stop buying. start doing.

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Conscious Eating Experiment


Today is International Women’s Day and despite the small cynical voice somewhere in my head going ‘we only get a day?! I think we might warrant a bit longer than that…’ it is a lovely celebratory occasion. This combined with Mother’s Day on Sunday means my inbox and newsfeed is awash with great female focussed news, thoughts and statements. So far. So affirmative.

However so much of it is actually asking me to buy things, all sorts of things, in the name of celebrating women. Some sites are even suggesting I panic-buy a meaningful gift for my mother and then thoughtfully choose a handcrafted piece made from a member of the sisterhood for IWD.

Nope. No, back off bitches, I am not going to celebrate the wonderful women in my life by going shopping.

A rather positive result of needing to live very leanly is distinguishing buying from doing (and for the record I am writing this from a point of huge privilege, I have absolutely everything I need and more right now). It may seem an obvious thing to realise, but it has made me notice how constantly we are told that we cannot do one without first needing to buy. I catch myself believing that to practice yoga one needs a mat, blocks, a variety of matching outfits, apps, towels, water bottles, a gym membership…etc. Buying these thing can feel like a productive step closer to being more flexible and breathing better. But it is not. And although all these things definitely help make regular practice easier, all you really need to do yoga is: time, your body and maybe a flat surface.

The saddest thing that I have experienced through habits of procrastination and purchasing over just plain doing, is that the action, be it exercise, cooking, creative practice, meditation, even socialising, becomes an increasingly remote and difficult possibility. The less you do, the more frightening the idea of doing becomes.

I have to confess, I love buying things, I really enjoy the thrill of a new purchase. On a more serious note I’m very interested in supporting good causes, independent businesses and for example, enterprising women, through our spending power. (Top on my list right now are online bookstore Hive and the no sweatshop, no Photoshop collective Birdsong). However there is so much we can just get on and do without having to buy something specific first. Sprout seeds (jam jar, seeds, water, tea towel – done), bake bread, go for a run (granted you need trainers and some stretchy clothes, but that is really it), do some stretches, write a story, call up that friend you keep meaning to see and haven’t done cos, well, it’s been so long.

For me the satisfaction that comes from doing all of these things feels much deeper and more sustained than the short, if sometimes guilt tinged, joyful rush of buying something.

This satisfaction continues as I keep doing, as I realise I am learning, developing, stretching into new skills, finding new edges and challenges, getting it wrong, getting it right, understanding more about the world and more about myself.

So where is the rub? Why have I only really learnt this now when I am time rich and a little financially constrained?

I think it is because doing is messy in a way that buying is neat. Literally in the sense that a transaction is a simple process of give and take, but also in terms of satisfaction; I hand over the money (or tap my plastic rectangle on the machine) and I get a shiny new thing. End of.

Doing – cooking, gardening, yoga, running, (relationships!), or anything creative, involves work, mess, getting things wrong, falling over (if you’ve seen me cook you’ll know this is true), getting frustrated, having to start again. But it also involves reward that as far as I can tell is greater than anything we can buy. And maybe that feeling of reward is to do with the mess, the effort, the work.

I often feel bombarded with messages that, with the right purchases, I can overcome all the work and mess and just get the reward, and the thrill of having a shiny new thing often seems to confirm this idea. It sometimes even seems that by buying something I am becoming part of the solution, whatever that means.

But right now I am pretty convinced that the satisfaction I have been missing in my life is one that comes through doing. During recent travels I spent time with people who in various ways and for various reasons are highly engaged in doing over buying. Their lives were in no means idyllic, they were juggling children and veggie gardens and making a living and cooking from scratch and bees and composting toilets (yeah, try get that image out of your head). But they had a quality that was to me incredibly attractive, in fact, something I yearned for the moment I encountered it, in a way that took me by surprise.

So, I am signing off now as I’m off to make a curry, and believe you me, there is likely to be mess. Here’s the recipe (stolen and adapted from Jamie Oliver) so if you feel like inviting that old friend over for dinner or maybe doing some doing to celebrate, well being alive – go do it. You won’t look back.


Coconut and Squash Curry

  • 1 small squash – de-seeded and cut into small chunks (remove the peel if you like, leave on and roast with salt, oil and garlic for 30 mins before adding)
  • 1 small onion rough chopped
  • A couple of gloves of garlic sliced not to fine
  • A thumb sizes red chilli cut fine
  • A thumb sized chunk of ginger cut into matchsticks
  • 8 or so curry leaves
  • A teaspoon of mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 good handful of coriander – cut of the stalks and keep
  • 1 tin of coconut milk
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 hand full of torn up kale or cavolo nero or maybe spinach
  • A good splosh of olive or groundnut oil
  • If you are feeling like you need more protein grab a tin of chickpeas too.
  1. Take a large heavy bottomed pan and heat the oil on a medium heat
  2. Add the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger and cook until the onion starts to become soft, keep stirring now and then and don’t let the garlic burn
  3. Chop up the coriander stalks and add along with the curry leaves and mustard seeds and cook in the oil until the curry leaves start to go crispy
  4. If you aren’t roasting the squash add it now and cook with the oil and ingredients for 5 minutes or so
  5. Add the tomatoes, coconut milk and the turmeric. If you have roasted the squash, add it now, along with chickpeas if you are using them too.
  6. Give it all a good old stir and the let cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally to stop it getting too stuck to the bottom (don’t worry if it does a little, it will add to the flavour)
  7. Leave it to cook for around 45 mins or until the squash is good and tender and the sauce is thickening and fragrant. If you like, add a bit more turmeric, a pinch of salt, even some cayenne pepper to taste.
  8. Once the squash is cooked to your liking add the greens and cook a little longer until they are tender. Then leave to cool for a couple of minutes
  9. Rough chop the coriander leaf and sprinkle over the top.

Serve it up with brown rice, a good dollop of yoghurt or some coconut yoghurt, leftovers will keep for 3 days and taste even better!

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