Monday, 31 May 2021

730 things — Day 81 of 365

 The people who live out of one bag interest me. Personally, I have a lot more things than that, and I also gather and disperse belongings (trying this, trying that) quite a bit. In all honesty, I can't even really tell how many things I have, because the boundaries between my life and the rest of my household are somewhat blurred. There are brooms and baskets, pots and pans and plastic kitchen storage boxes, knives and forks and bowls and spoons, that I bought but everyone uses — I would no longer feel sure if they are exactly mine to dispose of or not. There are things we have and I no longer remember who paid for them, or who spoke for them when they were given.  

A characteristic of the one-bag people is (usually) solitude. They travel light and travel alone. 

Here's Leo Widrich talking about living with one bag of possessions. In the article he mentions moving into an apartment and temporarily acquiring what he needs to equip it. It interests me that he views the situation as essentially temporary, and therefore sees the furnishings he's gathered as something that will flow in and flow out.

There's a spiritual component to this, it's a perspective that helps us live with equanimity in a world where everything changes. Inherent to human life is the loss of everything — we grow old, we are bereaved, our children grow up and leave home, our teeth and hair fall out and our muscles and memories atrophy. We slow down, we get tired, we can no longer be bothered. And in the society around us, things ebb and flow — entire civilisations rise and fall, there are fashions in education and social organisation, people rise up to fight and then patiently start the rebuilding of peace in the rubble of the devastation they've created. People on podiums declare their point of view with passion, and are resisted and imprisoned by the grim restriction of authority, and so it goes, round and round, on and on, and we have to find our place in it all — somehow without becoming cynical, without losing hope, staying soft, holding on to wonder and kindness, remembering to listen to the robin sing, and touch the petal of a summer rose. The art of allowing things to come and go protects us from becoming sclerotic. We have to stay as soft as the gut — that takes in and shits out, that lives in constant peristaltic waves, allowing what nourishes us to pass through and leave when it no longer serves us. There are few health conditions more toxic than constipation — "problems arise when things accumulate"! I'm conscious of the need, now, while I still have the energy and feel inclined, to prune things out and move things on, not allow accumulation even if I still practice acquisition. Enjoy things, but let them go. I have seen so many old people sit helplessly gazing at their shoals of accumulated . . . stuff . . . having lost the elasticity to push it out. People who need a soul laxative, a life enema.

And Leo Widrich says:

“In order to see things clearly in life, and observe reality as it truly happens, owning less stuff is a super valuable step. Of course, I’d never claim to be at a place where I can truly do that—see things as they are, without attachment or judgement—but I have an intuition that owning less things sets me on the right track towards that.”

I think I can learn from him.

Today, I'm saying goodbye to a book by Richard Ayoade.

 I gave it as a Christmas gift to someone who read it, enjoyed it, and put it out for the charity shop. I pulled it out of the box, thinking I'd like to read it myself. But though I dipped into it — and he's a good writer, and very funny — somehow it wasn't what I was searching for, if you know what I mean. 

And this USB jack plug. Because I have as many as I need without it.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

730 things — Day 80 of 365

So beautiful, and so true.


Today, what I am moving on is a couple of very nice cotton tops. I had far too many, and chose the ones I liked best, to keep.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

730 things — Day 79 of 365

What is it that switches your mind on, makes you come alive? 

I am sometimes surprised by what does it for me.

Household accounts, for one thing. I had a friend, Rosemary Elkins of blessed memory, who also loved household accounts. I used to treasure my visits to her calm and orderly home, a hospitable and peaceful space, where we'd sit eating the rock cakes she'd made specially, and drinking tea, talking happily about household accounts. When I acquired a car after a long time without one, I wrote to her explaining my intention and saying I needed a very clear picture of what the projected expenses might be. And lo! She was able instantly to put her hand on the records she'd kept of buying and maintaining her car and saving for its eventual replacement. It meant I went into the venture equipped with budgetary precision. Now, this sort of thing hums contentedly in my soul; it makes me happy. "Keep your accounts on your thumbnail," said Thoreau — they should be small but perfectly kept. As Gandhi-ji observed in his book about truth, "Without properly kept accounts it is impossible to maintain truth in its pristine purity."

When my life disintegrated completely around the time of the millennium, I asked myself what was the point of me, and of life. Of course the simple answer is that there is no point to it — we are not secondary, we are made in the image of I Am's mystery, with primary being, so we cannot have a point as such, though we can live with purpose and intention. I knew this but I still asked the question. And though I knew humanity was created (according to Christian teaching) to serve God and enjoy God for ever, and I accepted this as true, an uncomfortable feeling inside told me this wasn't quite doing it for me. What felt to me like the point of living was working for the wellbeing of my family. The goal towards which I determinedly travel is to establish, strengthen and protect their wellbeing. 

Radiating out from that central (personal) core of concern, it would rejoice my heart to see a similar emerging theme in wider society. It fills me with grief that we here in the UK — and voted in to their eternal shame by many Christians — have a government which apparently sees itself as there to squander, predate and destroy. It is the absolute antithesis of that thing Gandhi said about maintaining truth in its purity through honest and faithful accounting. They are corrupt and greedy, selfish and vile; and on a daily basis, lives are ruined and people flung into despair by our Home Office. So long as we vote them in, God cannot bless our national life; it is rotting from the middle and the top. A toxic mush of self-satisfied delusion.

Just a couple of days ago, walking back home from getting groceries in town, two of us from our household fell into company with a long-time friend who volunteers at the food bank. As they walked up the hill together, he told them of a Russian woman he had been helping. She had a frail elderly mother for whom she cared. The Home Office was about to deport the two of them to Moscow, where they had no connections at all. As it happened, they had insufficient resources even to feed themselves for that week. How were they supposed to begin a new life in a town they didn't know under a régime not famous for its kindness and beneficence? It grieves me, it breaks my heart; and I think it breaks the heart of Jesus, too.

