Wednesday, 30 June 2021

730 things — Day 111 of 365

I have this serious gripe with clothing manufacturers and retailers about information flow.

They want me to buy a garment based on the size of my body. The charts they supply describe the size of a woman. But that's not what I want to do. I don't want to tell them what size my body is, I want them to tell me what size their garment is. I already know what size my body is, and they don't need this information. What I don't know is what size their garment is. Once I have that information I can add it to what I already know about the size of my body and how I like my clothing to fit, and then I can decide if the garment will work for me. I don't what them to decide if the garment will work for me based on how they think it ought to fit. Because I like my clothes oddly loose. Even styles that are meant to be fitted. So although I am a UK size 16 (or L) woman, according to most of the sizing charts, I prefer their clothing in size 18/20 or XL or XXL, depending which make it is. 

This drives me nuts. eBay private sellers are even worse. They'll sell a "midi length" dress. Well, what the hell is that? Upper calf? Mid calf? Lower calf? On whom? "Below the knee on me and I am 5'6"," they say. Yes, but what if you have a short back and long legs and I have a long back and short legs? Tell me the length of the dress! 

I like my nightclothes to be seriously roomy. I hit problems with pyjamas because if the top and hips are as full as I want them to be, the trousers fall off because the waist is too big. So I wear nightdresses rather than pyjamas, because then they can't fall off even though the pit-to-pit measurement is between 55 and 60 inches, which is well over a foot wider than I am. I love my nightdresses. I bought old Anokhi robes (dressing gowns), soft Indian cotton in gloriously rich colours and wild patterns, and stitched them up the front to make a dress. 

These — 

They make me feel happy and cheerful, and they are so comfy.

It's important to have clothes and lovely-smelling things like soap and shampoo that rejoice the heart, because if you're on a tight budget the only other thing that does is cake. 

But, back to the sizing, there is one firm I know that sells clothing by the garment size not by the woman size, and that's the Scottish company called the House of Bruar. Their charts tell you the exact measurements of the garment, so you can decide if it will fit how you want. Not only that, but they make their knitwear in every colour imaginable. So (you may have to wait for the sale) you can get a garment that will precisely suit your tastes, and how pleasing is that? 

As for the two items I'm moving on today — I recently changed my bag and purse (US = purse and wallet). I swapped out two items in exchange instead of recording those things here, so here are the bag and purse I used to have, now on their way the the charity shop. I waited a while to see if I might want to keep both bags and both purses (for different times and occasions), but I like my new ones, so here are the old ones to go. 

The purse (wallet) came from a charity shop in the first place. I got it from the hospice shop, and now it's on its way to the Shelter shop (for homeless people). I find it very satisfying that, if you look after your things carefully, the same item can go on making money for one charitable cause after another, things are kept out of landfill and mass-production is slowed down, but you can still have the fun and enjoyment of getting something new — at an affordable price.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

730 things — Day 110 of 365

Minimalists often say they prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than objects, and I can understand that.

They prefer to travel, or climb a mountain, or take up an adventurous sport, over accumulating possessions. They speak of making memories rather than acquiring things.

I think those are excellent choices. 

Some of them are clearly fairly affluent — you can't involve yourself in riding horses or foreign travel or sports like cycling and mountaineering that imply equipment and often temporary accommodation, or even go camping, without significant financial outlay.

There are some minimalists (Rob Greenfield comes to mind) who live very lightly indeed, and make their way in the world by interaction with others, working with generosity and hospitality and friendship rather than by purchasing what they need. By such means a rich and adventurous life is made accessible even with little money to spend.

But what are the options for making life cheerful and interesting if you are elderly or disabled, if you are not very brave, if you are tied by family commitments or disability, and you have very little money indeed?

Most of my friends have come into those categories. The well-trodden paths are food, groups (like church or volunteering), visiting friends and family, social media, reading and television, pets and gardening, walking. Also crafts and photography.

There's a sink-hole to avoid in these otherwise cheerful pastimes — food that makes you unwell. I don't know anyone who died from a piece of cake, but over time a steady intake of refined carbs (the go-to staple of low-income people) certainly undermines health. If you start the day with a bowl of cereal, then the church has a coffee morning (tea and cakes), then you visit your mother (sandwiches with soup), then on the way home you pop in to see a friend and she serves you tea and (several) biscuits, then you go home and make macaroni cheese for your tea and settle down to watch the quiz programmes with a selection of snacks in easy reach — and follow a similar path every day — there may be trouble ahead. This might be exacerbated if you are someone who cares passionately about the Earth and animal welfare, and decide to become vegan, relying on grains and pulses for food to give you energy.

There's also rather a lot of sitting still in these occupations. Compared with scuba-diving and rock-climbing, watching Pointless and visiting Mum are distinctly sedentary.

I say all this from personal experience.

The old term for wealth/capital was 'substance' (As in, 'A Woman of Substance'). The old term for substance was 'bottom'. It comes from the Latin dignitas. Thus it came about that John Wesley, on being challenged about how he managed his finances, responded: "I endeavour to wind my bottom around the year." A remark I have always treasured.

If this is also you — if you, like John Wesley and like me — definitely have to strategise to wind your bottom around the year and cannot do much in the way of world travel and serious sport, then my modest (and I hope not too irritating) tip for the day is: remember to go for at least two walks a day (if you can), and go easy on the carbs. 

Self-discipline is an essential component of effective simplicity.

I have one more tip. A massive source of joy — wild birds and animals. If, on your walks, you feed squirrels and birds; if, to your garden or balcony, you welcome wild birds and animals and cultivate a relationship with them, they will bring you immense joy. They can be quite expensive too (don't I know it!) but you can tailor that according to your bottom.

If you are the rather elderly, not very fit, rather quiet and shy and not very adventurous minimalist on a budget, wild birds and animals are your friends and possibly even your saviours. Pets cost a great deal of money — or, more precisely, vets do — wild animals less so.

