Thursday, 5 January 2012

Where the path might lead

Actually that's a pic of our Hebe's bedroom in the morning light, so I don't suppose your path will be leading you there unless you know something I don't.  Or I guess it might suggest that you fled straight up the stairs and flung yourself impetuously out of the open window - but maybe don't attach too much meaning to it, it's just there because it looks casual and simple and beautiful; and I am a picture person, always a bit disappointed if it's only text, and thought you might be too.

I love this set of guidelines for keeping living space calm and harmonious.

And here’s another brilliant, inspiring and useful post by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

Until I came across that post (from Zen Habits) it had not occurred to me to list, as Leo Babauta suggests, four or five objectives in living simply.  

I wrote in my book In Celebration of Simplicity about Gospel simplicity being not an end in itself but permitting the flexibility that leaves a person available to respond to God’s call – like this story in the Bible, and this one.  I saw simplicity as a necessary threshold to spiritual development, but I hadn’t set my sights beyond that first step.  Getting over it seemed like task enough! 
I’m not sure I’ve advanced significantly beyond that, but the Zen Habits post has inspired me to make my own list of five objectives in living simply.

The fewer commitments and possessions I have, the quicker my potential response time.   I don’t have to respond quickly of course, sometimes waiting is appropriate and wise; but I can if I want to.  

I also give myself a wider range of choices if I live simply.  
I can live in a big house or a small one, in community or alone; and if I have to move house I can pack up my stuff and go easily, cheaply and quickly.  I don’t have to worry about burglars or become paranoid that people love me only for my wealth.  My time is not occupied cleaning, organising and searching for items buried among the clutter – yet I can live in a clean and tidy home because a quick dust or wash down is easy without a lot of stuff to move.  I do enjoy housework but I quickly go off it if there's much of it or it's difficult to do.  Clutter breeds clutter – it creates what I think of as the wood-filler syndrome; this being that every time a person needs a pot of wood-filler to effect a repair, they get a new pot because there’s so much clutter in the shed they can’t see what is and isn’t there.  Part of the shed clutter is half- used pots of wood-filler.  When the repair job is done, the new pot goes on the front edge of a cluttered shelf in the shed for future use; and so the problem grows.  Eventually a weekend has to be devoted to clearing out the shed and taking pots and pots of half-used chemicals to the landfill site (there to poison the Earth for generations), and that could have been free time.

Space happens on the inside, it’s not only an external thing.  I do like external space; I like to watch the light change and move with the time of day in a house, and allow the architecture of a building to be noticeable, be itself the art-work of my home.  I like to dance and move freely.  I like to be able to place an object on an empty table against a bare wall, as a focus. 

But I like inner space even better.  If I allow myself to be spacious, my mind not harassed by a too-busy social schedule or an over-full diary, I can reflect on the meaning of events and consider relationships, and consult my Lord about concerns that puzzle me.  

Spaciousness in the soul goes hand in hand with generosity, graciousness and a forgiving spirit; people who feel harassed and hemmed in are more likely to snap and respond irritably, dismissively.  The things I regret saying often come from being caught unawares.  When I create the conditions for a spacious mind, I can see things coming better.

Some day I hope our Hebe,  who works as a letter-cutter, will carve for me in stone Toinette Lippe’s words “Problems arise when things accumulate”.   Clutter makes people miserable.  It creates arguments and drives away peace.  Clutter encourages infestations of many kinds - vermin, moulds and bacteria – and leads to disease.  Disease itself (Toinette Lippe makes a good case for this) is invariably a form of accumulation requiring dispersal.   Therefore I view clutter as an intrinsic element of disease process.

A muddle in the house and a disorganised life and a full schedule lead to mistakes and frustrated endeavours, breakages and spills and accidents, bad feeling and missed appointments, low self-image and wretchedness.
There is a far greater likelihood of achieving a harmonious and well-organised environment where I can find everything and it looks beautiful, soothing to the spirit, if I don’t have much stuff.  If I have one plate, the dirty crockery can’t stack up waiting to be washed, can it?  Even if I never wash it up.

