was as a result of a miraculous virgin birth through which a divine baby would be born. Meanwhile, her fiancée quietly planned their breakup and it took an angel to stop him going through with it. All around her the whispers swirled, but she worshipped. Even children giggled when she walked past, but she sang “he has done great things for me.”

Which, frankly, it didn’t look much like he had.

A terribly timed census left her making a gruelling trip in biting conditions whilst heavily pregnant to a town so overcrowded that none of their relatives could find room for a pregnant woman. She ended up giving birth miles from home and laying her newborn son among the stench and flies of animals. Why was there no room for a long-prophesied divine child?

This was just the beginning. It wasn’t long before this young middle-Eastern family were fleeing from violence as refugees. Reports from their relatives were that attempts to ensure the death of their toddler had led to the massacre of all the infants in their village. How could everything have gone so horribly wrong, when she thought she’d done everything right?

Eventually, this mother would live to see her firstborn die.

This was a woman whose very soul was pierced by her surrender.

There Is More Going On Than You See

man cannot see - its all going wrong - wyldeandfree.com

Photo by PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay

Whether or not you believe the story, you’ve got to admire the courage of this author. This is neither Hollywood nor Hardy, neither Fairytale nor Tragedy. It’s striking. She did everything right and it all went horribly wrong – yet the claim is, that somehow in the midst of those long, arduous sufferings, this fierce, willing, audacious mother gave birth to the Saviour of the world. Her aches and pains became the pivot point of history.

I don’t know how to end this post which sounds so depressing but speaks to me of hope. I’ve heard friends say, “I thought we did the right thing, but it turned out so badly…” Sometimes, things do turn out badly because of our unwise choices, but there’s another truth too. Sometimes, you did do the right thing and things still seem to be unravelling around you.

Be careful when you’re tempted to judge your life by today’s outcomes. If you have a promise, hold on to it. If you know what you believe, walk in it. Be careful, too, when you’re tempted to judge another person’s life by visible outcomes. There is so much more going on than you or I can see in the aches and pains of today.

So here’s my question for you: have you ever experienced this yourself? Have you ever thought “it’s all going wrong” and looked back on how you got to where you were and been frustrated, because you wouldn’t have done much differently? How does that make you feel? How do you deal with it?

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Featured image of sunset in Bethlehem by Pixabay user Gemack


2016-06-21 Real Life Tortoise and Hare wyldeandfree.com

The Real Life Tortoise Won the Real Life Race

After I finished work this weekend, Aaron and I went for a wander to enjoy the fading light by our city’s beautiful quayside. We were walking along the river, deep in conversation, when two men with light backpacks ran past us. At first we barely registered them, but a seemingly drunk man made a big deal of turning to clap them as they passed. The runners didn’t acknowledge this and it seemed in rather poor taste – perhaps the partygoer was mocking these runners for their gear and commitment so late on a Saturday night? But then as we watched them run down the quayside in front of us, group after group paused their conversations to honour them as they passed. More runners appeared from behind and these, too, were clapped as they passed. We realised we must be witnessing – or, more accurately, walking through the middle of – a race, but we couldn’t quite fit the pieces together. As we got closer, we heard a microphone announcing times, but…hang on…was that 14 hours and something? What the…?!

We passed a couple of clappers without getting up the guts to ask what was going on, but when we saw a group with a runner in their midst walking towards us I couldn’t resist, and trust me, it was worth the conversation.

These runners had started in Carlisle at 7am that morning, had run 69 miles along Hadrian’s Wall and were just minutes from the finish line. I had never heard of this particular race until that moment and at first I couldn’t quite process the information I was hearing. These women and men had indeed been running for over fourteen hours. Some of their fellow Rat Racers would be running (and walking and resting) all night and would make it to the finish line just before the race closed at 9am the next morning.

No wonder everyone was clapping!

2016-06-21 Gateshead Millenium Bridge raised wyldeandfree.com

Gateshead Millennium Bridge – the final stretch for the runners – raised to let a boat through or, as one of the organisers more romantically claimed, to pay the city’s respect to the racers!

We obviously went straight to the finish line to join those clapping and cheering and to soak up some more of the atmosphere. It was wonderful to watch people cross the finish line. There was the a man relieved to beat 15 hours, the dude who pumped the air and cheered himself excitedly as he approached the end and the couple who grabbed each other’s hands and finished together. We were taken aback by the young woman who can’t have been more than about 18 (the lower age limit) and moved by the family who cheered when they caught a glimpse of their runner and ran to meet him, running the final few metres by his side. I was quietly impressed by the man who couldn’t bring himself to run another step but walked to the end anyway and equally so by the women and men of all shapes and sizes who kept going, half-limping, half-running, for those last, brutal few metres.

There is something uniquely moving about a hardcore sporting event that gets me every time, but the thing that really stayed with me after we walked away this time was a little tale from one of the event organisers. He had been in Carlisle that morning when the race started and there was a man he noticed who started off at a leisurely pace. While others sprinted ahead, this runner lagged behind, but one-by-one the other runners began to flag and this man kept going at the same leisurely pace. He kept going, and going, and going. In fact, when he crossed the finish line, he had only stopped twice – once for about two minutes, and once for just a few seconds for a drink of water. He had neither eaten nor rested in over 10 hours of running; he had simply kept going at his unremarkable but consistent pace.

He won the race, of course. In fact, he finished more than two hours ahead of the second fastest runner! I love that so much. Slow, steady, consistent and determined, the real life tortoise won the real life race.

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Featured image and in post image by Rachel Hughes Shah – the beautiful Gateshead Millennium Bridge marked the final stretch for the runners.

2016-06-13 Silence the mean voices in your head wyldeandfree.com

The Mean Backseat Driver

I wrote last week about nine ways to alleviate pressure when you’re overwhelmed. The post is filled with strategies that I have tried and tested1 and they all work to alleviate pressure, but here’s what I’m finding in my own personal overwhelmed season right now: sometimes when we’re overwhelmed the problem is not just with our practical strategies, it’s also with the mean voices in our heads.

This PhD project is stretching me right now. I’m in the final throes of a long race and, honestly, I’m not very good at finishing things at the best of times. And these are not the best of times. They are not the worst of times either, but they are not the best.

I’ve been putting my foot on the accelerator for a while now and that’s been OK. I’m pushing hard, but because I’m also using strategies like getting away for breaks, doing life giving things, prioritising sleep, dialling back and cancelling other commitments, I’m still fine. I mean, I’m exhausted. I’m emotionally fragile. I’m don’t have a lot of leftover capacity, but I’m fine.

