Preparing for an Uncertain Future

No, I’m not suggesting that we should all become preppers. It’s a good idea to be prepared for whatever kind of natural disaster your area is prone to, but I don’t think it pays to mortgage your present for a merely possible future.

I have, however, been preparing for a change this past month. At the beginning of February it seemed distinctly possible that by the time the month was out we would have moved to a house half the size of the one we currently live in. And while that didn’t happen, I still needed to prepare in case it did.

Bernkastel BW 1
Cue a major pruning. So major, in fact, that I gave up the idea of writing for the month (apart from keeping up with the blog, obviously) and didn’t bother with trying to keep a purge list, because it would have taken too long. The downside of that is that I have trouble remembering everything that has left our house (a sure sign that we had too much stuff).

There was a whole boxful of kitchen things, including the sole survivor of my first ever set of wineglasses (the other three leapt to a glittering end during the first Canterbury earthquake); there were more books, some cassette tapes and CDs, a variety of clothing (some so worn that it had to be binned), and half a recycling bin’s worth of stuff I’d been keeping in my desk. Also a whole bunch of what might be described as general stuff.

I’ve also been working on my stash of unfinished projects – important for peace of mind, freed-up space, and maintaining my Finishing-Person reputation. The crazy quilt was finished last year, it is true, but that still left me with the rose quilt (a project even older than the crazy quilt, if my memory serves me correctly at this distance), a pair of half-knitted gloves, a block quilt to be assembled, a cardigan to be knitted from recycled wool, and a large backlog of mending.

StateLibQld 1 92432 Interior view of a woman mending clothes, ca. 1910
During February I made progress on the rose quilt, finished the gloves, and did most of the mending – there’s just one more waistband to be done and it’ll be finished. I am pleased with my progress, but also horrified at how much work there still is to be done. The Grand Purge is now mostly finished, and I’m back to writing (or rather rewriting) in March, but chaos, as ever, still lurks on the horizon.

Chaos, you ask? In a post-purge household? Well, yes. While we didn’t end up moving into the half-the-size house, we may find ourselves three weeks from a move at any time. This is exciting, but also somewhat stressful, particularly since we have no idea what size house we’ll end up moving to, and therefore whether or not a further Grand Purge will be required to fit. Because as much as we’ve got rid of, there’s always more that could be pared away. Like the rest of life, our simplicity is a work in progress – but the progress is feeling good.

What Happened Next?

It occurred to me today that while I bring up a lot of subjects on this blog, I seldom revisit them. While I know what happened next, I don’t often share that with the rest of the world.
How has it been since I cut my hair short? Have I actually done any of the exercise I praised, fun or otherwise? Have all my screeds over the years on the subject of decluttering had any measurable effects in real life? Or was it all just talk?


1815 Isabey Portrait Katharina Pawlowna von Russland anagoria

My hair is still short, and definitely curly. On a good morning, there’s a vague resemblance to Helena Bonham Carter; on a bad morning, the resemblance is more to Edward Scissorhands – and a lot stronger. I’m planning to grow it out as winter approaches – partly for warmth and partly just to see what happens!

As for exercise, I mentioned that my exercise goals included buying a skipping rope, and learning to dance the galliard (aka the cinquepace). I have indeed bought a skipping rope, and have even skipped with it – mostly outside on the grass for the sake of my joints. It’s harder than it was when I was little, though I have not yet tried any fancy touches like the Inverse Toad.

Woodcut Galliard

When it comes to the galliard, however, I have met with less success. Apart from the useful information that one could dance the galliard to the tune of God Save the Queen (perhaps why the dance was so popular with Queen Elizabeth I, who danced six or seven of a morning by way of exercise), I have got nowhere. As wonderful as our local library is, it is singularly lacking in books on how to dance the dances of history. I shall have to keep looking. Next stop: the great wide web.

I have also acquired a new swimming-suit (of which more hereafter) and gone to a swimming-pool for the first time in a long time. (Years.) I happily paddled and splashed about, enjoying the absence of large waves trying to give me a forcible sinus rinse, and even essayed a few lengths, with variable success. Running your head into the wall while swimming on your back: not success.

0ld keyboards

On the same day as we went to the pool, we took a quantity of e-waste to the safe-disposal-of-electronic-waste people. I was very happy to see the back of it. As well as safely breaking down the parts of things no longer functional (recycling), they also fix things where possible (reuse) or turn them into other things (repurpose) – all very good for the planet, as well as those not able (or not willing) to buy their belongings new.

Since I last wrote about tidying, decluttering and purging, I have also gone through the bathroom cupboards like a dose of salts (pun intended – please forgive me) as well as the pantry cupboard and the shelves in the hallway.

I’m also sleeping better. I stopped worrying about it, and that seemed to help, although I’m inclined to give the recent sudden arrival of autumn a bit of credit too – no more waking up overheated. Now I sleep like a hibernating dormouse, although happily I don’t snore like one.

Glis glis (edible dormouse) in winter sleep

What have I missed? Is there anything I mentioned once and never got back to you about? Let me know in the comments!

Drunk on Life

I have been thinking about minimalism a great deal lately, and it seems to me that it isn’t so much a case of getting rid of things as of distilling your life to its essence. Getting rid of things is not the point, it’s the process. All that stuff which is inessential (that is, not part of the essence) is an unlamented by-product of the distillation. I mean, when did you last hear someone fretting over the missing by-products of their whisky? Exactly.

When I look at my own life, however, I am afraid that it is far from being a pure essence. Any gunpowder drenched in the liquor of my daily existence wouldn’t give so much as a fizzle, let alone a really satisfactory BANG! Never mind proof or over-proof, you couldn’t get a dormouse drunk on this.

7schlaefer de 2009-2

But there is hope for me yet. Little by little, drop by drop, I am distilling my life into something stronger. I am peeling away the layers of things I neither want nor need – garments that don’t fit, holey unmatched socks, random paper-based stuff – and finding as I do that I am feeling freer and freer from other stuff as well. Things I have kept for years, decades even, because I felt I couldn’t let them go, I now feel perfectly comfortable about releasing.

It’s actually quite addictive. The satisfaction of seeing all the dross purged from one small area of my life is such an enjoyable feeling I can’t help wanting to repeat it.

Purifying a precious metal from its overlaying dross is a good metaphor for the process, actually. So, to my surprise, is a military campaign. I always think of military campaigns as being terribly grim and disciplined – and no doubt they are. My campaign is more a guerrilla-style campaign of freedom and joy. Like a guerrilla gardener or a guerrilla knitter, except they add where I remove.

Ffm traxler statue elche mit guerilla-knitting

I find myself prowling around the house, interrogating stuff with a critical eye. I lie awake at night considering potential targets and plotting my next move. Keep the best and toss the rest. And by toss I mean gift, donate or recycle. Or compost, in the worst cases.

I dream of being free of the bulk, the sheer physical thingness of my possessions. Of having the mental, physical and emotional space to devote myself to what truly matters to me. I plan, in fact, to get tiddly on the distilled essence of my life.

What have you been dreaming about lately? How are you getting there?