Friday, 30 April 2021

730 things — Day 50 of 365

Increasingly, in recent years, I've grown to be what you might call jaded. 

Conventional expressions of religion bore me, when they are separated from the practice of the way they proclaim. Self-help gurus don't (help me).

I prize beyond measure those very few teachers of truth whose soul shines clear like a ray of morning sun — those people who live with unadorned and humble authenticity. They restore me to myself. They comfort me. They lift me up.

One such person is Dee Williams. There's not a huge amount about her online, but here's a video where she offers her perspective on life, and I commend it to you.

What a shining soul, eh? A porch light left on to guide you home.

Well, today I am moving on from my life a couple of items that surprised me by leaving — because I was sure I wanted to keep them; a linen jacket and a cord skirt.

They fit me, there's nothing wrong with them, I thought I wanted them.

I thought the skirt would allow me to look presentable at a formal occasion. I thought if I ever have to speak in public it would be handy to have a tailored jacket.

But I've come to feel that I'm done with formal occasions now, and if I'm not acceptable as I am then I'd rather not go there at all. I no longer want personas, I just want my clothes to be clothes. And I don't think I'll be speaking in public any more. Selective mutism begins to shut me down when I have to do that and fighting against it takes all my strength and a bit more that I don't have. I think these clothes were made for the person I once was, but they have no relevance for who I am today. So I've let them go.

I hope they'll make the charity shop a little bit of money.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

730 things — Day 49 of 365

The connection of empowerment between what we think and what we do has a two-way flow.

Our mindset determines what we do — as one would expect — but what we do also affect our mindset. We see what we believe and we believe what we see.

The more people have, the more deeply entrenched becomes their mindset of scarcity. 

If they have a big house with a huge mortgage attached, and lots of maintenance and repairs; if they have a boat with mooring fees and maintenance costs and a hefty fuel bill; if they have three cars; if they have lots of leisure pursuits — craft activities, gardening, sports, gaming, etc, all generating a wish list as long as your arm and multiple subscriptions — the financial hole to fill just keeps growing. So the more they have, the less they have to give away. They aren't pretending; it's real — they've brought it into reality. 

I still remember an occasion when, as a teenager, I went door-to-door collecting for Christian Aid in our Hertfordshire village. Our family lived in what had once been the Grooms Cottage at the thirteenth century residence of the Bishop of London. So it was natural that I started next door in one of the wings of the erstwhile Bishop’s Palace, a magnificent building. I rang the bell, my neighbour answered the door, heard my request, and explained that she couldn’t give a donation because she had just paid her golf subscription that week. 

It was an eye-opener to me that a woman could live in a bishop’s palace and afford golf club fees and still maintain a conviction that she could not afford even 50p to help the world’s poorest people. She lived in a palace — in a palace — and she couldn't afford the smallest crumb to help people with no shelter and not enough to eat.

This is how the relationship between mindset and practice works.

Practitioners of simplicity, minimalism or extreme minimalism find their mindset alters.

I suppose there's a chicken-and-egg (as in, which came first) scenario to this, isn't there, because the mindset must to some degree pre-exist or the person wouldn't be trying out simplicity, minimalism or extreme minimalism in the first place. Even so, I — and many others — can testify to the practice of minimalism having a liberating, relaxing effect, engendering joy, and bringing increased confidence (or ability) to give and to share — a belief in abundance. 

The abundance manifests out of the minimalism. A Carmelite nun I once knew said to me that a problem their community experienced was that they kept inadvertently accumulating wealth because their needs were so small and few. 

For sure the practice of minimalism/simplicity is a very disciplined way, and I find it requires commitment and determination, and yet somehow it also brings something carefree and peaceful. It replaces a lot of the "I can't", and "I must", and "I should", with "I want to".

It isn't easy to communicate how transformative it is — perhaps especially in an era when advertising promises so much more than the marvellous product can deliver. 

But as practise deepens, mindset changes.

I remember an elderly employee of an old established firm in the town where I live, telling me about the attitude to the firm's staff of the former boss — now retired and deceased, but his memory still honoured by an oil painting hanging on the wall. The employee told me that his (own) wages were very small, and it was hard to get by sometimes. He'd had a conversation with the boss (a sleek and well-heeled individual) in which he drew attention to the huge discrepancy between their incomes. The boss listened to him, and explained: "What you have to understand, Ted, is that a man like me needs so much more money to live on than a man like you."

And, curiously, he was absolutely right. The richer someone is, the more money they need. I would have expected it to be just the opposite, but it's not. So the affluent lifestyle engenders in the wealthy person a mindset of scarcity. Their wealth imprisons them in poverty.

If they espoused minimalism and gave away all their accumulation and impedimenta they'd discover this (oddly) left them not with less but with more. Not more things, but more money in the bank, more freedom to do what they wanted and more to give away.

As Carolyn Hetzel puts it: 

... the number one reason that pushes and keeps us on this path [is] the joy, the happiness that such a way of life brings. It may seem incredible and even paradoxical at first sight: how can the absence of something make us happier than its presence?

Elsewhere in her book, she says:

I began to empty, to unclutter, to throw away, to give away, to sell, day after day, again and again, until there was nothing left to take away, keeping only the essential — what was useful and/or what made me happy . . . and this process acts as a trigger. It was like a revelation, which took me far beyond mere physical de-cluttering.

