15 September 2016

How to declutter your life

This is a short guide from a determined hoarder on how to declutter you life and make time for the things you really want to do.

When I look back I almost can't believe I ran the London Marathon in April earlier this year. Since then it feels like my life has changed an enormous amount in just four short months. I now have a new job, I've moved into a new flat in suburbia with two kittens, I've started volunteering at my hockey club and I've only been for two 4-mile runs since crossing the finish line. I have always been a firm believer in the idea that you make time for the things you want to do, which is why I'm starting to declutter my life - beginning with my wardrobe and end with my time-wasting habits.

Here's my advice for decluttering your life:

Decluttering your possessions

I am a serious hoarder. I know it can be hard to admit it but sometime you just have too much stuff. Do you really need to keep the cinema stub from the movie you saw with a friend last week? I always think I'll get around to scrap-booking these things but I never do. It's the same with clothes, old CDs, books, jewellery, scarves (I have a serious addiction), even kitchen stuff.

I started to trying to sort out my mass of clothes yesterday and found myself asking what a rational number of tops was. The answer, helpfully provided by my friend Grace, is if you actually wear them then that's fine. But there's no point keeping them if you don't. This sounds really obvious but sometimes it's difficult to detach yourself from the sentimental value. Are you likely to ever re-read that book you loved ages ago? How often do you even listen to CDs these days? You have seven mugs but you only ever drink one cup of tea a day, do you need the other six, even if they were presents? By decluttering your possessions you are one step closer to simplifying your decisions-making processes and freeing up your time to do more exciting things.

Decluttering your time 

Living in my new flat, I now spend at least two hours commuting every day. My working hours have increased meaning I'm in the office an extra hour and a half too. I'm working on improving my hockey club's communications and I've started umpiring as well as playing. Basically, I have a lot less free time and for someone who is trying to squeeze as much as possible into each day - it makes life a bit trickier. 

The first thing you can do is cut down the hours of sleep your getting. This is often the least popular option but you don't really need more than 7 hours sleep a night, especially if the first two are just having breakfast, getting dressed and going to work, and the last one is showering and chilling out. 

The second is making the most of that commute time as well as your lunch break. I will always read my work emails on the way in so that I'm ready to go once I get into the office. No one wants to work extra time unless they need to so being productive means you're more likely to leave on time. I often use my lunch breaks for personal chores too. Working through your lunch time if you don't need to isn't productive and it just means you'll have to find more time later to run those errands you needed to do. 

Spending less time glued to your phone will definitely help too. This can be really hard to stick to, especially working in social media. On the average day I spend about 60-70% of my day on the internet, not just at work but everywhere. I'm either messaging my friends, checking emails, using Citymapper or checking Facebook. Often it just out of habit rather need; It's so easy to get into that mesmerising trance of scrolling through Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest... Even LinkedIn gets me sometimes! But if you're not on there to find a specific piece of content, reply to a particular comment or post then don't get pulled in. Social media can be a real time waster - before you know it you've spent 10 minutes watching cat videos or doing some crappy personality quiz.

Decluttering your life

Ultimately, the best way to streamline your life is to decide on your current priorities. If you want to get a promotion at work, start a new career, learn to master a new skill, save money to go travelling or start eating healthily, you need to centre your time around this goal. Having too many goals at once is unrealistic and means you're less likely to achieve any of them. Whereas, if you focus on one or two, you'll find it much easier to manage your time and you'll feel a lot more positive about your progress. 

This might mean cutting down on things that you've enjoyed in the past like weekly drinks with friends or running three times a week. But being successful is about making compromises and no matter how much you want to, you can't do everything.

12 May 2016

My London Marathon Experience & My Life Since Then

It's now been over two weeks since I completed the London Marathon. I'm sorry it has taken me a while to write this. I do have a good excuse, but I will get into that later. First I want to give you a run down of my preparation for the big day and tell you about my personal experience of running one of the world's most famous marathons.

In the last couple of weeks running up to the race I tapered my training (which basically means I cut down the miles to give my body time to recover for the full distance). I read that tapering correctly can improve your performance by up to 20% on the day so despite reservations I decided to take everyone's advice and taper properly.

