Category Archives: Simplicity

Spending time making a living

Wildflowers in a field

Writing my morning pages today, my thoughts were spinning on the familiar hamster wheel of keeping afloat financially.

I found myself writing the phrase “making a living” as I jotted down thoughts on how to do so. But then the peculiarity of the phrase struck me. Do we really “make a living”? What does it mean? Because the phrase is generally used in a financial sense, it seems to mean “making money”. Is having money the same as living? No.

And then I also found myself writing about how I spend my time. Again a financial reference. We “spend” money and we seem used to the idea that we also “spend” time.

These words seem very utilitarian, and if we are to live joyful lives, they can’t be utilitarian ones. This seems to be pointing me towards a shift in my thinking, towards joy, or to quote Joseph Campbell, to “following our bliss”.

I’m aware that people living in abject poverty no doubt feel both ground down and seriously pissed off when they hear about philosophies such as voluntary simplicity or if they happen to come across this Gospel verse:

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. (Matthew 6 28:29)

But for those of us living lives of relative privilege, don’t we have a duty to think outside the constraints of “making and spending” and turn towards joy in our lives? Make our lives in the truly creative sense of the word?

I believe that in our journeying through the last part of our years on this beautiful planet, living creative lives grounded in simplicity is the way to joy. What about you?

Is yours an Earth Pathway?

Each year, I get a copy of the most beautiful diary you can possibly imagine. Called Earth Pathways, it is chock-full of poetry and other magical words, art work and festivity. Each day has the phases of the moon and sunrise and sunset times, and the festivals which mark the turning wheel of the year. (Northern hemisphere.)

A little while ago, Annie at Earth Pathways contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in writing about them here, and of course I jumped at the chance. We decided to publish in the form of an interview.

And I have two copies of the 2014 diary to give away! For the chance to win one, just leave a comment on this post telling us why you’d like a copy. I’ll put all the names in a hat and will draw out two winners next Monday, 11th November.

Here’s the Earth Pathways interview – such richness:

1. Describe the Earth Pathways diary in six adjectives!

  • EP Inner Cover-page-001 Inspirational
  • Informative
  • Visionary
  • Sumptuous
  • Celebratory
  • Love-full (a newly created adjective!)

2. What are the driving ideas and themes?

Our strapline is ‘Inspiring our connection to the land’ and the diary is very much about our deep love and passion for these isles and our collective vision for a future that is sustainable, fair and that benefits all. It was hugely important to us to celebrate the work of UK writers and artists who shared our vision and we’re still amazed by the most wonderful and inspirational contributions we receive every year.

We wanted the diary to be a networking resource that would inspire all those living with awareness and care for our beautiful Earth. And we also wanted to encourage people to get out there and connect with the land, to really tune in to these special times, create their own rituals and love song to the Earth.

EP Out of the earth-page-001Because connecting deeply to the land is at the heart of all we do, we decided that we would use the cycle of the seasons and the Celtic Wheel of the Year as the structure and context to place all of the diary’s artwork and writing. We also include Moon phases and signs, sunrise and sunset times, moonrise and moonset times and some astrological information for the UK.

As a co-operative, we see community and community-building as essential to making the changes so important to the future of our Earth, which is OUR future, the future of our children and of generations to come. So you will also find in the diary information and inspiration from community-led initiatives such as the Transition Town movement, Permaculture and other eco pioneers.

We use some of the profits from the diary to help projects that benefit the Earth through local community initiatives. Since 2011 we have given funding to educational courses focussing on Nature, biodiversity and wildlife, funded a bursary placement for a herbalism course and made grants to various community gardens and allotments. Most recently we have made awards to an animal rescue centre, a community garden’s bee project, Wool against Weapons, a forest garden and a Sacred Grove project.

3. The diary is full to bursting with beautiful words and images – where do you find your contributors?

EP Soil-page-001For our first diary we tapped into our personal networks. Between us we knew lots of friends who were artists so we just put the word out and had a fantastic response. Each year since we have invited submissions of artwork and writing from anyone who shares our love of this land and our vision of positive change. You don’t have to be a professional artist or writer. All submissions need to be with us by October 31st each year and we look at each and every one of them! Details of how to submit work can be found on our website and in the diary itself.  We offer all contributors to the diary a 40 word profile and a free diary for each contribution published, plus the opportunity to buy copies of the diary at a cheap rate for the year they are in the diary. We felt in this way we were fostering the spirit of co-operation and that it would be a way of us ‘giving something back’ to them.