    I discovered the joy of giving, whether to associations or to my friends and acquaintances, bags of things I no longer wanted and that would be of benefit to them. And for that which could not be given, the simple pleasure of throwing away and seeing emptiness take the place of objects. I discovered the feeling of lightness and freedom generated by emptying my shelves, cupboards, floor and furniture — and this I hadn't anticipated.

This is also what Francis of Assisi discovered, I think.

What I am giving away today is somewhat connected with mindset; two books about managing swine flu and bird flu naturopathically.

I got them when the pandemic established its grip because I rarely go to the doctor, preferring naturopathic methods of managing physical well-being. I thought there might be similarities from which I could learn. But I never got round to reading them — and though perhaps I should, I think I never will.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

730 things — Day 48 of 365

 Oh, my goodness, Greg McKeown has written a new book! He is the author of the wonderful Essentialism, which has become something of a minimalist classic. His new book — which, from the Look Inside function on Amazon, promises in effect to be an exploration of the Taoist practice of wu-wei — is called Effortless and published yesterday. So excited!

I say this even undeterred by my recent disappointment in Fumio Sasaki's new book Hello Habits, which I didn't care for even though I absolutely loved his first book Goodbye Things.

In exploring this joyous event and looking up the links to share with you, I also stumbled upon a book I didn't know, The Art of Emptiness by Carolyn Hetzel. As the Kindle price is really modest, I've just got a copy and am off to read it right now.

But before I do that, here are the items leaving my home today.

Firstly, a pandemic mask that I've never used at all. As I have four others on wear-wash-repeat and rarely go anywhere except for a little walk or up to the grocery store or post office, a fifth seemed excessive, so I put it out for the charity shop.

And then I also sent on its way another snack tray — this time a stainless steel one. 

It occurred to me that I bought it originally not because it is especially useful to me but because I really like Sikhs, and when I've been to a Sikh gurdwara and eaten in the langar there, they always had stainless steel snack trays for their food. So I convinced myself life would somehow be better with a snack tray. I did eat from it sometimes — but not because I needed to or because it was more appropriate for my food (it wasn't) but because I wanted to eat from a stainless steel snack tray. Eventually I noticed this is a bit silly since I am not a Sikh and I also have a perfectly good plate. And you can obviously love Sikh people without seeking solidarity in stainless steel snack trays. So I keep them in my heart but sent the snack tray to the charity shop.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

730 things — Day 47 of 365

Still thinking about make up and beauty products — one of my favourite calming and strengthening places to go online is Youheum's Heal Your Living channel on YouTube. 

Youheum is an Extreme Minimalist, and as part of her own practice she has stopped wearing make up. She explains about the path she has chosen with regard to skin care and make up in this video.

Though her perspective and approach are not exactly the same as mine, I love the heart she brings to her sharing and I find her videos always do me good.

Yesterday I showed how, though I don't want to be without make-up entirely, I do want to keep it minimal and simple — and I threw away or gave away several cosmetic items.

I mentioned that among the things I gave away were three lipsticks I'd had that someone in my family wanted to try out to see if the colours were right for her. So that's the first of today's items to go.

My second item leaving today is a small bag of really good hair grips, which I gave away with a bag of clothes. 

I have kept just one because, even if I have short hair, we are living in uncertain times and I haven't been able to have my hair cut since the beginning of December when we came out of lockdown for a brief while. So the last few weeks I've needed to clip back my fringe to keep it out of my eyes. I have tried wearing headbands, but I don't like how they look on me.

I've thought about growing my hair, or at least having it in the sort of style I can cut myself (as I often have before) — which would be a frugal option. But at the moment I would really like to have it short again, and though I like to be very thoughtful about how I channel my financial resources, I feel that haircuts are a life-enriching happiness thing, allowing skilled and gentle people to make a living, affirming personal choice and enhancing humanity. 

In former years, I officiated at a lot of weddings in the churches I pastored. At one time, ours was the only church in the area that looked like a church — as in, traditional, stone-built, with stained glass and a spire — where people previously married and divorced could have a church wedding. This meant couples flocked to our place to get married, and through the warmer months of the year I often had at least two weddings every Saturday (the most popular day for a wedding, as guests were most likely to have a day free from work).

Of all the weddings for which I prepared a couple for marriage and officiated, two stand out in my mind as having a notable kindness and gentleness, a very loving and human-friendly vibe palpable in the whole congregation — and both were the weddings of hairdressers.

Ever since then I've had a place of reverence in my heart around hairdressers; it's a work that seems to deepen and sweeten the soul. So although I do have to be careful how I allot my money, I am very happy to spend some of it on going to the hairdresser to have my hair cut.

That's what I'm doing this morning, as it happens. So I won't be needing those hair grips any more! I have kept just the one tucked away, though, just in case we get a third Covid wave and are all sent scuttling back into the safety of our homes — because my hair grows like wildfire, and it would not be long before I needed that barrette again!

Monday, 26 April 2021

730 things — Day 46 of 365

 I wonder how you feel about make-up?

I do wear make-up, but personally favour the understated "less is more", "your skin but better", approach typical of the French. My aim is not to create a face or look made-up, but just to add a touch of definition and warmth by adding a little blusher and some lipstick that accords well with my own colouration.

So I don't need much. 

As make-up does go stale, and advice is commonly to renew it every now and then, a couple of years ago I went looking for some new lipstick and blusher. I also liked the look of some bronzer I saw in the shop, and thought it might add something to my appearance.