I also had to go to the ExCel centre to pick-up my running number and tag. This was also an opportunity to meet the team from Shelter UK (my charity) and get some last minute advice from some experts.

I was up at 7am on the big day. My clothes laid out and bag packed the night before. I forced down half a packet of porridge (I could barely eat for nerves) and a big glass of squash. After double-double checking all of my belongings I set off for Old Street tube station at 7:30am. A quick flash of my running number and I was through the barriers and enjoying my free journey. The carriages were filled with runners, some as nervous as me, others season runners on their fifth or sixth marathon. A quick change at London Bridge and I arrived at Greenwich station in what felt like no time at all. I followed the crowds not knowing the direction to the park and tried to stay calm.

Once through the security checks, I had about an hours wait at the Red Start (the masses and charity start) before the race began at 10am. We were able to watch some of the other races set off on the big screen; you could palpably feel the tension building. After a final toilet stop I delivered my numbered bag to the transportation lorries and made my way to my starting pen (7 of 9), knowing it would be a long time until I got to see it again.

I chatted to a nice school teacher in the pen and, after they'd let the plastic tape down, shuffled my way forward in the starting blocks. I crossed the start line around 12 minutes after the official start. Despite my expectations, I ran over the start line and had plenty of space to get going. Admittedly I was overtaking a lot of people at this point but so were a lot of others. It was a this point I saw some really unusual costumes such as a man running for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) dressed as Jesus Christ dragging a huge crucifix. I can't remember if he had trainers on but I don't think he did.

The first 10 miles went past in a bit of a blur. I'd run 10 miles or more so many times in my training it felt natural and having never run any sort of race before I was really enjoying the atmosphere and camaraderie of it all. It felt like being part of an exclusive club. It was amazing. It was about mile 10 that I remembered my brother and his girlfriend were planning to spectate in Bermondsey. I suddenly couldn't remember if we had already been through Bermondsey or not. I had my headphones in and I panicked that maybe I had run right past them without noticing. I asked a guy near me whether we'd been through there already and he said it was coming up in a couple of miles so I relaxed a bit and started looking up more. After an initial second panic of not seeing them at the charity cheer point, I was elated at spotting them half a mile down the road on the same side as me!

After this I really knuckled down. I knew I still had a long way to go and I'd read a lot about people running too fast between 13 miles and 20 miles. I was hoping to see my mum and Leonie (a close friend) at mile 15 but it turned out they got lost and couldn't find the cheer point. I was lucky enough to see some friends from hockey twice during the next hour. It was exciting to see people I knew and brought me back to reality. I was so 'in the zone' the time flew past without too much stress. I saw another group of close friends on my way out of the Isle of Dogs (around mile 23 I think). This was great because I knew after this I only had one more group to look out for - my brother, his girlfriend, my mum and Leonie who were all planning to be at the final charity cheer point at mile 25.

The last 6 miles were definitely the hardest. Not just physically, but mentally as well. I realised at about mile 20 I wasn't going to make my target of being under 4 hours and I did have a moment of asking myself what it was all for if I didn't reach that. But I soon remembered why I had signed up in the first place. I wanted to raise as much money as possible for the homeless population of the UK. People all around me were dropping out and beginning to walk. Although I may not have been moving very fast at this point I knew there was no possibility of me stopping.

At mile 25 I saw all my family and Leonie together, smiled and waved and trudged on to the finish. My muscles were really tightening up at this point and I'm pretty sure that last mile took me a lot longer than it ever had in training. It took a long time to see the actual finish line but once you get round the bend at Buckingham Palace it's an amazing sight to see. Having been determined throughout my training that I wanted to do a sprint finish, I didn't give up on the idea on the day. I ran as fast as I possibly could to through those red arches.

The immediate feeling once I crossed the line was relief. I had made it to the end, no accidents and no upsets. I wasn't even that disappointed about not making the target because I'd accepted my fate over the last 60 minutes. Soon after having my medal placed around my neck, the pain and stiffness set in. My legs felt awful and I could only hobble down to the place where I collected my bag from. The only thing I was interested in from my goodie bag was water.

