Friday, 16 January 2015

Minimalism and Simplicity opening salvo

Sharing posts on Facebook gave rise to a discussion about minimalism and simplicity.

My friend Rachel the hermit 

(do you know her? She makes her living selling the most beautiful stationery) said:

I am interested that this [shared post] equates minimalism with simplicity - many of these articles do. My own experience (with a fondness for the beauty of white shadows falling on empty spaces) is that past a certain point, minimalism & simplicity part company - trying to live "minimally" can become very complicated indeed!

To which I responded:
I had the same experience in my foray into Plain Dress – what promised 'simplicity' turned into a hobby verging on a second career – and needed a lot of storage!”

Not to mention all the ironing!

But then I got to wondering and feeling curious about Rachel’s experience. I thought about Diana and Michael Lorence’s version of simplicity and how, for them, minimalism nailed it (described on this post of mine).

So I asked Rachel:
“Would you be willing to say a bit more - examples of what you mean - of how trying to live minimally can become very complicated? I'm interested in the idea and would like to write a blog post about it. But though I've found some things purporting to represent simplicity being in reality very far from that, I haven't personally found any conflict between minimalism and simplicity, and I'd be interested to know the areas of conflict you found. And, may I quote you?”

Rachel kindly gave her permission to be quoted, and this is what she said:
“Okay then, so 3 examples.

1. I have 4 saucepans: 2 medium general purpose with lids, 1 flat-bottomed Wok & 1 small frying pan. I wanted to find the perfect pan which I could use for everything, but the wok has no lid for general purpose use, and needs to be on a large stove ring which wastes electricity when I am only frying an egg. The small frying pan is only big enough for egg or fishfingers, and the general purpose are no good for frying. None of these are any good for making jam or a large bean stew for freezing, so I have a great big pan for that. And I have a casserole with short handes which can be started on top & then go in the oven. So 6 saucepans. Sometimes you just need the right kit to get the job done efficiently.

2. I dress quite simply - long blue skirt, white/grey/blue long-sleeved t shirt, scapular & jumper. skirt & scapular are woven wool & as outer garments don't need the same frequent laundry as t shirt etc. So I have a couple each of those, and quite a large number of t shirts. This means that I can build up a full wash before putting the washing machine on. I have several jumpers too as it takes quite a while to build up enough for a delicates wash. Sometimes having lots of the same can be more ecological. (I loved one of the minimalists who had a wardrobe full of identical white shirts. yep. with you on that one.)

3. This is the more aesthetic/philosophical one. I spent some time when my minimalism was at its peak trawling down to the charity shops to offload stuff - became something of an embarrassment! I like space. I like empty space. Then I began to find that my fondness for the "white shadows falling in empty space" became something of an obsession. That the empty space became as precious to me, filled as much space, as my things might have done previously. You sometimes write about how our longing for "things" can preoccupy & entrap us. Very true. But I was beginning to find that my longing for no-things was also preoccupying and entrapping me. There is a balance where the right-sort-of- things are in the right-sort-of- places & it all sort of clicks. It is simpler, less aspirational, less angst-provoking than minimalism, but it seems to work. At least, that is my experience.”

Now, that is food for thought.

The thing I personally have most of is clothes. The biggest challenge for me with their storage is accommodating the winter clothes. There is cold weather, and there is wet weather. Considering how many coats to own and what kind, how many changes of footwear and what kind – how many warm sweaters and what kind; this takes thought.

Owning the fewest possible possessions, within the strictures of practicality, is important to me. I turned over in my mind Rachel’s wise words, “longing for no-things was also preoccupying and entrapping”, and asked myself if this applied to my own circumstances. It’s all in the “why”, isn’t it? Why is it important to me to own as little as possible?

Here are some reasons (there may be others down in the unplumbed morass of my subconscious mind):

I like to live in the smallest possible space. I don’t know why. I just do. It pleases me and makes me happy. The smallest possible space, plus a fire, and air all around.

Empty rooms allow my soul to breathe and make me feel like dancing. I like seeing the light move through in the dance of the seasons and days, seeing the rhythm of the year in the changing light. It makes me happy. Empty rooms make me want to sing. Clutter, by contrast, frets at my soul. It feels appalling to me, exhausting. It is as though all the items present pluck and whine at me for attention. Cramming them in stuffed cupboards, drawers, sheds and underbed storage out of sight doesn’t work. I have to know that inside the cupboard, on the shelf, under the bed, in the shed, the same peace and order reign. When I was eighteen, I lived with some monks of the Community of the Glorious Ascension. Their founder wrote in their Rule of Life: “The priory should reflect the peace and order of Heaven.” To me, establishing peace and order is part of my prayer “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”.