I had several goes at lipstick, since they no longer made the one I used to have. I acquired five over time, that I experimented with as the months went by — different seasons have different light and my skin colour is different summer from winter — until eventually I settled on one that seemed to work always. Three, which will no doubt appear in a future post, I gave away to someone else in my family with similar skin tones and also experimenting to find the right colour.

But the bronzer was a disaster. I loathed the unearthly sheen it gave to my face — made me look like an alien (as in different galaxy, not foreign country).

So my first item going out today, after keeping it a couple of years in the hope I would somehow take to it, is that bronzer and its massive application brush.

The brush I managed to re-home as part of a crafter's kit given away on Freegle.

The bronzer had to go in the bin; no one I knew wanted it and used make-up from a stranger isn't ever welcome, but most especially not in a pandemic. With it went the fifth lipstick. When I bought it I thought it looked okay (I did try the tester in the shop), but skin pH affects how a colour develops, and it never really worked when I actually wore it. Too dark and too much blue in tone, and all wrong for the other family lipstick-experimenter.

The second item leaving me today is a mirror. You can't see it properly in the photo because I took it apart and bubble-wrapped it for the charity shop.

It looked like this when it was all put together.

I moved the mirror on because it was quite large and obtrusive in the living space, and because I thought a little one I could put away would do just as well.

So the result of these changes was that now the mirror I have looks like this (my toothbrush is there to give you an idea of size) —

— and the make-up and mirror I now have, together, look like this.

Because I've managed to get the colours right, I don't need any more than just the one of blusher and lipstick. I never wear any make-up on my eyes because of skin sensitivity. The other things are my perfume (Clinique's Aromatics Elixir, bought from a private seller on eBay — new, but unwanted gift) and a concealer. All of it goes away neatly in a pouch in my shelves.

Some days I don't wear any make up at all, but I find it easier to face the world if I do.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

730 things — Day 45 of 365

 Let's have a break from thinking about clothing — although if clothes interest you particularly, well, don't you worry, I have plenty more in my heap of 730 things.

Packaging has become a serious issue in our modern world. I expect this reality has not passed you by and it is no surprise to hear me say so.

We do make an effort to keep down the amount of packaging that flows into our house, but there are other criteria to consider as well, so it's not always easy. If you make being zero-waste and plastic-free your number one goal, it's hard but can be done; but in our house we trip over other concerns and drop the zero waste objective. 

For instance, it is important to us to buy organic, and to go through the world on foot. But the shop in easy reach on foot, which also sells organic food, and prices goods at an affordable level for us, sells food that is not organic too. This means they can sell the regular veggies loose, but the organic ones (which are more expensive) have to be wrapped up so they can be protected and labelled as organic. So the organic ones generate more packaging waste than the poison ones. Tough decision — sometimes resolved by just what there is and how much money we have.

But though packaging flows in, we do our best to slow down the outflow, by re-purposing and re-using. For instance, our seagulls and fox have their breakfast and tea in ex-mushroom-boxes or ex-tomato-boxes, and use them quite a while before they have to be chucked. By which time they are so utterly and shudderously filthy that they have to go in landfill — because I don't know if you have ever tried to clean a build-up of sardine grot off a plastic box, but it's an endeavour in which I've never been successful.

Then, I'd estimate you might say we are moderately conscientious in how we monitor packaging. We aren't great at it but we're not indifferent either.

So here, today, are two items to go that I have been husbanding carefully along the road of life for some time, but now I think it's their moment to leave us.

The first is a cardboard box — but this, you have to understand, is not just any cardboard box.

All last year we had a fortnightly delivery from a local veggie box scheme, which became a bit of a nightmare. They grew massive, tough things that were tasty but distinctly chewy, that filled up Tony's and my allotted fridge space in great lavish frondy stalky Triffidness that froze onto the back panel and overhung the edge. The gardeners had marvellous ideas of growing strange varieties we'd never heard of and didn't want — and their idea was that they'd choose what to put in the box and we'd just pay for it. So we struggled through most of the year, gave away the contents of the last two boxes, and were glad to not renew.

But they used to deliver in these cardboard boxes which they collected when they delivered the new one. Failure to do so carried a threat of being fined 50p. That meant for an entire year one large box after another stood in our small storage cupboard alongside the Abel & Cole boxes also waiting to be put out when their delivery man came by.

So when the music stopped, there we were left with this box. As I instigated the whole ghastly scenario, the box was my responsibility — and what I did was fill it with houseplants that someone from the Hastings Transition Town Facebook page wanted, and I gave it to her. So I smuggled it out with plants and ran like the wind.

Then the second thing to go was two Huel scoops.

I only ever had one bag of Huel, so I guess one of the scoops may originally have been mine, but some of us had several bags and I kept other people's scoops too, because they look so useful, don't they? However if — as I have — you stop eating oats and rice and flour and sugar and legumes, I can tell you they become a whole lot less useful. And these two just sat in the back of our kitchen drawer waiting for me to take some kind of action. So I did. I put them in the recycling bin.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

730 things — Day 44 of 365

 Today my mind has no interesting principles in it.

I don't know how this last year has been for you, but for me it's been the most extraordinary time, not so much in externals as my life is quiet and somewhat restricted anyway, but in reappraisal of priorities in my life path. And, as for most people, there have been good days and less good days and yesterday was one of the not so good. By about ten in the morning I was hoping it would be bedtime soon. 