Well, I’m fine except that I’ve been having an internal battle with a mean voice. I put my foot on the accelerator, but then this Mean Voice in the backseat of the car starts yelling at me, “Doesn’t that accelerator go down further? It used to go down further! You can push harder than that. I’ve seen you push harder than that! You’re better than this! This isn’t good enough. It’s not going to cut it. If others can do it, you can do it. Why didn’t you push harder earlier? You can make this happen, just make it happen, COME ON!”


That is not the voice of truth, and look, here’s the thing. It doesn’t make me go faster. It makes me exhausted, getting yelled at, but I will not go faster, because I know that if I do go faster at the demand of the Backseat Driver, I will crash the car.

So I would like to make a public response to my Mean Backseat Driver:

You know what, Mean Guy? Thanks for trying to help but THIS DOES NOT HELP. You’re wearing me out. You’re making me cry and I need my eyes to drive this car. Yes, I’ve seen myself push harder than this before. I’ve also seen myself ignore the voice of God because I’m listening to my internal drive (no pun intended). I’ve seen myself make me ill. I’ve seen myself burnout things I care about (which includes me, by the way – I care about me!) with my sheer determination to hit some arbitrary goal. I’m not going to do it again. So here’s the deal, Mean Backseat Driver, quit backseat driving, quit yelling and start being kind. Settle in for the ride. Trust the driver. Or get out of the car.

Do you have a Mean Backseat Driver in your car? What would you like to say to him or her?2

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Featured image by Pixabay user Headcoachead

  1. OK I’ve tried and tested nearly all of them. Number 5 is the exception. I have accepted help when it is offered but I’m not sure I have done much asking for help outright – working on it…! 
  2. If you don’t know how to tell the Mean Backseat Driver to shush up, I’ve got two great recommendations for you:
    A. Go to counselling
    B. Go to Jesus (his voice is never, ever mean) 
2016-06-07 Nine Ways to Alleviate Pressure When Youre Overwhelmed wyldeandfree.com

Nine Ways to Alleviate Pressure When You’re Overwhelmed

What do you actually do when you’re overwhelmed?

Aaron and I went away last weekend for a much-needed rest and at first, I found it really hard to switch off. I’m just a few weeks off submitting my PhD and things feel really intense. I knew I needed a break and it had been in the diary for months but resisting the adrenaline-fuelled urge to make progress towards my deadlines wasn’t easy. I lay outside in the sun trying to fake my body into chilling but internally I was tense and jumpy.

As we talked about it, Aaron shared an analogy with me that I found really helpful. He told me that sometimes we can’t take the heat away from a boiling kettle, but we can take the lid off to prevent it boiling over. The deadlines aren’t going anywhere so the pressure was still on, but this weekend away was all about finding ways to take the lid off.

kettle let the pressure off when overwhelmed wyldeandfree.com

We did manage to do that, and by Sunday afternoon I was able to lie in the sun and doze off. I’m back into the intensity of work now, but having connected, relaxed and broken a long run of poor sleep I’m a little better equipped to deal with it. Sometimes we simply can’t turn off the heat just yet, but we can find ways to take off the lid and prevent ourselves reaching boiling point, so today I wanted to share with you nine proven ways to alleviate some pressure. I hope at least one of them works for you!

1. Get Away

wine picnic alleviate pressure when overwhelmed wyldeandfree.com

Picture from the personal collection of Rachel Hughes Shah.

In my experience, when I’m close to boiling point nothing works quite as well as physically getting away from the place of pressure and taking a brief break from the demands and responsibilities overwhelming me. It’s much easier to say “no” to further requests when you’re not physically present and I believe that the change of scene helps us relax faster too.

I know that it is also true that there is little that seems as unrealistic as figuring out how to get a break when you’re overwhelmed, and it takes serious courage to stop and rest when there is so much to be done in so little time, but it is nearly always both possible and worth it. Pushing through is a false economy.

2. Dial Back and Cancel Commitments

cancel commitments - alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree.com

Photo by Pixabay user FirmBee

When you’re close to boiling point it is both legitimate and important to dial back on as many commitments as you possibly can. It’s easy to get hung up on whether this is really justified, but I would encourage both you and myself not to! The point is that when our top priorities are taking up all of our capacity, then we can’t do other things as well without either compromising on those priorities or tipping ourselves over the edge. The best way to stay true to your most important commitments and to protect what you truly have to offer to your community is to do less.

3. Do Life Giving Things

surfer ways to alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree (1)

Photo by Pixabay user Stock Snap

The counterpart to the previous point is that sometimes the best way to alleviate some pressure is to do something that really makes you feel alive. Often when times are pressured we deprive ourselves of the things that give us the very energy we need to keep going. How do you normally get refreshed? How do you get energised? How do you get restored?

For me, physical exertion in a sunny and beautiful wilderness usually does the trick. For one of my friends, an episode of trashy TV is all she needs. For someone else I know, lying in total silence helps. For others it’s cooking or creating or connecting.

Whatever it is for you, making time for life giving things will make you far more productive than depriving yourself of them ever will.

4. Lower Your Standards

looking up - ways to alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree (2)

Photo by Pixabay user Stock Snap

When you can’t eliminate commitments, sometimes you just need to lower your standards. You can’t not eat, for example, but you can eat food that takes less energy to cook. We had filled pasta with a little butter and cheese for dinner last night. Was it healthy and affordable gourmet ethically-sourced fare? Nope, but it took me all of five minutes to prepare. I’ve been known to have popcorn for dinner. Or cereal. Don’t pretend you can’t relate!

Maybe your nephew’s birthday present this year will be a voucher. Maybe you’ll send a text to support a friend instead of making a phone call. Maybe your kids will get a little less alone time with you this month. Maybe (almost certainly!) I won’t post on this blog in the next few weeks.

We’ll all live, though, right?

5. Ask For Help

guy texting - ways to alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree (4)

Photo by Death to the Stock Photo

Ask for help, not least because if you’re cancelling your commitments and lowering your standards, you might need to let others know why! Also, people are amazing if you just give them some guidelines to work with. One of my friends is battling cancer at the moment and just watching her navigate asking for help so gracefully and with such dignity has hugely inspired me.

6. Prioritise Sleep

prioritise sleep - ways to alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree (8)

Photo by Pixabay user Wokandapix

I know this is not possible for everyone. If you have a baby or suffer from insomnia, then lack of sleep might be what is causing the overwhelm in the first place. In most cases, though, lack of sleep is caused by trying to create more hours in the day to fit in all our demands and responsibilities. This does not work! We achieve more, in both the short run and the long run, when we have had enough sleep. Cutting out sleep in order to achieve more is analogous to deciding not to fill up your car’s fuel tank on a long journey in order to save time and get there faster. You definitely won’t get there faster and you might not get there at all. Cutting sleep might be worth it for a night or two, but beyond that I would say it’s always worth making the tough call and sacrificing something else instead.