I feel a bit uneasy about these things I have said today. I know all too well what ire one can stir up online by insensitivity not intended at all, by innocent remarks that unexpectedly make people cross. And there is nothing like mentioning food for provoking rage. So I hope you aren't annoyed with me. If you see life differently, please pass on by and try to forget me.

Two items to go on this 110th day of my 730-things year.

I do like green clothing, and I had these two green cardigans. 

But though they looked promising on eBay, they weren't really my kind of thing. I had them because a green snuggly cardigan is bound to be just the thing, right? But though that in general is indisputably true, I didn't really like these specific incarnations of that genre.

I do have other green woolies. Like this that I'm wearing right now.

Monday, 28 June 2021

730 things — Day 109 of 365

The times we're passing through are characterised by quite astonishing levels of deconstruction.

To revel in a mixed metaphor — the tree is being shaken until its teeth rattle.

Every now and then I come across someone who nonchalantly asserts that the Covid season hasn't made any significant impact on them — they've been fine, it hasn't made much difference really — and I wonder what planet they've been on.

My understanding is that the pandemic has been a symptom rather than a cause, part of a bigger picture, a transformative wave of epic proportions. It's been a time of reckoning, when we've watched all kinds of things we were used to, and relied on, dismantled. We've watched them crumble, evaporate, die. So many people have died — and people's pets as well, beloved friends — connections have frayed and lost hold, long established organisations have given way, relationships have dissolved, those in positions of power have proved to be hollow, sham, corrupt and toxic. Revered institutions whose rationale has always made sense began to look first irrelevant and finally redundant as the world around them and in dialogue with them underwent massive and radical change. In the personal sphere — health, friendships, family life, work patterns and possibilities, affiliations of every kind — everything has demanded thoroughgoing reappraisal; and on the way through, we have lost so much. Meanwhile truth makes its way to the surface and insists on being heard, even while it is beaten back, beaten down, over and over again by the corrupt and bankrupt forces of self-interest.

It is a phenomenal and daunting time to be alive.

In such times — passing through the Valley of Baca — I have found (personally anyway, it may be different for you) it helps to live simply, keep endeavours small, travel light. The fewer attachments, the less there is to demolish and the less fraught it feels to get to your feet again and keep going.

"Having done all, to stand" was a Bible quotation beloved of my prayer partner Margery — a concept she came back to repeatedly and depicted in various forms — stained glass, banners, greetings cards: "Having done all, to stand," taken from the passage about the armour of God in the letter to the Ephesians. It is an image of something remarkably battered, but quietly celebrating the courage of resilience and perseverance. It's one of the springs in the Valley of Baca for these times. Meanwhile, this is not a season to clutch or hold on to anything, but to find the inner peace to let things go, let people be what they will be, allow what is inevitable to unfold, just keep on putting into the world what good we can and otherwise let things be.

Today's items to go are some redundant medications. 

This is a perfect example of something that accumulates unnoticed, kept long past its use-by date in case it ever comes in handy. These were no longer needed, so they either went to someone who spoke for them or went in the bin.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

730 things — Day 108 of 365

 "Problems arise where things accumulate." (Toinette Lippe)

I've been thinking about blood clots.

If you have ever suffered from blood clots in the superficial veins of your legs, you will know that the condition is agonising. There are solutions as I've gradually discovered, but I'm thinking about it as a metaphor rather than as a health challenge at the moment.

Blood clots in the leg veins can arise from more than one cause, but a common one is vein inflammation. I'm not sure if this is right but I suppose the blood clots are kind of like scabs on abraded skin, but inside.

A scab, or a blood clot, is a response to when something is hurt, then. 

I think accumulation of belongings can be similar. People gather things to themselves for comfort and restoration, in response to life being difficult. Getting something is comforting. But then (like a scab or a blood clot) there it is. In healthy circumstances, the next natural step is to disperse it — keep the circulation flowing, let things go, help stuff dissolve. Accumulation that is not dispersed is a disease condition, and the vessels where it happens suffer.

Do you know the work of Tosha Silver? She writes primarily about trust in God, about entirely surrendering one's life to the Divine, and relying on the flow of grace for sustenance and provision — living generously and walking lightly.

She said this:

I think it's wise.

Today I am releasing two more books (good ones) into the wild.


They have been donated to the second-hand bookshop down the hill.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

730 things — Day 107 of 365

 I've been thinking about the things Jesus asked/instructed us to do —

I've been turning over in my mind what it might mean. I think it's about how to live. 

The Great Commission (the first one on my list, about going into all the world) is surely the principle of the dandelion clock — to spread an essential self/principle/nature far and wide and put down tap roots and replicate it firmly all over the place. But what is the "it"? That's the question. I cannot think that what Jesus had in mind was to establish credal statements and institutions, followed by inquisitions to ensure converts adhered to them. That doesn't ring true for me. I think what he intended was for us to spread far and wide the way he lived, and the person he was, and the principles he showed us of how to align with the flow of grace in the world.

The next one — to love one another — illuminates and extends (or deepens or clarifies) this. It makes explicit what he had in mind. Not to indoctrinate but to love. And in case we aren't sure what love honestly is, handily love has an identical twin, which is kindness. If we copy and exhibit kindness, we will learn what love looks like.

And the third one, "Do this in remembrance of me" is about living eucharistically, which shows us the method of both spreading the Gospel and loving. I don't believe that, when Jesus said "Do this in remembrance of me", he meant "Replicate this ritual". That would be merely shallow. Surely he's talking about a way of life. 

In the eucharist, what we see is an icon of loving to the uttermost. The cup of wine is a representation of life-blood generously outpoured for the good of others. In the bread, we see the rhythm of living we are to adopt — gathering, gratitude, sharing.

The bread has in it the natural principle of propagation. The Didache includes the beautiful and quite wonderful insight: 
Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the Earth into your kingdom.
This is a profound and foundational principle of life, gathering and dispersal — the seed that falls into the ground and dies, from which comes the harvest that feeds the multitude. In the eucharist it's told as dis-membering and re-membering; the body that is broken and then re-forms. This is the body of Jesus that is crucified and rises again, and is the body of Christ in the church that persecution merely propagates, and — this is the bit that I'm specially thinking about today — is a eucharistic way of living whereby whatever we have (the goods that gather in our lives), we are to receive with gratitude for dividing and sharing so that all are included, all are fed, all find a place around the table. 

