Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Simplicity Weasely Style

A couple of posts ago I wrote a piece called The Four Minimalists, thinking about different approaches to living simply. In the comment thread, Heather wrote this:
            I find myself confused. I found the de-cluttering process hard going but cathartic, as if I had streamlined my whole body by getting rid of unwanted 'noise' in the house. But now, as I come to the end of the journey I am starting to feel that I need to do something to make it reflect back our personality, which is something of my new resolution. Perversely, there is a part of my that longs to have Molly Weasley's house!”

I know just what she means.

KonMari (I love her!) has taken the de-cluttering world by storm, resulting in social media abounding with before-and-after photos of homes pared to the bone. Kitchens with nothing on view but the fitted cabinets. Living rooms with a couch and a TV. And maybe a plant. Hallways with a small corner cupboard supporting an ornament. Maybe. Or just the cupboard.

I guess what happens is that after a while people settle back into their space, and it begins to feel homely again.

I thought I’d share some pics of the living space I share with the Badger, to propose an alternative take on things – a fusion of minimalism and simplicity without necessarily being very tidy or even all that clean. It needs dusting right now, and I have done nothing whatever to tidy it. But it looks okay because we haven't enough stuff to make a mess.

He and I have a small attic apartment in a house where four other people live. Space is at a premium, so it’s no good accumulating stuff. I am into minimalism, because I believe in it passionately as the gateway to sharing, part of my spiritual discipline, very freeing – and because I don’t like housework and ‘stuff’ does my head in. The Badger is different. He is willing to live as simply as our situation requires of him, is willing to share all he has with as many people as it will stretch round, but has no special feeling for minimalism as a guiding star. In fact he rather likes collections – his collection of books, his collection of CDs, his collection of elephants being only examples.

So this is how we live.

On the way up the the narrow winding stairway leading to our attic you come to the turn, where we have what we call our ‘archive’ (because that’s what it is). All the files relating to church and home records are there.

Moving on, alongside the stairway is a narrow shelf. The Badger has fixed a mirror to the wall there, which acts as my dressing table. You can just see the corner of our laundry bag; it hangs in the stairwell on a hook fixed into the outside of the banister rail.

At the top of the stairs is a landing, an ante-room to our main room. That’s where we sleep.

In our main room we have a sitting area with the shelves for the Badger's books.

Opposite is the wardrobe the Badger built for me where I keep my clothes, and his study corner.

The rafters are handy for drying towels.

The Badger and I both work from home, and he’s a publisher, so at any given time he has a stack of papers by his desk. A printer is vital to what we do. So is a waste paper bin. The step stool is essential for opening the windows.

I have books too. The bottom shelf has mine, and along the top are the papers for my mother’s care and my Methodist Circuit resources.

I have a study corner of my own.

We also have some kitchen stuff in a box room improvised into a kitchen. We don’t need much – a fridge, a mini-cooker, a table and chairs, some storage shelves (the Badger made them). There’s no sink, but that’s no big deal. We get water from the bathroom and wash up on the table top.

So this is not Konmari territory, it’s a bit sloppier than that, but it is living simply, with all the advantages of minimal housework, space-sharing, frugality and earth-friendliness. And my minimalism nests like a Russian doll inside the Badger’s simplicity. If we both had the number of belongings he has, we wouldn’t fit in our space. He’s very fair minded and kind, so if I had more things he’d trim his possessions to accommodate them; but as I haven’t, he’s glad to keep his bits and pieces because he likes them. Some of our things are mine, though; the round table and the big rug, the coverlet and the little table at the foot of our bed. I do have some stuff, and he doesn't have much. And the Badger is buying me a comfy blue armchair to sit in, but we haven't got it yet. I generally like to get second hand or homemade things, but the armchair is coming from Ikea, because our staircase is too small to get an already-made chair up.