My pursuit of minimalism and simplicity — sporadic, imperfect and intermittent though it admittedly is — has been the best tool in my entire kit for establishing, strengthening and protecting the wellbeing of my family. To build a better world, there is no better start: living simply and quietly, walking in step with nature, keeping accounts carefully and faithfully. Clarity and generosity start here.

My two items to go today are, taken at random, a bag of crochet hooks and a corduroy skirt. The only thing they have in common is that I no longer need either.

Friday, 28 May 2021

730 things — Day 78

All the people who write about minimalism agree it's not an end in itself — it's done as part of a strategy to reach a desired objective.

Of course there's always someone who sees things differently, isn't there? In this case, that would be me. I'm not sure I exactly have a goal in view. I just think living simply and small improves absolutely everything and gives you space to breathe — a maxim I live by is "If in doubt, simplify." Works every time.

But I do agree that life proceeds more effectively if you have some idea of what you'd like to achieve. Making lists and vision boards can be good.

Do you want to live in a family home but one that’s tidy and orderly? Are you on a path of voluntary poverty? Do you want to clear debts, or travel, or pursue a nomadic lifestyle? Do you want to live in a van? Are you growing old and working on relinquishing ties to this world and earthly possessions? Your strategy will start with your objective. You need a plan, and a system, and a sense of where you’re headed to know what to keep and what to reject. And I think minimalism is most effective if it's implemented steadily and gradually, taking things one step at a time, focusing on one area and getting that sorted out before moving on to the next.

When we moved back to Hastings from Aylesbury, I knew exactly where our home should be — there were only three roads (forming three sides of a rectangle) I wanted us to consider. The house that became our home was in the favourite of those three roads.

This is why we chose it:

  • It backs onto the park. Ours is not an expensive road — it has Victorian semis and 1940s ex-council houses and a few from the 1930s and 1970s, ordinary family homes of modest size with medium-sized gardens at affordable prices. Most of the houses built onto the edge of the park or woodland are far more desirable (ie expensive) and in more upmarket parts of town. There's a downside to that (other than being too expensive): public transport routes are economically related — the buses go where the poor people live. The more upmarket houses are usually on residential routes where having a car is essential and buses are scarce or non-existent. We all drive, but wanted to move away from car dependency. And the park freshens and sweetens the air, allows us to live with many birds and wild animals visiting our garden, and offers us beautiful walks right on the doorstep.
  • It's a mile up the hill from the sea. I think we would do well from now on to factor climate change into our thinking and planning. Sea levels will rise and the weather will be more turbulent. The days when it was sensible to buy a house on the beach have gone, unless you're sure you won't live long and have no one to inherit it.
  • It is in a quiet road that gives onto a main road. This is a brilliant combo. If your home is on a main road, the traffic noise is incessant so you can never have the window open, and the exhaust fumes aren't much fun. If you choose a quiet residential street and live far enough down it (say, 7 minutes walk, as we do) to be to of the noise and fumes, the quality of life rises but the amenities (shops, bus stop etc) are easily accessed.
  • It is on level ground. We live in a seaside town, where many of the houses are built on steep hillsides. This makes maintenance a huge challenge in both house and garden. As much of the housing here is Victorian, the buildings are tall. If you're also built on the side of a steep hill, it may mean you have to pay a few hundred pounds of scaffolding every time you have the gutters cleared, and getting furniture into the house up steep flights of concrete steps adds hassle. We looked only at houses on level ground with side access.
  • It has good vehicular access but is not on a through route. We have no off-road parking or garage (which made the house more affordable to buy), but there is unrestricted street parking outside, so deliveries and trades vehicles are no challenge. However, because the roads where we live back onto the park, they offer no short-cuts or through routes to anywhere, so we don't get through traffic, which keeps our street relatively quiet.
  • It has accessible amenities. In addition to the wonderful park with its many trees and wild areas, which our house overlooks, just a few minutes walk away are several shops included a budget-price supermarket (which incorporates a chemist), a post office, a hardware store, a toy shop, a furniture store, a local butcher, several cafés, three hairdressers, a funeral director (!), a bingo hall and betting shop (no thanks), several charity shops, an estate agent and a solicitor. There used to be two banks, but they closed, which inconveniences us very little as we mostly bank online. And there's a working men's club, a couple of pubs, a chiropodist, a library just down the hill, a vet, two doctors' surgeries, a dentist, several churches — everything you could want. A short walk through the park takes us to the next set of shops, which includes our accountant's office and and array of other possibilities, including an excellent baker. Just up the hill (perhaps twenty minutes walk) is an industrial estate, where our town's sorting office is located (for held postal items — useful to go there sometimes). The train station is twenty minutes' walk from us, and there's a key bus stop at the end of the road. What's great about it is that it's a place where through routes cross over, and the bus depot is just across the road from our house, so all the buses to everywhere you can access by bus from our town start their journey at the end of our road. Every couple of minutes a bus goes down to the town centre via the railway station. If you live where we do, you don't need a car. 
So, choosing the right house in the right location was a massive component in our simplicity strategy. It allows us to live far more frugally, and it takes account of our changing needs as we grow old. We don't need to run a car and as long as we can walk at all, we'll be okay here. Those of us who go out from home to work can reach their main site in less than half an hour on foot, or take one of many buses if they prefer. Our other two family members live ten minutes walk away in either direction (and we have one more who lives sometimes here, sometimes entirely elsewhere). 

This is just one example of how being clear about what you want, and then developing a strategy to achieve it, is effective. Knowing we wanted to follow a path of Earth-friendly simplicity, living in a shared house and working on occupations that felt authentic for us as people, formed the basis for our house search strategy. 

My two items to go today — a pair of trousers and a pair of leggings. The trousers were too short and polyester (disastrous choice, a complete mistake), and the leggings were always a little bit too tight. Goodbye to all that. Both in good condition, so they went in a clothes bundle to a Freegler.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

730 things — Day 77

 There's someone I follow on Facebook who posts the most beautiful and inspiring thoughts.

Yesterday she posted something I've been turning over in my mind ever since. It was this.

