Wednesday, 31 March 2021

730 things — Day 20 of 365

A couple of days ago, Suzan said something that made me stop and think. She commented: "My mother loves to buy clothes and doesn't understand I don't like to shop much at all."

It snagged my attention. I asked myself, "Do I like to shop? Do I enjoy clothes shopping?" I mean, I buy a lot of clothes (and other things), and always have, but do I enjoy it, honestly?

My husband says every now and then that he thinks shopping is my hobby. I see why he says it, but at the same time it doesn't quite ring true to me.

I could see I needed to think about this.

I've noticed that I buy clothing (and other things) as a psychological method of getting ready — of resourcing myself. It's not that I feel inadequate exactly, more that sometimes I feel I don't have what it takes to face what's coming towards me, so I reach outside myself for back-up, to make sure I'm kitted out and ready to meet what's inside that dust cloud on the horizon. A form of prepping, I guess.

Officiating at funerals is a good example of what I mean. Over the years I've officiated at hundreds of funerals, but nowadays I almost always decline that opportunity, even though it feels like such a privilege and honour. On the rare occasions I say "yes", I can guarantee that as the day approaches I will begin to panic that I don't have the right things to wear; and that's when I start shopping.

I was required to speak at my mother's funeral in January, and the legacy of that is a very good black cashmere coat (secondhand from eBay) and a pair of high quality black boots (extremely expensive and not second-hand — my feet are hard to fit). I don't like the coat and I don't like the boots and I don't like the mental association. I bought them because I thought them appropriate, but they are not my kind of thing. I am weary of attire donned to make a good impression, and of trying to summon enough energy to do something very difficult by dressing as if I could.

I have to officiate at a funeral tomorrow. I'll either wear the black boots and black coat (if it's cold) one more time, and then offer them to someone who would like them; or, if I'm feeling especially self-confident (and if it's warm, because spring's here), I'll  wear my regular clothes and just be who I am. I'm not sure which way to go. 

But I am entirely certain that coat and those boots are the next things leaving my life. 

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

730 things — Day 19 of 365

 The world has so many things in it, doesn't it? Simplifying our lives has become urgent. 

I think the priority is to create the conditions for simplicity. For someone who has a big problem of hoarding that's creating health hazards, I'd go flat out for clearing the space somehow, anyhow, even if that means sending a lot of stuff to landfill — which normally we try to minimise. 

But the objective must surely include reducing the amount of waste we generate; the ideal would be a zero-waste life. Making choices that reduce one-use plastic and moving away from clothing and packaging made of plastic (because it's so difficult and slow to bio-degrade) is an integral part of our human responsibility.

So whether we're moving in the direction of greater simplicity, pruning out our belongings to create a more flexible and peaceful environment that's spacious and easy to clean, or downsizing so we take up less space (to make room to share, or to move into a smaller and more affordable home), either way the question arises of what to do with everything we're choosing to part with. The choices should be made judiciously too, so that it doesn't end up like a yo-yo diet, tossing one load of stuff only to replace it with more and different. The idea is to end up with less, a stream-lined quantity that also feels like enough.

A little while ago I read an article challenging us to stop donating our unwanted belongings. I should clarify, by "donating", the writer meant taking large quantities of stuff to the charity shop (US, Goodwill). He said (I'm sorry, I've forgotten who wrote this) that the recipients get swamped and have to undergo their own clear-outs, resulting in most of what we donated going to land-fill. I can see that is likely true and very undesirable.

So it seems sensible (unless you are a hoarder in urgent need of radical and swift intervention), rather than having a massive chuck-out all in one go and sending cartloads of unsorted junk to the charity shops, we should sort out things to go steadily and gradually, finding new homes for our surplus items. That way they will be re-used and not add to the problem of pollution.

Freegle is good for this, and neighbourhood pages on Facebook. I imagine many Freeglers who are happy to receive bags and bundles of clothing are also eBayers, making money from selling on anything they don't want to wear themselves. I'm all in favour of that, personally. It helps the informal economy thrive, giving people a chance who would otherwise be in poverty. Selling on eBay is an excellent way to make ends meet, especially for those whose lives are home-based through choice or necessity.

So I think the responsible route to greater simplicity runs through ensuring that surplus items leave our lives in a trickle rather than a torrent, and that the trickle out exceeds the trickle in.

That said, every now and then we have some items to dispose of that are frankly garbage. Yesterday I sorted through my three sewing boxes, consolidating some things into a crafter's kit to give away on Freegle (I wrote about that yesterday), repurposing one (now emptied) box to store my stationery, using the cardboard box in which I'd kept my stationery as kindling for the fire, keeping my own reduced number of sewing things in the remaining box. At the end, I had a little pile of junk that is of no use to anyone. I sorted it further, to use what could be burned as kindling, and to send anything that could be recycled in the right direction.

So the things I got rid of today weren't donated to anybody. One thing was a little pile of rubbish.

The other thing was the cardboard box I used to keep my stationery in, that I burned as kindling. It was a very good box, I've had it a long time. Before I used it to store my stationery, it was the place I kept all the receipts and record of expenditure during the years I held power of attorney for my mother. Hence the wording I wrote on it.

I know these don't seem like much to dispose of, but that's the point, isn't it? We hang on to all this stuff, until it gradually occupies too much of the space inside our homes — we can even end up needing bigger homes, to accommodate not ourselves but our possessions.

Monday, 29 March 2021

3 Habits for Lazy People

730 things — Day 18 of 365

Something I didn't realise at first about the need I feel for simplicity is the strong connection it has to being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). I had thought that everyone would experience chatter they couldn't turn off from their belongings, and would be drained and overwhelmed by wearing strong patterns or bright colours. I didn't realise that it's part of being HSP and doesn't apply to other people! 

Lovely Youheum explains something about it in one of her videos, here (I find her videos really helpful; she's helping me understand the underlying principles to get things right for me).

An outcome of this is that sometimes I've bought clothes I thought would work, then found myself never wearing them.

