Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Simplicity Weasely Style

A couple of posts ago I wrote a piece called The Four Minimalists, thinking about different approaches to living simply. In the comment thread, Heather wrote this:
            I find myself confused. I found the de-cluttering process hard going but cathartic, as if I had streamlined my whole body by getting rid of unwanted 'noise' in the house. But now, as I come to the end of the journey I am starting to feel that I need to do something to make it reflect back our personality, which is something of my new resolution. Perversely, there is a part of my that longs to have Molly Weasley's house!”

I know just what she means.

KonMari (I love her!) has taken the de-cluttering world by storm, resulting in social media abounding with before-and-after photos of homes pared to the bone. Kitchens with nothing on view but the fitted cabinets. Living rooms with a couch and a TV. And maybe a plant. Hallways with a small corner cupboard supporting an ornament. Maybe. Or just the cupboard.

I guess what happens is that after a while people settle back into their space, and it begins to feel homely again.

I thought I’d share some pics of the living space I share with the Badger, to propose an alternative take on things – a fusion of minimalism and simplicity without necessarily being very tidy or even all that clean. It needs dusting right now, and I have done nothing whatever to tidy it. But it looks okay because we haven't enough stuff to make a mess.

He and I have a small attic apartment in a house where four other people live. Space is at a premium, so it’s no good accumulating stuff. I am into minimalism, because I believe in it passionately as the gateway to sharing, part of my spiritual discipline, very freeing – and because I don’t like housework and ‘stuff’ does my head in. The Badger is different. He is willing to live as simply as our situation requires of him, is willing to share all he has with as many people as it will stretch round, but has no special feeling for minimalism as a guiding star. In fact he rather likes collections – his collection of books, his collection of CDs, his collection of elephants being only examples.

So this is how we live.

On the way up the the narrow winding stairway leading to our attic you come to the turn, where we have what we call our ‘archive’ (because that’s what it is). All the files relating to church and home records are there.

Moving on, alongside the stairway is a narrow shelf. The Badger has fixed a mirror to the wall there, which acts as my dressing table. You can just see the corner of our laundry bag; it hangs in the stairwell on a hook fixed into the outside of the banister rail.

At the top of the stairs is a landing, an ante-room to our main room. That’s where we sleep.

In our main room we have a sitting area with the shelves for the Badger's books.

Opposite is the wardrobe the Badger built for me where I keep my clothes, and his study corner.

The rafters are handy for drying towels.

The Badger and I both work from home, and he’s a publisher, so at any given time he has a stack of papers by his desk. A printer is vital to what we do. So is a waste paper bin.

I have books too. The bottom shelf has mine, and along the top are the papers for my mother’s care and my Methodist Circuit resources.

I have a study corner of my own.

We also have some kitchen stuff in a box room improvised into a kitchen. We don’t need much – a fridge, a mini-cooker, a table and chairs, some storage shelves (the Badger made them). There’s no sink, but that’s no big deal. We get water from the bathroom and wash up on the table top.

So this is not Konmari territory, it’s a bit sloppier than that, but it is living simply, with all the advantages of minimal housework, space-sharing, frugality and earth-friendliness. And my minimalism nests like a Russian doll inside the Badger’s simplicity. If we both had the number of belongings he has, we wouldn’t fit in our space. He’s very fair minded and kind, so if I had more things he’d trim his possessions to accommodate them; but as I haven’t, he’s glad to keep his bits and pieces because he likes them. Some of our things are mine, though; the round table and the big rug, the coverlet and the little table at the foot of our bed. I do have some stuff, and he doesn't have much. And the Badger is buying me a comfy blue armchair to sit in, but we haven't got it yet. I generally like to get second hand or homemade things, but the armchair is coming from Ikea, because our staircase is too small to get an already-made chair up.

Mindset is part of all this. If we had to move into somewhere smaller still, we know how to do it. He’d transition entirely from books to Kindle, from CDs to i-Tunes, say a sad goodbye to his elephants and small store of memorabilia. I’d pare down my wardrobe a little more. But meanwhile, as we have thought long and hard about what we own, and like our place to look like a home not a prison cell, this is how we do things. If these photos come up big for you (I don't know if they do), you'll see that what the Badger has there on that unit where he keeps his socks and undies is a bottle of whisky and a bottle of cough medicine. Not ideal, I know . . .

Monday, 16 January 2017

Poem for Laura

Sorting through some old files today I came across this poem I wrote for my friend Laura a few years ago. I can’t now remember what prompted it, but I still quite like it.

I thought; ‘Shall we jump?’ and saw you look at me:
And you said ‘Shall we jump? Will we really be free?’
I said ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what’s below.
‘Will we land on the rocks? In the sand? In the sea?’
You said, with an odd sort of grin, ‘I don’t know:
It may be we never will actually land.’
I don’t know the moment that you took my hand
As we ran, as we ran to the edge and we leapt.
My heart thundered wild, and I screamed and I screamed, and
Felt dreadful for promises made and not kept.
We ran and we screamed and we leapt and we knew
There was no going back now whatever was true.
We went over together, eyes open we leapt:
We just had to; but we didn’t fall – no; we flew.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Four minimalists

There were four minimalists, all good friends, who liked to meet up so they could encourage one another in the way of simplicity.

They all valued hospitality as beautiful and precious, so they took it in turns to meet in each other’s homes.

The first minimalist lived in the house where he was born. He had inherited it from his parents. Nothing in it had been updated since the 1940s, and he loved it just the way it was. Though the furniture and fittings had grown old and shabby, he kept everything beautifully clean. He had quite a bit of memorabilia – photos of his parents’ wedding and his childhood years, a rack of pipes his father used to smoke, the piano his mother loved to play, and the tea set that had been her pride and joy. He was satisfied with everything he had, and never bought anything new. When his friends came round, he would make tea in a teapot, boiling the water in the battered stovetop kettle on the old gas stove, and using loose tea leaves. He regarded teabags as somewhat wasteful and unnecessary. Afterwards he tipped the dregs onto the rosebed in the garden.