Thank goodness the spring sunshine is glorious and our garden is full of joyous life. The fox comes to visit and sit with us, and the crow evidently has children in the nest because one or other parent comes on a food mission multiple times a day but they no longer visit both together. And all around the little birds — sparrows and blue-tits and robins and so on — chirp and sing and land on the branches of our trees. It is a place that breathes contentment, so that made me feel better, and isn't the day always full of minor chores to carry you through to the end of it, even if your mind and heart and soul and life feel strangely empty?

So there is no wisdom in my thoughts today, they are just muddling around bumping in to each other and apologising.

The things I'm moving on, then, are this very large and cheerful canvas bag. I like it but I have another shoulder bag and a rucksack, and I know for sure I don't want to get rid of those — and how many bags can one person need?

I put the frying pan and chicken roaster in it to take them to the charity shop.

Now, this next thing to give away made me extremely happy. It's a pair of trainers that I got secondhand on eBay and they were comfy but didn't offer the arch support I need.

I intended to put them on Freegle not back on eBay, because they definitely looked worn although still in very good condition — but I eBay only things in tip-top as-new condition, not least because I find the whole eBay transaction thing a bit stressful, and not worth passing through the anxiety it generates just to earn a fiver. I will sell (even at a very low price) women's shoes on eBay, because other women with giant feet have a hard time getting the footwear they need, so it's not about the money but a matter of getting the right thing to the right person. However these were unisex so I thought Freegle would do fine.

But I did put three other pairs of shoes on eBay (ones I've already written about; red trainers, white trainers and the boots I got for my mother's funeral). People chugged along doing their eBay thing, saying nothing then all bidding together in the last 20 seconds of the auction, and they all sold. However, the red trainers went to a person who said they'd been watching those shoes all week and would I combine postage if they managed to snag the white ones too. They sounded to me like somebody with very little money, because all the shoes were on buy-it-now as well as the auction option, at a very low price. So I said yes, I'd combine — actually what I charge for postage doesn't even cover the basic cost of sending the thing, but never mind that, people are hard up, aren't they?

But then, at the last hurdle the person who wanted both must have electronically crashed into another bidder and come off worst, because they place a couple of bids but only managed to get the red ones — but, phew, at least they got those.

So then I knew they were disappointed and a bit sad and had big hard-to-fit feet and not enough money to get shoes, and I felt sad right along with them.

And I had the brainwave to send them the blue ones I'd meant to Freegle, just as a gift. I showed them the pics I'd made for Freegle, and they liked the look of the shoes, but they were worried about me being out of pocket and wanted to pay me something and pay for postage — that's how you know when people haven't got much; they care about how someone else is managing. 

But I just wanted the happiness of giving a gift, which is in a different league altogether from the paltry satisfaction of earning a few quid and not quite enough to cover the postage, isn't it?

So I sent them off, and they arrived safely and the person reported back that they were comfy and being worn. An altogether satisfying result.

Friday, 23 April 2021

Youheum talking about what extreme minimalism is.

730 things — Day 43 of 365

 I think the assumption that minimalism saves money can sometimes be a misconception.

It's like a similar false assumption that electric machines are inherently labour-saving. That idea comes (I imagine) from the emergence in the 1960s of vacuum cleaners and washing machines replacing brooms and hand-washing.

I wish we had never put any fitted carpet in our house at all. It was my decision to do so when we moved in, because the floors were all either chipboard laid down in the 1970s because the floorboards rotted, or Victorian boards with much scarring and heavy dark varnish. I mistakenly thought it would be more expensive to have the boards sanded and re-finished and the chipboard replaced with new boards, and we had to spend so much money on repairs and refurbishment that I went for carpet. But I was wrong about that; good carpet (plus underlay and fitting) costs just as much as having the wood floors made good. Later we took up the carpets and sanded the floors in the bedrooms, and we had a wood floor laid to replace the chipboard in the kitchen. But we still have carpet on the stairs and landing, and in the attic room, and the front sitting room. All this means we have a vacuum cleaner still. 

If you have little furniture and hard floors and Japanese brooms, then sweeping through the house is easy and quick and blessedly silent.

I have washed my things by hand often in the course of my life and never found it a problem. The secret is to soak them. You start the night before, leaving the laundry to soak in a bath of hot soapy water, which loosens all the dirt. In the morning, you drain it out and run new hot soapy water, swoosh the things about in it, rub any stained places, then rinse through three waters (putting fabric conditioner in the final rinse if you want it. You carry it out in a bucket and hang it on the line to dry. It's easy and not very time-consuming at all — well, it takes time, but not your time, if you see what I mean.

Personally I find 'labour-saving devices' quite labour-intensive. It takes ages fiddling about changing a vacuum-cleaner bag, and the tools are hard to attach and detach, and vacuum cleaners are heavy to cart about and awkward to use on the stairs — plus, whatever the ads say, they don't get into the corners and edges like a Japanese broom. And, geez, how complicated it is to get a washing machine powder dispenser drawer out to deal with gathering mould, not to mention cleaning the filter and tackling the mould that grows on the door seal. A bath's a damn sight easier to clean.

Machines extend what you can do; they don't make it easier.

In the same way, it's unwise to confuse minimalism with frugality. 

If you hoard loads of stuff the advantage (the only advantage that I can think of) is that if you need something you usually have it. So if you put on weight and need new clothes, and, instead of disposing of the ones now too tight, you keep them in your house, then it is true that in three years' time when you decide it is a problem and start to tackle it, if you lose the weight you put on, well, lo! — there are the clothes you had three years ago. You can wear them again now.