Today's items I'm sending on their way come into this category.

I have to wear very light, soft and stretchy clothes because of hyper-mobility, and I thought the two garments I'm moving on today would be perfect for me because they fulfil those criteria.

Two pairs of trousers.

Unfortunately, what I hadn't taken into account is that the patterns are too jazzy, and create constant and tiring distraction and mental interference when I try to wear them. So I've never worn either of them longer than twenty minutes before I had to take them off.

So, even though I like them a lot and they fit and are very comfy, today I am sending them on their way.


Today a Freegler came to pick up a big bag of clothes. 
I had misgivings about four things I'd put out — the two pairs of trousers I wrote about today, and the blue trousers and blue flowery top I already took back and then put out again. 
I felt worried that I would end up with not enough clothes — I don't want to do laundry more frequently because that wastes water, and I don't want to buy any more clothes for a long time.
I could feel myself getting anxious about it, so I took back those four items into my wardrobe.

I swapped out two brooches (one a red felt flower brooch and one feathery brooch) for the blue trousers and top, and a sandwich box and some sewing supplies for the two pairs of trousers I wrote about today.  I combined all these things together to make a crafter's kit to give away on Freegle.

The silver cylinders you can see in the picture are re-purposed exterior containers to keep light out of bottles of essential oils. One of them is now full of dressmaking pins and the other three have buttons in, sorted into different types.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

730 things — Day 17 of 365

 I spent a phase of my life working (in a voluntary capacity) as a free-church chaplain in a hospice spiritual care team. The hospice was situated in a long rambling building. Only one half was the actual hospice; a connecting door opened into a residential nursing home, for which I was also the free-church chaplain. I travelled alongside people making their Great Journey out of this world, and their loved ones and the doctors and nurses and carers looking after them. I also taught spiritual care workshops in the nursing home and hospice and more widely in the National Health Service.

The work was varied and interesting, including bereavement care and a lot of listening, creating funeral ceremonies — all sorts of things.

Today, for no reason I can identify, a memory came back to me from those days — more than 25 years ago now.  The building had at one time housed a monastic community, and the chapel remained as an architectural echo of its history, rather beautiful in a traditional, high-ceilinged, ornate way. One morning I sat in that chapel with an old lady who lived in the nursing home end of the establishment. I had taken her there in a wheelchair because she asked if I would celebrate Holy Communion for her, and she wanted to do that in the chapel not in the room where she lived. 

So we sat together, and I began to go through the eucharistic liturgy with her, using the prayer books of the location we were in.

At an early point in the service there's a prayer of confession, followed by absolution from sin. The wording of this varies somewhat according to church tradition (Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, mainstream Anglican, Methodist or whatever). In the more Catholic wing of the church, sins are confessed using the words "my fault, my own fault, my own most grievous fault" (from the original Latin, "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa").

The prayer goes like this:

I confess to almighty God,

and to you my brothers and sisters,

that I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words,

in what I have done and what I failed to do.

through my fault

my own fault,

my own most grievous fault.

Therefore I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,

all the angels and saints,

and you my brothers and sisters,

 to pray for me to the Lord our God.

This is not the form of words in the more mainstream parts of the Church of England, but it must have been the wording of the order we were following that day (the main C of E chaplain heading up the hospice team was a high-churchman), to explain what happened.

The lady I was with, though somewhat confused and not well, not able to follow the words on the page, had her memory triggered by the words she knew so well, and she joined in with bits she recognised, including this prayer of confession.

But somewhere it must have got transposed in her mind into a form of words from her childhood — something her mother used to say, I suspect, as I remember my own mother saying similar. 

She confessed to her sin being: "my fault, my own fault, my own stupid fault."

That's what my mother used to say — "It's his own stupid fault!" or "It was my own stupid fault!" — if she or someone else made a silly and regrettable mistake. She would also say, "I have no one to blame but myself!" Who was to blame when things went wrong featured sharply in my mother's thinking, as it does for many people (you'll notice this if you follow the news).

I think the memory of this fusion of words in confession came back to me today because I was thinking about the many mistakes I have made and wrong turnings I have taken, stumbling inadequately and often ineffectually along the path of simplicity. So I have ended up wasting resources (my own and the Earth's) on silly purchases, buying things I didn't really want for reasons I wasn't bright enough to discern — only to come to the reluctant conclusion I didn't want to keep this thing, within an embarrassingly short space of time. I should have known better; it was my fault, my own fault, my own stupid fault.

But that's part of what it means to be human, isn't it?

One of my fellow ordinands, alongside whom I trained on the Southwark Ordination Course (Anglican, but they also took Methodists), said one night as we sat in the pub enjoying a drink together when classes were finished: "Sometimes I get it wrong; and when I do, God forgives me."

It was such a simple thing to say, but profound as well, and went deep into my soul — I loved the trust and peace implicit in it.

Today, then, I'm moving on some things I should never have bought in the first place, a set of eco-snack-plates/trays made of bamboo, and some wheat-straw beakers that go nicely with them. I thought they'd be great for parties, and got them shortly before we all went into lockdown and no parties were allowed. The ensuing months offered plenty of time for reflection, allowing me to come slowly to the unwelcome realisation that the regular plates we already had would do just as well, and that these would get very little use. Such a pointless and unnecessary purchase — "my fault, my own fault, my own stupid fault. No one to blame but myself." But sometimes I get it wrong; and when I do, God forgives me.

They quickly found another home through Freegle.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

730 things — Day 16 of 365

 Everything is ephemeral, nothing stays exactly as it was — that's what it means to be alive; things change. "This too shall pass". And it isn't easy to discern which things will turn out to have been important after all.

It took me by surprise that Little Bettys in Stonegate closing was such a sharp loss, and made me feel so bereft. That's how life is; suddenly, quietly, without asking you, something comes to an end.

