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Working on consumption, materialism, relationships and pain

by Frances McGonigle, 2020

Minimalism does not mean 'without'. A harmonious life is one that is balanced. Scaling down on the things that create physical and psychological overwhelm can vastly improve mental health. It's true what they say that less can mean more. Clear a path towards peace by freeing your flow.

Some tips for a minimal life:


The cost of electricity to our pockets and planet is excessive. Flick the off switch to start minimising loss.

Tips for energy conservation:

  • Get out of the habit of leaving appliances and gadgets on stand-by, saving money... even while you're asleep!

  • Keep excess boiled water from the kettle in a flask that retains heat, to cut re-boiling by more than 50%.

  • Spend less time under hot shower water (turn to cold occasionally, clean faster, give your skin oils a break). The cost of water heating is particularly expensive. Plus, your vagus nerve (major energy channel to the organs) will re-invigorate in cold water. Meditate to relieve stress and fear also and you will begin to sweat much less too.

  • Does your Wi-Fi need to be on when you're out of the house? You're also exposing your brain to low frequency waves at nighttime unless the Wi-Fi is turned off (or the phone by your pillow is on aeroplane mode).

  • Use solar powered garden lights indoors too (bulbs, flower shapes, fairy lights, lanterns, jars, up-lighters, plant sticks...). They create ambiance and keep going for hours.

  • The cost of a power-generating bicycle might be prohibitive, but other mechanical or solar devices, such as phone charging panels used in hiking and camping, can engender new energy-saving habits.

  • Sew by hand sometimes rather than using a machine, saving energy as you slow down, practise patience and sit in quiet contemplation.

Chemicals & Food Consumption

We are what we eat. But not only...

What we put onto as well as into our bodies, repeatedly and over a period of years, can significantly alter their chemical balance. With age also, we don't always build up resistance, but, more likely, intolerances, allergies and illness, as our bodies signal that they have had enough. This affects mental health too. One example is fluoride. It is present in tap water, toothpaste, tea (especially black) and we shower in it every day. Chlorine and heavy metals are also in water and not all are removed by filtration. Alternatively, ionised water contains natural minerals, is purer and higher in alkalinity. Adding lemon to water also increases alkalinity, as its natural acidity metabolises to alkaline in the body. Healthy choices help to optimise the body's natural PH, which averages at around 7.4 (alkaline). PH is important to an organism's survival, including our own human body. This means a balance of acid and alkaline. Sugar (including refined sugars, alcohol, juice diets) and all food of animal origin, are acidic in nature. While the body needs some acid (to break down food in the gut, for example), too much acid can lead to illness and premature ageing. Additionally, rather than wellness, acid can cause calcium to be stripped from the bones, as the body tries to rebalance itself, which increases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis (from dairy products, for example). 

Animal fat also contains hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol (fear), which is in very high levels at the end of a farm animal's life. 

Have a closer look at ingredients in food and limit processed foods altogether. Fruit, vegetables and pulses can be bought much more cheaply and do not take eons to prepare (cooking from scratch can also encourage minimalism). Organic farming is the more sustainable option, and although more expensive, the concept includes growing your own. In a limited space, you can start very small. Try a hydroponics kit, grow tub or planting seeds in small pots. 

Make your own toiletries

It's a big step to stop using shop-bought products (not least because of media and peer pressure), but one that can be both interesting and rewarding. The annual saving on plastic bottles in the bathroom and, therefore, chemicals and plastics in the environment, is also a necessity for us now. 

No Shampoo

It was on Tomorrow's World in the Eighties that the myth of shampoo was debunked by an experiment resulting in a healthy head of (un-shampooed) hair at the end of 3 months. Four months into a change in my own haircare routine, using only water and regular brushing instead of toxic chemicals, my hair became less oily, less frizzy and much less prone to 'bad days'. The first week is unpleasant (hair may initially smell greasy, since a daily wash interferes with the scalp's sebum production). However, you may find "no-poo" much easier than expected, and with the elimination of all that shampoo, the styling products will become redundant as well. 

Homemade Toothpaste

Giving up fluoride toothpaste in favour of expensive health store alternatives might transition into making your own, perhaps alongside switching to a bamboo toothbrush. The recipes for toothpaste on YouTube lean towards a mix of bicarbonate of soda (cleaning and whitening), organic coconut oil (said to be anti-bacterial) and peppermint oil extract (for taste). I'm still trialling this, while being mindful of any adverse effects on the tooth enamel, and continuing to floss with products using sustainable packaging (which can be flimsy, although that's a small price to pay).