7. Do a Brain Dump

lady writing - ways to alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree (7)

Photo by Pixabay user picjumbo

Our brains get overwhelmed when we ask them to process too much information at once which is one reason why the brain dump is such a powerful exercise. Take a piece of paper and write down everything that is in your brain. Keep going until you can’t think of anything else without repeating yourself. Draw sub categories and branches off your umbrella topics if you need to. Then take a step back and feel validated – what a weight you were carrying around with you!

Aaron and I find that simply writing everything down relieves the pressure, but if you want to go to the next step then it can be helpful to categorise or prioritise things. I often find that once I’ve seen the list of how much I’m feeling overwhelmed by I’m much more willing to cancel some things because I have finally realised that it is simply unrealistic to just carry on.

8. Schedule Uninterrupted Time for Your Priority

schedule time - ways to alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree (5)

Photo by Pixabay user Stock Snap

Choose the one thing that is most important to you and schedule uninterrupted time to do that thing as often as you need to in order to get it back under control. It won’t solve all your problems, but getting the most important area of life back to how you want it is a really powerful step which can increase your capacity and create space, momentum and beautiful knock-on effects in other areas of life.

9. Set a Deadline

road - alleviate pressures when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree.com

Photo by Pixabay user 44833

We can usually face anything for a short period of time, but when overwhelming things go on indefinitely they can crush us. Knowing this, it is sometimes worth looking at a situation and creating an arbitrary deadline for it. Aaron and I have sometimes done this as a kind of safety valve on the adventurous risks we take together and we have found it has worked well for us and for some of our friends. Here’s a fill in the blank sentence to help you do it for your situation:

If [overwhelming situation] hasn’t changed [in this specific way] by [date] then we will [action you will take to change the situation, review it or get help.]

For example:

  • If we I haven’t got an income of [amount] by [date] then we will reduce our outgoings by moving somewhere cheaper.
  • If I haven’t found a job that I’d enjoy by [date] then I’ll apply for part-time menial work to relieve the pressure.
  • If our kiddo doesn’t respond to this approach by [date] then we’ll try [alternative approach].
  • If we haven’t resolved this issue by [date] then we’ll go for counselling.
  • If this ministry hasn’t become [named characteristics] by [date] then we’ll review what’s happening with [trusted advisors].

Obviously this isn’t always possible, but it’s surprising how often we can alleviate some of the pressure on ourselves simply by deciding that we won’t carry on like this forever.

Force a Crisis Before There Is a Crisis

lady contemplating - ways to alleviate pressure when you're overwhelmed wyldeandfree (6)

Photo by Death to the Stock Photo

A planned surgery is safer and easier to recover from than an emergency surgery, which is why when doctors realise that surgery is inevitable, they schedule one in rather than just waiting until that part of the body collapses. Applying any of these ideas in an overwhelming situation might feel like forcing a crisis, and maybe you think that you can keep going without doing so, but I would urge you to consider whether avoiding a planned crisis will allow an emergency crisis to develop instead.

Each of these ideas takes courage, because when you’re feeling that your capacity is maxed out taking any action not directly related to getting through another day is overwhelming. It is possible to take alleviate some pressure though, and I have never found it to not be worth it.

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Featured image by Death to the Stock Photo

The phrase “Force a Crisis” is taken from Michael Hyatt’s podcast episode Shave 10 Hours of Your Work Week

2016-05-24 Give Yourself Permission for Respite wyldeandfree.com

Permission for Respite

“If you’re not coping, then anything that gives you respite and is not immoral is a good thing.”

The words of that sentence streamed out of my mouth in the course of a conversation I was having with Aaron in the car yesterday and as I heard them, I realised there was more to them than just the context of that conversation. I repeated them, more slowly, realising as I did how many situations I know of in which people suffer, not because they do not know what would give them respite, but because they refuse to give themselves permission to take it.

Today I want to address a question:

Why on earth do so many of us feel so guilty for giving ourselves the respite we need and what would it take to change that?

In my last blog post I talked about the feeling we have when we think we’re fine but we aren’t sure, and in my next one I plan to talk about some specific ideas for coping with that near-capacity feeling, but in this one I just wanted to pause for a second to talk about the importance of giving ourselves permission to take a little respite.

I think that if you’re like most of the people who read this blog then giving yourself permission to take respite is more of a problem then coming up with ideas for what respite might look like – and without permission, all the ideas in the world won’t help you dial back the demands to bring your capacity thermometer down to a more manageable heat. So here, in the format of answering your potential protests, are some thoughts on why I think you should just go ahead and write yourself a permission slip to take a break!

Respite - hands

Picture by Unsplash user Ismael Nieto

But I really don’t know what would help…

I believe you, I do. If fact it was only a matter of days ago that I said more or less the same thing to a friend offering me help, so I really do understand this rebuttal. But here’s the thing – I actually think that not believing our situation merits respite is one of the biggest obstacles to coming up with ideas for what would help.

Here’s why: sadly, I have been witness to friends and family dealing with desperate situations several times. In desperate situations there is not a lot of space left for judgement. People who are facing tragedy can’t afford to withhold permission from themselves to get help and have very little mental or emotional space for analysing whether others judge them or not. I’m not saying it’s not a struggle to be in a position of having to rely so utterly on others’ support because I know it is. I’m just saying that when someone is simply trying to survive from day-to-day, we don’t begrudge them taking any possible opportunity for respite. And in those situations – when the judgement is alleviated somewhat – we come up with plenty of ideas for respite.

So here’s what I want you to do if you’re not coping but can’t come up with any ideas for how to dial back the demands and give yourself a brief break: imagine, for a minute, that your situation was worse than it is. Imagine that you were in a position that is widely socially validated as a legitimate asking-for-help scenario. Hang your judgement up on a hook temporarily (don’t worry, just for a minute) and then write a list – a secret list, for no one need ever see it – of all the not-immoral things that would make your life easier:

Things that are allowed to go on this list include:

  • things that you know you can’t possibly do
  • things you can’t afford
  • things that would be a relief but that you would never admit to wanting
  • things that would be humiliating to consider
  • forms of support that your situation does not warrant
  • types of respite that you don’t deserve
  • things that people like you don’t do
  • things that you never imagined contemplating

Things that are not allowed to go on this list are:

  • things that are immoral

If you’re not sure whether or not something is immoral (I get it – you’re tired!) ask yourself whether it would be immoral if you were in a desperate situation. If not, it can go on the list. If in doubt, just put it on the list. Don’t worry, it’s just an exercise. I’m not going to suggest you actually do these things!