Mindset is part of all this. If we had to move into somewhere smaller still, we know how to do it. He’d transition entirely from books to Kindle, from CDs to i-Tunes, say a sad goodbye to his elephants and small store of memorabilia. I’d pare down my wardrobe a little more. But meanwhile, as we have thought long and hard about what we own, and like our place to look like a home not a prison cell, this is how we do things. If these photos come up big for you (I don't know if they do), you'll see that what the Badger has there on that unit where he keeps his socks and undies is a bottle of whisky and a bottle of cough medicine. Not ideal, I know . . .


Anonymous said...

Yes - I see here that your house very definitely has personality that mine lacks - so you have merged the two aspects that I am striving for. It is my resolution for this year to make just this sort of fusion. Just this week, looking hard at my house, it dawned on me there was very definitely a difference between clutter to be released and mess that requires a proper but accessible home - and that means storage ideas. Not just shoving stuff in random drawers, but storage solutions for recurrent issues; which for us means things like paperwork and my crafting materials - all of which are strewn about making the house a tip.
So before I do anything - this is my first port of call. I feel very energised to be tackling the house at long last instead of co existing with something I was learning to despise.

And thank you - because I have found you in particular something of an inspiration.


Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you - I am so very rarely useful!

A person in her home - this is something reciprocal. The person and the home choose each other and shape each other. The home develops according to the personality and how she lives her life. But she must also shape her choices within the boundaries of her chosen space. Then there is harmony.

Jen said...

As you know this is something I continue to struggle with and fight with, not least because we are at two opposite ends of the scale. But slowly, through communication, we are working it out and creating a home we are both happy in with neither of us feeling deprived or pushed against!

gretchen said...

i looked long and hard at the photo of molly weasely's house and i see exactly what heather means. it's still simple but it shines with warmth and welcome. perhaps the key is colour and comfort? in my upstairs hermitage i have icons, books, some brightly patterned dishes, handmade afghans and candles. there isn't a LOT of any one thing but together they feel homey. it's easy to clean, organised, as well as having plenty of natural light for my plants. oh, i forgot the plants! there are several of them as well . . . and tins of tea plus teapot and cups . . . and a very large cat :) how i wish that we could all gather for tea just like the four friends.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Jen - yes, I think feeling the way towards mutuality is always worthwhile. I always get that 'Uh-oh' feeling when I read women ranting on Facebook about their untidy and hoarding husbands obstructing their path to freedom! The respect implicit in communication is key. x

Hi Gretchen - 'colour . . . comfort . . . plants' - absolutely! In Konmari's books, these are exactly the features she urges people to include as part of their expression of joy in their home environment. x

Mother Hawthorne said...

Great post, Pen, thanks. Love the bit about your minimalism nesting in the Badger's simplicity! 😄 Going off on a tangent, where do you get your calligraphic 'paintings', like in the first picture? Does one of your lovely daughters make them? I'd really like one for my " it doesn't matter, It's not important, God is" ❤️❤️ xx

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, our Alice made the "Set your house in order" calligraphy for me. x

rebecca said...

Mindset is a HUGE part of it all! (And I, too, liked the imagery of your minimalism resting in the Badger's simplicity.) This morning, I pecked away at my cupboard FULL to overflowing of cottage cheese containers - large ones and small ones - and their lids that have accumulated for far too long.... I'd like a look at Gretchen's upstairs hermitage. I get a lot of inspiration from visual sources, and hers sounds so interesting.

Pen Wilcock said...

Cottage cheese containers! Mine is foil baking trays. I feel terrible about one-use packaging, and try to get several goes out of each pack I buy. The problem is, as we have got older and downsized, cooking for two in a tiny kitchen with no sink, and with only a tiny freezer, batch-baking is impractical - in fact any serious cooking is a challenge. While I cook our veggies from scratch, I often get the protein part of the meal (meat, fish, or something in cheese sauce) as a ready-cooked item from the store. So I accumulate these foil trays. They come in handy for the cooking I do - like grilled bacon, jacket potatoes, bread-and-butter pudding sometimes - but I have way more than I need. Sometimes they come in handy to feed the fox.