Intermittent Fasting

Some people report (and I can corroborate) that intermittent fasting can regulate weight, improve clarity of mind and the senses of hearing, taste and smell. It can also massively impact stress levels and, as a result, confidence, intuition and creative ability. Also said to regulate the immune system and attenuate inflammation, intermittent fasting can help prevent infection and assist the body to heal. The extraordinary thing is that it's easy to do and become accustomed to: for example, not eating between around 4pm and 8am daily (16 hours), yet it's not something commonly practised in Western culture. Intermittent fasting does not mean not eating, but simply changing the timing of when you make your digestive system work and, in so doing, regulating the amount of food you consume. Your gut microbiome has a circadian rhythm also, so needs to take a rest sometimes too. This friendly bacteria controls hormonal balance and is responsible in part for your mood and immune system. If it's constantly working, this can impact your health, including how efficiently you sleep. The good bacteria will also be less effective at keeping the 'unfriendly' bacteria in check (i.e. those microbes that make you feel hungry because of their short half life and desire to eat). Intermittent fasting helps to keep the balance right, because bad bacteria dies of starvation if not constantly fed. A fascinating point is that people who travel a lot or move countries can have issues resulting from changes in the diversity of their gut flora, which can last for decades. Intermittent fasting can help with this too.

If you decide that intermittent fasting is the right choice for you, just be totally mindful of getting enough nutrients throughout the rest of your day, including food containing plenty of water.

Sadhguru explains The Science Behind Fastinghere. And Wim Hof suggests fasting every Monday for a month!

Note: A 24 hour fast is easier if you have breakfast followed by a day of rest and water, then eat again the following morning (as opposed to waking hungry and staying that way all day).

Data Overload

The onslaught of data coming in through our senses is overwhelming at times... It's a steady stream of signals prompting action: to constantly 'do', but never be done. This leads to a very stressful existence, because we seldom rest or switch off, and with repeated exposure to digital data, we are literally programming our minds.

It is inherently human to want to belong, because it responds to our instincts and the need to survive. We do this by socialising in the ways of the pack, learning to fit in with how others behave. In the age of the Internet, the influence is global: a huge social matrix of behaviour to follow, with dozens of signals on multiple pages telling us daily how to live out our lives. But, this is not quite real life. We are tired and passive (binge-viewing for hours on end, for example), and in this state, we're unresistant to even more signals, downloading and streaming, and so it goes on. Before long, we need an app to monitor sleep, because we're wired for streaming, but not switching off.

The notion of stimulus and conditioned response is not new. And while humans may be more intellectually developed than Pavlov's dogs, our emotions can still lead us astray. Advertising, in banners, on TV and in product placement, for example, is designed to create emotional spikes and associations that cause us to buy into a certain lifestyle with their products. By adjusting the volume on some of this ‘noise’, we can free up more head space and start to relax. Uninstalling and deleting is a first step to freedom. Decide what’s important and unsubscribe from the rest. 


There’s a natural pull towards the centre of mass: a law of attraction towards a volume of things...

And, in a material world, things equate to success, so we work really hard to acquire more stuff. Yet, the irony is that we’re shopping for comforts to make us feel better after long days at work. We are weighed down by goods that take time to look after and end up in landfill taking years to break down. 

Did it Spark Joy at any point, at all?

A cluttered environment can be repellant and draining, and particulate matter can cause health problems too. Dust contains allergen-causing debris, such as skin, microbes and plastics, which can enter the airways and lungs. The energy and resources required to clean, move, store, repair and replace clothing, furnishings, equipment and nik-naks, are also considerable over the course of one's lifetime and impact upon others when we're gone. 

Is materialism the only way we know how to express an identity? Because it can reveal a complete lack of control. 

The less storage the better, also. It's a false logic to have plenty of storage where you can neatly fold away clothing, accessories, gadgets and belongings, because the more places there are to put things, the greater likelihood there is of making use of them and not seeing half of your belongings again. We collect countless bags, although can only carry two or three at a time. We've been hoarding plastic boxes since the Eighties. We have countless drawers and cupboards that we seldom look into, and we rent external storage units, costing more in the long run than their contents.

Instead, a clear living space makes way for things that we love, whether plants, art, exercise, or simply just being ourselves. Keep fewer items, (of quality and practical or sentimental value) and have fun making some of the things you need, as well as recycling, to regain sight of what's important in life.

Just let go.

Note: never give away someone else's things, including children's, just work on your own stuff, giving yourself deadlines for getting it out of the house.


  1. Toiletries - Discard all excess toiletries and cosmetics, sticking to a small amount of organic products. Consider joining the 'no-poo' (less / anti-shampoo) movement, and/or making your own toiletries.

  2. Linen - Make a cull of old sheets and towels (cut a few into cloths only). Use linen towls and soap nuts to make machine washing more economical.

  3. Nik-Naks - Scan your home for all mementos that you can live without (e.g. from ex-partners) and things that are gathering dust. You no longer see them, but they are still messaging you!

  4. Electronics - Get rid of excess cables and gadgets. Do not upgrade or replace willy nilly (think of the countries used as dumps for old kit). Consider using a bamboo toothbrush instead of an electric one.

  5. Clothing & Shoes - keep what you like and actually fits, not what you 'might wear' one day. Make a cull of similar items. Use old luggage to give things to charity.

