Still comparing and contrasting minimalism and simplicity.
I have known a number of people who lived very simply.
One category of such friends is the make-do-and-mend variety. I think of George. He lived in a house he built himself, and most of what he owned was stuff other people threw away. So he had a collection of strange clothes found by the roadside or in rubbish bins, and a number of rusty and broken bicycles he used for parts. He made a living catching fish by the sea then cycling inland to sell it. Some of it he smoked in the smokeries he made of old freezer cabinets.
In between his house and the shed (that he also built himself) was a HUGE pile of assorted . . . things. Stuff other people had thrown out he’d brought home because he thought it might come in useful.
Another friend in the same category was Derek. Influenced as a young man by reading The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, he lived in extreme frugality, with great simplicity. A freegan, he scavenged his food from dumpsters (or attending church functions offering free food). He took home all sorts of finds and wore only other people’s discarded clothes. He bought nothing. He came to eat Christmas lunch with us one year – a very cold day – and I remember he walked the three miles from his home wearing no socks and shoes without laces.
Derek bought his own home in the end. He got sick of harassment while he was renting. He had complaints about the compost heap he built on the landing outside his upstairs apartment in his renting days. He saved up from his State pension and bought his house, cash. Even then he got complaints from the Environmental Health people and his neighbours. His huge piles of salvaged rotting wood provided a haven for rats, who snacked on the stacks of scavenged bread he dried out for fuel. He used to walk from Hastings to Wales for the Eisteddfods, and when my work took me up to outer London, he would walk up from the coast to visit me there (80 miles?), carrying a flowerpot with a little plant he’d grown from a seed. When my children were young, some nights I’d hear a strange sound in the house. Going to look, I’d see a banana on the floor under the mail-slot. Opening the door I’d find a plastic sack of out-of-date food he’d scavenged.
His own house wasn’t big enough to store all his foraged and scavenged loot. He prevailed on friends all over town to accommodate it in our sheds and freezers. And some strangers. He had secret stashes tucked discreetly behind shrubs in no end of herbaceous borders.
The police called at our home one night, tipped off by a concerned citizen. Derek sang in the church choir, and one night my husband (acting as a deputy organist) had offered him a lift home. Derek was happy to accept the lift, but said he first had some things to stash in the park. What the anxious neighbours saw was two wild, scruffy-looking bearded men taking a stroller apparently containing a child (actually Derek’s scavenged loot in a discarded and broken stroller he’d found) into a dark location in the park and emerging without it! Was it a murder?
Well, Derek lived simply and so did George, but they were not minimalists.
While they were undoubtedly exemplars of simplicity and frugality, I found their lifestyle and company stressful in the extreme. Such clutter and its management does my head in.
What I like about minimalism is something I can only describe as visual silence.
I believe in flow – in currency, not in dams. What I own, I rarely keep and mostly give away. I enjoy the time it’s passing through my hands, then it goes on to give pleasure elsewhere. I need very little. Financially, I help other people and (different) other people help me. I work, because I believe in meaningful contribution and working is a happy thing. But I like to choose what I do and when. I am no fan of war, so I like to keep my income low, since I cannot choose where my taxes will go. I dislike government intervention in my life altogether, so if I need money I ask God, not the government; and some work comes along.
Things flow in, things flow out. It is a river. I open my hand in the stream.