So much has gone this year. I left the Methodist Church, and my mother died, I've stopped writing books — it feels like a time of endings. It isn't clear to me what (if anything) is left. Opposite where I sit in my room, the face of Jesus looks at me from the altar on the wall, and yes, the gaze of Jesus abides, questioning everything I choose and decide — "Are you sure?" I hope I will always hold on to him. I hope that whatever else is lost, I will always be stumbling along behind him, doing my best to hold steady the flame of his gospel. You can never be sure, though, can you? I mean, I'm sure of him but I've learned to doubt myself.

But in a physical universe characterised by essential impermanence, there seems little point in hanging on to stuff. I mean, why? It makes sense to travel light — that way, everything goes further for oneself and all one's travelling companions.

So today I'm moving on two things that have had their day. One is a dead toothbrush that I'd put in the bathroom to repurpose for scrubbing round the base of the taps. It's just clutter, isn't it? A rag will do the job just as well.

And the second thing is a waste paper bin I bought for a house we lived in long ago. No one needs it. Those of us who use waste paper bins already each have their own in their rooms. Sometimes we've used it as a firework basket, but we are already well supplied with others. It's time this went.

I live in a shared house, and we have some things here that we all use — pots and pans, mugs, breadboards and so on — but every item we have is owned by a particular individual. This is important, because what is everybody's quickly turns into nobody's, and clutter accumulates that way. For every single thing in our house, an individual is responsible. If any of us decides we no longer wish to keep something in common use, we check with the others first. If one of them wants to keep it, then it becomes his/her property and responsibility. If none of the others want it, then out it goes.

Such a sense of time passing, of leaving and ending and finishing, at the moment. 365 days seemed a long stretch of time — a whole year — but already 16 of those days are gone. That's how a life goes by. And the less stuff and clutter that weighs me down, the better I can savour the moments.

Friday, 26 March 2021

5 Outfits | Extreme Minimalist Uniform | Capsule Wardrobe

730 things — Day 15 of 365

 I suppose, if you are used to culling your possessions, you are familiar with the idea of a quarantine box?

That's where you put the things you plan to donate, leaving them to sit for a while in case you were too hasty in your enthusiasm and need to get something back. Obviously that's better for your finances than having too radical a chuck-out and then wishing you still had that item and buying it again. Some people relate to other actual humans like that, don't they? I bet you have, in your circle of friends, more than one person who has ditched their spouse and replaced her/him with a replica. Still, I suppose it's not practical to have a quarantine box for people, but at least that can be done for things.

In this Covid year when the charity shops are closed, the means of disposal are sluggish, considerably slowed down. Freegle is still moving briskly — a lot of businesses have foundered and many people have suffered financially this year — but the bag of stuff for the charity shop is still waiting patiently, making the quarantining process very thoughtful and leisurely. I feel that yen to cut loose from everything that trammels around me and weighs me down, but I do also see the sense in refraining from throwing all caution to the winds, and that's what the quarantine box/bag is for. 

I had an interesting experience with quarantining clothes this week. One of the early selections I made in this year of pruning stuff out, a blue floral top and blue cords, I changed my mind about, and got them back out of the donate bag. They are such good clothes and I like them and they kept coming back to mind — I wasn't sure I no longer wanted them. I thought I might exchange them for something different. And then something quite unrelated happened. I saw in the Yorkshire Post (newspaper, online) that Little Betty's Café in Stonegate (that's in York) was closing, no longer financially viable it said. 

You might not know this, but York (not Hastings where I actually live and have lived for forty years and counting) is the geographical centre of my world. I used to live there, and I love York. I would've like to still live there, I only have to think about it and I can walk its streets as if I were physically there. I want to walk across the city centre for Evensong at the Minster at the end of the day, 

I want to catch the bus out to Thorganby to see the sisters at Thicket Priory, 

I want to get my vegetables at the street market, I want to go out to Ampleforth sometimes, 

I want to put the Poor Clares back in Lawrence Street where they used to be and go to their prayer meeting, 

and I want to go (as often as possible) to little Bettys Café in Stonegate for afternoon tea. 

As the years have gone by, I've gone back to York whenever I could afford it, and stayed a night in the Travelodge, and on those short trips I've made sure to go to Bettys in Stonegate for afternoon tea as soon as I dropped my bag off at the Travelodge, then for elevenses before I caught the train home the next day. I used to try and time my visits to coincide with a lovely setting at Minster Evensong — William Byrd or something.

But the Poor Clares went from Lawrence Street years ago, and the Minster Choir has been disbanded in the Covid year, and now Little Bettys has closed for ever. I thought it would always be there. The main Bettys café in St Helens Square will still be there, of course, but it's not the same. Little Bettys in Stonegate . . . that's the happy heart of my lost world. A chapter ended. I'll never go back to York again. I'll keep the memories tucked away in my heart of something loved and lost for ever.

Catapulted abruptly into deep mourning by this news, I was taken by surprise to find a sudden aversion to that blue floral top and trousers, a sudden feeling that I hated them and never wanted them anywhere near me again. Not rational, I realise, but then, do we really chose our clothes on an entirely rational basis? Probably not. So I put them back out to donate, and it strangely eased the rage of my sadness to send them away. I don't really understand that, but I noted it.

Today two (more) pairs of jeans went away via Freegle. People are always eager for jeans, so I put my bundle of jeans-to-go straight out on Freegle, not waiting for the charity shops to re-open. They were snapped up!


So that was today. 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

730 things — Day 14 of 365

 In general advice is as welcome as three-day-old cold cooked cabbage for lunch. Even so, today I am offering you a piece of advice for your downsizing and clearing of clutter. Very straightforward: don't dump it on someone else.

I believe it to be only responsible to carefully sort through my belongings and send them on to destinations where they will be welcome. I live in a town where there's much poverty, and Freegle is a wonderful channel for putting things within reach of people who can't afford to buy them. We have a lot of charity shops here, and donating good quality belongings to them both supports the volunteer sector (a lot of retired or disabled people greatly value the cheerfulness and companionship of their contribution to society working as volunteers) and raises funds for really good causes. But sometimes if I am passing on something like a lovely pair of earrings or a cashmere sweater, I will give my family first dibs on it, only donating it away if they have no need of it. Actually, I've even sent bundles of clothing overseas to ensure they arrive in the hands of someone who will really value them, because I don't like the wastefulness of just throwing things away. I no longer do that since Brexit, because postage costs have risen so much, and that's sad.