  6. Books - Give away the books you will never re-read, so sharing the knowledge and enjoyment. Dusty books turning yellow do not affirm who you are. Keep a few inspiring ones in good condition on your desk or bedside table.

  7. Photos - Digitise old photos that are not framed and displayed. The memories are within you, not externally in a box.

  8. Paper - Scan as much paperwork as possible. Keep a limited number of folders for important hard copies. Have the 'to do' documents in one pile to action systematically. Recycle all magazines and consider not buying any more.

  9. Gifts - Make it known that you prefer food, drink or plants as gifts (even specific types of things to make it easier for people to gift, e.g. olive oils and lilac roses). Recycle excess shopping totes with the things you give, try Furoshiki gift wrapping (reusable fold-and-tie fabric), or even making your own baskets. Try crochet!

  10. Music, Art and Craft - Self-expression is important to wellbeing, but should not lead to hoarding or an excuse for more shopping. Digitise your music collection (do you actually own a CD player these days?). Or, if you love records, frame a unique album cover and store the rest neatly away. 

The Minimalists

The Minimalists' documentary is a source of inspiration, as are the numerous podcasts and articles on their website. The productive pair also brought out a second film and a book in 2021:

Nick Knowles' philosophy: "One thing in, one thing out". Clear the clutter for a life-changing fresh start. Tough, but worth it.

Trouble letting go? Hypnotherapy and coaching can help.


When the influences in any of our social groups lean towards the negative, this affects our wellbeing too. Unless we can act as a positive role model for change, minimising contact is sometimes the only way to avoid stress. Being more aware of our role models and social 'influencers' is essential: if they're negative, gossiping, materialist or egocentric, their 'followers' will align with that also. Cut them out.

All the world is a stage. But, there are plays within plays within plays. Strip back the many layers of learned behaviour and beliefs and reveal the real you underneath.

Compromise is also important in healthy relationships. This doesn't mean relinquishing our own needs and preferences, just adjusting to accommodate those of others. Showing an interest in the things our friends, loved ones and colleagues like to do, makes for a balanced existence. Inevitably, this involves sacrificing the ego, giving rather than taking, listening and not seeking to always be right. Ego desires are a draw from the gut. They are cravings to fulfil something in us that's lacking. When these are minimised, through supporting others and staying grounded, we become much more content in ourselves. 

Ultimately, love is an unconditional emotion, which leads to partnerships of individuals, built on trust, respect, honesty and healthy challenges. What we love in someone else should not be all about us, but about them. About accepting that they are following their own path. When we become aware of our projections of loss or need onto others, we stop seeking to replicate 'myths' externally and materially. The role models we were presented with as children, for example (a mum, dad or caregiver, who may have nurtured, spoilt, hurt, neglected, abandoned, controlled or shamed), taught us, in turn, how to be. Is this the norm that we are unconsciously maintaining?  

The insights that we can get from meditating on questions such as this, can totally transform who we are.

Being happy is about making life simpler."Do the work" and follow your heart.

Questions to minimise negative thinking:

1. Is the thought true? 

2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? 

3. How do you react when you think that?

4. Who would you be without that thought? Let it go.

A note on spiritual connections

First of all, you do not need someone else to complete you. Your truth is out there and you can find it alone. Having said this, there are certain people we are meant to meet in our lives, who teach us important lessons, as we in turn can teach them. These are 'soul mates', who are on a similar wavelength, or a 'twin flame', on an identical plane.

But, try to minimise who you label or assign to a role. Is it ego or is it actually for real? The energy from an authentic spiritual connection can lead to a 'spiritual awakening' without a relationship ever having taken place. This is a complete shift in one's thinking, wherein dormant/repressed parts of the brain open up, with corresponding physical symptoms and purge. It can take years to settle and reintegrate socially, as life becomes more fulfilling, yet simpler, and material attachments and ego dissolve. 

There's no framework for an awakening in Western culture. So, if you believe that you are going through a spiritual crisis or 'emergence' and would like someone to talk to, please get in touch. Alternatively, the Spiritual Crisis Network UK has volunteers who may be able to help. 

In the meantime, try to minimise your engagement with gurus, shamans and blogs. A lot of spiritual teachings are based on personal experience or guesswork, or are designed to make money out of people who're confused.

Ultimately, when you can trust your own intuition and spend time on your own with compassion for all that you are, inside out, without fear or wants or obsessions, you will understand what it means to be whole. 


Life presents us with very difficult and challenging circumstances sometimes, with seldom a choice in the painful things we have to go through. It can feel like a test. A support network of people to talk to is crucial in minimising the mental suffering that can accompany pain, and in fully understanding what has happened. At the same time, distracting the mind, as much as is possible in the circumstances, can bring moments of peace and relief.

Final Note

The past is behind us and what is to come may well change. Make time for yourself in the present and find ways to do things that you love.

  • Simple, creative activities reduce stress hormones and improve focus.

  • Exercise increases endorphins, which creates positive feelings in the body.

  • Meditation is calming and leads to a more relaxed state of mind.

(c) Frances McGonigle, 2020


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