It's an attractive idea, and I recognise it as being at the heart of teaching from wise people I admire. I have learned so much from monastics, and obedience — surrender — is an essential component of the monastic way; the serenity inherent to the discipline of surrendering your will. I've also seen it in the Hutterite community with whom I spent a lot of time as a young woman.

I think there must be a definite jewel of wisdom in it, that so many wise and mature people on a spiritual path identify it as nourishing for the soul, and yet somehow, personally I cannot accept it.

My own feeling is that we are here to shine a light, to make a contribution, to put our shoulder to the wheel and help lift the weight, to add to the sum of human wisdom. We are not sent here just to do as we are told. Part of what develops and grows our humanity is effort and struggle, not merely surrender. Life, to me, seems so challenging and difficult that I need all my wits about me to create the best strategies and discover the best insights of which I am capable operating at full stretch. The world needs my intellect, my insight — that's why I'm here.

If you look at the life and writing of Thomas Merton, you see all too plainly the conflict that arises in a great soul with a bright light attempting to surrender to the wisdom of another. Merton was not perfect; he seems somewhat impetuous to me, he certainly had his blind spots and made some mistakes; but he was born to soar — he was an eagle made for the heights, not a chicken in a flock.  What a loss to the world if he'd merely surrendered into serenity and let the warm soup close over his head.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding what's intended by the quotation, but that's my response to it anyway. I'm not sorry I didn't take the monastic way, though I love and admire it, respect it deeply, find it beautiful. Of all its challenges, the one that would have kept me out of it is the discipline of setting aside my own judgement and evaluation of what is right, in favour of somebody else's.

Today's items to go —

— a handbag mirror. I got rid of my big(ger) dressing table mirror in favour of using this one, then realised that since I use it to apply make-up and my blusher compact has its own integral mirror, I didn't need this one. So it went to the charity shop.

And a really rubbish cable I got off Amazon that never worked properly and was half as long as advertised. In the end I cut my losses and sent it to the small electrical goods recycling at the dump.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

730 things — Day 76 of 365

 There are times and seasons to everything, moments to wait and moments to act. Just now — in this couple of weeks just beginning — is an important time to make new beginnings, but in particular to make a choice about the path we want to take. It's a time rather like Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken; we stand in the wood wondering which path to follow, and the one we choose in this present time will make all the difference. Sometimes what we do doesn't matter all that much, but in the neck of the woods we're in right now, our choices will have consequences — and consequences have looong tails! It's important to make it count for healing and hope.

So this is a good time — I mean, whenever isn't, but it's especially right just now — to ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of world do I want to create?
  • What action from me will help build that kind of world?
  • What should the priorities be for humanity at this present time?
  • What kind of person would I like to be?
  • What do I need to work on to achieve that?
  • What are the life seeds I should be sowing to extend the reach of Christ — goodness, kindness, shalom, hope, justice, love, healing?
I hope that in the months that we've recently passed through you may have cleared the ground in your life, to make things spacious and simple enough that you can see what your choices and priorities are. If you haven't, and you're all muddled, don't add to your difficulties by worrying. In that case, there are two things that might help (we can all do them, they'll help everyone):
  • Breathe. Take time to sit quietly, either with your eyes closed or looking at something spacious and magnificent like the sky or the sea, and breathe. Obviously we all breathe or we'd be dead, but I'm talking about imagining your heart is like a lung, and allowing the breath of life to flow quietly in to nourish your heart; or thinking of how animals and young children breathe, just letting the breath come in down to their bellies — not high, anxious chest-breathing, but quiet relaxed belly breathing. This isn't dramatic breathing, where everyone can hear it sucked in through your nose like a mighty rushing wind and exhaled with a spectacular AAAAH!! That's just pointless pantomime. I'm talking about something infinitely quiet and simple, allowing the breath to fill you, allowing it to leave. Letting God's Holy Spirit re-fill you as Adam, as Eve, as a new creation, the infilling and topping up of life ever new.
  • Make an altar. It can be anywhere: a windowsill, a shelf, a mantelpiece; and it can be small if you don't have much space. On you altar, put something intentional — a nightlight perhaps (in a jar so you don't inadvertently set something on fire), a holy or beautiful picture you printed off from the internet and stuck on a piece of card, a pebble that caught your eye, a flower, a leaf. Write down your vision and hopes and dreams for life on earth, for the role of humanity within that, and for the part you would like to play (however small; this is about the nature not the size of your offering), fold up the paper where you've written it down and place it on your altar as a formal prayer.
There are times and seasons for everything, and this is a time of new beginnings, and a time when the pathways through the wood divide; the intentions we set now will make a difference.

Today's items leaving my life were good but are finished with. Dead undies. 

Too many, too shabby, cluttering my space. Gone. And these, sadly, did go to landfill; because it turns out no one wants anybody's old knickers. That's why I kept them so long.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

730 things — Day 75 of 365

 Living out of one bag is minimalism's gold standard. On YouTube there are many videos from the world of minimalism with titles like "Everything I own", and a cover picture of a rucksack flanked by a small and tidy array of personal possessions — a change of clothing, a few toiletries, some essential electronics, sometimes a blanket or micro-fibre towel and basic eating/drinking equipment, maybe a clothes line and hammock, a passport — a packable life. One bag.

And minimalism (especially extreme minimalism or essentialism) often focuses on having just one of any given item in a category. It's another theme explored in YouTube videos of the minimalist world: "Things I have only one of". These can be a bit ludicrous — I stopped watching the video put up by the woman who had only one set of eyelash curling tongs. I mean . . . seriously?

Some years ago (2012, my 365 things year) I posted here at Kindred of the Quiet Way about Diana Lorence of Innermost House struggling with cooking in a tiny house, and finding that while reducing from many utensils to few created stress, going down to one suddenly solved everything and allowed possibility to emerge. And this is one of the insights particular to minimalism — that you go down, down, down, and suddenly hit a sweet spot where life starts to function. You find your own individual minimum and it is a place of freedom. Over time it may change for you, because people change — we find new insights, enter new seasons and new relationships, and we grow old. Life's river flows through a changing landscape, but it is always only the one stream, and we find harmony and peace if we can touch the singleness of its flow.

