Learning to Live with Things

Dear D.L.D.,

Surely we are all little more than a tangle of contradictions. I wonder what you would say now about the theory that we have no fixed personality? That we are malleable entirely, according to the choices we make in any given milieu. Actually, I wonder if we haven’t begun to circle around to something akin to the Quaker’s Moral Treatment you espoused, a hundred and thirty years ago. The structure, discipline, and the traveling that stretched and untangled your mind – at least much of the time.

Reading your letters, I often wondered if your travels marked the end of a “no thing” season, or if the traveling itself ended it. The getting up, the physical leaving. The moment you stood outside the door with what you could carry, and the confidence of knowing you had all that you needed.

I have always felt strongest when I had few possessions. Leaving my homeland (that sounds ridiculously quaint) with a bag of books, some clothes, a blanket, and a doll. And then, in all the turmoil of beginning again after the divorce: choosing not to fight over a rolling pin; I took my books, clothes, the blanket and the doll, and photos that function like old library index cards to help hunt down complete memories. In my tiny apartment that overlooked the harbor, everything had earned its place. And the high ceiling provided empty space for both grief and joy to pass through, or hover.

Maybe there is something to the cycle of accumulation and purging that is very like the sorting they say we do as we sleep: distinguishing what is necessary to keep in detail, and what is necessary to keep only in spirit. A way of shedding the things that helped us to get this far, and then making room to move on. To grow. Like lobsters.

Friday I saw an Instagram photo that made me envious. It reminded me of how disconnected I’ve become again – disconnected from what adds value to my hverdag. Simple, every day pleasures. Like slowing to a walk where the trail ends at the wooden bridge, and catching the flash of a small speck of ice in a crack. Noticing winter. Noticing the man who sleeps by my side, breathing easily, and who wakes to tell me I’m beautiful.

Even simpler things, like sitting down with a clementine; peeling it slowly.

Like a Celeste Barber instagram shot.

They say now (again) that citrus fruits help elevate one’s mood. But then, you knew that. And you didn’t take them for granted: all the fruit you were given while you were recuperating in England that half year.

Maybe that is all the difference between us: not the fruit, but the attention and gratitude?

The problem is, I’m thinking I need to purge again -to get control over all the “stuff” and clutter that is a disturbing white noise – I want to move on, stretch, grow, change, but I quickly fall into a consumerist mindset. I imagine getting rid of all my kitchen equipment, and finding earthenware bowls that (I believe) will fulfill a sensual longing. I envy a particular state of mind (or an imagined state of mind) that is calm and receptive. And I keep thinking that things will lead me to it. The perfect spiritual knickknack, the peculiar talisman.

I imagine selling the house and moving into to a simple cottage, with a garden and a stream that flows just a stone’s throw from a sunny porch. I’ll get rid of all my costume jewelry and buy leather bracelets. Ditch the tailored clothes for paisley caftans.

I imagine a whole list of things I could acquire to successfully simplify my life. I could get up and leave.

But on Sunday I took a deep breath, organised my bookshelves, threw away the wilted flowers, and paid my bills.

And this morning – after the run and meditation – I sliced an apple, boiled an egg, and wrote a poem. I kissed my husband when he left for work.

Maybe beginning a new season really does work like any charm does. Or prayer. It’s all a matter of attention, and of making enough space for the grief and the joy to pass through, or hover.

Though I would still really like my own special hot chocolate pot. And a gas stove. And a stream that flows just a stone’s throw from the balcony of a cottage in the woods.

Don’t lie to me. I know you were never really satisfied either. We all want what we want and we reach for it. Things, or accolades, or whatever it is we believe will make us feel… untangled.




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  1. What always moves me is how you move through all those thoughts and then pull them together to an ending/conclusion that haunts. R

  2. Thank you, Ren, for featuring my little red enamel pot. I started #everydaymagic as a reminder to myself to slow down and really notice the world around me, because I find this a real challenge some days, in all the crazy-busy-ness and the anxieties that can distract me so easily from how I truly want to live. Taking a photo (not quite every day) has really helped me with this. I too have a complicated relationship with things. I love beautiful objects. I find myself coveting things – simple things – or wanting to paint the walls or replace the carpets – at the same time as longing to shed more and more, pare back, turn my attention to what is important. 🙂 Love your blog. x

    • Oh, Thank you for your #everydaymagic project. I think a lot of the instagram photos get a bad wrap: the selfies and the food etc. But really, they are probably doing us loads of good in terms of gratitude. Thank you for the example!