And, things (I find) have opinions, voices and agendas.  If I allow possessions to accumulate around me, they weary me with their clamour.  This fancy china that insists on being treated like porcelain (understandably). This tangle of electric wires, connected to the mains second-hand via a multi-socket permanently on and buried under a pile of dirty laundry, sits there plotting like Guy Fawkes how to set fire to the house one day.  This great bag of lipsticks and nail varnishes and eye-shadows reminds me that no matter how hard I try I still end up with the same face and I will never achieve the look I was hoping for.  It all talks and grumbles on, and when the house is clear one can finally discover the blessing of silence.  Peace.

I have noticed that possessions and commitments start to form a persona around me, as does the addiction to offering opinions (the sign of a cluttered psyche).  People have less of a handle on me if they don’t know what I’m doing or thinking, and the less I own the harder I am to evaluate.

Possessions weave a history like a cocoon around us – the photos of our wedding day . . . Granny’s old armchair . . . the teddy I had when I was little . . . those dresses I wore when I was slim (and who knows . . .)
If you glance round someone’s home, you can read who they are – or maybe who they wish they were!

I am very interested in Carlos Castaneda’s idea that: “It is best to erase all personal history because that makes us free from the encumbering thoughts of other people.”   The extremity of that view instantly creates mental opposition in us, but going with the drift of it is very freeing.

When my husband Bernard died, I lived in his cottage.  We had not been married long, however, and that house had been the childhood home of his son.  Bernard had rightly and with my full encouragement left it to him.  I loved that small, low house among the trees, surrounded by birdsong and woodland creatures down a forgotten lane on the outskirts of Flatropers Wood.  I loved Bernard too.  Because I own few things, it was easy enough on the day he died, having made the necessary phone calls and waited for the funeral director to take his body, to pack all my possessions and Hebe’s into my little car (Nissan Micraand drive away leaving the house free for Bernard’s son, with no regrets and nothing more to sort out.  How much more complicated the process of grieving and moving on would have been with sorting through piles of specially-chosen furniture and loved artwork and Significant Objects.  Aaagh.  No thanks!

Sometimes possessions glue themselves on to us by cost.  “I can’t throw that away!  It cost £600!  I bought it for my wife to make her happy – but it never did . . .”

Objects bring adhesion and entanglement, always.  Some people like that.  I don’t.

Earth testimony
I watched an interesting talk by Vandana Shiva about water, here.  
The production of things, in the end, could cause us to die of thirst, a horrendous death.  When I look at the mountains of mass-produced pointless cheap tat that clutters the shops on the High Street to no good purpose other than to transfer money from my bank account to someone else’s, I should see Christ on the cross groaning “I thirst.”

The Earth cannot respond to our mantra of “More! More! More!”   The political pursuit of inexorable growth is an aggressive social cancer which, if it is not halted, will kill the organism sustaining it.

If I do not live simply now, the day will come when there will be nowhere left to store my clutter; it will all be ruined.  The world of Wall-E looks cute at the cinema, but do I really want things to end up that way?


365 Day 5 (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Oh, good grief!. How childish.  I am ashamed to say I bought this for one event!  The launch event for my book The Hardest Thing To Do was a medieval costume party, and I thought it would be groovy to have a wooden bowl hung from my belt as they did in the middle ages when crockery might be scarce enough that you’d be glad to have taken your own.  How times have changed.  How embarrassing to even have owned this at all.  It’s gone to Barnado’s charity shop.

For those of you who like the idea of the 365 house-slim, but find the idea of a whole year and such a radical trim of possessions too daunting, here’s a link to Leo Babauta’s ClutterfatChallenge for transforming your home in a month.


I put all the links in red today, because sometimes in a recessive colour people miss them and, not realising they're meant to click on them, get a bit bewildered.  Is it helpful or too eye-catching ad intrusive to have them in red?