I think if you do this, you might be surprised to discover it's not quite as nice to have the old clothes back as you first assumed, but that's another conversation. 

If you are a minimalist and want to travel light, then two crucial things apply:

  • you get rid of whatever stuff doesn't work for you as you are now, in this phase of your life
  • you make sure what you acquire really works and you really like it, because you will be keeping down the numbers of items you own.
I find the first of those two things relatively simple — I rarely want to revisit old clothes I wore years ago, and I can usually find a different way to do what I want if I've got rid of an implement or item of furniture. For instance, I find it positively easier to make coleslaw with the cheese grater than I did with the (bulk, heavy, multi-part) food processor we got for that purpose. And if I don't have much clothing, the rucksack I use for grocery shopping works perfectly well for a weekend away – if I had a suitcase and got rid of it, I don't need another if I take off for a holiday.

But the second one — making sure what you acquire really works — has cost me hundreds and hundreds of pounds. The fewer clothes you have, the more crucial it becomes that all of them are absolutely right. I buy as much as I can secondhand on eBay, partly for ecological and political reasons but partly to keep down the cost if I get it wrong. Because times beyond counting I have bought something (this especially applies to clothing) used it for a couple of months — and then reluctantly had to accept this isn't working.

For instance, I had a few pairs (perhaps four) of Vivobarefoot shoes that were perfect and I wore them all the time. And then when I developed a foot problem they no longer worked at all and I had to change to footwear with an arch support. So I got Birkenstock shoes, and the plastic beach sandals were fine because they're light (my joints are very soft). But I really wanted some closed shoes for the winter, so I got some fleece-lined Birki clogs. They are very expensive. I wore them for a while, trying to make them work, but after a month or two had to accept that they are too heavy for my feet and made the pain worse. So I parted company with them, and that pair of clogs is the first of my items moved on today.

Another instance is that I love high-neck sweaters. I bought, to wear at my mother's funeral, a black cashmere sweater with a roll neck. I got it at a bargain price on eBay — new with tags, but end-of-line stock being moved on. It was soft, it was comfy, it fitted well, it looked good — but the roll neck in wool (even cashmere) slightly irritated the skin on my throat all the time, which meant I kept fiddling with it, which along with it being up by my face meant I had to wash it way more than I like to wash sweaters (carefully, by hand, and drip-dried, being cashmere). I want clothes that are easy to maintain. So that's the second thing that's gone out today. 

I now have quite a small collection of clothing, all of which is comfortable, looks presentable for homewear or even for a formal occasion, is hardwearing and easy to maintain, and all the things go with each other. The garments in my wardrobe were all either given to me or bought secondhand or in a half-price sale — so what I actually own didn't cost much at all. But the journey to arrive at that collection was eye-wateringly expensive.

So though minimalism may in the end save you money if you stick with it, it may not necessarily be the frugal option it looks at first.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

730 things — Day 42 of 365

 Our house is a comfortable size — it's not exactly enormous, but is by our standards big; the women in our household have generally lived in small houses. Because we are 4 adults (sometimes 5) living together, it has to be fairly spacious. 

A particular luxury we have is a second living room. On two occasions, once for about two months, once for two years, that second living room was re-purposed for a relative needing somewhere to live. Though we managed it okay, we decided we would rather not do that again unless absolutely necessary, because it stressed not only us but the individuals who came to live with us. We all breathed out in relief when we got our second living room back — the man in our house likes telly programmes about cars and sport, and enjoys terrifying dramas that require loud exciting music, and he always watches the news. He also feels the cold, and relishes the powerful warmth of the wood stove, with the (room) door open only a crack so he doesn't die from all that breathing out while the fire dragon is also breathing in oxygen.

The women, on the other hand, enjoy the pottery throw down and the sewing bee, The Great British Menu competition and that one where pastry chefs compete — and Zumbo's Just Desserts. We like watching programmes about air ambulance rescue and border force patrol and real life forensics, and The Repair Shop. 

Every evening we watch the quiz show Pointless followed by Richard Osman's House of games by the open fire (if it's cold) which is warm but not too hot, while in the adjacent room our male household member watches Wheeler Dealers and snooker and the news.

Our eating times also vary. Two of us work together as letter cutters in a stone masonry down the hill part of the week. One of us runs a literary agency and works from home. These days I am just alive and no longer work at anything; I've spent the last six months working on my health and am only unreliably and occasionally well enough to feel bored. There's a lot of pain.

So Tony eats breakfast at about eight o'clock and lunch sometime between twelve and two depending when he has conference calls etc to fit in, or if he's playing golf or meeting with his French conversation group — he has a very full life with a lot of people in it. Then he has just a light, simple supper around six or seven o'clock.

I eat at midday and four; one hot meal and one salad. Sometimes the first meal is earlier (elevenish or even half past ten) if I get hungry.

Hebe and Alice eat about midday and then at five when they get in from the masonry, and once a week they skip the midday meal to make a twenty-four-hour fast.

Besides that we eat different things, and are all rather specific about our food choices and the reasons for them. We each have our shelves in the fridge and freezer and pantry. 

Now, though our house is comfortably spacious, with two sitting rooms, our kitchen is surprisingly small. 