This isn't about ecclesiastical ritual at all, it's about how to organise families and neighbourhoods and nations — it's about sociological principle and politics. It's not about how to do liturgy, it's about how to live.

And the three things sit together — doing this to re-member Jesus, loving as he loved us, and making sure it pulses out into all the world until the whole of human society is characterised by kindness and shalom. 

To my mind, that's the Gospel.

On the matter of what is leaving my life today — a notepad and a t-shirt.

It was a nice t-shirt, but too big and I had too many. The notepad — oh, dear me, I am done with paper records. I way prefer keeping any notes electronically. The contents are easier to search for, and they don't take up physical space. Notebooks have been a source of irritation in that I want what they have in them to the extent that I'd rather not throw them away, but I don't actually read or re-visit it in real terms. This notebook is the last of several. The written-on pages went on the fire and the blank pages went to write shopping lists.

Friday, 25 June 2021

730 things — Day 106 of 365

 Do you remember this story, about the woman who anointed Jesus and  his disciples complained on grounds that the ointment was expensive and could have been sold to feed the poor? And Jesus said to leave her in peace, that "you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will you can do good to them, but you will not always have me."

He also told the rich young man (here), "Sell what you have and give to the poor . . . and come, follow me."

Then there's the time he stopped to talk with the Syro-Phoenician woman who begged him to heal her daughter, but he said he was sent for Jewish people and it wasn't right to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs — to which she replied, "Truth, Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table."

So I was thinking about all these things in respect of the things I own and how I use them, and how I spend my money — what I share and what I keep.

It seems to me that it takes quite a lot of careful thought to get this right.

There are times and relationships that are special and deserve to be recognised and honoured — like that it was right for the woman to lavish her fragrant ointment on Jesus. To translate that into my own life — I think it's right to give special help and support to my children, to buy a nice birthday present for my grandchildren, to sometimes have a meal or a coffee out with my husband. I think I was sent specially and particularly to them, in the same way as Jesus was sent specially and particularly to the Jewish people, and as the woman with the perfume wanted to particularly mark how she felt about Jesus as someone she specially honoured and revered. It's appropriate, and not wasteful.

There's a point where it does become wasteful, of course, and tips over into being inappropriate — for instant, even if I had the budget for it, I wouldn't be buying my husband diamond-studded platinum cuff-links for his birthday. The purpose of what I give my tribe is to show them they are loved, not to flaunt wealth (or encourage them to do so). I wholeheartedly believe spiritual people should live humbly and simply, all the time — but that there is a place for glorious birthdays with balloons and a big cake and flowers and all the family gathered.

And the part about the dogs eating the scraps that fall from the master's table is interesting because it gives a sense of what the balance should be, in respect of what to keep and what to give away. It has the idea that for the most part we'll be concentrating on feeding our families and looking after the ones for whom God has given us particular responsibility — but that it's necessary and important and right to also see to it that there is a portion set aside for the homeless person or the crow and the fox, or the people who depend on the work of charity just to get by.

And I think one should be generous about this. For instance, if you have a cashmere cardigan and the colour never really suited you, well, you could sell it on eBay for £40 or something — but how lovely for people who depend on Freegle, or on buying clothes from the charity shop, also to have a chance to own a cashmere cardigan.

And in any case, the plot thickens — does it not? — when we consider that Jesus may have said the poor are always with us but we won't always have him, but he also said that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for him.

As with everything else, these things don't improve with obsessing. It's meant, in aggregate, to teach us to create a society that travels in the direction of inclusion, personal relationships that travel in the direction of celebrating and valuing one another, and habits of generosity and simplicity. Love makes the world go round, but you can't make an exact science of it. It's not mathematical. Anyone who's counting has missed the point.

Well, today I am moving on two more books. 

These were useful and informative, but once I'd grasped the general gist of what they had to say I didn't feel the need to keep them, so they were donated to the second-hand bookshop down the hill.

Thursday, 24 June 2021

730 things — Day 105 of 365

I think Rachel identifies something important here.

I think our fantasy selves are not entirely separate from our real selves — they express aspiration, they're a way we explore and experiment with possibility.

The key is to identify what we're hanging on to that belongs only to fantasy, and is occupying physical space that gets in the way of our present real self. We may in due course grow into or move on to what was once only fantasy — but the realm of possibility is huge, so we might in fact evolve into something we haven't even thought of yet, and it's as well to leave space for what we might unexpectedly become.

So here, making space in my life, go two more items — a couple of books I've read that I enjoyed, but I wouldn't need to hold on to them.

They went to a second-hand bookshop just down the hill by the sea.

Wednesday, 23 June 2021

730 things — 104 of 365

 I'm so grateful to have time and space to reflect and consider. I recognise that (whether by accident of circumstance or consequence of choices) not everyone has this luxury. And in the time and space I find things emerge and become clear.

Something that stepped forth in this way for me, as I was turning things over in my mind yesterday, is my relationship with made objects as a means of creating a sense of order and peace.

Something we have at home that I really appreciate and enjoy is bone china — porcelain. To make a pot of tea and set it on a linen cloth on a wooden tray, let it steep, pour it out into china cups, gives me a sense of peaceful orderliness. 

I know it's only things. I know peace has to be inside you. I know order is found in habit and patience and perseverance, not in cups and saucers. 

But this — like the Japanese tea ceremony — is in its own way the creation of an altar to the quietness of domestic harmony; order and peace. 

When I was eighteen, living with monks in Devon, I sat in their small whitewashed chapel — simply furnished and full of sunlight — and read their leaflet about their common life, their Rule, which included the requirement that "the priory should reflect the peace and order of heaven". 