Now, take another piece of paper and for each of the ideas you’ve written down on the first list, write several ideas on the second list that are similar to the List One idea but that hit various levels of scale. Here are some examples:

respite ideas examples

The point of this exercise is to show you that coming up with ideas for respite is not the problem: judgement is. Even if your List One ideas for respite are wildly unrealistic (and I hope they are!), they have done the job of breaking the ideas-block that your self-judgement built. They have also helped you come up with some less wildly-unrealistic ideas for List Two – these are things that you could actually consider doing.

respite - desperate

Picture by Unsplash user Alexander Lam

But my situation is not desperate…

I know – and for some reason it is far more socially acceptable to ask for help when your situation is desperate. We bandy around the idea that prevention is better than cure, but then we too often judge people who put firm boundaries and strong support in place in the name of preventing their future need for a cure. We really shouldn’t do that. They are courageous and honourable for doing so!

Who invented the idea that respite is only for the desperate, anyway?

Living close to your boiling point is sometimes unavoidable, but to the extent that you can do something about it, it is your God-given responsibility to do so. This is the principle of self-control. Living without a buffer makes it incredibly difficult to live and love well. Giving yourself respite when it is possible prevents poor decision-making and equips you to handle that which is truly unavoidable in ways that are honouring and loving.

Is “I do all my family’s cooking” or “I never say no to my boss” or “I haven’t had a holiday in months” the hill you want to die on? Is that sense of misplaced pride worth the cost – both to you and your loved ones – of living with no buffer, frequent meltdowns and potential future burnout?

Oh dear friend, I know it’s hard to think clearly now. I know you don’t mean badly by your decisions. I know you’re just trying to do your best with what you’ve got. I know it’s hard. I find it hard too. But I do believe it’s worth it!

respite - values

Picture by Unsplash user Imani Clovis.

But that’s not in line with my values…

OK, so this is where things get tricky. There are some respite options which are not immoral, but which nonetheless do not line up with your personal values. In general, I believe strongly in living a life that does line up with one’s values, but the reason I’m not sure this always works is that sometimes our values need to change. Sometimes, for example, we value things like “never asking for help” or “working all hours of the livelong day” or “being the best” and our values, quite simply, are wrong. The tricky thing is that when you’re tired and overwhelmed and not coping is not the best time to begin trying to unravel your values and figuring out which ones are leading you astray.

My personal tactic for this dilemma is to turn to those who I trust and respect and who I know love me and to ask them for their input. There are times in my life when I’ve been pretty wrecked and I have chosen to do something that felt very uncomfortable to me because all the people around me who I respected and trusted and loved me were telling me it was a good decision. I have never regretted a single one of those decisions, but it does depend on 1. a very well-developed radar for who you can trust and 2. surrounding yourself with loving, respectful and trustworthy people when life is good, so that they are there to call on when you can’t see clearly for yourself.

respite - destructive

Picture by Unsplash user Alex Wong

But it might be destructive…

This protest, closely related to the one before, is also tricky. The problem with respite options is that they nearly always have a cost associated with them (and to complicate matters further, that cost is not always paid by us). This is one of the reasons we deny ourselves respite in the first place. They also, obviously have a gain, but how great that gain is depends on how desperate your situation is. Here are a few pointers that might help you evaluate whether a particular respite option is worth it:

  • How risky is it, really? Are you holding yourself to higher standards that you would hold others to? Sure, your kids will miss you if you go away for a long weekend but is it really going to scar them for life? Yeah, you might miss an opportunity if you don’t go to that event, but what are the chances that that opportunity is really make-or-break? Try not to overplay the risks of respite in your own head!
  • You are responsible, first and foremost, for yourself. You don’t have to take into account all of other people’s responsibilities or opinions in order to make your own decision.
  • What are the risks of not taking respite options?
  • Maybe the gains are worth the costs.
  • Even if something does go wrong, is it potentially redeemable?
  • This may help.

It’s true; there are exceptions. There are times when a respite option is too destructive to make it worth it. Again, though no one can tell you what risks you should take, loving, respectful and trustworthy people can help you evaluate well here and can help you find the balance between not using this as an excuse and not making a rash and potentially damaging decision.

Respite - do you need it?

Picture by Unsplash user Elizabeth Lies

I’m not sure I really need it…

Oh, so familiar! I’m just wondering though, how do the people around you feel about it?! 😉

I usually don’t know how much I needed a break until after I’ve had one. As humans, we have an absolutely mind-blowing ability to normalise situations. If you live for long enough under particular pressures, you will start to feel like “this is life” and begin to believe that the way you are under strain is “who I am.” It’s a truly incredible feeling to get a break and suddenly remember what it feels like to not be exhausted, overwhelmed or stressed. Honestly, it’s worth it just for that. Maybe you don’t need it, but if it is not a particularly risky respite option, then what’s the harm? It’s OK to simply want a little respite you know!

Respite - but I can't

Picture by Unsplash user Drew Hays

But I can’t…

Is it really truly impossible, or is it more accurate to say that it is not easy? Describing something that takes courage and humility and strength as impossible does an injustice to those living with truly impossible scenarios. Only you know the truth of your situation, but don’t let long-held false beliefs about what you think you are permitted to give yourself hold you back from all the goodness you could choose here.

respite - give yourself permission

Picture by Unsplash user Milanda Vigerova

Give Yourself Permission

Respite is only temporary. It’s a way of getting through a particularly demanding or stressful situation without letting that stress push you past your breaking point. It’s a way to get enough headspace and mental clarity to be able to make good decisions about your situation. It’s a way to get enough strength to go back into battle and take back the ground that belongs to you. It’s a way to reconnect with yourself, with God and with your loved ones before the strain of your circumstances pushes your relationships to their limits. It’s a way to remember who you are and what you believe in and it’s a way to get back on your feet again.

There is nothing wrong with respite. There is nothing noble about avoiding it. Yes, there are exceptions, but for most situations I think it’s true:

“If you’re not coping, then anything that gives you respite and is not immoral is a good thing.”

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Featured image by Pixabay user Foundry.

2016-05-11 Fine Not Fine wyldeandfree.com

When You Think You’re Fine But Aren’t Sure

How are you doing?

Do you ever feel like the answer to that question could just as easily be “not fine” as it could be “fine,” and that some days, the answer changes from hour-to-hour?