I suppose it's because it's an old house where things were differently imagined from modern use, let alone our particular household use. So we have commandeered two nooks in Alice's and Hebe's studio for the freezer and spring water filter (the bottles are iron oxide colour because it's a chalybeate spring), and for the pantry shelves — 

— and we use the cupboard under the stairs for our cooking pots and pans and mixing bowls (and some of us have extra pantry shelves there too). We hang our brooms and brush-and-dustpan on the wall in the entrance vestibule of the house.

We have very few electric kitchen gadgets (a water distiller, a hand-held electric whisk, a soup whizzer and a nut mill). We used to have a toaster but we no longer eat bread except on rare occasions. 

I should mention that our cat Miguel has the only cupboard in our kitchen apart from the one under the sink (plus a little drawer of his own) for his tins and pouches and Webbox and Dreamies and metacam for when he gets in a fight, and a stack of saucers. 

The wild creatures have a shelf by the back door (that's meal worms on the left) —

— and space for fish and mince in one of my freezer drawers.

And of course the cupboard under the sink is full of laundry things — the pegs, the laundry basket, the various stain removers and detergents and fabric conditioners.

Because space is limited and we all operate separately, we have to be very disciplined about what we have and where we keep it. So we keep everything constantly under review. Nobody in our house ever accumulates packets and jars at the back of a cupboard in case they come in handy one day. My own food all goes in one and a half freezer drawers ('half', because I have the one at the bottom over the motor), one and a half (Tony has the other half) fridge shelves, and I have these two pantry unit shelves.

Tony's shelf space has to breathe in a bit, too (oh, I missed out his tea bags and muesli shelf — you can just see his green teabag caddy on the bottom right).

Anyway, cooking gets simpler as you grow older, so we manage just fine.

Our cupboard under the stairs has these items in. 

The shelves on the left are Alice's and Hebe's and they also have some cupboards space in the kitchen for their herbs and spices etc. They have extra because they do more inventive baking.

I have the least space of anyone because I believe in practicing minimalism and I enjoy proving to myself that it can be done. And also I learned from raising a large family that if you make sure you are the person who has the least, it diminishes the occurrence of jealousy and paranoia about being left out or picked on — because it ensures none of the others has the least. In our house now I have the smallest bedroom, but for much of my adult life I haven't had my own bedroom at all, so it feels very special to live as I do now.

So you can see, in our house it matters that if we can identify anything to clear out, we do.

A couple of years ago I bought a large, heavy lidded frying pan. I thought it would be useful for starting off food by frying then building it up to a stew or curry; or it could be used for an omelette or stir fry. And it is good for all those things, but it's so heavy that the three of us who have the hyper-mobility issues find it hard to lift.

Also a few years back I got a chicken roaster. These are excellent. They roast a chicken (or any other joint of meat) to perfection. But cooking for just myself, I very rarely roast anything —and no one else in our house ever does; Alice and Hebe are by preference vegetarian (though they take a little bone broth for nutritional support) and Tony is more a fish or bacon and sausages man. I mostly either fry things together in a pan or make a one-pot casserole meal. I buy 100% pastured, organic, high-welfare meat by mail-order every few months, divide it into small portions and freeze it.

So even though they are really excellent and just the thing for their intended purpose, I have chosen to send on their way the heavy lidded pan and the chicken roaster.

They have gone to the charity shop — the one along the road from us that raises money to help people who are blind.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

730 things — Day 41 of 365

I think what I'm about to describe may definitely not apply to everyone, but equally I am sure it is commonly true for a particular category of people — perhaps HSP, or on the autistic spectrum, or both? It is true for me. 

There is a palpable lightness of being, an inner freedom, obtained by owning little. 

I've written before about how my belongings constantly quietly talk. It's like the buzz of a roomful of people chatting and laughing. Up to a point that's okay. I can hear what they're saying, and I take in the points of view they're expressing, but there comes a point when their noise gets over-assertive and argumentative.

If my belongings are few and synthesised to all relate with each other, and if I know I could pack them all up into a suitcase and move out if I wanted to, then I feel peaceful and light. It affects the way I relate to people because I don't start out by feeling stressed and trapped. I feel light and not-quite-here inside, and that allows me to be less affected by the moods and perspectives of others, because I have obtained a freedom between myself and them. I am just, for the moment, here — but crucially, I don't have to be; and that makes it easier to stay.

I don't think everyone has this craving for ephemerality and disconnection. I think, from what I see and hear, that many people feel comforted and sustained by rootedness and connection — having their things around them and their relational network upholding them. 

But personally I like space.

So I'm not at all recommending that you should minimise your belongings, just saying that I find it has a very beneficial effect on me — and that many other people have discovered it is the same for them.

I do think all people benefit from living in a space that is uncluttered — but not necessarily from minimalism. So I think simplicity is good for everyone; not being exhausted by too many things to do, too much stuff to sort and tidy and clean, too many relationships to attend to properly; but I think for most people it stops there. There's just this sub-group of humanity that needs as little as possible in order to be able to breathe.

I find my attention is claimed by 

  • relationships 
  • thinking 
  • work commitments 
  • responsibility for physical objects 
  • health issues 
  • finance 

As I got older and the health issues began to clamour and needed fuller attention, I found I could address this successfully, but only by reducing the other attention claimants. 

I wanted to carry on thinking, and the health issues are there as long as I have a body. 

I reduced sharply the number of relationships in my life a long time ago in order to give more attention to work commitments, and I have never put them back. I miss having friends, but my energy didn't stretch to giving the attention it takes to maintain relationships. The network of relationships I still have uses all the energy I still have.