And to me, that's the thing. By laundering my clothes and folding them and putting them away on the shelves; by washing the cups and drying them and returning them to their designated hooks; by sweeping the dust from the floor; and by making a pot of tea and setting it on a tray with cups and saucers, I am building my altar to pray for peace and order in the world. This isn't casual or accidental; it becomes a yoga of reverence because it is intentional, purposeful. Against the floodwaters of chaos and disappointment I set this bulwark: tea in a bone china cup. 

Leaving my life today, some more frank garbage: a packet with screws etc for attaching a self-build bookshelf (that I no longer have) to the wall, for safety; a sign I made to put out each week with the veggie scheme box for collection — but I am not in that scheme this year; and a special reel with a cutter to keep garden wire in — but I found it unhelpful and unnecessary. I just keep the coil of wire as it is, and cut it as needed with the kitchen scissors.

And a very nice pair of cashmere gloves — these were among the things bought for my mother's funeral, all now thankfully gone.

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

730 things — Day 103 of 365

 Today I was thinking about church, and what it is for, and the vision we hold as faith community in a society that seems increasingly to be in turmoil, gripped by discontent in the steadily increasing masses in poverty and marginalisation, and greed in the decreasing wealthy élite. Someone described capitalism as essentially a massive Ponzi scheme and so it is. Unfortunately the hinterland of resource upon which the centre seeks to draw is steadily expanding — both ecologically and politically, that is both in terms of the Earth's resources and in terms of humanity seen as mere resource. 

As human concern focuses on the spectre of destruction and conflict that sits over our age, religion is drawn in to the antagonisms, and becomes about preserving territory and tradition.

Where I live, the church denomination I belonged to reminds me of a day centre for old people, small congregations clinging with determination to large buildings they cannot maintain without pulling in financial resources from the community, taking what they can while they can, holding on to the last in an effort to keep everything as it used to be.

Thinking about this, I asked myself about the life of Jesus, and his vision and approach — and it occurred to me that even the youngest of my five children is now older than Jesus was when we crucified him. 

Jesus said he came not to bring peace on Earth but a sword — and I thought about what that might mean. I'm not sure about this, but I don't think he meant he came in any sense to wield a sword. Remember how he said those who live by the sword will die by the sword, and how when he was arrested and Peter drew a sword and cut off the ear of the man in the arresting party, Jesus told him to put up his sword, and healed the man. 

But his arrival on Earth did bring conflict and antagonism. From the outset — starting with Herod — people were out to get him, and bring him down, motivated by jealousy because their power bases were the political or religious constructs, houses of cards really, where Jesus brought something undeniably authentic and spiritual in nature; and irresistible power. They couldn't subvert or conquer the power so they tried to snuff out the man.

Therefore in effect, what he did was to absorb into himself the violence his coming aroused. He brought not peace on Earth but a sword — but he didn't use that sword against others; he either avoided its thrust (as in walking away from the mob convened to stone him, or taking to the road as a refugee under Joseph's protection in childhood), or allowed it to pierce and hurt him, in his broken body nailed to the cross. He took it and transmuted it by forgiveness into the spreading radiance of healing and peace that characterises his realm.

So in thinking about how in this current time to keep faith with Jesus, I think there must be something about learning the alchemy of transformation that he showed us to do. It's the way of the wounded healer — the Messiah who must suffer and die — that Mark's gospel sets out to teach. The metamorphosis of our perception of power as the one who sits at the top of the heap and gives orders, to the Taoist vision of the sea that is king of a hundred stream because it sits below them: "Behold, I am among you as one who serves."

Surely part of our discipleship in learning this Quiet Way is the art of relinquishment — learning to let go, not to grab and clutch; to believe in the flow of grace and blessing that is the fountainhead of life, and open our hands in the stream. You cannot hold the power of God, you have to just let it flow through. 

This was the mistake Peter made on the Mount of Transfiguration — "Should we build three little shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah?" Jesus didn't even dignify the stupid question with a reply, but still a couple of thousand years on we see the faith community hell-bent on the same project. Three little shelters. Can that house the power of God?

Meanwhile at home, I continue astounded by the detritus I accumulate. I thought 730 things seemed rather ambitious as a throwing out exercise, but the stuff does keep on being there to unearth. Recently I bought some new clothes, so things that were in the discard pile had to be re-allocated as things to swap out rather than accounted as reducing my stash of belongings. And I wondered if I might not actually manage to discard 730 things. But they do just keep showing up. 

Like this.

A cheap dental kit I bought at some point in the last few years. The pointy things are useless because they are as sharp as needles and serve only to inflict gum injury – and the mirror is unnecessary (to me).

And a presentation box in which I was given some earrings as a gift long ago. 

I don't know if I still have those particular earrings because I can't remember which pair it was, but I kept the box — the same old refrain: "It might come in handy." It didn't.

Monday, 21 June 2021

730 things — Day 102

The summer solstice! Always feels like a special day. Happy solstice to you, if you are a person who likes to notice the seasons of the light (or even if you're not). Blessed be.

I feel things changing. Today the sun hangs poised in its journey, but after this, even though it's still summer, we will begin the long journey down into the dark; the autumn will come with the fruit and the trees in all their colours, and then the long nights and the frosty stars.

In my own life things are changing. I am tired and don't walk so well, and I find it hard to think with a mask on. My hair is grey and I wear glasses and the sort of clothes all elderly ladies wear — it intrigues me how differently people in the street and in shops treat me nowadays. I'm impressed by them — they speak up loud and look at me with kindness in their faces. Either that or they don't notice me at all and treat me as if I didn't exist. I get cold, and also tetchy, and I walk slowly; I am very fond of cardigans. I think to myself, I have seen this, I have observed it so many times, and now here it is arriving in my own body. Old age, like a person moving in to the Earth House of my being.

Yesterday was the last time for our lockdown online church to meet, now the flesh and blood congregations are re-convening in their bricks and mortar buildings. It was the right time for it to end, but it felt strange to be leading worship for the last time. I no longer belong to any church at all, and that feels strange to me.

