Keep Calm and Carry Water: Great Tips for Coping with the Boxing Day Sales

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Hauling yourself out of bed at some ungodly hour after the festivities of Christmas just to buy even more consumer goods is not everyone’s idea of shopping savvy. But despite the hype around Boxing Day sales, they can be worth  the effort, especially if there are things you need and youve planned ahead. If you decide to join the craziness, the tips below will keep you focused and ensure you don't come home with ten bottles of Old Spice aftershave past their used-by-date, a whopping headache and nothing else. 

* Prepare in advance a list of items you’ll be searching for on Boxing Day. Stake out stores that you think will discount those items on Boxing Day and use this information to help you decide which shops to go to. You don't have to buy everything on the list: it's just a guide to give some structure to your shopping.

* Map your planned journey for maximum efficiency. Be realistic about how much energy you’ll have after Christmas. At the same time be prepared to deviate from your plan if your energy takes you somewhere unexpected.

* Dress for shopping success! Choose sensible clothes and comfortable shoes and get them ready the night before. 

* Take advantage of one-day discounts. If you’re running out of everyday items like moisturiser or shampoo, hold off on buying them until Boxing Day and take advantage of one-day discounts that some stores offer on every item in the store.

* Keep your spending under control. Set a limit on the amount you will allow yourself to spend on the day. Do this mindfully and ensure the amount is realistic and affordable.

Get your supplies ready in advance! Bring plastic or canvas bags. To stay hydrated, bring or buy a bottle of water and drink it while you’re queuing. Bring a healthy snack like nuts or raisins. (Alternatively, plan a relaxing meal or drink break.) If you're shopping alone, bring something to read while you're queuing up at the check-out.

* Before you go, take note of advertisements for Boxing Day sales. If you’re planning to buy a furniture item or appliance, eg a new dining setting or home theatre system, do your research thoroughly beforehand so you can rush in and rush out again with your Boxing Day bargain. If you’ve identified the exact item you want to buy but you’re not sure if it will be on sale on Boxing Day, use a smartphone to check prices, or ring around the stores on the day. This is the kind of situation where a smartphone really comes in handy – instead of the phone ‘telling’ you what to buy, you’re using it to obtain what you’ve already decided you want.

* When you hit your favourite store, take a deep breath. Use the experience as an exercise in following your energy rather than a do-or-die attempt to get everything you need. Picture a white light shining in your abdomen, and let the light guide you to where you need to go.

* If you have a smartphone, remember you're in control. Retailers will be trying to lure you into their stores with special offers. Use your intuition to decide which ones, if any, you respond to.

* Don't assume you have to buy something just because it's ridiculously cheap. Be really careful about taking advantage of those megabargains stores use to lure the early birds in. Just say you want to buy a new microwave oven and the store is selling them for $40. Have you done some research? Is this the microwave oven you really want? Will it do all the things you want it to do, and do you truly believe it's the right model for you? If not, you may be wasting your money.

* Don't be taken in by the shopping 'shoulds'. Your rational mind is very important in making the decision whether or not to buy, but it can't do the job on its own. Just say you've decided to buy one of those nifty mini-chainsaws because you want to start keeping the trees in your garden neatly pruned. You find a great model that's 35 per cent off, and you can't see any reason not to buy it. You have a niggling feeling that you shouldn't buy the chainsaw, but you ignore it, and bring one home from the sales. Two months later you get a job offer in another state and move into an apartment without a garden. If you can learn to listen to your gut feeling, you can work out when you're buying something just because of the shopping 'shoulds' - and perhaps decide not to buy at all.

* Don't give in to panic. You will probably feel a strong fear of missing out just because so many other shoppers will be desperate to get their hands on anything that looks cheap. Let yourself experience these feelings but try not to act on them, as this will actually reduce your chances of getting what you want and need. The world won't end if you don't buy a handbag at 50 per cent off. I know it feels like it will, but that's just because your mirror neurons are on overdrive and your dopamine levels are soaring. You can make a decision based on what you really need, you just have to listen. Act as if you know you’ll get what you need and you’ll be more likely to. 

* Think of finding a genuine bargain as a bonus, not a right or a necessity. Remind yourself that many people don’t even bother with Boxing Day sales, waiting till a few days after Christmas before they check out the bargains. The point is not to grab every single item you might possibly need, or to compete with other shoppers, but to pick up a few really useful items if they come your way.

* Don’t follow the crowd – they’re not always right. Just because a store is packed with frenzied shoppers doesn’t mean the best bargains reside within its walls. Go where your energy guides you – you may find yourself in a nearly deserted store where the very item you need is waiting for you. On one Boxing Day outing I found myself in one of the larger clothing chains in the centre of a mob of frenzied shoppers who had poured in as soon as the doors opened. A quick look around confirmed there was nothing I wanted, and I left with hardly a twinge of regret. A bit earlier I'd found myself in a near-empty boutique, and homed in on a $20 pair of black capri pants that I was still wearing last summer.

* Be prepared to queue at the checkouts. Use the time you spend queuing to practise patience and mindfulness, and, as I said earlier, bring something to read. One Boxing Day I found a fantastic pair of good quality sunglasses at 40 per cent off. I had to wait about 25 minutes to get served and almost gave up, thinking of all the bargains I was missing out on. I got more than enough wear from those sunglasses to justify the wait.

* Practice 'letting go' even if you're in a hurry. If there's something you think you want, put it back on the shelf and start to walk away, and check out how your gut feeling responds. Really try to give up the item while you're doing this. If it's a large item, simply walk away. Now monitor how you're feeling. Do you forget the item right away or does your gut tell you to go back? Trust your intuition to let you know if you really need the item.

Until next time!
 If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like A Free 'Shopping App' to Guide You Through the Christmas Maze.
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When a Computer Crashes, and Returns Forever Changed


My computer crashed on Friday. This inconvenient event acted like an asteroid crashing to Earth, leaving a huge crater in my confidence.