My previous husband Bernard was married to Anne, his soul mate and the love of his life, before me. Anne was an artist, and left behind a studio and a large collection of paintings when she died. Bernard sold and auctioned and donated as many as he could in honour of her memory, but was still left with a considerable number. 

When he was diagnosed with a terminal illness that would rapidly progress, Bernard seized the time remaining, while he would still be strong and active, to both put his own affairs in order (simplifying his investments and savings down to one bank account) and resolve the echoes of Anne — her possessions still gathered here and there in his house, her studio and the outstanding paintings. Mindful of the pain and sadness it would cause his son (who inherited Bernard's house) to move in among the ghosts of his deceased mother as well as his father, Bernard cleared the studio, restoring it to the identity of a useful shed, donated away Anne's remaining personal possessions, and made a big ceremonial bonfire of the paintings. He didn't eradicate her memory; he left a photo of her on the dresser, and a few of her paintings on the walls, he just took away the saturation of her presence from the house. I thought that was both wise and kind.

My own mother loved her belongings, and brought them with her when she downsized from a house to an apartment. not knowing what to do with everything and having no room for it all in her new home, she stashed piles of boxes in the garage, that over time I sorted through, finding new destinations for everything. Even so, her closets and drawers and cupboards remained crammed full of clothes and china and paraphernalia. Frustrated, she muttered that other people just leave their children to sort all that out when they're dead, and she didn't see why she shouldn't do the same. She died in the middle of a pandemic, leaving my sister as her executor, so I don't know what's happened about her apartment and all that stuff, now.

It is really important to be respectful as well as responsible in disposing of one's accumulated hoard. I had a dear friend whom I used to love visiting — someone I am really fond of — who evidently decided the time had come to pass on the mounds of stuff she had stashed here and there. I discovered this on the occasion I went to see her, to discover she had ready for me two large bags of things she didn't want, for me to take away. I did take them; but I never could face going back, for fear of what else might be coming my way. And I understand that as we grow old it all gets too much — we just don't know what on earth to do with the rising tide of things; that's why it's important to begin before we are too tired.

So I suggest to you that if you value your personal relationships you will respect the unseen but real boundaries around your own life and your own belongings. Offer if you like, but don't presume or insist. As the old songs says, "You can't put your muck in my dustbin — my dustbin's full." 

Don't fall into the common error of seeing your children as a conduit for your memorabilia and sentimentalia. Offer it, by all means, but don't just leave it to them.

Above all, if you know someone who believes in simplicity and has worked hard over years to pare down their belongings and maintain the considerable discipline of practicing minimalism, don't make the mistake of thinking, "Oh good, she can deal with my junk as well. Here you go."

I hope you don't mind me giving you this advice.

Today I am moving on two plastic fridge jugs. They came in a set of three and I thought they'd be really useful. They are, but I still don't want them; I've got too many things. Sometimes you have to get rid of useful things or things that you love, if you want the peace and freedom of simplicity more. 

I kept the third jug, but I don't think I really want that either. If I'd made that decision at the time I took the photo I'd have included all three in one go, but as it is I added it to the donate pile a few days later, so that'll appear as a separate item in days to come.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

730 things — Day 13 of 365

 The book I'm reading at the moment is Homesick: why I live in a shed, by Catrina Davies. I commend it to you. It's superbly written, powerful, thoughtful, evocative, real. A brilliant book.

The publisher's copy on Amazon says, 

This is the story of a personal housing crisis and a country-wide one, grappling with class, economics, mental health and nature. It shows how housing can trap us or set us free, and what it means to feel at home.

Issues to do with accommodation and poverty are included among the threads that have woven the cloth of my life. They are not the reason I was drawn to simplicity, but for me they have underscored the good sense of taking that path.

Something that came through to me very vividly in reading Homesick is the fragility and vulnerability of life — of not being able to afford somewhere safe and reliable to call home. It certainly rings true. I recognise it. I know what it is to lack the resources life requires.

Also this week, two friends have come into my mind again and again. Both of them are going into hospital for surgical procedures relating to very serious health concerns. The outcomes are not certain. Again, the fragility and vulnerability of life, and insufficiency of resources — this time, health and solutions.

As I gazed into these issues, allowing their difficult and sombre realities to move in the depths of me, I found myself redirected firmly towards simplicity again. I thought about what it's like to feel overwhelmed, and the causes of it, and what overwhelm means. I thought about the challenges and adversities that come to us, how steep and scary they are, how much they ask of us. 

I often think (and I wonder if you do, too) about the terrors of what it means to live in and as a physical organism, with no way to leave except through the suffering of sickness and disintegration, or through profound violence. What was God thinking? What does it all mean? How can one make sense of it? It is the way of reality (otherwise known as the divine plan) that life comes out of death and then death comes of living. The meat and vegetables in my supper came at the price of death — the chicken in the slaughter house, the carrots torn out of the earth, the tiny beings (worms, woodlice, centipedes, mice, grasshoppers, greenfly) broken by the plough and the harvester and the processing plant and the mechanisms of transport. It is death I eat as my means of staying alive. All so impossibly, terrifyingly fragile and ephemeral — all of it.

But I also know that, through the passing generations, even though they dwell in the valley of the shadow of death, hundreds and thousands of women and men have found the secret of living contentedly, serenely and at peace, enjoying their bread and cheese and wine, the fire on the hearth; delighting in the lavender growing by the garden wall, the blackbird singing on the fence at dusk.