I wrote an email to a wise and caring friend some time ago and said this:

“Sometimes I think I don’t know how I’m doing! I feel like I’m doing OK, and am getting on with life reasonably well, but then something minor upsets or bugs me in a way that it wouldn’t normally and I wonder if I’m not really coping. Is that a thing?”

She wrote back with two gifts – one was the assurance that “That is TOTALLY a thing” (capital letters required, evidence plentifully supplied) and the other was the words I needed to begin to articulate how I am. So, for those of you who are feeling overwhelmed and unsure what to make of your fine/not fine emotions, let me pass on the gift to you.

Fine/Not Fine: The Description

Fine/Not Fine is that strange emotional state that you experience when you feel pushed to the limits of your coping capacity even though things are not otherwise horribly bad. When you feel this way, you can feel sincerely fine one minute and feel like crawling into bed and giving up the next. It can be caused by good things as well as bad things – sometimes good things still demand an awful lot of us. You might also feel confused, wondering whether you really are coping or not, but then honestly, some days, you’re just too battle weary to think about it.

I know the feeling, my friend. You’re not alone.

Fine/Not Fine: The Diagnosis

The picture I’m going to share today to diagonse feeling fine/not fine didn’t resonate with me immediately, but after a few weeks of processing it and letting it sink in it helped me feel a lot less like I was going crazy! I hope it helps you too. Whether you are feeling this way now, have done so in the past, or do so in the future, I want to leave you with this important takeaway: you’re not going crazy!

2016-05-11 Fine Not Fine wyldeandfree.com

Image by Pixabay user digitalphotolinds

Picture a thermometer which can measure heat from below the freezing point right up to – let’s say 150°C. This particular thermometer measures how close you are to your maximum capacity (physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually), and on this thermometer, 100°C represents your “boiling point.” Your boiling point is the point at which you are highly likely to meltdown in some way. It may be getting a nasty cold bug, it may be yelling at your kids, it may be making really poor decisions impulsively, or it may be simply crying unexpectedly (which, by the way, is an excellent, God-given form of meltdown in my opinion!).

Do note that “boiling point” is not the same as “burnout point” which is higher on this scale – let’s say at 150°C. At burnout point, you become unable to function any more. You get seriously physically ill, or you have some form of nervous breakdown, and you end up having to take drastic steps in your day-to-day life to recover. When you’re anywhere near “burnout point,” for whatever reason, you are categorically “not fine.”

When you’re approaching your boiling point, though, you are fine – sort of. Everything you have going on in your life you can manage – it is within your capacity – just. You can even feel amazing on a good day, but you probably also feel pretty overwhelmed sometimes and you’re getting really (dangerously!) close to being “not fine.”

Every demand in life adds heat to your capacity thermometer – good and bad alike. Some of the demands are from wonderful things – a dream job, a much-longed for child, a big move to a new exciting city, a leadership position, or a high-profile opportunity, for example. Some of the demands are from far less wonderful things – a difficult boss, a worryingly sick friend, a family drama, a toxic colleague, a suffocating budget, chronic pain, a struggling business, or a really tough decision, for instance. Many demands fall somewhere in between – the laundry needs doing, the emails need replying to, decisions need made, the paperwork needs filing, the food needs cooking, the dentist needs booking and the bills need paying. Some things demand our time and attention, whereas others such as emotional and physical pain, use up our energy even though they are not “to-do list” items. Whatever your particular tapestry of emotional and mental demands, the point is that each of these things, to varying extents, pushes your capacity thermometer higher up the scale.

Ideally in life, we want to be living with some buffer between how “hot” we are and our “boiling point.” The goal is not to be as cool as possible – we each have the capacity to meet some demands, and life is more purposeful and exciting when we use that capacity. In fact, being fairly high up the scale can be exciting and energising, as long as there is still enough buffer to deal with the unexpected and unpredictable demands that inevitably come one’s way.

The problem – and the fine/not fine/I-might-be-going-crazy feeling – comes when we find ourselves living permanently in the upper 90°Cs. A 1°C demand is no big deal when you’re hanging out at 75°C, and it isn’t even noticeable if you’re only at a 60°C but when someone asks you to do a 1°C demand and you are already at 98°C you’re likely to feel incredibly violated – how dare they ask you to use half of your remaining capacity for this insignificant thing?!

When you’re living close to your boiling point, a 1°C demand can easily tip you over the edge. And when something goes even slightly wrong, you just don’t have the capacity to deal with it. This is how you can go from feeling superhero-esque to unable to cope in seconds.

You’re Not Going Crazy

I wanted to share this idea with you because it really helped me to articulate how I was doing to myself and also, when I needed to, to others. I knew at the time that I wasn’t burning out and I knew that things in life were pretty much OK, but I also knew that I wasn’t completely OK myself and it really helped me to understand why.

Does it resonate with you at all? If not, bear it in mind in case you ever need it! Or sit with it for a while and see if it helps you make sense of how you’re feeling. Maybe it won’t, but for me it helped me find the particular words I needed to express how I was feeling – and that was the first step towards finding solutions.

If you can relate to what I just described, I just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone – and you’re not going crazy! It’s perfectly normal to feel fragile when life has taken you close to the boiling point. Be gentle with yourself, and don’t judge yourself for either the mini-meltdowns or for the decisions you make to avoid them. Things are going to get better!

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Featured image by Pixabay user RyanMcGuire.

Staring out an aeroplane window into the sunset.

Sustaining Your Creativity

I’m back from my trip, refreshed and revived from my mull time. It’s been a long time since I’ve travelled and I’m amazed how much difference it has made. Time to mull, to stare out plane windows, to expose myself to beauty and to let all the content I’ve consumed process itself in the back of my brain – all this has both refreshed me and unblocked the creativity which was running dry before I left, and I’m raring to go with this intense phase of creation I’ve got lined up in my PhD.

It has also reminded me that I wanted to share with you four of the things that I think are crucial to staying unblocked and living a sustainable creative life. Over the years I’ve discovered that I need all four of these elements of a creative life, but that I need them in different intensities at different points. Giving myself permission to do whatever I need to do in order to progress (rather than beating myself up for needing what I need, or wasting my time wishing I didn’t need it) has enabled me to make my creativity both more sustainable and more enjoyable too.

If your creative process is similar to mine, then you may have found that at points you hit a wall with your creative endeavours and find that all you want to do is something other than what you are meant to be doing. This is totally normal and is really your brain’s way of telling you what your next step on the creative journey is. This very simple framework will help you interpret that message, stay unblocked and build a guilt-free, sustainable creative life!

Consume Inspirational Content

A shop full of unexpected treasures. wyldeandfree.com creativity

“Content” absolutely includes wandering around beautiful shops, searching for treasures.

