The Inestimable Advantages of Living a More Natural Life (Part 2)

TEA

Our ancestors lived for millions of years without money.

This explains why spending does not equal happiness.  The things that make us happy are the natural “wins” that we would have experienced over the millennia: being in nature, overcoming obstacles, eating real food, conversation and laughter, good sex, happy children and community.

The best things in life are free. This is why I recommend that whenever you have a choice you take the more natural option (all else being equal).  Living a more natural life not only gives you the best the world has to offer but it also costs you less and leaves you richer (in every sense).

Most of us work in offices and live in towns and cities.  Does that mean its impossible to connect with nature and live a more natural life?

No!  Here’s Claire (TEA reader and urban gardener) to show us how it’s done.

Enjoy!

The Escape Artist


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I never could have imagined I would be “made redundant” one day. Or that it would lead me to a passion project.

But first let’s start with some background. I grew up as a little girl from a small town in France, in a dysfunctional family. I left home when I was 16. At 19 I was cut off financially. After a few years working as a bartender, I knew I wanted much more out of life and couldn’t see myself still behind the bar 30 years later.

I moved to Paris and got accepted into a business school after filling various pieces of paper exaggerating explaining what I’d learned during my work experience. To afford business school, I chose an apprenticeship program, and after about 40 unsuccessful applications I “got lucky” and was hired by a big company.

The weeks were intense: 2 days in school, 3 days at work. After a couple years, I was given the choice to stop school, pursue the same apprenticeship for a Masters in business strategy or to take advantage of the newly signed partnership of my school with UCLA and go study in Los Angeles for a year.

You can imagine my decision: LA here I come, baby! Cue student loans. I spent two years in California and then following graduation I moved to London.

That was 4 years ago. When I arrived in London, I knew only two people, had no job prospects and very little cash. What could possibly go wrong??

In about a month I had a job looking after marketing and business development for creative agencies. I started working as hard as I could to prove my worth but also to make up for my awful Ongleesh English. Just typing this is making me laugh as my boss enjoyed teaching me British expressions without explaining their meanings. Believe me, you don’t want to say anything you’re not sure you understand in front of clients!

I then moved companies after a couple of years for a more senior position, no more commute and a pay raise. Life was perfect. That is until the company started to struggle financially and one morning I got told I was being “made redundant”. This, guys, was a massive SHOCK to a stubborn, type A personality who had pushed hard for years and only ever had stellar performance reviews.

I know a lot of people think assume it will never happen to them. NEWSFLASH: this shit is real!  Please dig a well before you are thirsty and get yourself an emergency fund.

30 minutes after being told, I was out with my stuff. Then things happen. First you worry about the money. Financial worries are so stressful. Fortunately I knew better than to accept the first redundancy package I was offered. And then, thank God, I had an emergency fund to bridge the gap.

After the money shock hits you, the self-esteem shock follows and you become very emotional. So you just sit there for a while and you cry in your bed. And when I say you, I obviously mean me.

Redundancy is actually worse than a break up. You see, when you break up with someone you still have your routine. But when you lose your job, suddenly you don’t see your work mates anymore, you don’t have your days filled with oh so important meetings. You rapidly become aware of how The Prison Camp really works (pro tip: there are no pink unicorns and it can be kinda brutal).

The bottom line is you don’t feel motivated AT ALL to put on your employee-of-the-month smile and go to never ending rounds of interviews. I eventually figured out that if I really didn’t want to fake it during interviews at the moment, a good way to spend my time would be to finally stop adding to the list of side projects I would like to try and actually start one of them.

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Turns out, I like plants and taking pictures so I decided to start an Instagram account on these topics. The name Grow Some Green was a reference to the need to grow some balls be courageous and go for it! Very quickly I understood two things: one being that gardening made me feel better about my whole situation and two that lots of people shared my interests.

Gardening allows me to live a life more connected to nature while living in the centre of London (Shoreditch).  It’s incredible how grateful I feel every time I can come home, put on my shorts and get my hands in the soil on my 10sqm balcony.

Grow Some Green shows how I live a more natural life…even in the middle of a big city. I don’t have a car (big cost saving) and I walk 1 hour every day. As I walk, I can listen to a podcast or just take the time to think about nothing. That’s a much better commute than driving or taking the tube. It’s not only good for your mental and physical health but also for the community and the planet.

Living in London is great and it’s my favourite city of the 3 big ones I lived in (ok I do miss the Californian weather), but it can also be mentally draining. It’s fast, vibrant, there is always something going on. Sometimes you just want a break, a green one. And gardening can be the answer. Therapists actually say that the best activities for your mental health are gardening, singing in a choir and exercising.

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There are many proven benefits of caring for plants: improving your mood, relieving stress and anxiety, improving attention span and boosting self-esteem. I can definitely feel some of these effects right now.

As I’m typing this, I’m sitting on my sofa, surrounded by my plants and, even though I’ve been really concerned about unexpected health issues for the last week, I feel a sense of calm which I’m sure is coming from the greenery around. It makes me happy to think that East London is a little greener thanks to me.