It seems to me — I advance this tentatively as an observation — that simplicity is the key, the threshold to such peace. Overwhelm is, quite literally, the condition of having too much on our plates, more than we can manage, more than we can cope with. It follows that the more we can ditch, the less overwhelmed we shall be. Complication and proliferation and pressure make everything worse — "Problems arise where things accumulate" (Toinette Lippe).

Today I am putting out for the recycling lorry, that comes by tomorrow, these three small glass bottles. They had iced coffee in them when I bought them, but I kept them primarily because they reminded me of the little bottles of school milk we used to be given in the 1960s. I hated it, Jane Corby used to drink mine for me, but the memory has an air of nostalgia nonetheless. 

They came in handy because I do use just a little milk, but not much and only occasionally, so if I bought a carton of milk I could divide it between the bottles, freezing two and keeping one in the fridge.

But these days I very rarely buy milk at all, so the bottles have stood unused for ages in the cupboard, and I think it's time they went.

And if I ask myself, does throwing out surplus glass bottles do much to take the terror out of life, or offer any solutions for my friends trying to find the courage for the surgical procedures they have to undergo, the very idea seems ludicrous. But I think there is a connection.

For instance, when my previous husband died, he had quite rightly left his house to his son, whose childhood home it had been. Being caught up in the maelstrom of my husband's dying had not been easy, and was only one part of a flowing confusion of pain and muddle that I lived through during those years. But I know very surely that the whole thing was made easier and less hard to bear because I had so few possessions that all I had to do was gather them up, toss them into the back of my Nissan Micra and drive away. It was only the relationship, the man, that I lost; I didn't have a whole physical structure of shared life to dismantle. 

The more simply one can live, the more possible it becomes to face life's challenges one by one, dealing with them singly. Adversity is just more daunting when it hunts in packs. 

Or that's what I think, anyway.

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

730 things — Day 12 of 365

 What I want to move on today caused me to think hard. It took me a while to find my way to the decision to part with this. I found the process of considering it very helpful, because it helped me identify the importance of balancing my criteria. Let me explain.

Marie Kondo, that wise and delightful guru of tidying, who has transformed for the better the lives of so many people — at more profound levels than they ever expected — taught us to ask of every item in our home, "Does it spark joy?" Release it into the wild if it does not, is her sound advice.

The Arts & Crafts era designer William Morris said, "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be beautiful or believe to be useful," which many have found another sterling principle when evaluating what to keep in our travelling collection. That very slightly grates with me, because I want him to have said it the other way round — "that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful", because I think an object's usefulness is more easily objectively established, while its beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, I find our plastic bathroom jug and our plastic washing up bowl beautiful, but I suspect William Morris might not. They are, however, unarguably useful.

Pondering on these things brought me to today's items I am donating to the charity shop (Shelter, the organisation that helps homeless people).

It all started with having the chimney repointed. We live in a tall Victorian house with a gabled roof that has solar panels on it. Yesterday a team of scaffolders came to put up the structure necessary for the safety of the men who will be working on the masonry. There were three men in the team of scaffolders, but they couldn't quite finish the job because they need further colleagues to enable them to work on the section that travels from the upright part across the solar panels to the chimney.

As I'm sure you know, part of the unwritten social contract between householders and tradespeople is that the homeowner should keep the worker well supplied with coffee and cookies to make the working day cheerful. And coffee, as you know, goes in mugs.

Now, the thing is, we have four people in our household. We have an Irish dresser that holds a set of beautiful, delicate antique porcelain tea-things belonging to Hebe and Alice, and we won't be serving the scaffolders tea in those.

Tony has three mugs, one ginormous one that he uses most of the time, and two regular ones for more occasional use. Tony doesn't mind sharing his mugs. Alice and Hebe are artists and their mugs are specially chosen studio pottery pieces, works of art in themselves. They have two mugs each, plus a small collection of other pieces made by Judith Rowe (a Hastings potter). They don't even share these with each other. Hebe's is Hebe's, Alice's is Alice's, they are kept quite distinct and they don't want anyone else drinking out of them, and they'd be highly upset if any of these pieces got broken. A brief period of mourning is observed if this ever happens, and they mend things meticulously where possible. So we won't be offering the scaffolders tea in their mugs.

I have one mug, that I don't mind sharing. Fiona, whose home this is though she lives here only part-time, is elsewhere at present but also has a mug here that I'm sure she won't mind sharing.

So, provided we have only 4 workmen at a time, we're okay: there's my mug, Fiona's mug, and Tony's two sensibly sized mugs. If more than 4 accrue on the team of tradesmen, we'll be in trouble, come time for elevenses.

But I have some other cups. These ones, make by the British potter Keith Brymer Jones (the judge from The Great Pottery Throw Down).

I love these cups. Do they spark joy? Indubitably (as Mary Poppins famously said). I think they are absolutely beautiful, and I drink from one or another of them most of the time. They hold only a little less than a regular mug, and they are both lovely and hard-wearing. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Well, as you probably know, cups can have a summer shape or a winter shape. The summer shape is open like a buttercup, while the winter shape closes in toward the top like a barrel, the point being that the barrel shape helps the liquid retain heat longer while the open shape makes it cool quicker. Some mugs are just straight-sided, of course (mine is), and those also retain heat pretty well. My Keith Brymer Jones cups are, as you'll have observed, the summer shape.

Right now as I'm writing, there's a cup of nettle tea to hand, that Tony has kindly brought me, which I'm not ready to drink until I've finished this. There's an outside chance it'll still be pleasantly hot because it's in my straight-sided mug. If it had been in one of the Keith Brymer Jones cups it would have gone cold for sure by the time I get to it. So that's one problem.

The second thing is, there are six of these lovely cups taking up space in the kitchen, no one drinks out of them except me (and our very, very occasional guests) because we all drink from our own personal mugs — and they aren't suitable to offer tradesmen, because the drink goes cold too quick and the shape makes it easy to spill the liquid. You wouldn't be handing these up a scaffold.

Thinking this through, I realised that what we need is perhaps three or four more mugs suitable to offer our builders their coffee, nice enough for all our guests (that includes builders), and enjoyable for daily use for any of us who live here.