A large percentage of my professional occupation has connected with death and dying (this is still the case). I have become unusually sensitized to mortality and the significant benefits derived from staying loose to the things of this earth. Learning to let go is, I believe, a crucial component of happiness and peace. I have lost count of the number of people I’ve met who finally found wellbeing in the last six weeks of their lives, when they stopped thinking about obtaining and maintaining, and turned their thoughts toward God and their close relationships. The riches they found in so doing astonished them. I took note.

I have spent more time and energy than I would ideally have wished sorting out and ferrying around other people’s junk. Recycling, taking things to charity shops and to the dump, tidying, sorting and clearing, driving stuff around in my car, carrying heavy boxes and dealing with unwieldy things, responding to situations they hadn’t thought through and couldn’t manage. The macro-version of “eyes bigger than stomach”; a life vomiting the excess it had taken on board. It has become crystal clear to me that this is not a legacy I wish ever to leave any other person. And how do I know how many days I will be here? I might suddenly die tomorrow. I hope not actually, because I still have a few earthly matters to attend to that I am currently without the resources to complete. Once those are done, I’m happy to spend my life sitting in peace on the banks of the river, waiting quietly for my transport home. Selfish? Probably. I have been singularly unsuccessful at managing the vibrations of Earth. But I’m digressing. What I mean is, I want to die a quiet and unexceptional, unnoticed death in a clean and tidy environment, so those I leave behind can say – “Oh: there’s her sleeping bag and blanket, all clean; there are her jeans, her t-shirts, her sweaters. Here’s the kit she wore to take funerals. Here are her two smart jackets and skirts. Here are her boots and her sandals. Here’s her overcoat. Her earrings are in this box. Look – three mini-packing-cubes; what’s in there? Oh, her underwear, her socks, her scarves, hat and gloves. What’s in this box? Oh, her essential oils. What’s in this pouch? Her sewing kit. This one? Her data travellers, earphones and kindle-charger. And these are her books on this shelf. Do you want these? Me neither. One trip to Goodwill should do it.”

You are probably bored of reading by now. I’ll come back to this.


Deborah said...

I can see where Rachel is coming from. I feel the addiction to getting rid of 'stuff' I find myself casting an eye around the place wondering if I can get rid of more. I still feel a need to declutter although (I think) everything in the house could now be termed necessary.

Will heaven be peaceful do you think? The Bible seems to talk about ongoing praise and worship to God...I think it might be noisy...and bright, with light reflecting off streets of gold and all the precious jewels it talks about and mansions and stuff...although I was kind of hoping for a cottage by a stream in bluebell wood.

Also, no being dead til you've finished the next H&D book please and thank you :-D

Pen Wilcock said...


Yes, I cannot be dead until that is completed, because I have signed the contract and had half the advance! xx

Deborah said...

Forget about legalities... *I* need to find out what happens next :-D

Pen Wilcock said...


Your wish is my command. x

Deborah said...

Hehehe :-D

You know if you weren't so good at writing I wouldn't harass you like this?! :-D

Pen Wilcock said...



Deborah said...

Going back to what Rachel said about one pan to do everything. I have Remoska from Lakeland. It won't make jam but it'll do everything else. I bake bread, cook cakes and scones, roast chickens, fry eggs, cook soups, stews etc. It's like a cake tin on a stand with a heating element in the lid. They are expensive but I got mine when my gas cooker broke and I was quoted 3 times the cost of buying the Remoska to fix it. It was the best thing I have ever bought and I use it almost every day.

Thought I'd mention it if anyone was interested.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ooh - I've read about this and thought the looked good!

Deborah said...

I've had mine 5 years now. It's awesome :-D

Sandra Ann said...

We have a Remoska and a slo cooker, they are both fab.

I love your posts on simplicity and Rachel's commentary is very insightful.

San x

Pen Wilcock said...

The Badger and I have been talking over an early morning cup of tea about this post, discussing Rachel's conflict between aspiring to minimalism and wanting to own enough saucepans to cover her cooking preferences. As the Badger finds the security passwords to post a comment here tedious in the extreme (not very minimalistic at all, nor simple), I'm telling you what his comment is.

He says "The art of minimalism is about creating choices. The trick is to give yourself the maximum amount of choices with the minimum amount of equipment."

Good thought, that Badger! Like Deb's and San's Remoskas, perhaps?

Rebecca said...

No. I'm not bored reading this.....though maybe I tend to being "too occupied" with the thought (even MORE than the practice).