One of the beauties of minimalism is that it easily crosses religious boundaries because it's a component of all forms of spirituality, one way or another. Gandhi and St Francis and the Buddha had  much in common when it comes to life-style — it's the religions that grew up after and around them that hardened into ritualised complication.

Thinking about this in the bath this morning, the prayer of Jesus came to mind, a determined thrust towards minimalist sangha — "that they may be one, Father, as you and I are one." That's one-bag spirituality, as minimalist as it gets — everyone included, no one left out; complex for sure, but uncomplicated, and not by any means the practice of the church, which is riven by what John Wesley referred to as sects and parties (!), by schism and opposition and splits and animosity — ha! How these Christians love one another! Galatians 5 is good on this theme, likewise 1 Corinthians 1.

So I think the practice of Gospel simplicity implies a form of spiritual minimalism that includes a commitment to unity and inclusion. It is, like all forms of minimalism, something that both shapes and requires self-discipline — it's part of the pilgrim way, and that goes uphill at times, and leaves the beaten track altogether in some places. One bag. That's the way of the pilgrim.

Today's items to go — two books about Queen Elizabeth.

Over the years I've felt a keen interest in the royal family, and I tremendously respect and admire the Queen and also Prince Charles; but I've been surprised to find that after being a royalist so long I've come to the conclusion that the United Kingdom no longer understands monarchy and social secularisation has degraded it to nothing more than yet another form of celebrity, in the public mind. Its day is over.

I sent these books to the charity shop, because I judged them the kind of reading that might appeal to the people I have seen shopping there, and because I know they dispose of books responsibly if they can't sell them — I've seen a van outside the shop, with advertising on the side of a second-hand bookshop that sells through Amazon, picking up books left over, so I feel confident they won't just end up in landfill.

Monday, 24 May 2021

730 things — Day 74 of 365

 Our daily lives in the modern world have evolved consumerist patterns — a lot of gadgetry has gathered around cooking and keeping fit, holidaying and walking, leisure time and cleaning and gardening; every different area of activity seems to have a kit to go with it. And people do derive a lot of interest and fun from using their hiking gear and their golf stuff, their fishing things and their food mixers. Only yesterday, I bought a milk-frothing jug, because I love frothy coffee. Was it a sensible purchase or just one more damn thing? At this point, I find it hard to tell; but I'll re-home it if it isn't regularly and enthusiastically used. I do buy things, but I don't often keep them. 

Of course there's still a question mark over the things I do keep and enjoy. That milk-frothing jug — if I factor in the industrial process and the ecological impact and the approach to life it represents, is it still worth it? Even though I feel pleased to have it, I have to acknowledge that no, it's probably not worth all that. But if I consider returning it to the shop, I know I don't want to. It is this attitude, repeated over and over and multiplied into many different areas of life, that creates a consumer society and a ruined Earth. But I can feel my inner self clinging fiercely to that jug like Gollum, insisting that I wants it. 

Sometimes, perhaps, it's better to allow the child inside oneself to be exactly that, and have the toy and let it go in due course. 

We do have some machines we use constantly. We have an electric kettle (we also have a stovetop one, we use both) in our house, and a soup whizzer, and a smoothie maker for our kale shakes. Those things have such frequent use that, over the years, we have burnt out several electric kettles, smoothie makers and soup whizzers. Where are they now? At our landfill site, things to be thrown away are separated for recycling, and there's a bin for small electrical goods where we've put our kitchen gadgets with burned out motors. But what happens to them then? I suppose some components can be re-used, but others just get added to the trash mountain.

I don't even know what I think about this, at this point. My adventure into minimalism, even though it's been rolling for some years, has got as far as keeping down my stash of personal possessions and clothing, sharing living space and household equipment, giving away or selling anything surplus to requirements, and doing my best to live simply and frugally — but I have never thought about fasting from all gadgetry until this moment. It's never occurred to me that I might choose to have soup with lumps like stew, and just have steamed kale not kale shakes, and only use the stovetop kettle even though it takes so much longer, and say I can have frothy coffee only as a special treat when I go out to a café. Actually — correction — I did think of that last one but rejected the idea before it got legs and ran.

Yes, I think I could imagine a future where I might walk deeper and deeper into minimalism and gradually let all these things go. I think it would be good for me. It would have joy inside it. I'm not there yet, though. And at least, in our shared house, if one person has a soup whizzer it means that four people do (five at times). We'd all have to live somewhere. If Tony and I didn't live with Hebe and Alice, we'd in reality likely have two separate dwellings rather than three, or four — but that would immediately double some machinery, though not all. We already have two televisions because we sort of have two households within one house. We each have our own computer. We have a second freezer as an overflow (for harvest times and Christmas), in use as a kitchen counter and storage place for accumulating hospitality food the rest of the time. We have two vacuum cleaners because Alice and Hebe much prefer using one and Tony much prefers using the other. I use either of them, but both as little as possible because the sound of vacuum cleaners does my head in. But we'd be running two boilers (UK — furnace, US) and two cookers (US friends, that's what we cook our food in and on; I think you have a different term), two irons and ironing boards — we'd have to duplicate several things but some we already do.

It seems to me, in thinking aloud about it here, that we in our household have been able to limit/minimise quite a bit by sharing and making conscious choices and moving on anything we no longer use regularly — but that our life does still bear the hallmarks of unthinking consumerism, and at least I (since it's my own pilgrim path, not something to be imposed on others) would do well to think hard about further simplifying in the whole area of gadgetry. 

After all, if I really lived simply — if I lived in a shed or a cave or a rented room, I wouldn't be able to have all these things, would I? There wouldn't be the space to put them or anywhere to plug them in.

Sometimes I muddle up imagined lives with my actual life — it's how I try on my thoughts — so I have to remind myself I don't in fact live in a cave or a shed. I mean, this is how I came to own a sleeping bag (one of my items to be moved on at some point this year); by forgetting that I don't in fact live in such a way as to need one.