So I have concluded that even though they spark joy on a daily basis, I am moving on my six lovely Keith Brymer Jones mugs that he made at the special commission of The National Trust to raise money for their funds, and I will be replacing them with four also beautiful mugs but of a more versatile style and shape. So that will be six things going out but four replaced — so two items leaving in total.

Reaching simplicity is a complex process, is it not, and sometimes it takes several goes to get it right — and even then everything can change, necessitating a re-think.

Monday, 22 March 2021

730 things — Day 11 of 365

 Our journey through life spirals, I think. We go round and round the same issues, over the same territory, but the perspective changes because nothing is ever quite the same.

Do you know Herman Hesse's book, Siddhartha? Such a wonderful story. In the course of it we come across a ferryman, who talks about how the river has become holy to him. He says, 

"Have you also learned that secret from the river, that there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere; and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future."

From the first moment I read that it captivated me — and was, I think, something that formed and opened my mind, because I was only fourteen when I read it.

But I think you can also come at the same concept from the opposite side, and say that the river holds all the moments of time within its flow — because, though it is always the same river, sometimes it is the little mountain spring, sometimes a torrent rushing over rocks, sometimes the deep amber-green mystery of deep water passing slowly between meadow banks under great trees. Exactly because only the present exists for it, the river fully inhabits every time and place.

These thoughts returned to me today when I came back yet again to the familiar territory of thinking about how simplicity tends towards freedom. I have considered this so often, written about it, preached about it, revisited it over and over. But it's a spiral, not a circle; though it's the same river it offers a different manifestation of itself and a different view in this stretch of the journey. 

How it resurfaced in my mind today was through the hatch of thinking about chocolate.

Last year I got ill again, and it became evident that my health problems were to do with insulin, which I (successfully) addressed by determined and sustained reduction in my starch and sugar intake. In a recent post someone commented that fats are also problematic; my own fat intake has to stay low or my gall bladder warns me loud and clear of a problem. It's a constant balancing and re-balancing thing for my, but I'm lucky to have a body that screams in pain when I get it wrong. We're all different; it's a very individual thing — do what works for you. And just a reminder, I won't be publishing any health comments because it's contentious — I don't want to get into a Health Guru War — and isn't the topic under discussion. I'm just explaining my train of thought about hanging onto possessions. I got better, and — a concomitant unintentional effect — also thinner. This second effect was more than a little annoying, because I'd spent some time figuring out a wardrobe of clothes that all worked with each other very nicely to fit an XL woman. Now I had to chase her metamorphosis down through L (where I assumed she'd stop) to M where she plateaued out to what I assume is a halt. I re-stocked her wardrobe and Freegled her former attire, knowing that she must never return to her old aristological habits. A new status quo took shape (literally). 

One of the challenges of getting older and saggier, perhaps especially when hypermobility exerts its insistence on the necessity for soft, light, stretchy clothes — "Or else!!" — is that it's hard to look smart (in UK English "smart" means sartorially elegant, rather than clever). One way round this is to dress in black and white (plus ivory, beige and grey), which instantly adds formality to all the woolies and stretchies and cosies. It helps. 

So there I was, garment duly adjusted to a neutral capsule wardrobe in size M. 

Then, this last week, I got this overwhelming craving for granola. I thought hard about it, and decided that — in limited quantities and accompanied by the right other things — I could give it a go. While I was at the store I also bought a very small amount of chocolate.

Pleased with these purchases I enjoyed a pleasant lunch; after which I became consumed by terror that this might be only the top of a very slippery slope at the bottom of which would lie illness and the necessity to restock with size XL. I hope not.

But this is the point at which minimalism and maximalism part company. They have (obviously) two quite different approaches. Maximalism would suggest you should never throw anything away, exactly because you might need it again. Lest one chocolate becomes ten and my girth starts to expand, the maximalist would counsel me to keep every garment clear through L to XL to XXL and beyond — just in case. After all, you never know. 

There's a moth that does this sort of thing — the Uraba lugens. As the caterpillar grows, it sheds its exoskeleton, but instead of just leaving it all behind it retains the head section in each case. These remain attached, adding one on each shedding, accumulating on top of its head to resemble a very odd hat.

 Minimalism would propose a different course of action. If, at any given time, one had only (say) three pairs of trousers, four t-shirts, three sweaters and a coat, then it wouldn't be difficult to swap out garments to accommodate a change in size or preference. In fact, with only a few items in the wardrobe it would be necessary to seek replacements sooner, because they'd wear out quicker — minimalism therefore making change simpler and less traumatic, and increasing one's freedom to respond to life's many and often unforeseen fluctuations.

So today I sought out two items that I had carefully squirrelled away like a caterpillar's hat in case they might one day be useful.

These are only small items — a little net bag in which a pair of earrings once arrived in my life, and two of the reflective ear protectors included in the packs of Hopi ear candles I buy — but they represent a large problem in terms of clutter; the unwillingness to let things go, let things flow, let life change, permit the freedom of simplicity.

I just don't need them. For sure I will buy more Hopi candles, but they'll include another batch of ear protectors — and even if they don't, I'm sure I'll be able to think of something. And the little net bag can be repurposed to convey some other dinky little item to the charity shop. I'll see what I can find.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

The Difference - (a poem by Grace Garner for Passion Sunday)

Dolly Jesus in the crib,
I don’t know how you sleep
In a new world of song and snores
And sweat and shit and sheep.
Painted Jesus on the wall,
With wide eyes, china-blue,
You look a little bit concussed –
I’m worried about you.
Iron Jesus on the cross,
I cannot understand
Or imagine being hung there
With nails through my hands.
Smiley Jesus in the pulpit,
So friendly and so kind –
Why don’t you ever leave the church?
Are you housebound and blind?
Real Jesus, I see you;
We have hung out before.
But what about all these phoneys,
Imposter Christs galore?
Is it so that, when I look
From wooden eyes that stare
To faces raw with tears and love,
I recognise you there?
Is it so that, when I am
With starkest pain brought low,
I see that Christ draws near to me
So I might touch and know?

