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I've been thinking a lot recently about the American idea of downshifting. It's more than some middle-class fight for the 'good life'. You don't have to live with chickens on an allotment, but it does mean opting out of the over-worked lifestyle. I'm no executive high-flyer, but I'm facing the coming year feeling skint, too busy to keep up with friends and family, stressed and over-worked. I'm not getting what I expected from life. In fact my life is draining away, and I don't think that more income is going to buy me more time. The root cause of stress, I think, is lack of control over your life. So why is downshifting the answer? Lower income, lower costs, more free time. Spending less, but spending smarter. Valuing the simple but vital things in life. Recycling, re-using, being inventive and creative. Being free from the chains of work-and-spend. Cutting your working hours or settling down to enjoy being unemployed. Someone once pointed out that no-one on his deathbed ever said, "I wish I'd spent more time at work." You could add to that a whole list of activities; weekends spent shopping, vacuuming, getting drunk every night. These things are time-fillers, ultimately boring, expensive and meaningless when you think about what really matters. Do you need the latest i-whatever? Really? So many shiny, shiny things for us to want. 'Must-have' purchases? Not really. The best things in life are free. Full stop. It's simple, so why do so many people seem to be rushing round like miserable lemmings, working themselves to an early grave, obsessed by trivial nonsense like celebrities and TV talent contests, scared of media-magnified folk devils like the 'threat' of terrorism, or rioters, or whatever's lurking round the corner? Here in Sheffield there is plenty of help to liberate yourself from the rat-race. Here are a few ideas. Grow your food as much as you can. Grow Sheffieldcould probably assist. No garden? Make a window box. No light? Grow mushrooms and bean-sprouts. No time? You haven't been listening! Don't get bored. You don't need money to be active. Almost every voluntary organisation and campaign group welcomes help. Try Voluntary Action Sheffield or Regather as starting points. When you need something, always try to get it free first. Try Sheffield Freegle. This is a simple grassroots system where people give things away that they no longer want instead of binning them. Joining involves having a Yahoo account, which is free. Giving and receiving is a one-to-one arrangement. Usually the receiver collects. Certainly worth thinking about with any unwanted Christmas pressies. The perfect complement to this is the LETS scheme. This is a money-less work exchange scheme which uses an alternative currency called stones. Sounds silly, but it has been running well for years. Members offer their skills and others hire them, usually for one-off small jobs. Get help with your decorating, build someone a website - or whatever you can do. Even computers come free in Sheffield; explore Access Space and the BixFixIT Café if you didn't know this. And by the way, don't run a car - get rid of it and check out the City Car Club instead, or perhaps get some cycle training from Pedal Ready. If you want to be really hardcore, go for skip raiding and squatting. Can't pay? Won't pay! What's not free can often be bought second-hand. Before you look to eBay or Gumtree, try places like Sheffield's excellent Rare and Racy for books and music. Another great place is Shrodoba Scrapstore. They get leftover materials in bulk and distribute them for kids' craftwork, some free, some dead cheap. It doesn't matter too much if the kids are 5 or 95 - no questions asked! If you love pottering around stationery or handicraft shops, you'll be in heaven in this place. See the links page on the Alt-Sheff website for more details of these downshifting organisations and plenty more. And by the way, Shrodoba is a name made up from the four urban centres of our county - SHeffield, ROtherham, DOncaster and BArnsley. So you live in Shrodoba already. Remember where you heard it first! )

Next article in issue 46

Filmreel Entitlement.

This month's Filmreel addresses, once more, a rather subjective concept. It took me some time to 'sell the theme' to our very open-minded ed…

This month's Filmreel addresses, once more, a rather subjective concept. It took me some time to 'sell the theme' to our very open-minded ed

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