4. What would you say to people who believe paper diaries are an endangered species in these days of smartphones etc?

EP Woodland-page-001We reckon paper diaries are much easier and quicker to use than an app, plus they’re hard to mislay, unlike a smartphone! And they never need charging up … More than that, our diary is quite simply a visual delight and offers something beautiful and inspiring to look at EVERY day and that’s even before you write in it. You can somehow immerse yourself in a paper diary like ours in a way that you can’t with a flat screen phone app.

Our diary users tell us that the diary speaks to them in more ways than just telling the date or sunrise times. Our diaries are hugely personal. Each edition is unique and makes a lovely reference point to what our users were moved by in previous editions. Unlike an online app, you can simply pick up a past year’s diary, look through and be inspired all over again. It’s a tactile thing too, there’s something about the touch of (recycled) paper that feels more personal than a plastic case, and something about using a pen and paper that stimulates creativity, be it capturing spontaneous thoughts or simply doodling.

5. Who makes the diary happen each year, and how did you get started?

EP Owl-page-001The diary was the ‘vision’ of  Glennie Kindred and Jaine Rose and it began about 6 years ago following a conversation they had at the Big Green Gathering. They’d both admired the American “We’Moon’ diary but felt that they wanted something that related more directly to these isles and that had UK contributors and artists. The idea grew very quickly. That first conversation in July led to a meeting at Glennie’s house in Derbyshire in September 2007 and the concept of Earth Pathways was born. They had no money to set the wheels in motion but then the idea to ask friends to lend them money “came in a big flash” and they created the idea of ‘buying’ a returnable Moonshare of £100 each. In this way they raised £2,500 in 3 months, which paid for the first print run of the diary. While running a workshop on the Isle of Wight, Glennie met artist Hannah Willow and told her about the diary idea. Hannah was very encouraging and put out the word to her large network of friends. Glennie’s reputation as a well-established writer and artist gave the diary project credibility. And it snowballed. Friends told friends, who told others and the money to fund the first Earth Pathways diary was raised. In the beginning there was a great deal of trepidation and some major setbacks but everything evolved from genuine heart-energy and trust. The diary has now become a firm favourite with many people and has sold out several times in the past few years. This is tremendously encouraging for us because it tells us we are on track and means we can continue to give away grants to help new UK Earth- benefiting initiatives.

Diary schedules mean that we are always working two years ahead. Once all the submissions of artwork and writing are received (deadline 31st October each year) all members of the team have a say on each and every piece submitted. We later hold our ‘Weaving Circle’ where those contributions that have made it through the first round of voting are viewed again and the final selections made. This is a painstaking process. Members of the team get very passionate about the contributions they vote on – which is exactly as it should be. Once the selections are agreed, there then follows the huge task of matching image to appropriate writing. The overall art direction, proofing and deadlines are skilfully managed by Glennie in conjunction with her daughter May Kindred-Boothby.

EP Moonlight-page-001The Earth Pathways team grew out of the jobs that needed doing – people just seemed to come along at the right time and do the jobs that played to their strengths. In the beginning Glennie and Jaine did everything and Debs Milverton took charge of the database. All of the contributors to the first diary became the larger network that the Earth Pathways team tapped into for team resources. Several members of the current team were recommended by mutual friends.

About the time the team realised that they needed astrological data for the diary, Glennie had an email from Lucille Valentine asking her about one of her books. In the email Lucille mentioned that she was an astrologer. Glennie said “we’re looking for an astrologer!” She then discovered that Lucille had worked on a similar kind of diary in her native South Africa. Glennie had also met Tam (Peirson) at festivals and she became the “post persona” then head of sales and distribution. Suzi Goose was a friend of Hannah Willow and Mezzie Lucerne Lambourne had been recommended by Carolyn Hillier. The whole evolution of the team was very organic and people appeared in response to the next need …Everyone has day jobs too – Glennie and Jaine are both artists and writers, Debs teaches piano, Tam is an astrologer and NLP practitioner, Suzi an artist and sacred tattooist, Mezzie a textile artist, Lucille is an astrologer, Brian Boothby a masseur, Annie Keeling a celebrant and May Kindred-Boothby, a full-time art student.