Touchstones - for Campfire Church 21/3/21 (Ministry of the word from Grace Garner)

Touchstone: a benchmark standard or example by which we judge the excellence or genuineness of others.
A touchstone was a hard black stone, such as jasper or basalt, that was used to test the quality of precious metals such as gold. The metal was rubbed on the stone, where it would leave a streak which could be compared with the mark left by a standard piece. This is also the origin of ‘put to the touch’ to mean ‘put to the test’.
In the Bible, we find the Greek word basanos, which literally means a touchstone; but we find it used figuratively, to mean a test; and, as the Bible progresses, it moves from a test of value to a test in the sense of struggle or torment – even torture, by Revelation. In the Gospels, the centurion’s servant, lying in his sickbed, is being put to the basanos. So are the disciples, frightened by the storm as it tosses their boat about. The man called Legion, filled with demons, asks Jesus if he has come to put him to the test – to the touchstone – before his time. (And find out, presumably, just what his madness is made of.)
When I found this out, it surprised me a bit, because I tend to think of a touchstone in terms of myself being the one doing the testing. A touchstone is something I use to help me make good decisions. Like Marie Kondo, saying to hold up each thing you own and ask yourself if it sparks joy. Similarly, on the advice of my mother, I will wear clothes I love when going clothes shopping and ask myself if I like the garments I am trying on as much as what I’m already wearing.
Perhaps you have learned ways of testing things, which you know will hold true. I wonder what your touchstones are?
In our reading today, the teacher of the law tried to use the scriptures as a touchstone for the authority of Jesus, but Jesus reversed their positions. Trying to justify the question, the Rabbi asks, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ I’m sure you know that there were deep social and religious divisions between the Jews and the Samaritans, and understand that the Rabbi was forced to admit something socially shocking when identifying the person in the parable who had acted well. In this story, Jesus demonstrates that it is not enough to know the law, but it is in putting its principles into practice that righteousness is found.
This is a common theme of Jesus’ teaching – in the parable of the sheep and the goats (“Whatever you did to them, you did to me”), in his rebuke
to the Pharisees over Sabbath observance (“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” and, “Which of you wouldn’t dig his donkey out of a ditch?”), in the Sermon on the Mount, in the tale of the rich young man, in the cursing of the olive tree, in his warning against false prophets (“By their fruits shall you know them”). Jesus teaches that the evidence of what you really believe can be seen in the way you live your life. This is the test of your faith, in the way that I am used to thinking of applying a touchstone.
But the way the term touchstone – basanos – is used in the Bible invites us, I think, to look at testing in a different way. Not with us as the assayer and assessor; but as the one being tested, subjected to the laser eye of justice. The phrase ‘testing your mettle’ has the same meaning (mettle being an alternative spelling of metal). To find out how tough you are, you must bear up under great strain. To find out your strength, you must carry weight. To find out your stamina, you must go the distance. We know from our lives that it doesn’t feel pleasant or comfortable when we are forced to find out what we’re made of.
I wonder what has tested you to your limit? I wonder if there are things that pushed you past your limits and broke you?
Today is Passion Sunday, when Jesus tells the disciples that he’s going to Jerusalem, and warns them of what’s to come – although they don’t understand. It’s not passion in the sense of ardent or sensual love; it’s passion in the same sense as passivity, in allowing himself to be handed over to God’s purpose. It strikes me, today, that in the passion of Jesus, we see him putting himself to the test, enduring torment, and being pushed to the point of brokenness.
But it isn’t cause for despair.
This week I took my children to the optician for vision tests. The first time I took Michael, years ago, he was scared and didn’t want to go. With a little work, I discovered that he was afraid of being tested because he thought it was like a school exam, where you had to give the right answers or fail. Once I’d explained that it wasn’t about being right or wrong, but just finding out what his eyes are like and can do, he was willing to go through with it.
Life puts us through some difficult things sometimes, but I struggle to believe that it’s really a great big exam that you might ultimately fail. The
test of crucifixion appeared to break Jesus. It appeared to be a test that led to failure. But really it was a test that showed what he was made of; that through the man ran the core of light that connected him to the God of all things, and that could not be killed. And he was showing us that that could be true of us too. Jesus was put to the touchstone, and the mark he left was pure gold.

730 things — Day 10 of 365

 Have you read Marie Kondo's books — about tidying? If you have, you'll know that she's Japanese and grew up within Shinto tradition. I didn't know much about Shinto until I came across Marie Kondo, but her approach to life intrigued me and I began to explore it more. I still don't know much about it, but I've formed the impression that the Shinto outlook on the world sees everything as being alive. So, for example, Marie Kondo might thank her shoes, when she takes them off as she enters her home, for protecting her feet and keeping them dry, serving her so well. When she folds her socks up to put them away, she does so gently because they deserve that — she doesn't screw them into a tight ball that would make them uncomfortable. When she goes to a new client, she first takes a moment to kneel on the floor in an attitude of devotion, really feeling the space and intention of that place.

This accords with my view of life, and reminds me of a friend who is a Reiki master talking to me (decades ago now) about placing her hand on her coffee table to reconnect its life back to when it was a growing tree. 

And Marie Kondo says: 

"the reason every item must have a designated place is because the existence of an item without a home multiplies the chance that your space will become cluttered again. Let's say, for example, that you have a shelf with nothing on it. What happens if someone leaves leaves an object that has no designated spot on the shelf? That one item will become your downfall. Within no time that space, which had maintained a sense of order, will be covered with objects, as if someone had yelled, "Gather round, everybody!"

I find that so funny, and so true.

I've begun to notice that our house seems to have opinions and an agenda. Recently — in the last year or so — we tried very hard to have the bathroom re-done for various reasons, and tried also to further our ambitions to restore the floor in the front room from the chipboard put down in the 1990s to reclaimed floorboards proper to the Edwardian building that it is. We had the money, we found tradesman after tradesman — yet could not progress it. Every time the initiative fell through.