The rest of the day was spent in a mixture of pain and celebration. I met my family and friends at the amazing reception put on by Shelter. We went for an early dinner but I couldn't really face eating that much (which is crazy for anyone who knows me well). By 6pm I had waved off my mum and returned to my flat to shower and rest (or what felt like die!) I also had hundreds of messages from all my friends to reply to when I got home which took me about an hour and a half. After that I passed out on my bed from exhaustion.

The next day was a Monday and straight back to work for me. Other than severe blisters which were causing me to limp around I was reasonably okay. I had some muscle stiffness but nothing too unbearable for sitting at a desk all day.

The last two weeks really have flown past and if you've stayed with me this long, now's the time to say the reason why it's taken me so long to write this is that I've just left my first real job and started a new one this week. The first couple of days at my new company have been great. Give me a couple more weeks to make a proper verdict but right now I'm very happy with my new situation.

This is my last post about the marathon and I would like to say HUGE thank you to everyone who donated and supported me along the way. I appreciate it more than I could possibly express. I truly believe without the support of my friends and family I couldn't have done it, and I definitely wouldn't have enjoyed it. I've been asked a lot since, will I do another marathon? My answer has to be, why not...

27 March 2016

Why I'm Running For Shelter

With 27 days until the big event, I wanted to share with you why I chose to run for Shelter (www.shelter.org.uk).

Homelessness is huge issue in the UK which most of us either aren't aware of or think it doesn't effect us. I'm in an extremely fortunate position where I've always had somewhere to live and family to look after me but many of us aren't so lucky.

Local agencies report 7,581 people slept rough in London alone throughout 2014/15 - a 16 per cent rise on the previous year. And the issue is only growing. More than 50% of homeless people asking for help are aged under 25 and in Manchester sleeping rough has almost doubled since 2014. In the last year, there's been a 30% increase in the number of homeless sleeping in bins (the video is quite disturbing as you seen a man tipped upside down into a compactor). I could go on...

Professor Green, real name Stephen Manderson, did a documentary earlier this year on the 'Hidden and Homeless' living in the UK (BBC write-up here). I watched this instead of running on an injury rest day and it really moved me. Homelessness is more than just living on the street. I won't go into detail as I think everyone should watch it for themselves. Unfortunately, it's no longer on iPlayer but I recommend seeking it out online or buying it on the BBC Store. 

Over the last 5 months of my training, my awareness of homelessness has grown dramatically. There are many different definitions of homelessness and it seems absurd to be that you have to be legally defined as homeless before your Local Council can help you. Shelter argues that homelessness should include those who "live in unsuitable housing, don't have rights to stay where they are or are sleeping rough".

Those who experience homelessness are often amongst the most vulnerable people in our society, suffering from a combination of poor housing, unemployment, low income, bad health, poor skills, loneliness, isolation and relationship breakdown. 

I've heard the phrase "these people don't help themselves" a lot recently and it's not uncommon for people to avoid and ignore homeless people on the streets these days. But there are many more reasons for homelessness than those which you would naturally think of, such as: 
  • being evicted because of rent arrears caused by money problems 
  • the breakdown of relationships with partners, parents or family
  • having to leave because of domestic violence or abuse 
  • illegal eviction or harassment by a landlord 
  • a disaster such as a fire or flooding
I'm not a particularly political person but I do believe it is the government's duty to support those who are homeless. Having a home, a roof over your head, to me, is a basic human right. How can we be one of the richest countries in the world and still have so many basic problems at home?

Charities like Shelter need the support of the government. 

Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness through advice, support and legal services. They campaign to make sure that one day, no one will have to turn to them for help. Last year, they helped over 4 million people through their advice service. A key part of what they do is campaigning to make housing more affordable, renting fairer and homelessness a thing of the past. They want to tackle the root causes of the housing crisis so that everyone can have a safe, secure and affordable home.

If you haven't donated yet, hopefully this will persuade you to.