The de-cluttered life


If I had to sum up this summer, I would say that it’s the time that my energy for living came back: I have cleared my flat of its clutter, moved on some of Mark’s stuff to new adventures, packed away the things that I treasure in some beautiful boxes. I’ve tidied and rearranged the whole place, and while I have spent great chunks of time inside, this is also a summer that I’ve spent outside more than most – be it tending to the small patch of herbs I’ve been growing on my neighbour’s allotment, swimming in mystical lakes, in the nearby lido, in the ponds at Hampstead and in the sea. I’ve earthed up potatoes, hoed whole beds of onions, picked rhubarb and weeded an orchard while volunteering in a kitchen garden where I’ve learnt about no dig food growing and methods for restoring the top soil. I’ve been stunned by the tastes of fresh picked tomatoes, strawberries and plums, been dizzy with delight searching with my hands in the rich mulch of the earth for the buried treasure of a potato bed,. I’ve walked at all times of day and night, sat looking at the stars and basked in glorious sunlight, I’ve spent time with horses in Devon and learnt beautiful and challenging lessons from them. I’ve completed a course by Sharon Blackie about the Voices of the Wells, learnt about growing and using herbs.

All this during three months of what I have sensed is a personal six month hiatus, one that ends in October/November. As the light shifts subtly and the heat of the days seems weighted and even more precious, I can feel a shift taking place, one towards a more intentional way of being.
Twice since spring, I’ve gone for a month or more buying no thing, other than food and other essentials. It felt necessary in order to reset, to detach myself from consumerism and the drive to define myself by, or distract myself with, stuff. This, combined with the eradication of all the things clogging up my flat has made me much more aware of contentment, the sense of having enough that begins to build once the constant ticker tape no longer moves constantly through the brain. I’ve rebooted the practice of marking a Sabbath, a day of unplugging from consumption, from busyness, from work in order to rest, recharge and remember and celebrate those things that are truly important to me in life.

Now, having cleared so much away, I’ve reached a place where I want to gather up the experiences of summer and decide what it is that I want to do with my time. It’s so easy to be caught up in activities, in doing things that suggest themselves to us, but I’m feeling the need for something more intentional. I’m reading Digital Minimalism, in which Cal Newport argues for a more considered use of technology, one that is shaped by an underlying philosophy. In this case, digital minimalism, which, he says, is

a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.

I see the need to apply this principle to my use of social media, which is less prevalent in my life, but still proves distracting at times, but I also want to take stock of other aspects that prevent me living with what Mary Grey describes as true heart.

As I’ve learnt since clearing out all my surplus stuff, minimalism is an embrace simplicity that opens up the way for greater enchantment, for deeper appreciation of life. Yet as space clears for what matters, I find myself wondering what exactly it is that I want to focus on. Cal Newport instructs his readers that there is a need for philosophy, not in the abstract, but in order to “re-establish control” over technology in a way that goes beyond “tweaks and hacks” and enables us to “rebuild…from scratch, using our deep held values as a foundation.”

As I think how I want to use social media, I’m considering the powerful forces he says the tech companies have harnessed and exploited, the desire for feedback, and for social approval, I am aware that I’ve emerged from the experience of grief far less preoccupied with such things. Now feels like a good time to have a good clear out to make space for a new way of being in the world, one that reflects my beliefs.

Looking back over these past months, I’m grateful for the abundance of experiences, for all that I’ve learnt, all the things that have impacted me and changed me. I feel like I’ve there’s so much to gather up, so much to treasure, and also to learn from, and this brings with it an uneasy bewilderment at times. I could feel overwhelmed, thinking about what to do with all the insights, all the ideas sparked by the books I’ve read, the downloads from other people’s brilliance. But what if I looked at it in another way, and saw that the summer has produced a bumper harvest of experiences that I can gather up and continue to feast on for months to come, with seeds to plant for the future?