Julia Cameron talks about the importance of artists “filling the well” with a wealth of diverse images which they can draw on as they do their artistic work. “We must become alert enough to consciously replenish our creative resources as we draw on them,” she says. I agree, though for me filling the well involves exposing myself to mischievous words, new turns of phrases, great fiction, inspirational new business models and playful academic texts as well as to beautiful images.

Part of the work of creation is drawing together unexpected pieces of other people’s work in ways that create a light bulb moment, or tell a story, or become beauty. It becomes very difficult to do this when you haven’t got much to draw on.

In my academic work, I notice the need for more consumption when I feel like I have nothing left to write. At that point, rather than beating myself up the best thing I can do is go and read other people’s work. This gives me ideas about how to interpret my data, about how one idea could be looked at through another lens, and about what contribution I have to make to the bigger conversation. Soon I have far too much to say and it’s time to get back to writing it!

Carve Out Mull Time

The still city breathing at dusk. wyldeandfree.com creativity

As I sat by this still city at dusk every fibre of my being breathed deeply.

Mull time is the time you give yourself to process creative ideas and make connections. Creativity is the work of making new, interesting, important and beautiful connections. You can’t expect your brain to do a good job of that work if you don’t give it time to think, to process and to play.

Mull time might be time spent playfully – doodling, colouring, brainstorming and messing around. Mull time might also be time spent staring out a window and watching the world go by. It’s amazing how much creative work your brain can do while you doze and dream and ponder.

This is an important phase of any creative work and although it’s tricky to do, if you want to live a sustainable creative life, you’ve got to make time for it. I always find it sad to watch talented creatives get famous and start churning out poor quality work. I wonder if it is partly because they no longer have time to be inspired, time to mull, or time, quite simply, to come up with new material.

I don’t believe it has to be that way though. You can guard and fight for and carve out some mull time, even if it is not very often, and once you’ve done it, enjoy it guilt free! It is serving your creative goals, I promise you that.


Messy coloured paints speak of a heart brave enough to create. wyldeandfree.com creativity

Messy coloured paints speak of hearts brave enough to create. Picture by Pixabay user VibeUp.

The third important element of a creative life is, of course, creation. It’s easy to get stuck consuming and mulling and dreaming and consuming some more and never actually give yourself an outlet for all that inspiration. Although it always takes a bit of work to switch off the consumption stream and sit down to create something for yourself, it is absolutely worth it. Consuming without creation becomes very boring – very stagnant. If you keep filling the well but never draw from it, you end up with a flood.

I find that transitioning into a period of creation can be really hard. A blank canvas – or an empty word document – is profoundly intimidating. You may be tempted to fill your time with more inspiration, more of other people’s ideas, more sources, but there does reach a point where you just need to make the choice to get started on your own creation – however small it may feel. It doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking – the first step is just something to build on – but getting started really does matter. It matters for you (you need to create as much as the rest of us need you to create) and it matters for the world (which will be richer for seeing your particular take on all those connections your brain has been making).

Rest Feeds Your Creativity

Barefoot girl by beautiful rushing water. wyldeandfree.com creativity

A girl’s just gotta stand barefoot in beauty some days. Photo cred: Yuhei Taguchi.

Rest is so important. Creativity and innovation are not borne of exhaustion. Rest allows you to recover from your last creative phase and get back the energy you need to re-enter another one. This is so important and close to my heart I wrote a whole blog post on the subject.

Finding the Balance

I don’t want to give the impression that each of these elements of a sustainable creative life are perfectly balanced with one another, always occurring in the same order and for the same length of time. Perhaps some people work best by having a little consumption, a little mull time, a little creation and a little rest every day – but I don’t! I can both create and consume in crazy little phases of intensity, either “filling the well” to nearly overflowing, or draining it till nearly dry as I create like crazy for days on end. There’s nothing wrong with short bursts of intensity, but over time each of these elements is needed, and if you consistently deprive yourself of one of them your creativity will eventually start to stagnate.

So if you’re feeling blocked or discouraged in your creative endeavours, use this super-simple but effective framework to figure out if you’re running low on one of these elements. If you are, work towards restoring yourself in that area and I dare say your creativity will naturally start to flow again.

I believe that we humans are all creative beings. We don’t have to try to make ourselves creative. Creativity flows through us, and our job is just to remove the obstacles – like a barrenness of inspiration, or no time to process, or exhaustion – that block the stream of creativity from being able to flow. When we do, it flows of its own accord and then our job is just to turn up, do the work and be sure that we don’t judge it until it’s done.

Creativity was never meant to be something that burned us out nor something that burned out within us. A sustainable creative life is certainly possible; we just have to learn how to live it.

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Featured image by Rachel Hughes Shah during mull time.
All uncredited photos from the personal collection of Rachel Hughes Shah.

2016-03-25 Time to Mull wyldeandfree.com

Time to Mull

By the time you read this, I’ll either be staring out the window, lost in my own world inside the familiar limbo-land of a plane’s innards or I’ll be treading the land of other nations. It’s amazing how good it feels good to say that! For a globetrotter, I’ve been remarkably anchored lately, but thanks to work I’ve been given the chance to participate in an international conference.

This trip isn’t a holiday, but it is a change of scene, so as well as getting my globetrotting fix, I will also be taking time to mull. When I’m alone, I’ll be spending time staring out windows, sleeping, sitting in silence and simply letting my brain wander. I need some mull time.

I’m a big believer in the idea that, as creators (and we are all creators), we need to consume, to create and to mull. When I spend too much time consuming media, I get saturated and need a creative outlet. Similarly, when I spend too much time creating, I get dry. I need periods of both consumption and creation, but I also need time which is neither. I need time for my brain to whirr away in the background. I need time to process subconsciously. I need time to unplug, time to rest, and time for my ideas to marinate.

So, as I’m about to jump on a plane for the first time in a year, it feels like the perfect time to take a sabbatical month from the blog. I may be back before a month is out, because I’m only abroad for a couple of weeks and I do so love writing for you. I might come back itching with ideas and inspiration to share. In fact, I’m already itching with ideas to share. But, here’s the thing: I’m not going to push myself to publish anything too soon, because I know that if I want to keep getting better at writing and blogging and sharing and playing with ideas – and if I want to remain a creative – then I need some mull time.

By the way, if you’re in the needing-consumption zone, Stefan Sagmeister’s TED talk, The Power of Time Off, touches on these themes. Every seven years, he takes a yearlong sabbatical during which he completely closes his design studio, in order to ensure his creative work stays fresh. Intrigued?