Anyway, as agreed with myself, I made sure to swap out one comparable object when I brought the milk-frother home; but I still need to move on two of the regular things.

I specially enjoy it when I can match an item to go with someone who would really enjoy to have it, and that was the case with today's things, which are —

a beautiful pair of Swarovski earrings in a lovely colour called Bermuda blue —

— and a very nice cashmere cardigan in a deep pine green.

Both, in their way, very beautiful, and happily received.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

730 things — Day 73 of 365

 Minimalism teaches me, because it gives me space to think.

In recent days I've been mentally re-visiting the whole vexed issue of packaging. I am totally in admiration of those who practice a zero-waste lifestyle, and it's something I haven't properly given the energy and attention it deserves in my own life.

The problem is that packaging is so bound up with the consumerist muddle of over-production in which modern life is (by commercial design) enmeshed. It's so ubiquitous that it feels too difficult to disengage. I think the way forward might be to take one category at a time.

So I've been thinking about washing myself and my clothes.

When I wash my clothes, I generally chuck them in the washing machine. I used to use laundry liquid, but now I use this stuff, leaves of compacted soap powder that require minimal packaging. So that's a good start. I'll carry on with that for when I wash my bed sheets. 

But in with my machine-load, I add fabric conditioner, which comes in a sturdy great bottle. I'm going to stop that. 

And I'm going to change what I do with washing clothes. One of the many benefits of a minimalist wardrobe is that you just wear the same few things, so the lack of variety reduces the amount of laundry you generate. Every two or three days I have a few items to wash. I can wash them by hand in the sink, using the same soap I wash my hands with, that comes from the wholefood co-op in no packaging at all. Instead of fabric conditioner I can just add a few drops of essential oil to the final rinse.

When the weather is problematic for line-drying (ie when it's raining), I'll either wait a day or two until the rain clears up, or squeeze out the wet clothes and roll-and-wring them in my towel — that's as good as spinning them in the washing machine. 

This strategy will eliminate one area of packaging from my life.

Another steady source of packaging is washing my hair. I wash it with liquid shampoo followed by conditioner, both of which come in bottles designed to last thousands of years. I've tried shampoo bars before, and the problem I have with those is that they leave my hair a bit hay-like. So I gave up on them. But I'm going to change my strategy to cultivate zero-waste hair. I'm going to keep my hair so short that I don't care if it is like hay. In fact, people with short hair buy spray wax to make their hair go back to being like hay after they've carefully washed and conditioned it into silky softness. So I reckon if I keep it very short and wash it with a shampoo bar I can get rid of a) shampoo packaging, b) conditioner at all, complete with its packaging and c) products to re-hay my softened hair, plus their packaging. 

I'm going to try it and see how I get on. This morning I washed my clothes in hand soap and added essential oils to the rinse and they're hanging on the line. I've said goodbye to my empty shampoo bottle and started a shampoo bar today. This feels like progress.

Today's things to go are two very nice bras. 

They are the kind I like — no wires or fastenings, not tight, just stretchy stuff and you put them on like a crop top, and they're very cheap. But these particular ones didn't work out. They came in a set of three. I liked them and wore one a few times but they weren't really a good fit, and having worn one I couldn't return the set. So while one was still in as-new condition after laundering,  and these two were only tried on, I sent them to the charity shop.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

730 things — Day 72 of 365

 Parting with one's possessions responsibly takes time and attention.

In our consumer age, there's such a problem with piles of junk, and we want to minimise our contribution to that as much as we can. 

I do think, though, that there can be a case for people who have had a problem with hoarding and accumulation just getting it out of the house. Making your home into a landfill site is not an improvement on taking it down to the council dump.

Sometimes, to reduce things to manageable proportions and get out of overwhelm, drastic action is necessary. Until new patterns of order and peace are established, escaping from the dragon's hoard requires strength and determination, and sometimes a radical approach.

But of course, as far as we can manage it, the goal is to reduce waste and accumulation, including the accumulation of junk in landfill, pushing back against the wasteful and consumer trends of our age that are endangering all the life forms of our entire planet.

So today I wanted to show you how I tried to apply a bit of imagination to moving things on and reducing accumulation.

It's my grandson's birthday, and he wanted (yet another) transformer. So that's what I got him. This is an important part of it all to me. Yes, I think we should address our relationship with plastic, and yes he has enough toys already. I know. But I don't think I should make him the subject of my experiments in minimalism. The day will come when he himself no longer wants to fill his home with mass-produced manufacture objects (I hope), and he will be able to pass on his hoard, bit by bit, to gladden another child's heart. Meanwhile his parents are on the right track — lockdown regs have sufficiently lifted that they were able to take him and his sister on the train to the Natural History Museum in London for his birthday treat. They are setting his feet on the path of experiences not things. Way to go!

But I got his transformer on eBay, new but not in the manufacture's packaging. This meant it looked a bit disappointing to receive as a gift, so I had to think about what I could do to elevate its appearance somewhat.

Thus, the first of the two items leaving my house today is a plastic box I got to store oats. I printed off the pictures advertising the transformer — which fits my oats box perfectly — and stuck them on. 

I added the blessing of my grandson's patron saint.

On the lid I added a picture of the transformer and a notice to say it was the property of my grandson (I've obscured the full name because, you know, this is the internet).

And inside it looks as if it was meant to be there — as well as creating a handy storage box for several transformers.

So that meant an end-of-line product got scooped up and not wasted, a whole set of packaging to deal with bypassed his mother whose life is full enough already, and instead of buying some form of mass-produced birthday packaging (destined in short order for the trash) he has a sturdy box that will be useful for many purposes. It also meant one more item (an oat storage facility) out of my own life. 

That's one of two items to go. The second, also a storage item that left, was this box meant for keeping CDs.

Gosh, it makes me feel old to reflect that CDs were once the great new thing — we had all those cassette tapes with our precious music on, and had to figure out how to transfer it to CD, but now my laptop doesn't even have a CD drive — everything's on memory sticks or on the internet or stored in the cloud. We live in a changing world for sure!