The actual crash was fairly minor as they go, although the implications may be worse than the events to date. The computer had its own internal recovery mechanism (oh the relief!) and running through the recovery process, traumatic as it was (which files had been lost?), was ultimately successful – the Word and Outlook files were all still there, although the software would need to be reloaded.

But the whole look of the desktop had changed. It was a stranger posing as a friend. There was hardly anything on it except the useless software from Acer, the manufacturers. Programs I’d downloaded since buying it were gone. How alienating this was after my initial euphoria at realising there was a recovery process.

Meanwhile, a dire notice kept telling me that there was something wrong with the hard drive and it could self-destruct at any moment.

I took the computer off to a trusted computer technician in a nearby suburb. He got the basic software up and running again, seems to have given the computer a tune-up, removed some annoying glitches that had been there from the beginning, and only charged $120. The computer was only away for a day, not bad if you're not paying for on-site help.

But he didn’t really check out the hard drive. When I came to pick up the computer and asked him about this, he said the warning notice hadn’t come up while he was working on the computer. The unpleasant possibility is that there is a hard drive weakness that could continue to cause these relatively minor crashes (not to mention a worse one) if I don’t replace the drive. (Following the technician’s restoration, I’ve had to spend more time reloading printer drivers, and the additional software I’d downloaded since buying the PC.)

After I set up the computer at home, the warning notice of an imminent crash kept coming up but, like the boy who cried wolf, the threat never eventuated. So I’ve simply disabled the notice, effectively shooting the messenger. And of course saving everything in sight – I’ve even found a way to save my Google Chrome bookmarks.

Do you want holes with your warranty?
The computer is still actually under an extended warranty, a warranty that was useless for this particular situation, when I needed (and was able) to get the data reconfigured and the computer up and running again as soon as possible. True, I’ve had to pay only a piddling amount to have my data reconfigured, but a PC warranty that doesn’t take software into account gives you a false sense of security and ends up costing you more.

I run a microbusiness – I'm a freelance editor and copywriter – and I’d underestimated the extent to which my PC is like a second brain. These days so many people have smart phones and tablets and aren’t reliant on just one form of digital technology to access the internet and communicate online. I’ve chosen not to go down this path – I don’t even have a laptop, don’t want an iPad – and it’s worked for me, helping to create balance.

But when things go wrong, it’s devastating. Of course I’ve had computer crashes before, but now with my own self-managed  website, more blogging than I’ve done in the past, and having become a hopeless Twitter addict, I’m more enmeshed in the online world than I’ve ever been.

The extended warranty cost a couple of hundred yet will only be useful if I decide to, or need to, replace the hard drive. The computer support people at Harvey Norman, where I bought the computer, have told me it will take three weeks, if I leave it to the new year, to do this, partly because they'll send it off to the manufacturer to get fixed. Which means in the meantime probably a return to my ancient previous PC, assuming the leaky garage in which it’s currently precariously stored hasn’t rusted it into useless tin. If I do choose to replace the hard drive or if the time comes when I have no choice, all the software will be taken off the PC, and it'll be up to me to put  to put it on again - at my own expense. 

So I’m going to wait to replace the hard drive under the warranty until things go wrong again, while backing up madly.

This seems like a big black hole in either customer service, consumer law, or both. Neither the time frame – three weeks is way too long – nor the software issue seem fair, and my first reaction was to have a hissy fit, create a big song and dance and ring up my state consumer affairs office. But you have to pick your battles.

A solution in sight
I started to think about what I needed as not just a small business person but a tiny business person, and what was realistic. I didn’t want to be in this childish position any more, a position of fear that something could go horribly wrong at any time. I’d already lost the chance to work on a project of a few hours duration because of the initial crash. I couldn’t afford not to have computer access even for a few hours, and I didn’t want to be like an anxious parent waiting for a diagnosis for their child every time something went wrong.

What I thought I needed was an on-site IT expert who wouldn't charge a small fortune to come out and do quick repairs whenever things went wrong. But what would be the point if the computer was fundamentally a lemon and kept crashing?

Leasing a PC suddenly seemed like a good idea and I found a company that offered good back-up IT service. But their main product, after all, was the leasing – how good would their tech support be, and how much would they care about retrieving files? Not to mention the fact that leasing is more expensive than buying a computer. And mine’s only 18 months old, so I’m not ready to abandon it yet.

For the first time I understood the attraction of online back-up: the feeling of not having to worry about saving files. You can buy portable hard drives with automatic back-up, but data storage companies provide this basic back-up online for very reasonable prices. In fact, Norton, my anti-virus software, provides a tiny bit of free online back-up and is constantly telling me I need more – a message I’d ignored, because their extra gigabytes are not particularly cheap.

I think I may have found the solution. There’s a US company with a branch in Australia that offers very cheap, very secure-sounding online back-up. I rang them to inquire about the service, but was really searching for something more. Was there any way of avoiding the traumatic, expensive, time-consuming software reinstalment after a crash? The trauma for me had been not just the fear of losing files, but the actual losing of my PC’s configuration. A bit like having your house cleaned after a flooding, only to find someone’s put all the furniture and household items in the wrong rooms and you can’t find anything.

The polite spokesperson told me the company is setting up such a service in Australia next year: a service that saves a mirror image of your operating system and computer configuration.

A quick search revealed that this was in fact old news. Offline mirror back-up is already widely available. As usual Apple is ahead; on their latest systems, the files are integrated with an offline Time Machine that not only provides mirror back-up but also saves frequent versions of the file stretching back for weeks, so that you can access the file as it was at a particular point in time without having to save it separately.

This, of course, brings me to 'the cloud'
. It's a step up from online back-up, in that files are stored on and  used via a network, usually the internet. This means files are portable and can be used and saved on any compatible computer.