The second minimalist lived in a small rented flat above a shop. He had no car, so it was important to him to stay near the town centre where he could easily access all amenities on foot. Home ownership contravened his principles. He wanted to pass through life as untrammelled by possessions as possible. The flat came furnished with a bed and wardrobe, kitchen appliances, and a three piece suite and coffee table. Not all of it was to his taste, but he reminded himself to be satisfied with whatever had been provided. When his friends came round, he put £1 in the meter and boiled water in an electric kettle and made tea in cheery mugs he’d bought from the charity shop – a teabag in each mug, milk poured as it came from the carton in the fridge. He would never have used loose tea, because he would not have liked the unnecessary clutter and expense of a teapot and teastrainer. He kept the teabags to re-use later, and composted them in the wormery he kept under the coffee table.

The third minimalist lived in an off-grid cob house in the middle of a field out in the country. He had made all his own furniture, upcycling old floorboards and scaffold boards, broken chairs and surplus drawers. When his turn came to offer hospitality, he hitched the pony up to the lovingly restored governess cart and went round to collect his friends. They would arrive to find the kettle singing on the home-made rocket stove, and sit in his cosy living room while he gathered herbs from the garden to brew tea in a large and beautiful ceramic teapot made by the potter who lived next door. Afterwards he poured off the dregs as plant feed onto his indoor tomatoes before tossing the leaves onto his permaculture system veggie beds. He took his friends home well before dark, as a pony and trap can be vulnerable on the roads after dusk, even with a solar lantern hung fore and aft.

The fourth minimalist lived in a shed in his aunt’s garden. He served his friends water from the outside tap, in well-washed yoghourt pots. They sat on the floor except the one with arthritic knees, for whom they dragged in a large log for an improvised seat, with the addition of a folded sweater as a cushion. Here they chatted until twilight, when they all went their separate ways because their host needed to go dumpster diving.

They learned a great deal from each other, and their mutual friendship greatly enriched their lives. What, after all, would we be without the people we respect, whose values we admire, and whose company is dear to us?

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Blessing the makers

Merry Christmas to you if your day is starting – and if it’s drawing to a close, I hope you had a peaceful and happy day.

I wanted to share with you something that’s been a source of joy and hope to me.

To set it in context – much of the time, these days, I carry with me the degradation of the living earth and the cynically ruthless dismantling of human community, as an aching sore in the centre of my soul. Yemen, Aleppo, Trump, the present UK administration waging war on the poor and vulnerable, the growing of poverty and corresponding amassing of riches, the destruction of forests, oceans, air, species . . . War as a business model, oil as a god, flagrant racism and religious persecution, sickening violence wherever you look. It hurts to think of it, and I do every day.

What can I do? I ask myself this constantly. One can donate money of course, and I try to live as simply and frugally as I can so as to make spare as much as I can to help wherever I can – but my resources are not significant.

Neither do I have the temperament to plunge into social engagement: I live quietly, even reclusively – by choice, you might say, but in truth of necessity. We are what we are.

But here’s a small thing that brings me delight, and grows goodness.

Hastings (where I live) is a place of poverty. Employment is scarce, jobs few and low paid. Yet here we have immense riches – just not the kind that have anything to do with money. We’re on the coast, so we have the ocean – and what in the world is more beautiful than the sea? We’re in East Sussex, gentle in climate, clad in woodlands, replete with wild places, a network of lanes threading through farmland and bluebell woods, where the Sussex Downs find their way to the southern shores of England.

And in Hastings – exactly because it is a poor town, unpretentious, short on snobbery, alternative lifestyles flourish. Therefore art and music, spirituality and creativity, diversity and imagination all do well here. It is a cornucopia of artistic creation, and there are so many dancers, singers, thinkers, makers, designers of every kind you could think of.
In our family, you may remember, we stopped exchanging Christmas gifts some years ago, and this year I stopped sending cards as well, except for a tiny handful.

But we do try, at Christmas time, to bless some of the art and imagination that lights a candle of protest against the encroaching midnight of hideous politics and corporate greed. We sing carols at the supermarket, to bring a spark of joy and wonder to the children, to remind last minute shoppers about melody and harmony and spiritual tradition; Christmas is not primarily commercial. We go to the ballet, to celebrate the disciplines of excellence – real live performance, something blessedly free from computer generated images.

And this year we had an excited and happy morning at the Beacon, where Hastings artists had an Open Studios day.

Giving to charity is both important and necessary, but equally essential is the blessing of writers and potters, artists and weavers, tailors and woodworkers, blacksmiths and silversmiths, milliners and bookbinders, by celebrating and purchasing what they make. Unless we do that, the richness of human culture will run out into the sand, and we shall be left alone with Monsanto and Rupert Murdoch on a desert island of our own making.

At the Beacon Open Studios, with great happiness I seized the chance to acquire some of the work of Judith Rowe, a Hastings potter. She makes the loveliest things, and is part of the co-operative that runs one of our best Old Town shops – Made in Hastings.

So I thought you might like a glimpse of how I start my days – here is my Christmas breakfast, enjoyed a thousand-fold more because of Judith’s beautiful pottery.

And look – it stacks most neatly when I’ve done and it’s time to take it to the sink to be washed up. I find that so pleasing.

Bless the makers, friends; bless those who live by discipline and excellence and imagination. Help the poor and needy, but save a little to give yourself the joy of partnering art and craft in the community; a pot, a book, a pair of shoes, a hat, a rug – something made by human hand and heart and eye; for herein is treasure indeed.