I parted with my CD collection in my first big de-clutter in 2012 (my 365 year, when I got rid of at least one item a day throughout the year), but I still had this box which I kept to use for other things. It was a nice box, and it's the kind of object I like to hang on to — sits neatly on a shelf, can be used for a variety of purposes. I'm not 100% sure it was sensible to get rid of it when I think about it — it would have made a good sock storage container, or to herd up bottles of vitamins or keep sewing stuff in. But I found other solutions for storing these, so the CD box went on its way. It was a good box for packing books in. Charity shops sometimes can re-use plastic bags and cardboard boxes coming in full of items to sell, but they do get overwhelmed by them at times. I reckon that if it's possible to stow the items for sale inside another item they can also sell, that minimises waste. So that's what I did.

Friday, 21 May 2021

730 things — Day 71 of 365

 I've been trying to think what my mother had in her wardrobe in the early 1960s when I was a child. We were not well off, but my mother had high standards regarding her appearance, and was socially ambitious, so she tried her best to look good and have the right things for every occasion, making her budget stretch. It was a time when every part of the day and every activity had a dress code, expressed differently depending on social class.

I remember how my grandmothers dressed then. My father's mother, who lived in a town (Scarborough) used to wear close-fitting knee-length shift dresses with a dressy (slightly scooped) neckline, in colourful chintzy floral fabric. She always wore court shoes with a moderate heel, often in a cream colour — and with a matching handbag. She always had a necklace or a brooch with sparkly crystals.

 My mother's mother, a country-woman who lived in a rural village (near Selby) wore knee-length straight brown tweed skirts, with a twin-set (maybe green or cream, no pearls), and practical, flat, brown leather lace-up walking shoes. 

These are the clothes I remember from my mother's wardrobe at that time:

  • knee-length stone-coloured skirt in a cotton blend
  • a pair of "slacks" as comfortable trousers were called, again in a stone colour, lightweight fabric
  • two crinkle fabric poly-cotton blouses in different shades of green
  • an acrylic cardigan in yet another shade of green
  • a courtelle (or some kind of synthetic wool) lightweight collared sweater in lipstick pink
  • two 1950s full-skirt-and-inclusive-petticoat summer dresses in different shades of white and green
  • a brown tweed suit in a smart cut
  • a knee-length black velvet skirt for going out to dinner (if invited to someone's home, we never ate out in a restaurant)
  • a loose-knit black top with large gold sequins stitched all over it
  • a full-length ball gown for the annual dance Eveready (where my father worked) hosted at Christmas
  • a smart green wide-brimmed hat for special occasions
  • a lightweight shower-proof jacket
  • a stone-coloured lightweight shower-proof summer coat
  • a black-and-white tweed winter coat
  • sandals, slip-on walking shoes, fur zip-up ankle boots for winter, a pair of black high-heeled sandals for extra special occasions, and wellington boots for gardening
  • she had a few pairs of nylons (stockings not tights then), suspender belts to hold them up, bras and pants (briefs, underpants, I mean), and a full length nylon slip to wear under skirts
  • though we had central heating from 1965, we didn't actually turn it on; so she had a bed jacket and thick warm dressing gown and slippers as well as her nightdresses
These are all the things I can remember. I find it interesting now to look back and note that the net petticoats in this 1950s summer dresses were made of cotton, but everything she'd bought later in the 1960s was acrylic or poly-cotton or just nylon. The change to synthetics came suddenly, spread swiftly, and was heavily advertised. We had nylon sheets and nylon nightdresses. My sister was five years older than me, born in 1952. The blouses of her high school uniform were made of cotton. By the time I followed her to the same school four years later (I was born in July and she in September, so though we were five calendar years apart, there were only 4 school years between us) the uniform blouses were all nylon.

My mother may have had a couple more tops and maybe a second skirt and second pair of trousers, but certainly no more than that. I think all normal middle-class women in the 1960s had what we would nowadays consider a minimalist wardrobe.

I remember my wardrobe from when I was about 14, just before I got my first job (at 15) and began to earn money to buy clothes. That was in 1971. I had
  • two hand knitted sweaters, one blue and one green. My mother had made them for me to wear at school when  was ten, so they were close-fitting, but that made them fashionable. I liked them.
  • a pair of dungarees in black cotton with a pattern of tiny pink flowers
  • a close fitting poly-cotton t-shirt with buttons at the top (like a henley) in a random stripe
  • a trouser suit in maroon tweed (yuck)
  • a synthetic cream-coloured blouse with a high frilled neck to wear under said trouser suit
  • an A-line airforce blue knee-length skirt in a synthetic knit fabric
  • a cream poly-cotton collared long-sleeved blouse to wear with the skirt
  • a polyester blouse with long full sleeves gathered at the cuffs and with a gypsy neckline fastened with ties, in a tiny dark floral synthetic fabric
  • two pairs of trousers — one green corduroy, one burnt orange denim
  • a red and white floral poly-cotton jersey collared top
  • a cotton smock top — smocks were all the rage at the time in unbleached cream cotton (!)
  • a winter coat
  • a winter uniform for school, two blouses and one of everything else
  • two summer dresses for school
  • two nightdresses, slippers and a warm fluffy dressing gown
  • shoes, obviously — these varied as my feet grew and were always strange because I had hard to fit feet. I'd have a pair of sandals for summer, brown lace-ups for school, and a pair of shoes for church on Sunday — and wellington boots for the garden or country walks
I may have had another t-shirt that I've forgotten, but I don't think so. I had a couple of bras, a couple of pairs of tights (I escaped the stockings era), long socks for school, and a few pairs of pants (I mean briefs, underpants). I think I might have had a jacket, but mainly I borrowed an old suede one from the 1940s that my mother still had. 

During this time she also passed on to me her full-skirted 1950s dresses, which I loved though they were no longer fashionable. I took out the net petticoats and wore them a lot. I also had a 1940s wrap dress from my great-grandmother, in mauve-and-grey flowered crêpe de chine, that I loved. My mother and sister intensely disliked these clothes — they thought I looked awful. They raided my room one day when I wasn't there, and threw them out.