Whether I had mirror back-up or used the cloud, though, I'd still need a spare computer if mine crashed again, given I don't have on-site IT support. Perhaps I should buy a cheap laptop, so I’ve got a replacement I can set up instantly if things go wrong.

Shopping lessons

How did I end up in this situation given I strive to be a careful shopper, and what have I learned? When I bought my computer I made the best decision I could at the time, and I did some research. But a fundamental thing I failed to do was take my own needs into account – to adequately research myself, and to think about the 'unknown unknowns'. I treated myself as an average computer user rather than someone in business who needed a superior service, and I didn't look ahead to what my needs would be if things went wrong.

I honestly don't know if I would have bought differently given what I know now, but at least I would have been more aware of the risks. The fact is that the $120 I've just spent gave the computer a much-needed a tune-up as well as a reload. But this experience has taught me that I need to value my business and to be proactive when protecting not just my files (I knew that already) but my ability to get back to work straight away.

I don’t know at this point what I'll end up doing. Perhaps I’ll be gradually lulled into a false sense of security until the next crash, when I’ll have to act. In the meantime I may opt for conventional online back-up, for extra peace of mind; my portable back-up hard drive, after all, is only non-human and could perform its own self-destruction at any time. Or perhaps I should consider buying offline mirror back-up instead.

Whatever I decide to do, the idea of the face of my beloved PC being saveable and transferable – for  a non-tech-savvy sole practitioner, that’s heaven sent.

 Until next time!
If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Cultural and Frugal Potential of the Kindle Part 1 and Part 2.

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Ten (Really 11) Green Books for Your Christmas Stocking

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Are you still hunting around for suitable gifts? Perhaps you’ve decided that 2012 is the year you're going to live more sustainably? Below is a list of ten recently published books for your Christmas stocking that can help you go green, consume wisely and live simply (well, really 11 if you count the last one!).

I've included links to the original publisher website, but most of the books will be available from a variety of online and bricks-and-mortar bookstores.

The Little Veggie Patch: How to Grow Food in Small Spaces
Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember

Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember run a successful business installing edible gardens: in polystyrene boxes on balconies, in crates for the backyard, or by creating no-dig, raised garden beds. After years of helping clients set up spaces to grow their own fruit and vegetables they believe anyone can create their own little edible garden, in almost any area. 
This lively guide provides comprehensive information on soil, climate, watering, composting, worm farms, saving and sowing seeds, and raised garden beds and crates – each section includes an illustrated step-by-step activity to help you create your own little veggie patch.

The complete A-Z of edible plants provides vital information on more than 40 vegetables (and fruit trees), including planting information, maintenance advice, best companions and when to harvest. There are hilarious tips and stories, and the family activities scattered throughout the book will get the kids involved.

Publishing details here.

Greeniology 2020: Greener Living Today, and in the Future
Tanya Ha

Tanya Ha is Australia’s foremost mainstream advocate for the benefits of going green. Greeniology 2020 is a reference book that covers going green in Australia in all major aspects of a modern lifestyle. It combines practical tips and Ha’s trademark accessible style with scientific rigour.

There is information on green cleaning, health and beauty, sustainable food and fashion, saving water, saving energy, cultivating a green garden, buying a greener car, and green building and renovating. There’s also a chapter on healthy homes and indoor air quality that is particularly useful for those with allergies, one on how to go green at work, and one on how to have a green baby.

Ha moves from the straightforward kind of green advice to more complex and technical areas while still writing in an accessible, conversational way. Thus, there’s information on the ingredients to avoid in cleaning products, as well as how to make your own; but you’ll also find detailed specifications for different kinds of lights and light fittings; what and how to recycle; the costs and carbon emissions of various hot water systems, cooling systems and heating systems; and environmental ratings for new homes.

The book also covers what to consider when installing a rainwater tank, and the role of building orientation when designing a green home. Home-based renewable electricity sources are explained, and windows, floors, decking, insulation, cooking ranges and fridges all get a look-in.

Interspersed throughout are Ha’s answers to detailed questions sent in by readers, and there is space at the end of each chapter for readers to create weekly, monthly and longer term green goals.

A full review can be found here.

Publishing details here.

Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All
Oran B. Hesterman

A host of books and films in recent years have documented the dangers of our current food system, from chemical run-off to soaring rates of diet-related illness and inhumane treatment of workers and animals. But advice on what to do about it largely begins and ends with the advice to eat local or eat organic. Fair Food is an enlightening and inspiring US guide to changing not only what we eat, but how food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed, and sold.

Oran B. Hesterman shows how the dysfunction of the modern food system came about and defines the new principles and concrete steps required to restructure it. Along the way, he introduces people and organisations across the country who are already doing this work in creative ways, from bringing fresh food to inner cities to fighting for farm workers’ rights and putting cows back on the pastures. He also provides a wealth of practical information for readers who want to get more involved.

Publishing details here.

The Thrifty Forager
Alys Fowler

Foraging is a fast-growing global phenomenon that is fun, environmentally friendly and thrifty. This UK book takes a fresh look at foraging, and encourages you to look closer to home than the fields and hedgerows of the countryside, from the weeds in your garden to the trees in your street.

Fowler showcases her favourite edibles with a plant directory that includes photographic identification, detailed descriptions, and tips on how to grow and eat the plants, including recipes. The book also features innovative ideas for eating your local landscape, from community gardens in Todmorden, UK, to Edimental (edible ornamentals) gardens in Norway.

Publishing details here.