Not high up on our list, but something one of us wanted, was to restore the fireplace in her room (it had been closed up into a cupboard and the chimney capped with the other vandalisms of the 90s). The chimney stack also needs pointing. Somehow all by itself that work has taken off like a rocket. Extraordinary. It feels as though that's what the house wanted to do.

In the same way, as I've begun to think again about my belongings, what to keep and what is ready to leave me now, items have started to emerge I had completely forgotten existed, like wild boar stepping quietly forth from the trees at the forest's edge.

Here's one such thing. Ear defenders. Never in the passing decades have I felt the need for ear defenders, nor thought about them, but I was persuaded by kindly advice to purchase these for a concert I attended some long while ago, with the warning that it would be loud. 

Then today, unbidden, they emerged from their hiding place saying, "Here I am. It's time for me to leave your life."

This jacket, on the other hand, has been the subject of much thought and inner struggle. My problem is that I think it beautiful.

It is soft and make of wool, and is a most exquisite and subtle colour — is it oyster? is it grey? is it cream? is it beige? I really can't say. It is a colour of the beginning of the dawn, so lovely (the photo makes it look just cream, but it's something more than that). Unfortunately it's also a bit tighter than I like and it doesn't really suit me anyway. I have decided, despite its beauty, to face this reality.

So those were the two things that left my life today.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

730 things — Day 9 of 365

 The thing is, with clutter, I find I do have to accept that while almost everything is potentially useful, I do have to accept the necessity of drawing a line under the practice of holding on to stuff, at some point.

For story-telling purposes I acquired a small(ish) community of Dam trolls. Some of them arrived naked and some clothed. I wanted to dress them according to my own preference, in less garish and more natural garments, adding to the sense of them being real woodland people rather than cutesy toys. 

So I set aside the clothes in which they'd originally been dressed, and sewed or knitted new ones for them. As a result, I had left over a little stash of troll clothes for which I had no purpose whatsoever. But it seemed such a pity to just throw these things away — I mean, surely they'd come in useful for something? Nope. Obviously not.

A year down the line I feel it is time to quietly drop them in the bin, along with a narrow linen offcut from something else I repurposed, that found its way into my sewing basket along with the toy clothes.

So, more than 2 items today, but that's okay.

Friday, 19 March 2021

730 things — Day 8 of 365

 What have we got today? Things that arrived in my life without consciously seeking them — this must surely happen to you, too, all the time!

Here they are.

Back in the summer I bought two of those stainless steel bottles that keep water cold (or hot). I really love chilled/iced water, especially the water we drink which we fetch from a chalybeate spring just half a mile down the hill in the park. We put it through a Berkey filter just in case of pathogens, because the water table must surely be polluted in this modern world.

As it's somewhat laborious to go and fetch the water and carry a large, heavy bottle with several litres of it back up a steep hill, we certainly regard it as precious having got it home. That's why I bought two bottles rather than just the one. I have one full one, with its ice cubes, on my nightstand when I go to bed, and the second one has the remains of yesterday's water (if there is any left over) to be used up first. I think having water always accessible is a good way to ensure I'm hydrated. I've never been a big fan of drinking masses of water — I'm not one of those 3-litres-a-day people — just making sure what I mistake for hunger is not thirst, and that if I feel I'd like a drink there's some water right there, nice and cool.

So I bought these two bottles. And one of them had tucked away inside it (good job I looked!) a sponge-on-a-stick thingummy to clean the inside of the bootle as and when necessary. Well, for one thing I don't really feel the need to scrub out a water bottle, rinsing is adequate; but if I did want to clean it I'd use one of those fizzy soluble tablets for soaking dentures — they're good for thermos flasks and bottles. Also one of us has a set of tiny copper balls (like ball-bearings) that you can tip in a bottle and swirl them round in a little water, and they clean any accretions of algae etc of the side of a water bottle, but they're not abrasive because they're round. All this means the scrubby thing that came uninvited inside the bottle was completely redundant. However, yes, you guessed, it looked so useful that I kept it. Unfortunately. it's not (to me), so today it's going.

The second thing is half a bottle of probiotic hair-cleaning stuff (a shampoo alternative) that nourishes one's skin micro-biome. I like this very much and had a couple of bottles of my own over the course of time, but then I was using something else on my hair. One of us had this left over and didn't want it, so I gladly accepted it into my life, but I was on a different track by then and it's sat unused for simply ages on my shelf. Being oil-based it goes off a bit in time, and I think the day has come to call time on it.

So that was the saga for Day 8. I'm a bit worried now that I won't actually be able to generate 730 things to get rid of, because I haven't got much stuff in the first place, but I'll keep going on this journey and see where it takes me.


Update — April 2nd

I had a sniff at the lovely Gallinée hair-wash stuff, and I was wrong; it hadn't gone off at all, so I took it back. I resolved to get on with using it up, and wondered if using it could be considered a form of getting rid of it, but decided not.

So here's a subsititute thing that arrived unsought into my life.

Our kitchen sink is set into a surround of oiled wood, so we have to use a free-standing draining board. For a long time we used a tray which was okay apart being not properly flat, not big enough, and creating puddles that meant the rim of glasses and mugs never dried if you left them there. So at the end of the winter I got us instead a silicone drying may which is bigger and had little projections on the surface holding the draining items out of the water dripping off them. Perfect. 

It came with a scrubby thing to clean thoroughly round the little projections, but I think the brush we already have for scrubbing pans will do that okay, and these scrubby things are generally useful so I'm donating it. It might just get lost and overlooked in a charity shop, especially if people don't know what it is. As there are often people on Freegle looking for stuff because they're setting up home, I think I'll put a kit of kitchen things together and add it to that — so it may appear in with a box of other things later on, but it belongs in this day as a substitute for the Gallinée hair wash.