I stopped working because the combination of health issues and relationships made it hard to continue. This has in turn simplified my finances by significantly reducing my income, which has then simplified my life because I can no longer afford what I once used to do.

If I also reduce my possessions to an absolute minimum, it reduces the amount of attention they need, reduces the need for choices and decisions, reduces the muddle they create in my mind. And keeping possessions deliberately to an absolute minimum makes finance more stretchy so it demands less attention, and also opens up a little more availability of energy for relationships.

If you are also HSP or on the autistic spectrum and can relate to what I'm trying to express here, I'll be very interested to hear from you in the comments.

The two things I'm blessing on their way today are as follows.

Firstly, a very nice shell top, soft fabric, soft colour.

I like this (found it second-hand on eBay) but at the time I bought it I forgot that since I only like actually wearing long-sleeved garments I would never wear this.

Secondly I freegled a sun-hat.

I forgot to photograph the actual sunhat I gave away, which was a soft olive green, and so I have photographed the one I still have, to give you the idea. I need only one sunhat; the sun does shine in England, but then again it often doesn't and is frequently too windy for hats. I only really wear it sitting in the garden or on the beach.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Emma Orbach articulating the way of beautiful simplicity she's lived for 20 years.

730 things — Day 40 of 365

 When I was a child, my mother vacuum-cleaned throughout the house, dusted and cleaned the bathrooms every day. On Thursdays Mrs Lawrence came to help with extra cleaning — one of her tasks was going round the outside washing the paintwork of the windows. 

We had a variety of brass and copper items — a vase, a tray, a kettle — and a fair amount of silver, mostly cutlery but also picture frames and other oddments. Every week my mother spread a newspaper on the (faithfully polished) dining table and there collected the various metal items, rags, Brasso and Silvo, and someone (me in the school holidays) cleaned them until they shone. 

We had several pieces of wooden antique (or repro) furniture, all polished on a regular basis. It was fair to say our house was clean.

The front step was swept, the rugs and mats shaken, the bedding washed weekly and dried on the line in the garden. And ironed.

I do not do any of this. There is only one household task I do that my mother did not.

Back in those days — the 1960s and 70s — we had a frying pan, a grill pan and a chip pan (for deep frying, stood permanently half-full of oil which was used repeatedly and topped up when it ran low). These were used regularly and often, but not washed. I suppose it was to do with grease remains being good for cooking and good for the pan. I personally wash every cooking utensil I use, every time, good for the pan or not. That's the only thing I do that my mother left undone.

We do have furniture in our house, but not a lot. There are spaces, and we try to stand no furniture items in the passages and entrances. We keep down to a minimum the items standing on the surfaces. So if anyone (me, usually) feels moved to put the duster round, it's easy. Of the five of us permanently here — Tony, me, Hebe, Alice and Miguel the cat — four of us hate, loathe and detest the sound of any form of power machinery. Tony doesn't mind it, so he puts the vacuum cleaner round once a week. Sometimes one of us cleans some windows. Every now and then one of us cleans the ashes out of the woodstove and the fire grate. Most days we clean down the kitchen sink and wipe the work surfaces. When I feel motivated I get a bucket of soapy water and wash the floors through the entrance and the passageway and the kitchen and the studio. A couple of times a year I clean the top of the freezer and the top of the fridge, where dust and grime accumulate. 

We each clean our own shelf in the fridge. We all clean the bathrooms we use. We each clean our own rooms from time to time. Sometimes we wash our bedding (not all that often).

It's all easy and quiet (apart from Tony vacuuming on Monday mornings). We just use brooms and rags, no mops and buckets or special implements. We have a feather duster for when cobwebs appear on the corners of our high Victorian ceiling, but that duster is not over-used. I bought it in Lewes twenty years ago.

Because we are basically fairly lazy and don't like doing housework, we focus on maintaining ferocious vigilance against accumulation. 

I remember the home of my first husband's aunt, well stocked with furniture, ranged all around the perimeter of the room like a ring main, with the sofa and easy chairs and nests of tables and magazine racks in the middle. When her mother-in-law died they inherited her furniture. Their house was already full but they brought it home anyway, and ranged it around the inner perimeter of the furniture already ringing the room. Terrifying.

The house of my parents-in-law of that marriage was similar. They never threw anything away. Under every bed, on every shelf, inside every cupboard, in the garage, a solid wodge of stuff packed every space. Every surface jostled with ornaments and knick-knacks and utensils. Tatted doilies copiously adorned the living room. Macraméed multi-level bowls dangled from the bathroom ceiling to hold spare soaps and whatnot.  When any of the old people died, this couple diligently and responsibly sorted the estate of the deceased, and brought home anything unwanted. They had a friend called Mrs Sennet, whose house they cleared on her death. Mrs Sennet had all kinds of stuff, that took up residence in their shed and garage and any remaining cupboard space in the house. What sticks in my mind from that scenario is that Mrs Sennet used to go on cruises with her husband while he was still alive — he pre-deceased her by some years — and from every cruise ship they brought home (and kept) a paper napkin from the dining room. They accumulated a stack of these mementos. Mrs Sennet ceased cruising after her husband's death, but kept the napkins, which my parents-in-law faithfully cleared from her house when she died, and brought home to their own house, in case they came in useful. They did not.

We live in an age of mass-production, when every event has to be marked by the addition of a physical item, and yes, things do accumulate.