Green Crafts for Children: 35 Step-By-Step Projects Using Natural, Recycled, and Found Materials
Emma Hardy

Kids love to make their own toys, games, gifts and ornaments. If they can use recycled materials, so much the better for them and the planet! None of Emma Hardy’s projects in this book use any special materials. Instead, they all rely on items that are likely to be in the cupboard, can be found around the house or garden, or collected on walks in the park or at the beach. There are recipes for salt dough and methods for easy felting, plus ways to imaginatively use old gift-wrapping paper and worn-out clothes, as well as pine cones, tree bark, shells and other natural bits and bobs. 

Gifts for relatives and friends are included, together with games and toys that can be made and then played with again and again. From painted stones and a friendship bracelet to a simple dolls’ house and a driftwood boat, children will love the projects in this engaging book.

Publishing details here.

The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient In Uncertain Times
Rob Hopkins

In 2008, the bestselling Transition Handbook suggested a model for a community-led response to peak oil and climate change. Since then, the Transition idea has gone viral around the world, from Italian villages and Brazilian favelas to universities and London neighbourhoods. In contrast to the ever-worsening stream of information about climate change, the economy and resource depletion, Transition focuses on solutions; on community-scale responses; and on meeting new people and having fun.

The Transition Companion picks up the story three years later, drawing from the experience of one of the most fascinating experiments under way in the world today. It tells inspiring tales of communities working for a future where local economies are valued and nurtured, where lower energy use is seen as a benefit, and where enterprise, creativity and the building of resilience have become cornerstones of a new economy.

Publishing details here.

Naked Fashion: The New Sustainable Fashion Revolution
Safia Minney 

Safia Minney is founder and CEO of fair trade and sustainable fashion label People Tree, an award-winning social business. She has been awarded Outstanding Social Entrepreneur by the World Economic Forum.

In Naked Fashion, Minney invites you to join the growing movement of consumers, entrepreneurs, and creative professionals who are using their purchasing power, talents, and experience to make fashion more sustainable. Designers, photographers, models, illustrators, actors and journalists from all over the world, including Emma Watson, Summer Rayne Oakes and Vivienne Westwood, talk about what they are doing differently to make fashion more sustainable. And there’s information on all aspects of sustainable fashion – fair trade and environment, styling and modelling, upcycling and slow fashion, and how we can change the high street. The book includes an ethical brand directory, and stunning visuals throughout.

Publishing details here.

Upcycling: Create Beautiful Things with the Stuff You Already Have
Danny Seo

Renowned environmental lifestyle expert and Today Show regular Danny Seo shares 100 of his most inspiring projects for creative transformation. Neglected items around your house can be the source for exciting craft possibilities! Turn your old leather belts into a cool doormat (or even a briefcase); worn-out paperbacks into gorgeous bud vases; tennis balls into a quaint country swing; chopsticks into a handsome trivet, and many more.

With full-colour photos throughout to guide and inspire, Danny shows that it’s easy to be crafty, and fun to be budget- and eco-conscious.

Publishing details here.

The New Organic Gardener: The Ultimate Guide to Organic Gardening in Australia
Tim Marshall 

Tim Marshall runs a consulting and training business for organic farmers and is regarded by many as Australia’s foremost organic certification expert. His passion for gardening infuses every part of this book. He guides you through the principles of organic gardening, and explains the reasons behind these principles.

Marshall believes that organic gardening is much more than simply throwing a bit of mulch onto your garden beds. A true organic gardener adopts a holistic approach, starting with the most precious organic element of all: the soil.

The book is full of practical  information about applying organic methods for a large range of vegetables and herbs as well as flowers, trees (including fruit trees), shrubs and even a traditional lawn.

The New Organic Gardener also investigates the role of new science and manufacturing in explaining how organic gardening works. It provides readers with options for ‘off the shelf’ products to make organic gardening easier, safer and more precise.

Beautifully designed and illustrated, and drawing on Tim’s vast experience in organic gardening, this book is a comprehensive reference that features all the latest, most-up-to date thinking balanced with tried and true methods.

Publishing details here

Consumer Republic: Using Brands to Get What You Want, Make Corporations Behave, and Maybe Even Save the World
Bruce Philp

Bruce Philp believes that consumers have much more power than they realise. An industry insider – he has worked in branding and advertising for almost three decades – he argues that companies spend millions on creating and sustaining brands, but a brand is actually a fragile thing because consumers have the power to make it worthless.

Using fascinating case studies, Philp dismantles the simplistic predator–prey narrative behind the anti-brand movement, confronts us with our real role in the system, and inspires us to make every dollar we spend count. He wants consumers to buy less but demand better, make meaningful choices instead of just easy ones, and speak up when they’re happy and when they’re not. Pin every one of these acts to a brand, he believes, and corporations will be forced to cooperate in making our way of life sustainable. Abandon brands, and we’ll surrender our marketplace to scoundrels.

Publishing details here and here.

Oh alright:

The Inspired Shopper: A Unique Guide to Fabulously Successful Shopping
Catherine Magree

This scintillating ebook, available through Amazon and shamelessly promoted on this blog by its author, will help you decide whether or not you need to buy the other ones!

Increasing numbers of us want to buy quality goods, shop ethically, save money, and stop cluttering our homes with things we don’t need. But how do we actually put this into practice? When we do buy, how do we know that what we’re buying is something that we really need? And how do we know whether it’s right for us?

The Inspired Shopper is an introduction to the art of slow shopping. It shows you how to find goods you truly want and need by shopping mindfully. It reveals techniques for uncannily spotting bargains, finding goods that ‘fit’ you, and developing helpful new shopping habits. It’s great for overspenders, underspenders, budget and frugal shoppers, and may also be helpful for recovering compulsive shoppers.

With information on thrifting, buying ethical fashion on the cheap, eBay, sustainable shopping, buying household goods and big-ticket items, and even how to buy a house intuitively, The Inspired Shopper will show you how to transform your shopping life and become the relaxed, confident and efficient shopper you always wanted to be.

Publishing details here.