Well, so many things are changing, for all of us, aren't they?

Today's things to go are gathered together in one of the craft kits I make for Freegle when I have odds and ends to dispose of. A knitting or crochet kit, with odds and ends of yarn in a bag.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

730 things — Day 101

It's advisable for everyone to live simply. It allows us to be generous to others, it reduces what we require in order to be comfortable and content, it's a way of making our homes bigger so we don't feel cramped and can invite relatives or friends or people in need to share on a temporary or permanent basis. It takes a lot of the effort out of house maintenance, and makes frugality easier so our money goes further and anxiety is reduced. There's everything to be said for living simply. 

But simplicity has a range of categories to suit different people. 

There's just simplicity in the old-fashioned sense, like our family's grandfathers used to practice — they didn't go shopping much, they made their clothes last a long time and their furniture a lifetime. They didn't go in for gadgets. They drove (and liked) cars but bought them second-hand and maintained them carefully. They bought cheap food and lived in modest homes and tended their gardens, repaired and painted and looked after things. That sort of simplicity is the most straightforward and easiest to stick to. It isn't flamboyant, it's just humble and quiet and normal. Living simply in a world constantly tempted to excess.

Then there's minimalism — various degrees of taking simplicity a shade deeper. It usually means limiting one's wardrobe and frequently reviewing possessions; not letting anything accumulate. Minimalism may possibly be more consumerist than the old-fashioned simplicity just because the minimalist doesn't hang on to things — so if you got rid of your suitcase because you never travel any more, and then you get an invitation to accompany someone on a river cruise and you say "Yes, please!" without a second thought, you'll probably (though not certainly, depends how capsule is your wardrobe) need to get another suitcase. 

Because in our house I have a very small room so we can all fit in okay — it makes the household work, and anyway I love my room, but I try hard not to let my belongings overflow it — I need to be more of a minimalist than an old-fashioned simplicity type. 

In a shared house it's important to take responsibility for what we own. For instance, recently when Tony was without a car for a spell then replaced it, it became apparent we had some chamois leathers that the rest of us all thought were his but he had just inherited from some forgotten past event (perhaps when I sold my car?) and he didn't use or want them. It took a while to sort out because he knew they weren't his, so assumed they just belonged to the house — but I personally consider that a dangerous category. We do have things (cooking and cleaning equipment and furniture) that we all use, but everything belongs to someone which is important for ensuring that things no one uses don't slowly stack up — like the chamois leathers but a multitude. So I know what's mine and I keep it in my room apart from the things people like to share. The two clothes airers we have were both bought by me, and if ever we stop needing them it's my responsibility to move them on — but I wouldn't do so without checking first, because at the moment everyone uses them.

So practicing minimalism is what I do, but it's a lot less frugal than old-fashioned simplicity, because to fit my stuff in the boundaries of my room means I change what I have quite a bit because I get bored of it. I don't aim to buy nothing, just to keep only a little.

Then there's the upper echelons of simplicity — extreme minimalism, one-bag minimalism and voluntary poverty (like monastics). I think there's just a smidgin of danger in this path, in that it can feed into neurosis, and it's wise to understand that and be careful where signs of obsession appear. But that said, I do admire those extreme forms of simplicity. It's what Jesus did, and St Francis and the Buddha, and Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, and I learn a phenomenal amount from people who walk in these paths, but I personally am more materialistic than that.

I read, and watch television and videos on YouTube, and I think a lot, but neither my health nor my finances are robust enough for me to travel or do much in the way of experiences, so I'm pretty much based at or near home. There are even churches I can't go to because the seats hurt me, and I can't walk very far any more. I even have to limit how much I eat out because what I eat affects how well I stay. So I do enjoy swapping my possessions in and out shopping online (eBay mostly), because it's fun and interesting. Honestly? It's something to do. Keeps me cheerful.

What I hope you can draw from this is not so much information about me, as that though simplicity is a good idea for everyone, what it looks like in your life will be determined by your circumstances and personality. If you are a healthy, young, single accountant, you could be a one-bag minimalist living in hotels anywhere in the world, your professional activities all digitised. If you are the mother of three young children all taught at home, you will have quite a lot of stuff to curate in your family life, and your practice of simplicity will feature keeping careful household accounts, buying secondhand, and making heroic efforts to persuade everyone to keep the stuff mountain low.

It's not something you ever come to the end of, because your circumstances and your actual self change as the years roll by. You can learn and practice the principles of simplicity, but the point is that simplicity is flexible — it makes adaptation easier as the unknown and unexpected arrives in your life. 

There are, I think, only three constants:

  • It should work for you as a person. It doesn't matter what anyone else is doing. Comparison isn't very helpful. It should be an expression of the essence of who you are.
  • It should be part of your loving — allow your money and space and belongings to help other people. If you need loads of space to accommodate loads of stuff that you don't use and won't share, that's not kind.
  • It should be an expression of your reverence. God made this beautiful Earth and meant for us to honour it and love it and keep it beautiful. How we live should be responsible, sustainable and socially just — not living beyond the regenerative capacity of nature or dependent on sweatshops, injustice and slavery.

If those three principles can be seen in the way you practice simplicity, then in my opinion you're doing it right.

So here are two things leaving my life today.

An imploded water harmoniser.

I wear one every day, and have some earrings made of harmonisers too, but I had this extra one, so I gave it to a friend.

And a pair of leggings.

I find leggings very useful — the soft, underwear-ish sort, not the very tight trousers kind — but now I no longer wear skirts I really need them only for pyjamas or extra warmth under trousers in winter. So I've kept a couple of pairs and gradually let the others go — either to a charity shop or on Freegle.

Saturday, 19 June 2021

730 things — Days 99 & 100

 Yesterday was such a full day!

It was Friday, when the Abel & Cole van brings our food shopping — all the organic things it can be hard to source in the regular shops; and the vegetables are mostly without packaging except the main boxes and wool protective packing, so we rather treasure Abel & Cole.