6.  I believe you’re a co-operative – what has this structure taught you about working together?

Goodwill, endless patience and chocolate are a must! The obvious thing is that everyone has a voice and equal say in how we are run and the diary we produce. The structure itself enables us to hold firmly to our core values. We do argue, often fiercely, but ultimately when we reach an impasse we go right back to the principles we started off with because they are the yardstick by which we define ourselves and by which we are judged. Invariably our starting point is co-operation, sometimes we may have to compromise, but the original ‘vision’ of the diary still holds true and provides us with that important ‘line of sight’ so that we know where we are headed. It keeps us on course.

As a co-operative we share any profits from the diary sales and fundamental to our constitution is group agreement on how those profits are distributed. We use some of our profits to make annual funding awards to a variety of UK projects that support and benefit the Earth. (For info on the projects we are funding this year or details on how to apply for future funding, please visit our website).

7. How can readers order their copy of Earth Pathways 2014?

Please visit our website: click here.

We value you buying directly from our website as a greater return of the profits becomes available for financing the next production of the diary and to fund small community projects that help the Earth.

You can also keep up to date with what we’re doing, involved with, championing etc via our Facebook page.

__________________

Thanks so much to Annie and all at Earth Pathways for such interesting insights and for the gift of two free copies of the 2014 Diary. Remember: leave a comment to this post saying why you’d like a copy for the chance to win. (If you’re reading this in email, click through to get to the site.)

All the sumptuous images courtesy of Earth Pathways: click to see full size.

Sunday Collection: Simplicity

Simply Be
I really do believe that living more simply is a big part of growing older with grace and gusto. Several readers have commented to me over the months that clutter seems to collect effortlessly as we grow older (well for some of us anyway) and that getting rid of it frees up enormous reserves of energy and creativity. That’s certainly been my experience, which is why this week’s Sunday Collection covers the topic of living more simply.

It’s not just “stuff”

It’s important to remember that simplicity is not only about having less physical “stuff”.

It’s not even about having less digital “stuff” (and some of us know all too well the temptations of hiding books on the Kindle, of subscribing to too many digital newsletters and blogs, of being a member of online communities we have no hope of keeping up with).

It’s also about thoughts and emotions. Worry and guilt are two particularly stubborn mental residents for many of us. And they’re useless, except on the rare occasions they actually spur us on to take some necessary action. I wrote about the clogging-up effect of thoughts and emotions here last year, with a few suggestions on how to deal with them. Click here to read. I particularly enjoyed, by the way, Norma’s suggestion in the comments of that post about the use of toilet paper to acknowledge then flush away unwanted emotion.

But it is a lot about “stuff”

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful

William Morris

I suspect there are many reasons we collect clutter – and let’s be honest, downright mess and occasional squalor in some cases. Some of them are to do with depression and some connected with fear – of failure, of success, of loss and many other things. And I’m sorry to say that most of us are never going to process all those emotions fully.

What we can do is work from the outside in and begin clearing clutter, because the effect on our emotional landscapes of simple beauty around us can be transformational. I know this from hard experience.

Books

Although it can be a trap to get lost in reading books about simplicity and clutter-clearing (you read the book rather than clearing the clutter!), they can be useful, both practically and inspirationally.

Two of my favourite inspirational books I’ve already reviewed on Pilgrim’s Moon:

In Celebration of Simplicity by Penelope Wilcock, and

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

For great practical suggestions, read Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside Out and Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley (Fly Lady).

However if you tend to be paralysed by ambitions of perfection DO NOT yet tackle Home Comforts: the Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. I bought this book then laundered linen table napkins while dishes lay unwashed in the sink. I bought and fitted under-slips for my pillowslips and under-covers for my duvet covers while my clothes lay on the bedroom floor because I had too many to fit in the wardrobe. It’s a wonderful book, but it’s PhD level in a world where some of us haven’t finished High School!