Until next time!
If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Yuletide Thrift: Tips for a Sustainable and Frugal Christmas.
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A Free 'Shopping App' to Guide You Through the Christmas Maze

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At this time of year, as holiday shopping swings into gear, you’re under more pressure to buy than ever before.
  • Advertisers tell you to spend up on your family and friends to show how much you love them. 
  • Stores lure you in with tempting displays, subtle aromas, scarily good-looking staff and special offers.
  • Brands evoke strong moods, emotions and character traits that make you crave their products.
  • Christmas hype and preparation can make you feel confused, depressed, tired and emotionally overloaded.
  • You add to the mix by heaping guilt on yourself for not being a good enough parent or friend.
  • Your smartphone sends you constant inducements to enter stores, pick up merchandise, and take advantage of time-limited discounts.

Advertising companies have long employed psychologists to advise them on the emotions and thoughts that unconsciously govern the behaviour of consumers.

But their knowledge of what triggers consumer behaviour is becoming more and more sophisticated. The burgeoning science of neuromarketing uses scanning to measure changes in brain activity and physical responses to discover what parts of the brain are involved in the decision to buy. Brands and stores are making use of this knowledge to influence your behaviour in ways you’re probably not aware of.

With the smartphone revolution, marketing in the form of discount offers has never been more intimate and in-your-face. Even when the discount is genuine, the question is: do you really need and want the product? Or are you just buying it because your buttons are being pressed?

A free app that looks out for you

The news isn't all bad. The fact is, you already have an amazing 'app' that counteracts the marketing messages. It's called your intuition, it's totally free, and it's at your disposal 24 hours a day. And better still, you don't need a smartphone to use it, although it does help! (Not really – I’m just being silly.)

Many people aren't clear as to what intuition really is or whether they have it. Some scientists routinely confuse it with emotions, and therefore warn that you can't always trust your intuition. However, other scientists are starting to take notice. One writer, Paul Bernstein, describes it thus:

The appearance of accurate information in the mind of an individual ... which can be shown to have come not through the five senses, nor through a rearrangement of the individual's stored memory contents.
When we shop, we have access to a number of sources of information about what we truly need: our rational mind, our emotions and our intuition, or gut feeling. Our bodies also give us information, such as telling us we’re tired or hungry.

Shopping can produce a whole spectrum of emotions, or simply strengthen feelings you already have. You might feel irritated, sad, depressed, excited, confident, triumphant, disappointed, apprehensive, anxious, fearful or even self-hating.

Your rational mind can help you by finding and processing practical information about the products you’re planning to buy. You can also use it to help talk yourself out of a bad buy, but you may sometimes use it to rationalise buying something you don't need.

Underneath all the hoopla of what’s going on for us is a steady stream of inner wisdom. It always has our best interests at heart, and a better understanding of our financial situation than our conscious selves. It’s there all the time, and all we need to do to access it is slow down a bit and take the time to tune in.

How to use your shopping app

Practise mindful shopping. Slow down. Breathe. Go ‘home’ to yourself. Be aware of your body in space, the feel of your feet walking, your arms swinging. Make calming self-statements. Remember there are plenty of goods, enough time, and plenty to go around.

Focus on the experience of shopping and not just the outcome. Stay in the moment. Be nice to the hardworking retail staff. Practise not shoving aside other shoppers. Stay aware of your perceptions.

Get to know how emotions affect you when you shop. Emotions and intuition aren’t always in tune. Discover how your emotions work by going on a shopping expedition where you simply browse. Note how you react to finding goods you love. What happens to your body and brain when you contemplate a Gucci handbag or a pair of Italian loafers? How does feeling tired affect your emotional state, eg do you suddenly feel an urge to buy products you would ordinarily dismiss? Do you lose the plot if you shop for more than two hours? Use this information to help you plan your shopping so as to manage your emotions and minimise the negative ones.

Build a secure base from which your app can operate. Intuition and rational thinking aren’t usually opposed (although sometimes intuition can trump rational thinking). It really helps to have a structure so you know roughly how much you can spend, and what you want to buy in the short, medium and long term. Research big-ticket items before you buy them and use intuition to make the final decision. Create a budget and keep track of what you’ve allocated to different areas. Create a Priority List of goods you want (and presents you intend to give). Do these tasks mindfully, and remember both your budget and Priority List can be flexible and dynamic – you are allowed to change your mind!

Let go of outcomes. Practise ‘negative capability’. Try to accept that, however much you plan, your internal shopping app may have its own plans. It’s great to be organised, but try to let go of the outcome of your shopping expedition. Be open to accidental finds, and to the possibility that you may not come home with what you set out to get.

Get to know how your shopping app works. A great way to find out how your intuition operates is to find something you’re almost sure you want to buy. If you’ve decided it’s within your budget and done any necessary research, decide to mentally give it up. Put it back on the shelf, walk away from it, walk out of the store if you need to. If you're online, navigate away from the page by opening another tab, or take the item out of your shopping cart. Mentally tell yourself you are letting it go and see what your gut feeling tells you. If there is a very strong protest at a gut level, approach the item for a second time and see what happens.

Use your shopping app for all aspects of the shopping process. Use it to decide how you will shop, where you will shop and for how long. Use your app to decide if it’s worth going into individual stores. Listen to your app if it guides you to new ways of shopping, eg ethical and sustainable Christmas and holiday gifts, shopping with small retailers instead of big box stores, charity-based gifts, thrifting.

Use your app to help you avoid going with the herd. Be aware of the energies of others, and mentally separate them from your own. Remember they have their own agendas, and you’re biologically wired to want to follow your fellow creatures. But your internal shopping app can help you override this urge and only buy what’s right for you.

Use setbacks to become a more effective shopper. If you have an unpleasant shopping experience, use it as feedback to get to know yourself better. What are your triggers for overspending? What times of the day are best for you to shop? Could you set some limits on your online shopping? Remember, every shopping expedition can make you a more aware and effective shopper if you’re open to the lessons.

