On a Tuesday morning the narrow lanes and roads of this village are busy with refuse lorries, and queues of patient drivers, waiting to squeeze past when the opportunity arrives. Every week the teams come for recyclable packaging, and food waste and glass and every third week they take the stuff that can’t be recycled – the wrong sort of plastic, cellophane, tin foil and the like. I love Tuesdays but I love Mondays even more; the day when I fill the right bag with the right rubbish and put it out ready to be taken early the next morning. I love shedding. Shedding the skin of the week. And I don’t like stuff.
That’s the thing. I object to stuff. There’s too much of it in our Western lives.
After nearly 74 years on this Earth, I have all the stuff I want, or need. As a youngster I gobbled up the Earth’s resources, unthinkingly, as if I had a perfect right. Now, I look back and I think ‘What a twit’. I was never one for possessions, and always travelled light, but I didn’t give much thought to the way I was living. I look back at the old me and shake my head. What was she doing? How come she was so busy being busy? I usually had three projects on the go, a series or film in production, a series or film in development and a series or film at the treatment stage. Why? Bonkers.
Now I’m busy doing nothing (well, very little) and my house is called ‘Selah’, roughly translated as ‘pause and think’, so I try to do just that. And this last few days I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the way we all live in 2022.
I don’t want to mislead you – I’m not now a worthy old hermit, living in a hollowed out lump of rock on a cliff somewhere, denying myself any pleasure, thinking deep thoughts the like of which the world has never known. I’m still an unreconstructed bumbler and I love life and have a good one. I have a comfortable house, far from austere because over a long life you pick things up – like mud on your shoes – but everything around me holds some sort of history, a personal memory and affection. Everything I’ve kept I either love or use (I’m resisting the temptation to quote William Morris) and when I die whoever empties my home will have an easy job, one that shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.
So I’m fortunate, and I know it – I don’t need any more ‘things’. That means that I don’t appreciate gifts. There. I’ve said it. It sounds rude but the simple truth is, I do not appreciate gifts. I don’t. I appreciate the thought but not the thing. I already have enough. If it’s wine or food, a real consummable, great. Many thanks. Truly. Anything else, anything that will clutter up my desk or bookcase or kitchen, forget it. I sometimes get a new jigsaw but if one comes in, one goes out. When I want to read a new book, a physical book rather than a kindle, then I buy it, read it and quickly give it away. Simple.
This simple way of living isn’t everyone’s idea of a good life. There are people who have everything, who love having whole houses full of stuff, attics full of memorabilia that once meant something to someone, garages piled high to the rafters, every cupboard crammed full and that makes them happy. But everything needs looking after or it moulders or fades or rusts or crumbles and they have all that stuff to attend to but, like me, they have just this one life. How do they do it? I think their lives must be a juggling act, a constant nagging awareness that there are things that must be done – pay this and pay that, get a licence for this, pay the tax on that, insure the house and the car(s), get the MOT done, service this, mend that, replace the batteries, buy the next gadget, update the software, charge the…. and so it goes on. Maybe the list of things that need doing gives an immediacy to their lives, maybe they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they woke up in the morning with a whole empty day stretching ahead. Even when they plan a break from it all, a holiday, they spend weeks beforehand arranging flights, checking passports and visas, getting this vaccination, that certificate, insuring health, travel, accommodation, and when they get there they have another list – hire a car, visit this place, photograph that work of art, swim in this sea, sail on that lake… always always busy, always with a list of things waiting to be ticked off.
And as for millionaires with two or three homes… why? Where the hell is the sense in that?
What’s so difficult about living simply? It’s an option. A good one. It just takes a decision and then a tiny bit of discipline. And when you’re not ticking off a list of must-do’s and must-have’s, you have plenty of time for thinking, discovering, finding joy, having a laugh, watching clouds. You know, all the important stuff.
Marx talked about religion as the opiate of the masses, and he was right. Religiosity was a sop, making society passive, complying and complacent. But these days I think that society is dedicated to another opiate entirely – being busy with the must-haves and must-do’s of the day. And money in the bank. Oh, don’t get me started on money-in-the-bank!
Money in the bank, if it is beyond what we are likely to need in our lifetime, is an obscenity. When over half the world is starving, in drought or in flood, when children are blinded by conditions that can easily be cured, when people are truly homeless, when water born diseases ravage communities, what right does anyone have to store up money, so that it sits, useless and obscene, in their accounts? I think that the Christian who dies wealthy is going to have a bit of explaining to do. I want to die absolutely broke and down on my uppers (and it look like I might succeed!) That would be a good death.
I am so fortunate. I know it. I have my luxuries; my three dogs (only ever wanted one but they keep needing homes) and my old car that may keep going for a little bit longer so that we can walk on the beach every morning. And friends. And you bloggers. That’s all I need.
Today we were caught in a downpour – the heavens opened and Pico ran back to the car without me so we followed him and squelched homewards. I towelled the dogs, fed them, changed every bit of clothing, had a coffee and then looked out – the sun was shining! We went down to the sea again and this time managed to stay dry.
I have everything I need for a simple life. I am blessed. Why would anyone want more than simplicity? Simplicity isn’t dull. I have time to think things now that I never had the time to think back then when I was a busy little beaver. It seems that just about every day I find something new and exciting, or even startling. A simple life is amazing.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And of course, of course, Jesus goes to the very heart of it. When possessions and success are our priority, there is very little room for God.
Eternity is waiting. None of this stuff matters. One day we will leave it all behind, everything. What a great shedding of stuff that will be!
The day the bin men take me out with the rubbish! Bring it on.