Blogs

The blogs I read about simplicity tend to be more inspirational than practical, although a bit of both.

I enjoy Courtney Carver’s blog Be More With Less. She has some brilliant Mini-Missions which help take things in small steps, and I particularly liked her recent post Vulnerability and the Myth of the Picture Perfect Anything, in which she talks about how people sharing perfect vignettes of their lives online can make us feel less worthy:

Let’s be inspired by the beauty shared online instead of shamed or envious. People that eat pretty food, or live with less, or strive for more are still people. They still experience ups and downs and set backs.

I refer above to Pen Wilcock’s book In Celebration of Simplicity, and I also love her blog, Kindred of the Quiet Way. She’s been running a series called 365 in which she posted a photograph each day over the course of a year of one unneeded piece of stuff she recycled. I enjoyed her latest post, Aggregating Marginal Gains, in which she talks about the beauty of what some would call a marginal life, and the connections we make:

If one walks the badger tracks rather than the highway, the whole lot is marginal – all gains are marginal! Income is low, status is minimal or non-existent, one has no platform, nothing with which to impress, no strings to pull.

But the aggregation of one’s gains here in the margins amounts to a life of contentment.

Josh Becker’s Becoming Minimalist is another excellent blog. In a lovely moment of serendipity, a friend posted a link on Facebook yesterday to my favourite post of his, which I had planned to link to today. So here it is: The Life Changing Nature of Gratitude.

Gratitude will never be a result of your next purchase, success, or accomplishment. It is available in your heart right now. And you will never find gratitude in life until you intentionally decide to choose it.

And Alison Wiley’s blog, Diamond-Cut Life, is consistently great. Here’s her 64-word guide.

Beauty

People sometimes think that owning less is being less, and nothing could be further from the truth. Having what we need and paying attention to life is full of joy. As Mary Chapin Carpenter says:

Is it too much to ask
I want a comfortable bed that won’t hurt my back
Food to fill me up
And warm clothes and all that stuff

…Is it too much to demand
I want a full house and a rock and roll band
Pens that won’t run out of ink
And cool quiet and time to think

And of course she also wants Passionate Kisses. Here’s the song:

(For those of you reading this in email and unable to see the YouTube video, click here.)

 

Have a wonderful week everyone, whether simple or complicated!

 

Image credit: h.koppdelaney

Simply peaceful

cupboardI‘ve been reminded viscerally this week of the value of a peaceful home. I remain absolutely convinced that living more simply (however we might define “simply”) is one of the key stepping stones to growing older on our own terms.

Being surrounded by clutter, whether physical or mental, is destructive.

I wrote here last year about my lifelong battle against clutter and untidiness. My battle has continued, with ups and downs.

This week I took some vacation days from work for some quality thinking time and quality decluttering time. The two go together in my experience.

Tonight I’m tired but happy, my hands and arms scratched from days of cutting back the forest of brambles in my garden, and, pretty much the point of this story, clearing out the space under my stairs.

After – so imagine before!

Now at this point, I must ask you to use your imagination, because I didn’t think to take a before picture, only the “after” above. (And even if I had, I’m not sure I would have been brave enough to show you!)

The way my house is laid out, the stairs are at the back, and so the first things you see on coming in the front door and into my tiny hallway are the way through to my living room on the right, and to the kitchen/diner on the left.

And right in front of you is the “cupboard” under the stairs. I say cupboard in quote marks because it isn’t really, it has no door, so it is a space.

And so we come to imagining the horror of “before”…

Coats and hats and scarves and shoes in a huddle on the left, decorating supplies somewhere completely hidden at the back and piled on top of everything and spilling out into the hall, a jumble of cardboard, shopping bags, magazines and various broken electrical appliances.

It was dark, spidery and very unpleasant in there.

It was hugely depressing that it should be the first thing I saw when I walked in the front door, and so I subconsciously stopped noticing it. I just tuned it out. But it lurked on the edge of my vision, tapping me on the shoulder from time to time.