Until next time!

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Thrifting and Decluttering - Are They Compatible?

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As Buy Nothing Day approaches, it’s time to look at two movements that both aim to change consumer shopping habits but seem diametrically opposed.

Out of the ashes of the GFC and the continuing economic malaise have risen two huge consumer movements that are now burgeoning – simple living and thrifting. They’re part of what is being dubbed ‘the new economy’ – a wholistic approach to the acquiring and exchanging of goods that involves cooperation, community building, and a commitment to both environmental sustainability and workers’ rights.

Yet despite their common provenance, these two movements can sometimes seem at odds. While one is about shedding unnecessary goods and opting for minimalism and simplicity, the other is focused on the excitement and money-saving benefits of hunting out secondhand bargains. Can they be reconciled?

Simple living and decluttering

Simple living is about simplifying one’s lifestyle and is sometimes linked to sustainability. It has been advocated for centuries and was popularised by Thoreau as far back as 1854. Its modern incarnation is partly a reaction to the excessive materialism that the manufacturing boom and easy access to credit brought about in the nineties and noughties.

In fact, some of us have so much junk that we are living in bigger houses than we need to partly to accommodate it. A UK survey reported in 2010 found that The amount of rarely used items owned by an average Briton has doubled in the past three decades to fill 3,370 cubic feet’. The survey found that all that unnecessary clutter was typically taking up an area worth over £70,000.

As a response to this, a key aspect of simple living is getting rid of excess goods – junk that is not only useless, but actually impedes quality of life because it takes up space, time and energy. This is achieved through the process of decluttering. The aim is to acquire only those things that have lasting value. This has led to the idea of domestic downsizing – moving to a smaller house or apartment while shedding the unwanted goods.

But decluttering isn’t against consumerism per se. Rather, it’s about ensuring that the goods we acquire for pleasure actually improve our lives rather than complicating them. The unclutterer website stresses that:

Living beyond one’s basic needs becomes a problem only when the accumulation of property becomes a source of stress rather than enjoyment ... finding balance is difficult for many because purchasing and accumulating can be effortless, while planning ahead and organizing takes effort.

The rise of thrifting

Thrifting, like decluttering, is hardly new – for our ancestors who lived during the two world wars and the Great Depression, making the most of secondhand goods was an absolute necessity. But the recession has led to a thrift store boom.

Not only that, but thrifting has been transformed for good (and for the better) by a combination of the internet and the rise of sustainable fashion. Fashion savvy, ethically minded young (and not so young) women have embraced traditional craft skills, refashioning and upcycling their thrift store finds, whether they’re taking the sleeves off a dress and adding a piece of black lace to the neck, shabby chic-ing a desk or cabinet, or turning a tablecloth into a gorgeous retro apron. Then, true to Gen Y imperatives, they share information about their upcycling through blogs and Twitter.

And while there will always be a place for serendipity in thrifting, there’s been an internet-inspired explosion in information about it. Not only guides on how to do it (some of the information incredibly specific), but where to go and, as mentioned above, what to do with the stuff once you’ve got it.

What powers thrifting, then, is often quite different from the force behind decluttering. For the crafty, thrifting is inspired by creativity, and for the ethically minded, it’s a greener, kinder alternative to buying new. But what also drives it is the desire to find a bargain – a desire that seems hardwired into the human brain.

A 2010 study found that the level of excitement that shoppers feel when they are faced with special offers is the same as they feel from sexual arousal. Apparently bargains give our brains the same level of excitement they get from sex.

Since the recession, shoppers have become more determined and ruthlessly efficient when hunting out special deals. According to Pat Conroy, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP, shoppers treat finding a special deal as a game they play with stores and brands, in which they emerge the winners. 

While he’s referring to consumers buying new products, the sense of shopping as a game is also often present in the comments of those who share their thrifted finds on Twitter.

Reconciling thrifting and decluttering

But the thrill of thrift-store bargain hunting may lead to pitfalls. Because thrifting is so cheap and there are so many bargains available, frequent thrifting could be a recipe for recluttering. How to reconcile the message of simplicity with the joy of finding a bargain?

Beth Dargis, who teaches groups and individuals skills in simple living and runs the My Simpler Life website, understands why thrifting is so popular. ‘It’s wonderful in that you can get things more inexpensively,’ she says. ‘Things with character and a history. Plus, people aren’t buying new things that cost money and environmental resources to generate.’

But she agrees that ‘Thrifting can be dangerous if it becomes “the thrill of the hunt”.

‘If you buy things you don’t need because it’s a fantastic deal and you feel like you made a grand bargain, thrifting may need to be put on hold for a bit.

‘It’s also a trap for people that like to collect things. Some people have so many collections there is no place to live in the house.’

Beth suggests that dedicated collectors could set an upper limit on the size of their collections, ‘and when you reach it, one piece of the collection needs to go before getting any more.’

She gives the following advice on avoiding cluttering up the house with thrifted goods you don’t need. (This advice is equally applicable to buying new goods.)
Notice what you are buying for. How are you feeling emotionally when you buy something? Is it to make you feel better, more accepted, or to give you that shopper’s high? Or is it really useful? For it to be useful you need to ask these questions before buying:
1. Where will I put it?
2. Do I have the money to buy it right now?
3. Do I already have something else that works?
4. How many times a year will I use it?
Thrifty minimalists, unite!

It seems important, then, to apply the same skills to buying used goods as we increasingly do to buying new ones. There’s bound to be a raft of bargains when we go to the thrift store, and there’s simply no need to snap up every bargain we find. Some bargains really are meant for other people.

And of course, there are plenty of way to get rid of excess goods, thrifted or not, as long as they’re in decent condition – selling them on Etsy and eBay, donating them to a thrift store, or giving them away on websites such as Ziilch or through the freecycling community.

