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Living Simply by Jenny Chapman

Taken from Barefoot Magazine Winter 2009 issue

…when the holidays arrive, when the house is tidy, when I get the tax in, when this busy time is over, when I lose the weight, when I have the money…(add your own).

It seems strange that we seem always to be waiting for the right moment to make our lives how we desire them to be—yet we are so incredibly busy or just plain overwhelmed, that we never seem to get to that moment when we make the longed-for gear change. To live simply I know I need to live with Space. Space to pursue something creative. Space to play with my son. Spaces of silence. Space to love and be loved. Space to think in the clutter that is my brain (preferably before I speak). Space to let my feet tread lightly and my earth breathe. Space on my kitchen bench.

Below are three major areas of our lives that we can have some influence over when trying to make some simple space in our lives.

Our Calendar

To start, we need to stop.

Make a list of five Very Important Things in your life. What are your priorities? Here are mine for this year: my son, my close relationships, the environment (including my garden), my study, my music.

If you are having difficulty making the list, I suggest that you may already have too much on your plate!

Now list all of your commitments. Do any of your time-consuming, money-eating, petrol-burning, stress-elevating commitments NOT fit under the heading of your five Very Important Things? Drop one of these, then consider dropping more. C’mon…just for two months.

Of your commitments listed that do feature on your Important list, drop one anyway. This year at college I enrolled in four units. My study is important to me, yet I dropped a subject. The next week I shed a tear as I dropped a second one. Then I felt a tremendous relief. I can now give quality time to two important units of my course. I have more time, feel more calm, and have energy for other Very Important Things, which were previously losing out. And I am using the car less.

Rip your daily to-do list in half. Keep only the half with the Urgent things on it. Then check to see if they really ARE urgent.

When I have spare time at home I often try to fill it with extra jobs. Sure, it is satisfying to have completed them. But within those spaces between larger things, did I give myself time? No! By cutting down our commitments, by simplifying our days, we give ourselves and our families a fighting chance to connect–—to gather our scattered selves so we find balance again.

Our Clutter

To have, we need to let go.

Yes, well… this one. Most of us are intimate with the notion of clutter.

Clutter is defined as ‘a lot of objects in a state of untidiness’ or ‘to fill something in an untidy or badly organised way’. Ring any bells? If you want an example, come around to my place. Sometimes my home looks like one big clutter-drawer—if I am warned you are coming you may not witness this (see next paragraph)—however this has been significantly changing over the last twelve months. It can’t be fixed overnight: years of once treasured items and impulse buys lie accumulated in boxes, on bookshelves, in drawers and cupboards.

I am talking of the bag or box—of paperwork and correspondence, the library book, the biros that don’t work, the pair of scissors (now where did I put those scissors?), the bill from kinder, the mp3 player and the petrol couponsthat was filled quickly from the kitchen bench and the dining-table when you heard visitors crunching up the driveway with a flagon of merlot and a staying-for-dinner gleam in their eyes. The box was shoved under the bed as you promised yourself that it would not hide there longer than a week. You would sort it out. A year and four more boxes later you think of what is under the bed and groan—not just because you realise you haven’t vacuumed under there for over twelve months…

I am also talking about the pantry. Does yours tend to overflow with packets of pasta, or falafel mix, that you haven’t used for years? Make a plan to use up what is in your pantry instead of filling your shopping trolley. When the merlot visitors turn up again, use the falafel mix. And the shed out the back? Do you have tins of paint, three pairs of garden gloves and toolboxes spilling their contents over the workbench? Time to de-clutter and re-organise!

De-cluttering vs Culling. In my mind there is a difference. De-cluttering is sorting, ‘un-junking’, organising—perhaps a few bags to the opshop per room? Culling is when you really get into the mode! Culling is halving your cutlery set, the linen cupboard, the toybox, the toolbox and your cake-tins; a skip in your driveway and a garage sale the next week. And it feels sooooo good!

I have some hints to share with you:

Remember what is beautiful in your life. Living simply is the intentional pursuit of a compassionate and creative life, for yourself, your family and the causes that touch your heart. It is giving yourself time and space to have a truly effective and fulfilling life. So don’t feel you have to throw out everything that is meaningful, or which brings joy in a memory.

One space at a time. If you decide, like I have decided, that some serious de-cluttering, re-organising, simplifying is in order, don’t try to do it all at once or when you are about to take on other major commitments. That’s a recipe for catastrophe. Choose one room, and one cupboard, drawer, corner, shelf in that room. You will soon find the flow-over anyway, as you start searching for places for everything. That’s the re-organising part.

If the whole thing scares you, try putting a drawer or shelf full of clutter into a box which you then put away in the shed for six months. When you go back to it, keep anything you have actually missed or needed to use, and give away the rest.

Hoarding vs. Recycling. Three kitchen cupboards, and more boxes in the shed, are full of empty glass jars. Someday you will get around to making that bulk tomato relish and plum sauce. Get real! Either make the stuff (I’ll have some, thanks!) or recycle the jars.

Our Consumption

THINK before you buy! Not only because your home is not the next step towards the landfill site, and because your new budget may be one your five Very Important Things, but also because a purchase is a vote. A vote for a consumer society/economy. A vote for vast oil-burning miles of cargo transport. A vote for slave labour. Where is your money going? Who benefits? Where does this stuff end up when you have finished with it? What earth-and-people-costing practices have gone into the making and transporting of a product?

There is a great little video available free to view on the internet. It’s called The Story of Stuff and is simple enough for older children to understand. The film explains the journey our consumer goods take. The url is: http://www.storyofstuff.com/

Teach your children by example and by explaining how you make your purchasing choices. Show them, in their language, the direct link between what they buy and, for example, an environmental issue. The hidden costs can be so much more costly.

Enjoy non-material pleasures such as, listening to music, hobbies, craft and games that don’t cost the earth and may have other advantages. I have a friend whose TV broke down over the holidays; they rediscovered family time.

Give sustainably. Make gifts— you don’t have to be crafty. Gifts can be of time or service: a meal, a  baby-sit, a card that the kids have made, a film night in the back garden.

Trade, share and swap tools, camping equipment, music, and children’s books. Use the local toy library, book library, LETS group (bartering system) and community garden.

Living simply is caring for our Earth

If we make even small changes in these three areas—our calendar, our clutter, and our consumption—we will have a positive impact on environmental concerns. We would use the car less, consume less, recycle more. Our communities would be stronger, and be brought together and identified by positive things, not just through tragedy or conflict.

Being purposeful in our actions can simplify and beautify our day. Clearing our home and our lifestyles of clutter and excess also clears our heart spaces for what is important. A slower life. Move a little more deliberately through the housework— be present as you pick a loved toy off the ground. Eat slowly; taste your food. Eat with your children; be present with them. Shop intentionally—think about each purchase. Be present. Listen to your child’s chatter and their behaviour—they have much to tell you. Be present in your own life.

You have space now – in your home, in your lifestyle, in your mind and heart.

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