In our village there was a small shop (Mrs Haskell's) where you could buy sweets and cigarettes and fresh bread, and a slightly bigger general stores, but we used to take the bus into a nearby market town (Bishops Stortford) where I went to school and where there was a branch of Sainsburys. Dorothy Perkins had opened a shop there, and there was a newly-opened fashionable boutique, and a traditional dress shop for women. But for clothes we'd mostly go on the train to London — usually John Lewis, and Oxford Street in general. Laura Ashley had started her shop in Kensington in 1968, and Biba opened, and there was the Petticoat Lane market — all of which came within my reach after I started earning my own money a year or so later.

What interests me particularly, when I look back, is how we mostly had just one of everything, or (as in the case of school dresses or blouses worn every day) one to wash and one to wear. We didn't have a whole stack of tops or trousers. We had a couple of sweaters, and a jacket or coat for if it was cold, something special for church, footwear suitable for different situations (summer, winter, muddy walks), knitted gloves and scarves for winter. 

Across the road from where we live now are some homes that would have been built after WWII, when a whole lot of council houses were built. Some are white-rendered, others left in the simple red brick. Four houses in each row, two homes sharing each set of chimneys.

These homes were regarded as suitable for a family. The stairs to the upper floor start right opposite the front door, and downstairs has a good sized living room and moderate sized kitchen. Upstairs there's a bathroom and I don't know if they have two bedrooms or three — I think most probably three. Each one has a front garden of a size suitable for growing flowers and a back garden big enough to grow vegetables. They are not big. It's interesting to notice the relative proportion of the garden and the house — the garden is relatively generous for the size of house, and that tells you something about the expectations and priorities of the time. They didn't need much space indoors because they didn't have much stuff, but they wanted and needed to grow their own food. None of those houses has off-road parking, nor did they need it. People walked or went by bus or tram. 

I find I learn a lot from thinking about those times, and taking the trouble to notice the difference made by the gradual and inexorable rise of consumerism led by mass production and the opening up of world markets. 

Going back to the world of today — the items I'm moving on this time are some large scissors surplus to requirements —

— and a small roasting tray. 

I got that picture off the internet. It's the same roasting tray but mine was nothing like so sparkling clean; it's just that I forgot to photograph it for you.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

730 things — Day 70 of 365

Clear Your Mindset is a YouTube channel I hadn't come across before, and I really enjoyed this video from that channel.

I tried to find the name of the person whose channel it is, but though I looked in the "about" pages on her YouTube channel, her Facebook page and her website, I couldn't locate that information. Anyway, I did very much like what she had to say. She is on Instagram too.

One of the topics she touched on in that video is the trend for neutral palettes in minimalism. I wonder if that comes in part from HSPs (Highly Sensitive Persons) being drawn to minimalism because they need to lower the input from stimuli in their lives. Of course, if you're going for a very small (or capsule) wardrobe, then having all neutrals gives you more possibilities with fewer garments. If your clothes are black and white/cream/beige in simple shapes, you're good for everyday, a party, office work, public speaking, going to the theatre, attending a funeral — whereas if you have a lot of bright florals and frilly things in hot pink, your suitability options are more limited. Perhaps especially if you are a man.

In my own forays into small wardrobes, trying to make it work for me, I have tried, failed, given up and started again, several times.

At the present time (I dare say nothing more confident than that) I have reached an interesting — well, it is to me — compromise with colours and neutrals. I like strong, warm colours — spice box colours. They suit me as well. However (it's an HSP thing) I find the vibration of strong, assertive colours very tiring. If I have colourful clothes, I like them when I first put them on, but quickly get fed up with them. What I've settled on is quiet, deep, peaceful colours (or the natural colours of yarns) in my actual clothes — grey, black, brown, green, navy blue, beige; that sort of thing —but my room is very colourful, with the ceiling painted a warm olive green, the walls in two shades of strong mustard yellow, and the bedding a riotous large paisley pattern in red and yellow and turquoise. The floor is natural wood but quite a bright honey colour. And on my door hangs my dressing gown, which is red and orange flowers on a peacock green background.  Like this.

And there are little places in my room — small flashes of joyful colour — that please my soul.

So I get to have the best of both worlds — slinking about in quiet neutrals while simultaneously revelling in warm, bright colours.  It's a compromise, or synthesis, that feels good at the present time; but one of the benefits of minimalism is that not having all that much stuff makes it fairly easy to make a change if I feel the need to do so — which happens quite often.

While we're wandering around my room — I said I'd show you my wardrobe/cupboard organisation once it was all sorted, didn't I?

On the outside I used to have a blanket in a strong Indian pink hanging up. I liked it, but it was a bit short. So I swapped it for this cream coloured one which is just about long enough with the fringe. I have a snuggly blanket as an extra warmth layer (for me, not for the wardrobe), made from two of those acrylic 'yak' wool shawls from Tibet stitched together, which I keep on top of my cupboard but I let it hang over to make a kind of pelmet. It's strung on a bamboo bean pole suspended on pot hooks — which handily is a few inches too long, giving me somewhere to hang my lamp.

Inside my wardrobe/cupboard things are organised like this. You can read about those people who live in my wardrobe here.

My clothes aren't all black, it's just that they're in packing cubes which are black.

I wanted to get Iris Ohyama storage for my stationery, just because all the Japanese minimalists seem to sleep on Iris Ohyama's folding mattresses, and I love Japan. I mean, I've never actually been there, just explored into its culture from a long way away. It has Kyoto and mountains and Shinto and cherry blossom and Marie Kondo and Fumio Sasaki and futons and tatami mats and rice paper windows and Zen Buddhism and outdoor baths and people bow to each other. Epic.

But the Sundis storage height fits my space perfectly so that's what I got. I still feel slightly sad about it, though. And if your belongings need organising, the Iris Ohyama store on Amazon repays investigation.

