This time of year, as the wheel turns once again, always finds me reflecting on where I have come from and where I am going.
A long time ago on a blog far far away, I wrote a few posts about a seemingly unresolvable conflict between my desire to be burdened by less stuff; and my desire to be burdened with a smallholding, or at least a self-reliant, ecofriendly lifestyle.
This was before the Konmari craze, before minimalism was all the rage, before even the tiny house movement had really taken off. It was also long before I had quit making excuses for why I had no bedroom for most of my childhood and fully acknowledged that I was the child of a hoarder and had some issues with 'stuff' and 'home' stemming from that. I just had a niggling feeling that consumerism was gross; and I wanted out.
There are several simple living 'tribes'. There's the urban, all-white sparse apartment minimalist. There are the ones living out of one backpack with a laptop for company, passport in pocket. There are the tiny house dwellers, and the minimalists for whom the simple life is an aesthetic or a number. They are all united by a desire to simplify their lives by streamlining their material possessions, their responsibilities and their interactions with the world - and they often outsource a lot. And then there are the radical homemakers, the frugal folk, the smallholders, the back-to-the-land and the prepper types. They aren't so big on outsourcing, instead bringing the essentials of existence in-house.
I've always belonged to the simple living community - 'live simply, so that others may simply live' gave me chills the first time I heard it, and it became one of my guiding mottos ever since. But I didn't really feel like my life was simple. My life was still overflowing with stuff and responsibilities - and I was looking to add more. The examples out there in blogland were that you needed a lot of 'stuff' to live a self-reliant, green lifestyle. Thrifted, handmade or not - it's still stuff. And there I was, trying to make sense of it all, surrounded by half-finished knitting projects and half-read gardening books.
Fast forward 6 years and we've let go of around two thirds of our stuff - I've whittled my personal possessions down to around a tenth. Whilst outwardly it appeared to be a question of 'stuff' it was actually a question of values; and with each round of decluttering, if became easier to see what was important. I was able to let go of all of my
disparate ideal selves - the bookish smart-arse, the textile artist,
the organised super-mum, the gourmet cook and free up all of the space they were taking up in my
house and in my head. All that remained was the essential.
When the time comes, hopefully, my simple life will involve spending a
lot of time in my much bigger garden tending as many plants as I can.
It will involve shelves of full kilner jars, bags full of oca, garlic braids and ristras
put up for winter - I value homegrown food, beautiful gardens, healthy soil and getting my hands muddy. The house will be small, minimally furnished and easy to look after - I don't prize good housekeeping as a value in itself, domestic goddess I am not. The waste stream will be minimal, the outflow of
produce and solar power and seedlings maximal - because I value the earth and living lightly on her. There will be DIY and preparedness and the security that comes only from having
an established herb spiral - because I do value self reliance and security. There will be opportunities to pay it forward too - because I value service.
Right now, that isn't my life. Instead I need to balance keeping my eye on the prize whilst living those values in the here and now.
And so my simple living currently has the five of us living in a rented two bedroom terrace house - partly for budgeting reasons (gotta save that deposit somehow), and partly because whilst a better layout and more partition walls would be nice, more square footage wouldn't be. I clean enough already. My simple living doesn't allow me to add more square footage, more outgoings, more trinkets to collect dust.
My simple living allows me to accommodate my husband, who whilst nicely decluttered, is
not a minimalist. It allows me to coexist with my kids, who love their Lego's and random plastic crap;
and it implores me to try and help them develop a healthy relationship
with their stuff. It doesn't allow me to assuage my parenting guilt by buying them more stuff or packing their schedules full.
My simple living allows me to keep a bag of outgrown kids clothes until they fit the next one; to keep a full pantry (of stuff that we will actually eat) and to make small batches of jam or wine. It allows me to have mismatched furniture and brightly coloured, simple decor. It allows me to keep a handful of crochet hooks and a ball of cotton on hand for when the mood strikes. It doesn't allow me to pursue every craft at once, keep a yarn stash, have multiple projects on the go, or keep many of the potentially useful things that come my way 'just in case'.
My simple living allows for a single large
drawer of well chosen clothes and a small bag of toiletries. It also allows me a disproportionate number of dangly earrings, because they make my heart soar for reasons I can't quite explain. It doesn't allow me to follow fashion or to curate perfect capsule wardrobes built on exploited labour; or to build my identity around looking a certain way.
My simple living requires that I sit and wait for the things I 'need' to replace to show up in charity shops and on eBay, because I value thrift and because I know that there is very little I truly need to get by.
I still have a long way to go; but I'm OK with that, because the route is now slow and scenic. And if I never make it? I still will have lived a good enough life, living my values.
I hope you have a very happy solstice. Here's to the return of the sun.