Gardening teaches you to focus on the process. You can’t control the rain (It’s bloody London). You can’t control the sun (It’s bloody London). And you can’t control your flatmate’s cat (It’s bloody London!). But what you can control is when you sow your seeds, how long you keep them inside before moving them outside, how often you water, which type of pot you use and so on.

Sometimes life hands you a pile of shit and stuff happens that you have zero control over. I’m the first one to admit that I hate not being in control… but then the joy of growing some green is to come home and see seedlings bravely coming up even when it’s raining and stormy outside. They don’t care. They’ll do their best and just grow as much as they can. And you know what, if they fail I’ll just sow some more and try again. That’s a good lesson for most things in life. Focus on what you can control.

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I’ve always had a love for cooking, so it made sense that I would also start growing my own food. I’ve started with tomatoes, then moved on to radishes, and now lettuce, kale and other greens.

The joy of growing your own food is incredible. It’s seeing life unfolding in front of you. It’s also recognising that food is medicine : we need to eat things that are good for our bodies instead of consuming processed garbage. We owe it to the people around the world who don’t have the same chances.

The objective is now to harvest something all year long on my little balcony in this big city. I’m not going to be self-sufficient anytime soon but cooking what you grow, from seed to table, brings you a massive sense of accomplishment. That’s in addition to knowing where what you’re eating is coming from!

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Then once you realise that to have tomatoes, you need the plant’s flowers to be pollinated and for that you need bees but they are slowly disappearing, you then start sowing flowers to help them out as well… and you go full circle!  Come for the money, stay to save the world!

There is a lot to learn, and that’s what makes it exciting. With gardening, every new year is a blank page you can start fresh on. And we should see life in general a bit more like gardening. We don’t know where this new season will take us, but that’s exciting! And if we don’t end up with the results we wanted, we can start again. Or maybe we will discover that we actually like where we got to.

I did find a new job but I decided to keep creating on Grow Some Green so I’m now finding the time for both. I don’t know where Grow Some Green will take me.  It has already given me much to be grateful for: a creative outlet, a community of new friends, invitations to be on TV shows, new green projects and a great stress reliever!

I’d love to write books on urban gardening and cooking and have a chance to talk to more people about the importance of the simple pleasures in life. I would love for it to grow, generate some revenues, and become a side business. And I wish for it to inspire other people to garden, cook and take better care of themselves.

As someone smart once told me: if you want to be happy for 2 hours, have some drinks, if you want to be happy for 2 years, get into a new relationship, but if you want to be happy for life, take up gardening 🙂


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15 comments

  1. Very nice article! Thanks for sharing.

    I like cooking too as I find it therapeutic. I didn’t like doing the dishes but I let myself do those as well with less resistance.

    Everyone has got a past. I lost lot of my hair stressing about stuff not in my control. Now I worry about my hair loss :). Good thing is I know now how to act on events that I have control over.

    1. Thank you Sam! I also find cooking very therapeutic, it gets you in the ‘zone’.

  2. paullypips · · Reply

    I agree 100% that growing your own food tastes much better and is excellent therapy against the chagrin (French!) often felt in the modern world. I now am lucky enough to have a small garden of my own and my guilty secret is the therapy I get at the end of the season. I love trimming the hedge, shrubs and trees – it’s so constructively destructive. After a hard days cutting and chopping the garden looks tidier, I am tired but happy and the green bin is full.

    1. That’s interesting, I will soon have to get rid of my tomato plants and wonder how it will feel to chop them down and throw them away. I thought it might be sad but you gave me another perspective 🙂
      Lucky you for having a garden!

  3. Love the quote you ended on.
    🙂

    1. Thanks! When I said someone smart I obviously meant TEA himself!

  4. Is Claire free for a drink this weekend or anytime soon?! 😊

    1. Is this about Bloody Marys?! 🙂

  5. You inspired me to rejuvenate my rooftop gardening desires:)

    1. Yes to rooftop gardening! You still have time to sow and plant winter greens 🙂

  6. Really like this and couldn’t agree more about gardening. “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” Audrey Hepburn

    I can see a young lemon tree on a window sill, that I grew from a lemon pip, taken from a lemon that I used to finish off my Gin and Tonic – now that’s the circle of life right there….!

    1. Well done for your lemon tree, I’ve tried to propagate my grandma’s one but it didn’t work so far. Not giving up though!

  7. […] I usually dislike guest posts, but this on TEA about living a more natural life is really good (35) […]

  8. Anonymous · · Reply

    Love the urban gardening. I certainly feel a boost when caring for and looking out at my greenery, I feel it is a great big city stress reliever!

    Not to be the safety warden, but watch out for the plants on the ledge. In the course of my work I have become aware several people terribly injured when a plant feel onto them from a first or second story window (or higher). Yikes.

    1. Don’t worry they were only there for the picture 😉 They would much rather sit nicely on the balcony floor.
      Glad we’re sharing the same green boost!

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