What about you? Do you ever intentionally take mull time? Is there any point in your day in which you are neither consuming nor creating? Is there any point in your year?!

2016-03-25 Time to Mull wyldeandfree.com

photo by Daniela Avila via Unsplash

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Featured image by Matthew Wiebe via Unsplash.

Everyday Adventures

It’s a busy week here, so I have decided to share three everyday adventures to inspire us all to get out

2015-07-24 everydayadventure

The most fun you can have in the back of car?!

This is exactly the kind of thing I imagined being a grown-up including – and I’m so glad it does!

In case you’re wondering how this works, lemme break it down for you. First, you put the seats down in your car to turn your boot into a cavernous cave. Then you pimp out your car boot with every piece of bedding you can find till it’s a total den. Your next step is to pack light so that when the time comes all the bags, snacks and water (don’t forget lots and lots and lots and lots of water!) fit neatly into the front two seats while you sleep. Now, you drive to a beautiful, isolated place with a view (but be safe! Be wise!), park up, and check to make sure that parking overnight is not prohibited. Dump your bags in the front, hook up some string round the inside of the car and peg up some makeshift curtains – sarongs and scarfs work a treat. Finally, after an excellent day in the wilderness, crawl into bed, make sure the windows are rolled down just a crack, cosy up in your den, lock the doors, and drift off into sweet deep sleep.

2015-07-17 everydayadventure

We noticed the sign to the tidal island.
We nearly didn’t turn, but we did.
We nearly didn’t park, but we did.
We nearly didn’t get out of the car, but we did.
We nearly didn’t walk over to explore the island, but we did.
We nearly didn’t climb down onto the rocks, but we did.
We nearly didn’t sit and watch the sunset, but we did.
We nearly didn’t notice him, but we did.
We nearly didn’t stay to watch, but we did.

We were rewarded with this magic moment alone with a seal in the sunset.

Make time for everyday adventure.

Make time for life.

2015-09-15 everydayadventure


2015-07-31 everydayadventure

Fire + barbeque on the beach = happiness to me.

What about you?

What dream life elements can you add to your weekend?

Sometimes we spend a lot of time waiting for everything to line up but it’s much better to draw little elements of what your ideal life would be into your everyday now. It can be the smallest things that make a big difference – maybe its going for a hardcore hike, or fresh fruit on your cereal, flowers on the breakfast table, or music playing in the house, booking tickets for a live gig or wearing a leather jacket that makes you feel like a rock star or maybe it’s making time to get outdoors every chance you get.

Have a think this weekend about how you can pull some pieces of your dreams into your everyday reality.

Make time for everyday adventure.

(With thanks to Julia Cameron in The Artists Way and Elise + Scott Grice of Hey, Sweet Pea for reinforcing this concept to me!)

garbage, rubbish, waste, reduce, recycle Easy Ways to Reduce Waste wyldeandfree.com

Easy Ways to Reduce Waste

I want to live sustainably. In other words, I want to live in a way that doesn’t use up an unsustainable amount of my resources, of other people’s resources, or of the earth’s resources. I know I’m not alone in this, but how do we live in a way that is sustainable for the earth without making our lifestyles unsustainable for ourselves, especially in a society that is set up – in nearly every way – to promote unsustainable lifestyle practices?

Poison the Earth?

Poison the Earth wyldeandfree.com

Photo by Pixabay user Aenigmatis-3D

We are all dependent on the produce of the land, no matter where we live, what our diets, and what our lifestyle, but don’t you find it easy to forget how fragile we – and the ecosystems we are part of – are? So much of our contact with food is in supermarket aisles or online, disconnected from any hint of growing.

When we lived in Era such blindness was impossible. We were keenly and daily aware of the weather, the labour, and the land’s fertility that went into growing the food that literally kept us alive. We saw too how the waste this process generated was itself generative – it was all biodegradable, eventually becoming part of that fertile land again.

Well, all, that is, except the waste products of the products that came from town – tins and sweet wrappers and plastic bottles and cardboard boxes and paper and batteries – and as importers of many such town products we found ourselves faced with the unsustainable nature of so much of what we consume. In town, waste ended up in huge piles of stinking rubbish, waiting to be burned. In the rural areas, we burned what we could and buried the rest.

The sick feeling that this left me with in the pit of my stomach was a great motivator in reducing what we bought from town – there is nothing like digging your own personal landfill site next door to the gardens you eat from to make you realise how disastrous it is to poison the soil that grows your food. We came back from that experience completely and utterly convinced that we had to do something to get our waste under control in Britain too.

How’s That Working Out?

Hope in Dry Places wyldeandfree.com

Photo by Pixabay user 53084

It’s harder here, for sure. Life operates at a different pace and so much is sold wrapped in layers of packaging. Living in a way that is sustainable for the earth sometimes feels like it can become unsustainable personally – costing so much time, energy and money that we end up giving up. However, I’m increasingly convinced that leaving this problem to the politicians to sort out is a false hope – we’re going to have to do something, one-by-one, until our small efforts gain momentum and become a movement.

So what can we do? Well, we certainly don’t have it all figured out. We’re at a stage in life where our personal resources feel a lot lower than normal but we have found some realistic ways to drastically reduce our waste from what it was without costing ourselves too much time, energy or money.

So, how about I share with you what’s working for us, and you promise not to judge us on the things that we haven’t nailed yet? Instead, share with us what’s working well for you. Together, we can implement each other’s ideas and work together to stop poisoning ourselves, each other and the earth. Deal? Deal.

Food Waste

Photo by Pixabay user meineresterampe

Photo by Pixabay user meineresterampe

Our biggest waste-reduction strategy has been to start composting. Now before you dismiss this, hang on. We don’t have a garden and our council doesn’t collect food or garden waste, but we’ve still found an easy, cheap solution.

I figured that if our council weren’t collecting food waste then they were probably promoting another solution, and that turned out to be true – about five minutes digging on our council website provided me with a link to subsidised compost bins, wormeries and rain water butts. If you’re in the UK, check out getcomposting.com or your council’s website for equivalent deals for your area.

So now, to many of our guests’ amusement, we have a compost bin and no garden. “What are you going to do with the compost?” everyone asks us. Well, first of all, I think our bin is 330 litres, we have been using it for about 18 months, we eat a LOT of vegetables, and it is just over half full – the waste really compresses. When the summer comes, it will probably rot down even further. So what we do with the compost is not exactly an urgent question. However, here are our ideas:

  • post it on freecycle
  • donate it to the local community garden allotment
  • donate it to a friend who has an allotment
  • take it to the recycling centre and put it in the food/garden waste

I was initially intimidated by composting – it seemed more like an art form than a bin, and we really are not experts. However, all we actually do is:

  1. put all our food waste except meat in the bin (which came with a list like this one http://www.recyclenow.com/reduce/home-composting/making-compost)
  2. add some scrunched up newspaper or cardboard if it starts to get a bit smelly or we notice flies

That’s it.