So yes, it’s possible to be a thrifty declutterer and a minimalist thrifter – it just takes a wee bit of knowledge, a soupcon of willpower, a dash of intuition, and a dose of shopping savvy!

Until next time!

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All the Fun of the Fair: Festival Showcases Burgeoning Ethical and Fair Trade Market

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A free festival in the heart of Melbourne that showcases the burgeoning fair trade and ethical market in Australia is set to take place in two weeks time.

Started three years ago by a Melbourne banker, Moral Fairground at Federation Square (Fair@Square) has already become Australia’s largest fair trade and ethical festival.

More than 80 businesses and an estimated 75,000 people are expected to take part in the festival, which will include a VIP Ethical Fashion Show, a walk-through display of an eco-friendly house, cooking demonstrations at the Fair Indulgence tent, discussions about ethical and sustainable issues, live music and children’s activities.

Cutting-edge sustainable fashion, ethical beauty products, organic goods and culturally diverse giftware, accessories and jewellery from around the globe will all be on show.

Festival Director Susanna Bevilacqua, a banker, was shocked by the working conditions and environmental impact of mass consumerism she witnessed when she visited some of the poorest countries in South East Asia. Determined to do something, she launched the festival three years ago with the help of fellow banker Boby Vosinthavong.

Despite never having organised an event before, Bevilacqua sought corporate sponsorship and a venue, and set out to build awareness about ethical, socially responsible and environmentally aware businesses.

Fairtrade labelling contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to marginalised producers and workers, many in low-income regions. It aims to empower them by paying fair prices for their work, helping them to operate in the global economy, and challenging unfair trading practices.

A global survey conducted by GlobeScan for Fairtrade International shows that 93 per cent of Australians believe companies should pay farmers and workers fairly.

It also reveals that 81 per cent of us believe independent, third-party certification is the best way to verify a product’s ethical claims.

While Fairtrade labelled products were launched in Australia as recently as 2005, the industry was already worth $AUD120 million by last year, and sales increased 200 per cent from 2009 to 2010.

Bevilacqua said that Australians were increasingly prepared to spend money to ensure that the products they purchased were ethically produced.

While she would like to see an umbrella group set up here purely to promote fair trade, she points to the recent launch of Fair Traders of Australia, a new network of businesses committed to selling fair trade products, as a positive development.

She is also keen to see the full range of fair trade products become available in Australia.

‘The power lies with ... consumers, we need them to buy fair trade products so that the retailers can see there is demand’, she said.

‘We need consumers to let their retailers know that they want more fair trade products on the shelves.

‘[This] means approaching your local schools and sporting clubs [and] asking them to use fair trade footballs or asking major department stores to stock fair trade fashion.’

Moral Fairground Advisory Board member and senior associate at Net Balance, Cameron Neil, says the growth of Fair@Square over the last three years has been phenomenal and a clear reflection that consumer demand for products with purpose and meaning is here to stay.

‘Businesses are recognising this isn't a feel good fad. Some are leading the way, ensuring their products are produced in a fair and ethical way, and seeking to reduce the environmental impact of their production, use and disposal.

The Festival is at Federation Square in Melbourne on the weekend of December 3 and 4 from 11 am to 6 pm. The Ethical Fashion Show takes place on December 2 at BMW Edge from 7.30 pm to 9 pm. Find out more

Until next time!
If you enjoyed this blog entry, you might also like Kylie Kwong Partners with Oxfam to Bring Fairtrade Design to Your Table.

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Yuletide Thrift: Tips for a Sustainable and Frugal Christmas

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An orgy of gift buying takes place each Christmas. Not only will most of this generosity eventually end up in landfill, but much of it is misplaced. In 2009, British shoppers spent an estimated £1.7 billion on Christmas presents that weren't appreciated by their receivers, while in October 2010, Australians were already planning to sell their unwanted Christmas presents online. 

A greener, more frugal Christmas can reduce waste, increase your savings and even bring you closer to your loved ones. Below are some tips for a less commercial Christmas.

Changing what you buy and the way you buy it

* Don’t leave Christmas plans till the last minute.
You’ll end up spending more. Planning is the key to a more frugal festive season. Make a list of all those you plan to buy for, and look out for suitable presents whenever you’re shopping, including online shopping.

* Buy within your means. Create a Christmas budget. Decide what you can afford, including separate amounts for gift giving, going out, and Christmas meals. Start with the assumption that you will only spend the amount you can afford, and then plan who you will give presents to, the amount you will spend on each person, and how you will entertain.

* Consult family members if you want to change present-giving traditions. If you want to make changes to the way you give presents in your family, eg by giving fewer presents or giving to charity, it’s important to discuss this with family members. Gift-giving traditions in families have very deep roots, and changes to those traditions can seem threatening. 

One change might be to stop giving presents to every family member and have a Kris Kringle instead. You can have more than one Kris Kringle in the family, eg one for the adults and one for the children.

If you want to make changes to your gift giving that help others, such as giving gift cards that buy a resource for a struggling family in the developing world, you may need to run a campaign to get the family on side. This can take time; provide the family with literature and information, and be willing to discuss the benefits, such as teaching children the importance of giving. Oxfam Unwrapped sells gift cards that provide resources to poor communities; there are 44 gifts to choose from.  

When you’re Christmas shopping, be aware of the emotions that Christmas can stir up. Christmas is a very emotional time of year, and the mixture of nostalgia and sense of anticipation may affect your buying choices. Practising mindfulness while shopping is a great way to stay in touch with those feelings so that they don’t hijack your wallet! 

As well as buying for others, there’s a strong temptation around Christmas to buy what researchers call ‘self-gifts’ – gifts we buy to reward and pamper ourselves. When buying self-gifts, awareness of what your motivations are can help you decide if the choices you make are right for you.