It was a relief to get my papers herded up into drawers — they'd been under my bed wrapped in pillowcases for a while. I still need to go through all the papers again, though — some categories are a bit muddled up. Anyway, those drawers are new, but I did swap out some things in exchange.

Meanwhile, today's items to go are a hat and some jars. 

I got this hat to wear at my mother's funeral. I was careful in selecting clothes for that event, making sure to choose things that could be worn repeatedly in many settings. Then, to my surprise, I found I didn't want any reminders whatsoever of the last year of her life, which was very stressful indeed. So out went the hat.

It looks in the picture as if it was new — it sort of was, but I got it on eBay from a private seller who just hadn't worn it; it wasn't full price from a shop. I forgot to photograph it, but that was the actual hat. It's the photo off the eBay listing from when I bought it back in January when the funeral was.

And these jars — well, I always think packaging looks so useful, and I often wash up, and save for a long time, pickle jars or the little plastic pots with salad dressing in from an Indian meal, or the nice sturdy boxes raspberries and mushrooms are sold in.

But every now and then I see sense, and throw them away. Not to landfill, you understand. First we tried putting these on Freegle, but it's not soft fruit season quite yet, people aren't thinking about making jams and jellies. So when they didn't go we put them in the recycling collection. Later on I retrieved the Nutella jars (with the white tops) because they make good drinking glasses and we were a bit short on those when family come over, but I swapped out other hoarded jars to chuck instead.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

730 things – Day 69 of 365

 Are you familiar with the word viaticum?

I'm sure you will see at once from its structure that it's Latin, and within it one can spot the smaller word via, which everybody uses. If I catch the train to Victoria Station in London, as it pulls in to Warrior Square Station where I board it, the recorded message booms out over the platform to tell me it's going via Polegate or via Hampden Park or wherever. "Via" is the way it's going, and that's what it means. In Jerusalem, Christian pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa, which means The Way of Sorrow, or The Way of Pain — the way Jesus walked, stumbling and falling, struggling to carry his own cross on his flogged back, to where he was crucified.

So that word via is tucked inside viaticum, which is the term for the eucharistic host given to Christians in the last rites. Back in the High Middle Ages when our ecclesiastical terminology developed, as the church became ever more sophisticated in its formalisation as an institution, accruing doctrines and dogma and hardening into a propositional shape, only the priest participated in the wine at the Eucharist; the laity received just the bread. So when someone was approaching death they would make a confession if they could, and be absolved of all earthly sin, and receive the viaticum, which means "bread for the journey". The term originally meant a supply of provisions or money, for a traveller, and was taken up into church terminology to envision the bread of the Eucharist sustaining and equipping the Christian soul to make their Great Journey home.

I have a strong and settled belief that though I love and revere this Earth, it is not my home. My soul comes from another country. I have a dim and hazy certainty about this, beyond all received ideology.

I believe that when a soul comes out of the world of light to experience life on Earth, they do so in agreement with guides and mentors, choosing the path and set of circumstances appropriate for forming the spirit. I have to conclude that my own spirit must be distinctly timorous and flabby, because my life has been lived in the shallows — quiet, protected and uneventful — and I prefer it that way and do my best to keep it like that. I am solitary and unregarded, I don't carry the burdens of riches or fame, but I have always been loved, always had good food to eat and a safe home, warm and dry, nice things to wear, a garden full of trees and birds and herbs, books to read and enough money to buy things to make and play with. I have had everything a human being dreams of. I have never been starving, never lost an eye or a limb, never been terrorised or beaten up or arrested. My home has never been bombed or my garden poisoned by aggressively encroaching factories. The air around where I lived is sweetened by the cleansing sea and the trees of Sussex, not choked by the relentless smog of traffic. I am blessed beyond measure.

And yet, even so, I do not find life easy. Nor do my children, these wise and shining souls who honoured me by choosing to make their way into this world through my body.

Looking into my life and circumstances, I cannot help noticing that I can make very little difference to absolutely anything. The greatest lake is made up entirely of single drops, of course, so it matters that I do my best to be responsible in the contribution I make to the whole. I must not demand too much for myself, or grab resources at the cost of great suffering to other beings, or ask so much that this beautiful vibrant planet is impoverished by my consumer lifestyle. I must be mindful of the whole in every particular choice I make. 

But that said, I look at the cruelty of the Home Office and the shameful corruption of my government, at the rapacious indifference toward the poor and the refugee, the sick and disabled and all who struggle; I look at the arrogant greed of my own society prioritising its foreign holidays and large homes and yachts and cars and manufactured objects over the future of its children — and I am brought to despair at times, that I cannot change this, cannot make enough of a difference.

So what I try to do is choose the places where the little I have to offer will really count. And that starts with my family. One of the things I most want in this world is to create for my children a viaticum, a small wafer of provision so that when I am no longer here to use what ingenuity and experience I have to stand alongside them and help them make their way through this difficult world, I will have left them sufficiently set up to be able to cope.

What has enabled me to work towards providing this viaticum for all five (!) of them is the simplicity of minimalism, because that's what makes a little go a long way. Minimalism is the engine side of providence. Whatever you set out to do, minimalism will boost and advance it. 

Minimalism is, in a sense, a sort of viaticum; it is spiritually and materially effective in offering sustenance to the pilgrim making the journey home through these stony and crumbling earthly pathways into the misty mystery of the great I Am.

Here are the things I am moving on from my life today; a collection of pots of paint.

You know how it is with paint. If you have enough, you have too much, so you have some left over, so you keep it just in case you ever need it again. "Just in case" is a flag fluttering over every hoarder's home. The pots sit in the cupboard peacefully acquiring a soft grey covering of soft and gentle dust, the tops welding firmly to the bodies of the pots as the paint inside grows harder and dries, becoming ever less useful with each passing month. There comes a time when those pots of paint have always been there, in the cupboard under the stairs, part of the landscape of this home, this life, this way of being. What are they? No one knows. How long have they been there? No one can remember. Whose are they? Oh! What? Mine? Surely not. 

But, yes. They are there, and they are mine, and they've been there for ages and it's time I took responsibility for them and moved them out of the house.