But their delivery time is very early in the morning, so on Fridays I have to set my alarm for 5.00am, and go downstairs to open the front door (I lock the inner one in case I go back to sleep afterwards) and put last week's packaging in the porch for them to collect and re-use. I usually hear their van in the road well before six o'clock.

After that I wrote and recorded the ministry of the word for our last meeting of The Campfire Church on Facebook this Sunday. We began it at the end of March 2020, when the UK went into lockdown. We thought it would be for six weeks or so until everything returned to normal. Here we are, finally, coming up to the summer solstice of 2021, and the churches slowly opening again. The Campfire church has done a good job in that time, but I believe in local expressions of church for the most part; most (not all) people best flourish in a faith family where they can physically sit with one another. 

Then later in the morning I went on the bus into Hastings, to buy some fruit and flowers for my friend — we were actually visiting in her home after all this time of isolation! The first people apart from my immediate family I've seen socially in a year and a half!

In the afternoon, a taxi took us to Fairlight, and it was lovely to see our friends again — and Molly the dog with her loving eyes, and their new cat Sparkle.  

They live in a little country lane, very hard to find if you haven't been there before, so when the taxi came to take us home we waited at the corner so he didn't get lost. It's been very stormy the last few days, so we stood under a tree — though it wasn't raining much.

As soon as we got home, Tony bought a car! He's been experimenting with living without one — there are benefits either way — but has decided after a time of trial (in every respect) that he's a car man to the core — I mean, he watches every episode of Wheeler Dealers, and cars have been a joy for him his whole life. So at six o'clock a man came with a bright blue Citröen that won Tony's heart (and didn't cost too much), so it's outside our house in the road and he has wheels again.

As dusk began to fall, I was so tired. I just sat like a languid heroine from a 19th century novel on my bed, reflecting sadly that I never wrote a blog post, and drifted off to sleep.

So, here I am with two days' worth of items to dispose of from my life.

The first is a collection of veggie bags.

We went overboard with accumulating these when they first appeared — a welcome alternative to disposable plastic packaging. Some we still use, but these were surplus. They went on Freegle.

And then a pair of tights — well used, went in the bin — and a fold-up shopper. 

The bag was a very good one, better really than the one I've kept, but I was fond of my old one (it has little daisies on it) and this that I gave away was one of a pack of three I got for my mother's funeral, so we'd have unobtrusive bags to carry our hand sanitiser and masks and hankies and speaking notes and gloves . . . But I didn't want to keep one single thing to remind me of that day, so I kept my old one and sent this one on its way.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

730 things — Day 98 of 365

 Today I wanted to buy a dress.

These are the ones I specially liked.

Two on eBay

And one on Toast. 

Toast website, that is — not like jam on toast.

I've been writing this blog a long time — since 2009 — and if you are one of the people who has travelled along with me, you may be thinking, "Uh-oh. Here we go."

Because I have bought so many dresses like this. Bought them, and bought the underwear they require to allow me to drive them, bought the shoes that look right with them, bought the tights that cover my fairly shot legs sticking out from under them, bought the cardigans to go with them for the many days when they aren't warm enough — and got rid of it all; not once, several times over, plus plus.

I have an inner impetuous child — I looked back for the old posts where I wrote about her, can't find them, must have deleted them — whom I designated "Ember", and a mature and sensible self who speaks inside me with the voice of "Mrs Collins". 

It was Ember who wanted the dress — I could tell. And I mean, seriously, I have had so many. Mrs Collins — dignified and sensible though she is — almost went into meltdown, tearing her hair and wringing her hands. In the end, Mrs Collins resorted to silently petitioning God: "Please. Don't let her do this. Don't let her go round the loop again. Please God, no."

It worked. Ember started to laugh. Mrs Collins sat down trembling with relief, promising Ember to take her into Hastings for a cup of coffee and anything she wanted to eat at all. Anything. Just don't buy a dress.

These rip tides are strong in a consumer society. I almost bought a dress.

What can I chuck out today?

Well, look, how about some simple junk?

Why have I got this stuff? Because I thought it would be useful one day — a lid to put buttons or pills in to stop them rolling off the bedside thingy, some green wire to tie up cables, some of these ribbons they irritatingly stitch into cardigans to stop them falling off the hanger (and I cut them out), some chopped-up hankies from making clothes for trolls, a puncture patch in a plastic bag, some metal things (I have no idea), a teeny tiny glass jar that might be just the thing.

Like having my own dear little miniature landfill site, innit?

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

730 things — Day 97 of 365

 I've been thinking today about a poem that periodically does the rounds on the pages of my Facebook friends. This one.

There's a similar one that I knew and loved and had pinned up on the wall when my children were small. This one.

Ten years ago, when Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh turned 90, he gave an interview with Alan Titchmarsh for television. I happened to be staying in a Travelodge in York when it aired, and spent a happy evening sitting on my hotel bed watching the programme. The Duke of Edinburgh was much as always — I liked him — but one thing he said in particular stayed with me.

Titchmarsh asked him about his relationship with his son Prince Charles, probing him on the subject of reported/rumoured tensions between them.

And Prince Philip said that the human race can be divided into two kinds of people — pragmatists and romantics — and his own approach to life was essentially pragmatic while Prince Charles's was essentially that of a romantic — nothing wrong with either, but very different. I loved this observation; I think he was right.

Now, the thing about both the above poems is that they are written from the romantic perspective — and are none the worse for that. 

But I, as a 100% pragmatist with not a romantic bone in my body, want to pick them apart and add a caveat or two.

To get one thing out of the way — "Babies grow up as I've learned to my sorrow." Hmm. There are families who include babies who never grow up — family members who, for reason of temperament or infirmity, will need protection and support their whole life long. This is not a matter for rejoicing. Don't be sorry to see your children grow up and become independent and spread their wings and fly; that's what they're supposed to do. My mother, who trained in Montessori teaching methods, took as the primary Maria Montessori maxim for her own parenting: "The best gift you can give your children is independence." Amen to that. 