* Take the time to ask your loved ones what they want.
This means you’re more likely to buy things that they want, which in turn means less waste. To retain the element of surprise, ask them to make lots of suggestions (where teenagers are concerned you may have to probe!). In my experience it’s fine to tell them you’re on a budget so they can tailor their suggestions to your budget.

* If you’re successful in streamlining your Christmas shopping, be prepared to feel guilty!
Anthropologist James Carrier believes that we deliberately make Christmas shopping hard work because we want to demonstrate just how good we are at turning impersonal objects into tokens that express our bonds with our families and loved ones.  If you successfully negotiate simplified Christmas giving with your family, reduce the amount you spend on Christmas and finish your shopping early, you may find yourself feeling guilty. Simply note and accept these feelings – there’s no need to rush out and buy up half the stock of a major department store.

*  If you’re trying to teach your children to be less materialistic, be patient.
 Being too dogmatic and imposing your own values on the child could backfire. Perhaps you could compromise, combining presents that are blatantly commercial (if that’s what your child craves) with some less commercial alternatives.

*  Choose sustainable toys and children’s gifts.  
There are loads of eco-friendly toys and gifts for children, many on the internet, but even mainstream toy chains are starting to stock them. This guide from Treehugger provides information on the properties to look for in eco-friendly toys. 

Buy certified Fairtrade items as gifts. Certified Fairtrade items, which guarantee a fair price and conditions for  producers, is a burgeoning area and the choice of goods is growing all the time. A good place to find out where to buy products in your country is this list of contact details for Fairtrade organisations. 

Oxfam Shop and New Internationalist  are two Australian websites selling Faitrade items. Don’t forget that these types of online sites also have sales.

* Buy secondhand gifts.
I don’t believe in the taboo that you can’t buy secondhand goods as Christmas gifts! But if you want to buy from thrift stores, yard sales and vintage stores, planning and consultation are important. Your local thrift shop will probably close way before Christmas, and it will take longer to find suitable secondhand gifts, so get your skates on if you haven’t already started your Christmas shopping.

* Buy gift cards.
While gift cards give the receiver more control over what they buy, there are pitfalls. An estimated 15-30% of gift card vouchers aren’t redeemed. Check with the recipient first as to the retail store you will buy the card from, or if you don’t want to do that, choose a card that gives the receiver a great deal of choice – eg don’t buy them a $100 card for Barbecues Galore if they have no intention of buying a barbecue! You can now buy gift cards at a discount from sites on the internet. Cardlimbo is a website that buys unwanted gift cards from consumers and resells them at a discount.

Cheap gift ideas

* Give something you already have. A great way of cutting down on the cost of gifts and avoiding goods ending up in landfill is to give something you already have as a present (or part of a present). Don’t give any old junk, but heirloom and vintage items that are valuable to you and that you may not use any more, such as jewellery, clothes, knickknacks and furniture. Carefully tailor your choices to the receiver.

Practise regifting. It’s okay to regift something that’s not right for you, but only if you use your intuition to decide who would appreciate the gift.

* Give a small amount of money as a present. Kids love receiving money as it gives them control over what they buy. The beauty of giving money to children is that you don’t necessarily have to give a huge amount, as what’s a small amount to you may not be to them.

* Make your presents.
You don’t have to be a craft whizz to do this. Scarfs and sarongs, for exaxmple, are easy to run up on the sewing machine. This website gives you instructions for making 13 different types of scarves. Another option is to use spare buttons to make a button necklace.

* Give experiences rather than material objects.
Studies suggest that people derive more enduring pleasure from life experiences than from material objects. Experience-based gifts don’t have to be expensive; a couple of free movie tickets are a great low-cost way to give a fun experience.

* Don’t forget the old standbys.
If you’re looking for cheap standbys, you can’t go past books and DVDs or Blu-rays, but do consult with the person first.

Plants are another great gift – they’re great value for money and (assuming they’re looked after!) they last. Choose hardy, low-maintenance plants that suit the person’s garden and their lifestyle. You can ‘upcycle’ a plant cheaply by buying the plant and a fancy pot separately, and repotting the plant.

* Give your time instead of a material object.
If you’re really skint or trying to avoid the materialism of Christmas, create certificates where you pledge particular tasks, eg washing the car, or two hours gardening, babysitting or housecleaning.

* Make up a hamper of deli goodies.
  Low-cost goods include jam, cashew nuts, shortbread and cold-pressed olive oil. If you’re in the US, you can get significant discounts on these items using coupons. You need to ensure that you don't buy goods containing ingredients to which the receiver may be allergic.

* Bake or cook small gifts.
 Slices of home made coconut ice or shortbread wrapped in cellophane and finished with colourful ribbon make great gifts for neighbours and work colleagues.

Frugalising other aspects of Christmas

* Make your own Christmas cards. A friend of my mum’s creates her own cards using simple watercolour floral designs that she paints on white card using watercolour paints. Using stencils to cut out designs is another great idea. Another option is to use rubber stamps, but you do need to take the cost of the ink into account.

* Cut down on food waste. Wastage of food is a huge issue at Christmas. The festive season is a time of giving and it’s very natural to want to be generous with food at this time. However, there’s no need to over-cater. It’s important to plan ahead and write a list before you shop for food for Christmas meals, but don’t rely entirely on your rational mind. Stay mindful and listen to your gut feeling, as it will tell you if you’re going overboard with the number of potatoes you’re buying for the roast, or if you really  need that extra packet of dipping crackers.

* Make your own Christmas decorations.
 Use odd pieces of wrapping paper, and cut them up into strips of equal size. create a loop with the first strip using sticky tape or glue, then link each strip in the ‘chain’. Hang the decoration from a mantelpiece or wall.

Until next time!

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