Lynda said...

Have you read 'Simple Living: The Path to Joy and Freedom' by Jose Hobday?

Reading your post made me think of her book. I'm with you on the 'simplicity path' both internal and external, and I am gradually narrowing down my 'necessities'. It feels good!

Trish said...

I really enjoyed this!
Such good words - you've given me much to think about tonight, Ember.
This 365 challenge sounds like something that I should consider doing.
Being married to an ex antique restorer/collector means we have far too much 'stuff'.
We both want to seriously de-clutter and these days!

Trish said...

Oh..and I like the red.
So easy to see that it's a link!

Ember said...

Hi Lynda - the book Lynda mentions is here, folks (I don't think it'll come live, you'll have to cut & paste):

No - I haven't read it Lynda - but it has some excellent reviews and looks good. I always pay attention to what a Franciscan has to say. Like the Quakers, they are the real deal.

Hey, Trish :0) That word "collector" . . . Makes me stop breathing for a moment . . . :0D
Hard to de-clutter when the things around you are loved and appreciated - valuable and beautiful items.

Good to hear from you, friends; Happy New Year!

Roberta said...

Hi Ember, Thank you for including the Vandana Shiva video. I have just been reading about the importance of purchasing organic produce LOCALLY.
The increase in the numbers of people buying organic has given Big Agriculture the "incentive" to undertake single crop organic farming abroad, not taking their use of the local water table(s) into account. And then there is the fuel used in transport (and the pollution!).

Ember said...

Thank you, Roberta. Yes, Gandhi's maxim of Thinking Globally Acting Locally is as true today as when he said it.

Living simply,owning few possessions, has the advantage of allowing us to make more expensive purchases when we do need to buy something, so that we can choose items where the provenance is known to us, and be sure it is fairly traded, responsibly and compassionately sourced.

Gerry Snape said...

Magazines went out today.....great....
love the post!

Ember said...


Buzzfloyd said...

I like the red for links, although I still hate clicking on links when I'm trying to read something.

Penny Reeve said...

The wonderful thing about putting Christ first, and simplicity being a tool in that, is that 'all these things' come after it. Freedom, space, peace etc - they are all by products of letting Jesus have the number one spot in our affections.

Hawthorne said...

Great post, Ember. I've been gradually trying to simplify my life and de-clutter for some years now, and now have the opportunity to do much more. My husband was definitely of the 'We can't get rid of that, it cost £300 when I bought it' ilk. For him possessions were a way to try to earn respect from others, the more expensive the better - his self-esteem was very low. Now that he's moved on I can finally get rid of the 40 cookery books we never used, the broken stereo system that drove us mad every Christmas, the clothes that haven't fitted for years..... As the physical spaces are being cleared, so are the stale 'energies', and I feel so refreshed.

Ember said...

Ooh. Such interesting comments people leave here.

Thanks, Buzz. The Badger finds links trying too (I think), and reads through first then goes back to look at the links. I might be able to change the way I write about things so that I describe more completely, this making the links less integral and more of an optional extra.

Penny - what you said here made me stop and think. "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . . " Yes . . . But I find - how can I put this? - I find that if I aim for religious thoughts all the time life becomes tedious. To offer a simile, I love my husband and would not consider being unfaithful to him, but when I'm designing an embroidery or making a complicated recipe, I'm thinking about that, not him; I could not sustain thinking about him all the time. Likewise the King of the Peaceable Kingdom is Jesus, but the ways of the kingdom have intrinsic value (such is the nature of goodness and truth) which make them absorbing, creative and productive. And yet, indeed, without the breath and heartbeat of the Spirit motivating and underlying them, all that would be left is the dust of Adam.

Hawthorne - what a wonderfully positive response to such a big bereavement xxx

Penny Reeve said...

Yes, Ember, I know what you mean. It isn't always a conscious affection for me either. I especially loved the way you put it in the final sentence of your response to me too. Thanks you.

Ember said...