But then, what about all this rumination on the topic of "dusting" — ie keeping your home clean. Well, here's the thing; in my opinion it is essential. If you do not clean your home it will develop bacteria, moulds and infestations which will undermine your health and your children's. You will run the risk of asthma and infection. It is vital to clean your home if you want to avoid chronic illness for yourself and your children.

Our skin, like our gut, has a microbiome; we live in a world where bacteria and fungi in balance are essential to health. So we don't need to bleach every surface and scrub our kids until their skin is raw. A bit of dirt is okay — helpful, even. And I think that's what the poems mean; be relaxed. The child who plays in the garden will be more well than the child who plays only on the computer.

But both those verses were written in the days before the global marketplace and mass production flooded our lives with junk. They were written with the assumption that you would actually be able to see the floor and counter-tops in your home. They were not written for the days when every room would be piled high with dropped and discarded toys and clothes and used packaging and gadgets, with a tilth of crumbs and fluff and dust fringing and creeping from the bottom of it.

Those poems were to give the neurotically clean housewife permission to relax. They don't mean, "Let your house get filthy and cluttered; it doesn't matter."

The way to tread the middle path is what we nowadays call minimalism or simplicity, but was in the 1950s and 60s the norm. Each child had a bed to sleep in (ideally) and collection of toys that could easily go away in a box. Each person had an outfit to wear, one in the wash and one in the wardrobe ready. There was crockery and cutlery enough to have one for each person and a couple of spares for guests. On the mantel shelf there would be a few treasured ornaments — mementoes from special holidays etc. There'd be a fireside rug, important utensils like basic gardening equipment, a broom and bucket with rags, a saucepan and frying pan and roasting dish, a grill pan and fish slice, a wooden spoon and a vegetable knife — that kind of thing. A table and chairs for dining and homework and sewing. Just the basic necessities to allow the normal activities of everyday life to be carried out.

After meals, the used pots and pans and crockery would be washed up by the people who had used them, and put away ready for next time. In the morning, the bed would be shaken tidy (much easier now we have duvets not sheets and blankets) to leave the room neat for night time. Clothes would be worn a few times, washed, line dried, folded and put away. Ironing? Up to you. I don't.

With all this in place, the poems make sense. But in order to make sense, there is what my friend Pat used to call a "lurking but". Yes, ignore the housecleaning to rock the baby. Yes, leave the housecleaning in favour of writing a novel or painting a masterpiece or piecing a quilt. But, bear in mind that choice is made practical by owning only a few things. Keeping clutter at bay is the key to making it possible. You can afford to be romantic if you've been pragmatic first. 

Maintaining the level of simplicity that sets you free to write novels and paint pictures and chill out together is achieved by unremitting low-key vigilance. First you have to chuck out twice as much as you bring home; then when you've reached a happy balance of clarity and peace, easily maintained, you just chuck out one thing for every thing you bring home. It saves a lot of money too — if you have to ditch a sweater for every new one you purchase, and you like the sweaters you already have, you're less inclined to buy another. 

This in turn makes life less anxious and more chilled out. I remember a Carmelite nun telling me their community had a constant battle to maintain holy poverty because they lived so simply they kept inadvertently accumulating wealth. That's a problem most of us would be happy to live with, no?

So the two things I'm sending on their way today are a very nice sweater and a really pretty silk scarf. 

I liked them both. I just had too many things. There were others I preferred, and I kept those. It's nice to like everything you own, but you don't have to own everything you like.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

730 things — Day 96 of 365

 We moved to the house where we now live at the end of 2009. 

It doesn't have an enormous garden, and at the front there is just a little patch of garden — even so, we knew we wanted to plant trees, as many as we could fit in, for the birds and bees, for fruit for us to eat, for the future of the Earth because trees are the guardians of hope and health — and just because we love trees.

The summer my husband Bernard died, I was living with him in his cottage on the edge of Flatropers Wood at Beckley. It was a very hot summer, the sun blazing down; but in that lane on the edge of woodland, and with a great oak tree in the garden, the air always held moisture and a breath of coolness. When I went into the town in Rye or Hastings, the heat bounced off all the hard surfaces of buildings and metalled roads unbearably.

I specially wanted a greengage tree here, and we put one in the front garden, just within the wall beside the pavement (US = sidewalk).

My room now is at the front of the house. When I sit on my bed and look out of the window, this is what I see.

It's worth planting a tree.

I hope the trees will be cherished and protected in our garden for ever and ever, but the house could do with shaking a few manufactured objects loose from its hair.

Today, leaving my life are a camping mattress and a stainless steel thermal water bottle.

I've had various modes of sleeping in the years we've been living here — on the floor, in beds, in the attic, in the hut Komorebi — and acquired a variety of related items. Most have been released into the wild, of which this excellent and blissfully comfy camping mattress is the last to go (apart from the sleeping platform and futon I actually sleep on these days).

The water bottle — my sense of caution and desire to be prepared has a very deep tap root indeed. Why did I buy two water bottles when I only need one?

I have no idea. Away goes the spare.

Monday, 14 June 2021

730 things — Day 95 of 365

What a lovely woman and what a brilliant video!

Love it!

My mother loved things, loved her home, loved ornaments and ashtrays and occasional tables and vases of flowers, and further vases of fake flowers that hung around in bags and bunches, circulated in and out of display. When I was a child, every day she went through the house and made the beds, vacuumed the floors, dusted the surfaces, cleaned the bathrooms.

Every mealtime one of us children would be detailed off to lay the table — with placemats, damask napkins in silver rings, water glasses, silver cutlery, a jug of water . . . After each meal, two people had to clean up the crockery etc, one to wash and the other to dry.

Everything was orderly. This was the 1950s and 1960s so we didn't have much stuff anyway. My toys were kept under my bed in two halves of a box (the lid and the base) the size you buy a pair or boots in. And I had a small children's chair on which sat my two rag dolls, my stuffed fox and my koala. End.