The big clear-out

And so the big clear-out began. I found things I’d forgotten I had. I shrieked at spiders, brushed away cobwebs, bashed my head endless times on the angled ceiling. I realised there was absolutely no point keeping the Dustbuster that hasn’t worked for five years but has remained faithfully attached to its equally useless charging unit. I admitted that I was never going to paint any of my walls with the dark purple matt emulsion I’d bought one mad drama-queen moment. I rejoiced that I would be able to keep my toolbox in the space under the stairs rather than in my living room!

I painted the walls a warm apricot, dragged in a shelving unit I wasn’t using, hung a sheer curtain to form a temporary door, and plugged in a spare lamp.

And although, as you can see above, it’s still not exactly Home Beautiful, it’s made a big difference.

Now, when I come into the house, I feel welcomed, not ashamed. The difference to my state of mind is actually quite remarkable.

Why am I telling you this?

It feels a little self-indulgent to me to rattle on about my house-cleaning efforts, but perhaps there might be people reading this who also have squalorholic tendencies. And I want to say first that you’re not the only one, and second that getting the momentum going really will make a big difference to your state of mind.

So that’s it for now. My Sunday Collection will also be on the topic of simplicity, so if that appeals, look out for it.

 

 

The key to self-respect

Warmth, intimacy, peace

That’s my mantra for the way I want to live in my home.

I yearn to live simply and richly. Not owned by my possessions and owning only what I need or what gives me joy.

And you know what? For years I’ve felt like a fraud!

I talk a good talk about simplicity, and in many ways my life is very simple: my house is quite small, I don’t own a television, I don’t have a complicated work schedule, don’t take big expensive holidays and I’m not a fan of retail therapy. But the heart of where I live – my home – has for years been absolute chaos. (The wonderful coach FlyLady refers to this quite literally as Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome.)

It makes me feel vulnerable to write about this, because I’m inviting you into a mess which I haven’t even shown my closest friends, but I’m hoping that if anyone else is in my situation it might be helpful and give you a few ideas.

I’ve always been domestically-challenged. I don’t seem to have inherited the gene which leads to a healthy, tidy home. Until very recently I’ve been unable to eat at my kitchen table, have had one seat on one sofa on which there’s room for me to sit. My clothes have been living mostly on my bedroom floor. And talking of floors, in most areas of my house there hasn’t been much floor visible under the piles of books, papers and art supplies.

It’s disgusting, demeaning and depressing to live like this.

Contradictions

I’ve beaten myself up for years about the contradictions in my life.

I’m very visual, yet if I put a newspaper on the kitchen table for a few moments it pulls a disappearing act: I can no longer see it. And then it gets joined by the day’s letters, an umbrella, gloves and the book I’m reading until in what seems like five minutes flat, I can no longer see the surface of the table. But I don’t even notice I can’t see it.

I’m very organised when I’m working on a project, and yet completely scatty and vague around the house – I literally barely notice what I’m doing with “stuff” because my mind is buzzing with ideas and other preoccupations.

Overwhelm

As anyone who lives like this will tell you, it gets to a point where it’s completely overwhelming. A house which has been allowed to fester takes a long time and a lot of work to get straight again. And there’s the fear that (a bit like dieting!) you’ll just go back to your old ways again. When we’re in this situation we often don’t trust ourselves. And it feels totally overwhelming. We literally don’t know where to start and lose faith in ourselves. And the sense of being ashamed is part of the overwhelm.

Baby steps

But I’m finally coming out of it. I’m finally getting to a point where I can have intimacy, warmth and peace in my home and invite friends to share it. It’s taken loads of baby steps, one after the other, and I reckon I’ll be done by Christmas.

There are two things that have made a big difference for me.

Acceptance

I’ve had to accept that I’m not a natural at this and I need help to get and stay organised. This came in the form of a book, Julie Morgenstern’s Organising from the Inside Out, which has been invaluable. One of Julie’s recommendations is that once you sort out a cupboard or other storage space, you label it with what goes in there.