If all our compost ends up being is a very easy, very cheap, non-smelly, soil-like storage space for our food waste that we have to take to the recycling centre once every three or four years, well, that still seems like a massive win to me.

Not having a garden is not a reason not to compost! If you don’t have any outdoor space at all, then a wormery (http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/how-to-make-your-own-wormery/) might be a good solution for you.

Roadside Recycling

Easy Ways to Reduce Waste wyldeandfree (5)

Photo by Pixabay user imordaf

It’s nearly too obvious to mention but surely if your local council offers free roadside recycling it is a no-brainer to use these services – I’m still surprised by how many people don’t.

The key with this is to make recycling easier than not recycling. The quick win for us on this front was making our recycling bin easily accessible and spacious enough to not overflow. Why not put your recycling bin indoors and your non-recycling bin outdoors instead of the other way round?

Cleaning Supplies

Splosh products

Photo by Splosh.com

We get our cleaning supplies from Splosh and we love them, especially when it comes to their zero-waste, zero-hassle approach. They deliver eco-friendly cleaning supplies in concentrated packs to your door and you put them into reusable bottles and add hot water. Sustainable for us, sustainable for the earth.

Use the code 219CF8 to get £5 off your starter pack (we’ll get £1 too).

Non-Roadside Recycling

Recycling Centres aren't pretty but they are magical! Photo by Pixabay user Antranias

Recycling Centres aren’t pretty but they are magical! Photo by Pixabay user Antranias

Once we nailed roadside recycling, the next big dilemma was what to do with recyclable goods that the council won’t pick up. Items such as ruined clothes and other textiles, old shoes, scrap metal and electronics too often end up in landfill, even though they are recyclable.

What’s worked for us is a simple solution. We hung a massive Ikea bag on an easily accessible hook inside the cupboard under the stairs where we put all of these waste items. We also set aside a box for reusable items that charity shops would love to take off our hands. Then, once every year or so when we have access to a car we drive to the council’s recycling centre where they recycle ALL THINGS (it’s a very exciting place), stop off at a charity shop, empty the bag and the box, and start again.

I know most people probably think that they don’t have enough storage space to do this, but it really doesn’t take much space – even a bag in the boot of your car (if you have one) would do.

Of course, an initial clear out can help too, firstly, because after an initial clear out the bag won’t fill up very quickly and secondly, because most of us use up a lot of our storage space with random stuff we don’t want or need.

Online Shopping + Plastic Bag Recycling

I’ve written before about how we do our grocery shopping. I just wanted to flag up that as well as being cheaper and easier, buying in bulk online also reduces packaging. Plus, we don’t need to use plastic bags and the delivery man takes any dirty or torn plastic bags we have collected over the month away with him to recycle. Win!


After we applied the strategies above, we began paying a bit more attention to what we actually were throwing in the “normal” rubbish and thinking about one commonly discarded item at a time to see if we could reduce it. I won’t go through these one-by-one, but simply asking this question about things we throw away regularly has made a difference: “Is there another way we could solve this problem?” Having friends who can share ideas helps with this one – and we still have a long way to go!

Internet Inspiration

I don’t always manage this one , but if I’m about to throw away a bunch of things and can’t think what to do with them I try to do an quick online search first. I’ve been surprised at what I have found, such as charities that will come and collect things they need for craft supplies etc. It’s worth checking! If you know a charity or church nearby who work with kids, do ask them if they can use any of your typical rubbish. Things like toilet rolls, empty jars, tealight holders and old CDs are all treasures to children’s craft activities!

The Result:

Photo by Pixabay user condesign

Photo by Pixabay user condesign

We have been using these strategies for about 18 months now and they haven’t cost us more than about £20 and maybe 6 hours over that whole time span. Even better, they have drastically reduced our landfill waste. I think we now fill a black bin bag between the two of us about once every two to three weeks – and it’s so nice not having to empty the bin so often!

Share Your Ideas

Easy Ways to Reduce Waste wyldeandfree (2)

Photo by Pixabay user skeeze

Although I’m pleased to be throwing less away, we still throw away about the same amount in a month that our team of seven was throwing away in a year in Era – we’re not there yet! Here are just a few of the ways that we would like to improve:

  • Water waste: we don’t do anything to reduce our water waste yet and I think that’s pretty important.
  • Bleach: We use it (to counteract our mega mildew problem). I feel guilty. Does this invalidate all our other gains?
  • Reducing our recycling: recycling things is better than landfill but it still uses energy and it’s definitely better to reduce than recycle.
  • Reducing packaging: some amazing people search for packaging-free versions of the items they need to buy, going to different shops if necessary and boycotting places like Amazon that massively over-package. We haven’t yet managed that level of commitment because I don’t know how to make it sustainable in terms of time and money.
  • Re-using packaging: other than our cleaning supplies, most things come in one-time use packaging. I’d love to use a milkman, for example, but we can’t afford it right now.
  • Buy sustainably-sourced products: I don’t do a lot of research into where the products we use come from, and one day (after I finish this PhD?!) I’d like to up my game on that.
  • Reduce our electrical and gas use: which, basically, means living somewhere with better insulation and more natural light I think. Or living somewhere smaller. Or sharing a house. Or moving to the tropics.
  • Black bin bags: these are themselves dodgy are they not? Surely there is a better solution, no?
  • Grow your own food: To say that we don’t have green fingers is an epic understatement: our home is a house plant graveyard. Still, maybe one day we could live next door to someone who grows their own food and Aaron could write them personalised songs in exchange for eating their vegetables. That’s a thing, right?!

I could go on, but I won’t because I have a thesis to write and this post is already long! As you can see, we’re far from perfect, so please do share your easy, sustainable waste solutions too!

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P.S. A tip for UK friends: I went into this attempt to reduce our waste thinking that if our council didn’t offer roadside recycling for particular items, they were probably promoting an alternative waste solution, and that has often proved to be true. The internet is an overwhelming place when you’re trying to research eco-friendly waste disposal solutions, but relying on our council’s services has made things much easier, because they have accessible information on nearly every type of household waste and they are realistic about what people are actually likely to do. Plus, nearly all their services are free or subsidised. So, if you’re a UK citizen, bear in mind that adding “council” to your online searches (e.g. “recycling centre + council,” “wormery + council” and so on) can save you time and money.