Saturday, 17 January 2015

Minimalism as visual silence

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 Opening the door I’d find a plastic sack of out-of-date food he’d scavenged.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.


Sandra Ann said...

I love your closing comment about the stream!

I know welfare and Goverment agencies are not ideal but without the "help" we get we would be on the streets!! I know you are not making a jibe against claimants and for sure some people who are able to work, refuse to do so. God being infinite uses the most interesting ways to provide though, don't you think?!

Work too is an interesting concept. I am now attempting to make my way in the self employed hand made market and to compete I have to charge a paltry sum of £5 per hour, way below the minimum wage, so those hand outs put food on the table. It is frustrating for both Dave and myself, for we are educated, hardworking and capable yet health issues thwart out every turn. The joy I once had in crafting is now replaced with worry, exhaustion and frustration as I ponder, websites, social media and the like. I dislike social media and the incessant noise it creates, but for a handmade business it is a necessity.

Thanks for writing and providing a quiet space in a very noisy world.

San xx

rebecca said...

Now that "flow in....flow out" concept I can vouch for! I was concentrating on the "flowing out" part prior to Christmas. Then came the flood "flowing in" from well-meaning & loving friends. It's quite tiring, actually. I am left with the feeling that I've not even BEGUN.

Nearly Martha said...

Off subject I know but you know some AMAZING people

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah, San - you sound tired. I'm interested to read what you say, because nearly always in my quite time some little fairy tugs my sleeve and says "Don't forget to pray for San and her family!" So I do.
I think it can be as well never to ask oneself how much per hour one is making, self-employed! Jeepers! Laughable, innit!
May you flourish and prosper. May all that you need flow in to support you. May you be happy, may you be blessed, may you be re-energised.
As for not making a jibe against claimants - no indeed. It is all part of the flow, and I think a life has seasons. Sometimes it's just the right thing.

Rebecca - if I ask myself how well I'm doing, I get very worried. I find the best I can hope for is just to be me and try to remember to be reasonably pleasant. I'm gad your friends are such a kind bunch :0)

Nearly Martha - oh, I know! I have this curiosity about people, and I am so arrestingly dysfunctional that I find myself at home in some very, very unusual company. xx

Deborah said...

San, don't under value your work. There are people who won't buy cheap ...the trick is finding them! I didn't find enough of them and that's why my business had to close.

I know the loss of joy in creating of which you speak. I have re-discovered my love of creativity now I'm not desperately trying to make whatever I think people want to buy!

gretchen said...

minimalism as visual silence - now there is a thought. this is especially important for those of us with sensory processing disorders. clutter becomes overwhelming and confusing. visual simplicity restores me to balance and calm. this is what i love about cistercian monasteries. i'll send you some photos of the abbey nearby on the mississippi river!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Hi Pen,

I review books via NetGalley and was delighted to log on today and see "The Hawk and the Dove" series available for review!
I have requested the first and will be reviewing it on The Garden Window blog within the next few weeks, arm permitting :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Hooray! Thank you! :0) xx