Well I scoffed. I scoffed for months. It was obvious what was supposed to go in that cupboard, wasn’t it? What are we, in kindergarten? But then after the umpteenth time of looking for something in the wrong drawer, I caved in. As I gradually began to clean out my cupboards and shelves, I took my labeller and made discreet little labels to attach just out of sight. Now, I have a small kitchen cupboard labelled laundry liquids/dish-washing/floor washing; I only put those things in it and I can find them easily. It’s a dream. The whole kitchen is now populated with similar labels and I don’t care any more whether an intelligent woman like me “should” need to label her cupboards.

Self-love

This has been the single most important thing for me.

In all my previous attempts to get organised, I’ve started with the “public” rooms: my kitchen/diner and living room, where guests would actually come and spend time.

Meanwhile, my bedroom and study – “my” rooms – were tips. Literally. They were where I tipped all the unsorted chaos from the rest of the house. There have been times over the past few years when I’ve slept in a bed surrounded by a wall of scruffy boxes taller than I am, with space in the room only to get in and out of bed and walk to the door and back.

And this was the key. I started clearing our my bedroom and making it beautiful. I spent 30 minutes a day and quite quickly it began to be a space that nurtured me.

When I put myself first by putting my private space first, everything began to fall into place.

Sleeping in a comfortable, clean and beautiful bedroom has set my creative ideas racing, it’s given me physical and spiritual space and energy which has made it much easier to tackle the rest of the house, bit by bit.

So if you’re struggling with any kind of block, whether it’s a physical block like my messy house or a creative block, the key is to start with some active self-love. Show yourself some respect and love, get going and build up some momentum. Everything else will flow from that.

What do you need to accept before you can move forward?

Photo by Ralph Aichinger

The Joy of Less: a review

photo credit: sara

I know from email exchanges and discussions that many readers of this blog are in the process of decluttering their homes and their lives. Me too. I think it’s an essential part of the aging process: as we grow older, we feel better when we let go of all that stuff.

So this month I’m reviewing an appropriately simple and small book, which nonetheless packs the potential to help you carve into your clutter.

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay is subtitled A Minimalist Living Guide. It’s available in both paperback and on the Kindle. Francine also publishes a blog called Miss Minimalist.

I’ve become a little wary about what seems to be the fashionable bandwagon of minimalism. There are so many blogs and books about it. There’s a sense in which minimalists – men especially – seem to be in competition over the purity of their lifestyles and how few possessions they own.

That’s why this book is a breath of fresh air. Francine doesn’t preach, she encourages.

Structure

What I like about the book (in addition to the writing style) is its clarity of structure and approach.

Francine starts with the philosophy behind the joy of living with less. A light-hearted but thorough canter through the whys and wherefores, a bit of the history, and the advantages of simple living.

Then she moves smartly onto big picture techniques and tips, including thorny topics like unwanted gifts, the emotions that come with inherited or heirloom items, and living with others. She ends with a room by room analysis and a look at lifestyle.

A flavour of the contents

There’s something about this book that makes the topic of decluttering fresh, new and even fun. For example, Francine suggests mentally interviewing your stuff. Ask each item questions like “Would I replace you if you were lost or broken”, “Would I take you with me if I move”.

And act as a gatekeeper. Interview potential new stuff to see if it’s worthy of a place in your home: “What value will you add to my household?” “Will you make my life easier?” Don’t give new stuff the job unless it comes up with the right answers!

Personal favourites

There are a couple of things in particular I like.

The first is the concept that when you’re clearing out say a cupboard, you take out all the contents and go through them one by one. And you base your decision not on what to toss (recycle, sell, give away) but on what to keep. It’s a subtle but important difference. I did this with a drawer of stuff yesterday and it works really well. When you have to decide what to keep, the decisions seem much more positive and definitive. Each item really has to earn its place in your home, even if its been there for years. Don’t make default decisions.

The second is this quote:

In order to be a good gatekeeper, you have to think of your home as sacred space, not storage space.

I thoroughly recommend this little book.

Let me know in the comments what other books or decluttering techniques work for you.

PS:

Since I wrote this, I came across this article by Debra Smouse about her new e-course on clutter–busting. Still time to sign up – it starts tomorrow. Check it out here.

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