But in our house we do our best to thin them out because we never signed up to be curators of a museum.

I think I mentioned before (but I expect you forgot; I usually do) that when the pandemic kicked off I became alarmed lest family members urgently and unexpectedly needed to be taken in to our house, so I acquired an extra bed. Well, no one extra had to stay with us in the event — our free-range inhabitant came home to roost for the lockdown, but she has a bed here on a permanent basis anyway because it's (nominally at least) her home.  

Eventually as panic died down I saw that this bed was redundant. So my two items leaving the house today are a futon and accompanying wooden base. 

These went via Freegle to a woman with a homeless young man sleeping on her sofa. They didn't have a car to collect them, so Tony took them over to her in his car. They wanted some other bits too, including the three bears china that I wrote about before. So everyone was happy. It makes sense to keep the flow, move things on to whoever needs them.

Monday, 19 April 2021

730 things — Day 39 of 365

Practicing minimalism lets things become apparent, because it gives them space to emerge. What one feels — emotionally and also physically — comes forth when clutter (of things, connections, commitments) diminishes.

In terms of physical items, I have noticed there's a category that could be designated as "ought to be useful (but isn't)".

Today's things to go are in that category.

Two pairs of yoga trousers. I don't practise yoga (though no doubt I should, it would be very good for me) but I thought these trousers looked like just my kind of thing. They are soft, stretchy, lightweight — seemed perfect. 

I've had them for ages — years — and I never choose them. They are that bit flimsier than I like to wear during the day; they feel slightly immodest. They are that bit heavier than I like to wear as PJs; they feel slightly suffocating. I dislike the shade of grey that the grey pair is. They are a size too big for me.

I have kept them for ages because they are so obviously useful and just right; except it eventually dawned on me — no, they're not. 

I noted the small inner sigh of relief in my wild being when they left the house.

I find, if one has lots of things, then items that ought-to-be-useful-but-aren't can shelter unnoticed in their midst. It's only as one starts to trim everything out so that only what is necessary can stay (and "favourite" is a happy category of necessary) that superfluity announces itself for what it is. Minimalist practice encourages what you have to own up to its true identity.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Ministry of the word from The Campfire Church today (Grace Garner)

The name Didymus – Thomas, as we say – means ‘twin’, as I expect you know. Two of my sisters are identical twins. That expression means that they began as one fertilised egg, not that they are identical people – I expect you know that too, although many don’t! Identical twins can certainly look very similar, but, like all of us, time changes their bodies and allows their paths to diverge. In the baby photos of our twins, Hebe had had a battle to be born, and is dark and swollen from the ordeal; Alice, who slipped out after her, is small and pink. Already, life had marked their bodies in ways that distinguished them.
I think Thomas, as a twin, appreciated that a man could look suspiciously similar to another man; but that the marks on his body would identify him.
I wonder what scars your body carries?
I have some little ones that have been there so long I can’t remember any more what caused them. I’ve had this little one on my thumb since I was about my daughter’s age. I like it; it’s part of what my thumb looks like, and I can’t remember it being different any more. There’s another one at the base of the same thumb that’s so faded that no one else can see it now, but I look for it because I remember when I received it – the slow motion fall and the inevitability of pain. Perhaps my biggest scar is my appendectomy scar. Then again, it now sits within the crêpey skin of the rest of my abdomen, which has been marked by pregnancy and will never go back to how it used to be.
Scars, in my view, are something to be proud of. They are only a problem – a blemish – if our standard of beauty requires a perfect and pristine surface, denying any evidence of disruption; a moment arrested and unchanging.
But life is movement. We are not suspended like an insect trapped in amber. As we travel through time and space, our bodies are the suits we inhabit that allow us to make this journey. Over time, they are changed and marked by the events we encounter, by wear and tear, by the choices we make. That is OK. We are beautiful in the eyes of God. He knit our bodies in our mothers’ wombs. He patches them up, and delights in the work of his hand. A scar is a patch. It’s like a badge that honours the things you have walked through and away from.
If you were with us on Maundy Thursday, you may remember me talking about baby Michael touching the calloused place on my foot that I didn’t like, and how for him it was all part of knowing me intimately. He loves everything that is a part of me, and so does God.
I have a tattoo on my left arm, of a cross contained within a circle. It can symbolise different things to different people, but for me it was a mark of something I had lived through; of what had changed and what remained. I wanted more tattoos, but for years I didn’t get any, because of my husband’s preference and because of the fear of having to live with it on my body forever. Eventually, it dawned on me that it was my body to mark, not my husband’s; and that it was getting marked and changed anyway, in ways I hadn’t chosen or expected, so I may as well choose some of the marks as things I would find beautiful and uplifting. A body doesn’t last forever anyway, so you may as well decorate it how you wish!
In some cultures, tattooing and other ways of marking the skin are common rites of passage, that speak of the individual’s tribe and of their personal and family history. I think, in a similar way, scars are a witness to our story. There are things that happen to you that you cannot separate out from who you are now. Wounds take time to heal. A scar is a mark of change that can’t be undone; it is also a mark of survival and a place that is tougher than it was.
For Thomas, Jesus was met and recognised in the place of wounding, in the possibility of renewal after devastation. Different, changed, but alive. Jesus showed us that God is seen not in military conquest, political power or religious orthodoxy, but in the tenacity of life. God breathes life into broken places. This is God’s identifying mark; the other word for which is glory.