If I think about how my mind works, I picture it as a series of parallel channels (like tubes or cables), capable between them of holding an aggregate amount of traffic – whether input, output or processing. I see the channels as separate and coloured – blue, green, yellow, red – like stripes against a white ground, within a fixed grid. The fixed grid is my capacity, the amount I can take on mentally, beyond which I overload and crash the system.
The channels can each carry different types of traffic, such as social interaction, focusing on an idea/concept/subject of interest, administration (whether household or professional), project work (editing or writing a book, creating a funeral ceremony, preparing liturgy and a sermon, carrying out household tasks, or processing emotional response to significant stressors).
In my mind’s eye, the channels (stripes) expand or shrink in width according to how demanding is the throughput. This does not necessarily have anything to do with how much time something takes. For example, weeding the garden can be time-consuming, but is calm non-stressful work, so it doesn’t absorb much mental wattage. The channel (stripe) that correlates to gardening is therefore only narrow, leaving much more of the fixed grid available to have other channels running.
Writing fiction, social interaction and preaching take up huge wattage. If I am writing a book I may actually forget that people close to me even exist, and social interaction is so stressful to me that its channel widens until it fills the entire grid to capacity – and sometimes beyond, crashing the system.
Recent events – national, international and within our home and family – have loomed so large, appeared of such significance, that thinking about them expanded the channel they ran through to the point where my being could accommodate nothing else. Days went by when the only occupation possible, apart from processing everything going on, was playing solitaire or carrying out the smallest routine tasks – washing, washing up, putting out the garbage, chopping vegetables. Cooking would have occupied too wide a mental channel; I stuck with ready meals.
Even when I suspended as much other mental traffic as I could eliminate, I was still finding the throughput threatened to overwhelm capacity and crash everything.
Because of this, I’ve had to work hard at minimizing other sources of mental traffic in order to process all that was happening without blowing a fuse (as it were).
This is where the minimalism comes in.
I’ve explored in a previous post the curious phenomenon that my possessions all continuously speak to me – loud or quiet, all of them call to my attention all the time. The only way to silence them is to get rid of them. This means that owning things occupies one of my mental channels.
I’ve found that the less I own, the more available for other considerations is my mind.
So in the recent highly stressful passage through the mountains, I found it essential to ditch belongings in order to free up the mental capacity I required to address everything going on.
I have a strict limit on clothes – ten hangers in the wardrobe (no bright-coloured garments, a box of sweaters, a short row of shoes, a small compartmentalized drawer of underwear, hats, gloves, scarves etc).
I also have
- a Japanese teaset
- three handbags
- a shopping bag
- a laptop
- a Kindle
- an umbrella
- a small case (like a pencil case) storing electronic kit
- reading glasses
- two wooden stools
- a stack of books waiting to be read then passed on
- a stack of books and stationery for keeping
- about three files associated with business finance
- a prayer shawl
- a blanket
- a cushion
- a camping mattress + duvet and pillows
I think that’s all. Even that is too much, really.
I have found that I have to keep to only one category of clothing. In the past, at different times, that’s been saris, Plain dress, skirts and blouses. But those categories all had other considerations – Plain dress had hats, aprons, tights, petticoats, and needed a iron. Saris do need petticoats, shawls and cholis, but are actually one of the best categories for accommodating little space. Problematic in cold, wet weather and snow, though. Shirts and blouses need tights or leggings to go with, plus vests (chemises/undershirts) for modesty – and you have to own an iron.
All those items continually talk to me, and the ones in bright or light colours shout – even in the wardrobe with the curtain drawn across so I can’t see them. The only light colour that doesn’t shout is white/cream. Unless I have very few garments in dark, solid colour, their continual chatter occupies too broad a channel so I can’t think about anything else. If I had nothing else to think about, I wouldn’t mind because I like clothes. But there’s been so much going down – the Brexit vote, the awful complications of relating with my mother, the constant worry of climate change, refugees, economic and political horrors, fracking, trying to eat sensibly, budgeting money, the mind of God – that unless I keep the clothes to the smallest darkest simplest minimum, they expand to occupy too broad a channel and crash the system. So now I have dark trousers and dark socks, dark tops, sweaters and jackets – all fitting on the ten hangers and in the box and compartmentalized drawer. I check frequently to see if I can minimize further, to further quieten my mind.
Actually I’m worried about preaching tomorrow. I’m going to a church whose minister I once was. About a fortnight after my previous husband died (I was their minister then), their senior steward came to see me to tell me they didn’t like the way I dressed, the way I preached, or the way I led Bible study. I found them someone else for the Bible study, and always wore robes to preach after that, but they did have to put up with my preaching and crafting of liturgy. That was a long time ago. When I came back to Methodist preaching, I asked not to be sent to them unless they specifically invited me, as I don’t want to inflict myself on people who’d rather I wasn’t there. Well, they asked me to preach for their chapel anniversary, so I said yes – but I’m worried they won’t like my sermon or my clothes. I’ve stuck to just exposition of the set lectionary texts, but I don’t know why they didn’t like my clothes in the first place. I’ll just have plain black trousers, a cream vest top (sleeveless t-shirt) and dark grey jacket, so nothing eye-catching, just a dark plain person if you see what I mean. Like a stick figure (but fatter). But I don’t know . . . they’ll probably have a problem with it.
However, there’s nothing I can do about it, because if I start adding in tights and a skirt and shoes that go with skirts to my wardrobe categories, the mental channel then doubles and crashes the system because the other channels have gotten so wide with all this stuff going on with my mother.
Sorry that’s so long and rambling – in summary, the point is, the more extremely minimalist I can manage to be, the more mind I have available to process difficult aspects of life without becoming so traumatised I go into overwhelm and cannot function. This is an aspect of minimalism I thought worth recording.
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PS The things in the photo that you can see, other than in the wardrobe, all belong to my husband because we share this room.