We grow up and things change. I (almost) never eat at a table. Just now I went downstairs to get something to eat because it's time for my evening meal. I got a tin of fish, but the seagull was watching through the window and I didn't want to make him jealous. So I took it and got a teaspoon and ate it at the kitchen counter, straight out of the tin, with my back to him.

Then I got a piece of cheesecake — I bought it in a rash and mad act of defiance even though I know damn well it'll start my veins screaming. I say that's why God gave us paracetamol. I put the last of the raspberries on it because they're on the edge of going mouldy, tipped some cream over it and ate that. Then I wished I had a cup of tea but couldn't be bothered to make it and wandered back upstairs. 

Later I'll augment this fare with a kale shake. I've eaten all the actual chopped kale, but I still have some kale sprouts — meant to be very good for you, I expect they'll do. I have a bit of coconut and rice milk but not much, and some rather unsatisfactory frozen summer berries (too many seeds, they get in my teeth). I can put in a dollop of roasted almond butter, and there's a tiny end of ginger knocking about in the fridge — that can go in. I'll add some of the strawberry coconut yogurt — very low carb, marvellously good for you — and I have a tin of coconut milk, I can use some of that and freeze the rest in an ice cube tray for later. All that and a slice of lemon, whizz it up in the machine; done! What more could you want? Don't answer that.

I do have a linen napkin as it happens. I use it as a heatproof mat. I have no silver cutlery; just stainless steel, with knives from junk shops and forks in a nice scoopy shape a bit like a spork which makes it easier to eat stews and curries. We have glasses, but often as not I drink water straight out of my stainless steel thermal water bottle. Why not?

And as for minimalism, I do it because I hate housework and I like peace. I dust when I think about it, usually with my hanky, and I clean the floor when I notice the rollags of fluff or the splots of dropped soup.

Also, giving things away is fun. It's pretty much like buying things. You get to choose and select, and pack them up, and they'll make someone happy somewhere.

Leaving my house today is a bottle of Four Thieves Oil. 

You know about this stuff? It's said that at some point centuries ago during one of various plagues, some men were arrested for robbing the dead. Their lives were spared in exchange for their aromatic oil recipe that let them steal from corpses without falling ill. That's why it's called Thieves Oil and it smells glorious and is supposed to protect you from plagues. As you'll have noticed, we've been having one — so I got in extra Thieves Oil. More than I meant to, I had a ludicrous amount, so I gave a bottle away.

The other thing to go was a rucksack — one of those handy lightweight ones that folds up marvellously into its own pocket.

Why get rid of this if it's so useful? Well, I was seduced by its obvious handiness into failing to notice that I always get in a muddle with rucksacks. All those flailing straps and zips like an octopus trying to get away, and trying to get the zip undone and the groceries in before the automated voice on the self-checkout starts shouting at me to take my goods. Honestly? I find a tote bag easier. What's more, I travel on the bus, and then I have to choose between having a rucksack of groceries on my back which means I can't sit properly in the seat, or I have to take it off — which in turn means, when it's time for the bus to stop, managing struggling the rucksack back on while standing up in a crowded moving vehicle and hanging onto the poles so I don't fall over so I'm at the door when the bus stops so the driver doesn't pull away before I've got off. What can you do about the driver and the bus? Nothing. What can you do about the rucksack? Get rid of it. Ha! Gone.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

730 things — Day 94 of 365

There's an oft-quoted minimalist saying, "If you need to buy more stuff to organise your stuff, maybe you have too much stuff." 

Good point.

However, everyone (surely even a one-bag minimalist) uses a certain number of made objects in the course of the average day; and, since most of us lead a settled rather than nomadic lifestyle, we need somewhere to put it in sensible categories and locations. Enter the storage unit.

In my own room, I have three types of unwieldy things to store — clothes/bedding, toys for story-telling, and pills. The toys have a shelf-and-a-bit to sit on. The clothes and bedding are herded up into packing cubes. The pills I had stashed in an assortment of plastic boxes, but they were crammed in and jumbled together, which put me off taking them. I recently got some boxes from the Really Useful range which store the pills neatly and effectively, allows me to get at them and see what they are, which results in my actually taking them more regularly — which is a good thing because they are improving my health.

I don't take such a mind-boggling number of supplements as you might imagine looking at that photo — they're cheaper in larger quantities, so the ones I take a lot need several little boxes to absorb one bag/bottle.

My clothes and bed linen are all packed into packing cubes (Amazon Basics, or Bago).

A drawback to that is all the packing cubes look the same, so you have to remember which things are in which bag, to save hunting through all of them every time I want a clean t-shirt.

I have my bedlinen (because I don't need to access it quickly or randomly) at the bottom of the stack on the bottom shelf. Stacked on and with it are my coats, the warmest and largest underneath the lightweight ones that double as cardigans.

On the upper shelf, trousers and sweaters are underneath, nightclothes, underwear and tees along the top.

My stationery and documents and sewing things are in the plastic drawers.

I always put things back in the same place, so habit takes me to look where something will indeed be.

I do not love the box (re-used food packaging) my wash things are in. Ideally I'd like a white plastic caddy, but I haven't yet found one of the perfect dimensions. I know exactly what I want, I just haven't come across it. In the meantime, what I have serves perfectly well; there's no point in buying something that's still not ideal.

In the days when I wore skirts, I used to hang things up in outfits. I find my present system makes better use of the storage space in my room. Everything fits in nicely and I can see what I have.

I bought the packing cubes and pill storage and stationery drawers, but it isn't the case that I have too much stuff because I bought storage to categorise and keep my things — it just keeps the space I need to a minimum by storing everything effectively. 

Storing things rationally also allows me to see what I have easily, which then makes me more inclined to monitor/review what I keep, and thus avoid accumulation and unintended duplicate/repeated purchases. And it keeps everything clean, and easy to move if necessary.

How do you store your belongings?

Today, I am moving on some storage I did not keep (Freegled it); two sets of hanging shelves. 

In the days when I wore skirts, so had everything hanging on the rail, it was handy to have some hanging shelves alongside for shoes and sweaters etc. What I do now maximises the space better, though.