Towards Minimalism

I haven't been well this winter. For about the past six months, I have been suffering from pain in my upper body, an aching right through my back and chest. It has been really quite debilitating. At its worst, coupled with low energy, I was finding it difficult to hold myself upright by the end of the day, and simple tasks like picking up a few things at the shops would completely exhaust me. It has been rather concerning. Several trips to the doctors eventually resulted in blood tests being run, and the results showed a vitamin D deficiency. So commenced an 8 week course of mega vitamin boosters. But, in a multi-pronged approach, I have also consulted an osteopath and a chiropractor, who have told me my body is very crooked, and misaligned in a number of places.

It is six years ago this week that our youngest son arrived. He was delivered in a crash emergency section, which meant I was given a general anaesthetic as I was rushed dramatically into theatre. I remember waking up, and lying in hospital feeling as if I had been hit by a juggernaut. My iron levels were so low, it was touch and go whether I would have a blood transfusion. I didn't. So I left the hospital a few days later severely anaemic with a newborn and three other children awaiting my care at home. There were days in the weeks following when I lay on my bed and felt I simply could not move. Yet, somehow, I had to wrench myself up and get on with life. That is what we do, isn't it? We just get on with it. Yet I look back now, and wonder why there is never any time anymore for convalescence. Could it be that our lack of adequate convalescence gives rise to further problems in the future? I wonder if that experience six years ago took rather a toll on me, and that only now, as smallest son has stepped further into independence, has my body allowed itself to say, "Give me a break!"

"Could vitamin D deficiency and the misalignment you see be adequate explanation for this debilitating pain?" I ask the chiropractor. She assures me that, yes, this is sufficient to explain such thoracic pain, and assures me that she can help. I am three sessions in to eight weeks of treatment, and seven weeks into eight weeks of vitamin D supplements. My energy levels are much improved, and this week, the pain has had days of easing, too. It is such a relief. But I am still not right.

In the midst of all this, our house has not been as clean and tidy as it usually is. I am not very good at living in clutter and disorder, and it is a constant source of stress to me. Sitting taking it easy, as I have had to, it occurs to me that so many of us are enslaved to our clutter, our 'stuff', our possessions. We spend so much time having to organise and tidy up so much stuff, a lot of which we do not even need, or want. And so a new radical idea begins to form in my mind, what if we just get rid of it all? Pretty much everything! What if we just held on to the things that we actually need, and use ... Or perhaps just a few that are beautiful, or sentimental. But I am talking about being really disciplined, and taking control of the clutter rather than letting it control us.

A week away in a holiday cottage where we - and the kids - manage on just a minimal amount of 'stuff' and where we live with the glorious absence of clutter convinces my husband and I that drastic action is required. We have set ourselves a target of the end of the Easter holidays to clear most of our stuff, and just the thought of it is liberating. We have already begun to pare down books, toys, DVDs .... We are a culture addicted to consumerism. What happens if we say, "No more!"?

Why does clutter bother me so? I think it is possible I have some sort of sensory processing disorder .... I have realised this by talking to my husband about his ability to shut out peripheral noise and to tune in to one thing - the television, for example. My sons do this, too. Often, they do not hear me, because they are focused on something else. I can't do this closing out peripheral noise. If there is sound, even the hum of the fridge in the background, I can hear it. Is it a female thing, or is it just me? It has never occurred to me that other people don't hear everything going on around them all the time. I realise I cannot filter sound. It's the same with my sight ... If there is text to be read somewhere around me, I will read it, without even thinking about it. It is read, absorbed, noticed. So it is perhaps no surprise that clutter is overwhelming, too, as a sensory experience. It is as if all the stuff is screaming at me, and it is disturbing and not at all restful. Home should be a restful place, right? So, it seems to us it is a good idea to take control.

We begin to think about how we will prevent more 'stuff' coming into our home, how we will have to politely decline the barrage of potential clutter that comes our way. We begin to think about how we can give and receive gifts without the accumulation of material stuff. We like to give gifts in our culture .... We like to give 'stuff'. It is a demonstration of love and generosity. But perhaps it is the only way we know, and it is time to rethink it, to reinvent it? This past Christmas I finally managed to break with the tradition of stockings for all but my youngest son, and his was lean and devoid of plastic tat. Our older three sons all just had money for Christmas, and they were happy with that. Part of our challenge is to think about how we can give treats, time, experiences, perhaps .... How can we redefine our giving?

For some time now, slowly and deliberately, one small step at a time, we have been looking at how we can reduce our household waste, and in particular, our dependence upon throwaway plastic, especially single-use plastic. So one of our new rules is not to bring new plastic into the house, but to choose items made of other materials. Of course, clearing out cannot mean throw away. I am trying to be mindful of the fact that there isn't such a place as 'away'. Everything we discard has to go somewhere. This makes the clearout process more time-consuming and challenging ... Each item has to be considered. Would someone I know like this / find it useful? Could we sell it on ebay? Can we give it to a charity shop? Offer it on Freecycle? Would it be useful to our local refugee ministry? I am kind of excited and curious to see how we will get on. I will let you know .....

Some pictures of our starting point .... This is this weekend, downstairs, as we began to clear things out. I think we are a pretty average British family in terms of 'stuff' ... We are six people in a 3-bed semi ... Maybe we have slightly less than some folks based on the fact that we have moved a lot, and are pretty good at getting rid of stuff. We still have a LOT, far too much ... I dream of clear surfaces that stay clear, and of calm ....