Category Archives: Minimalism

Unplugged (Sort of)

I recently read a blog post from one of the minimalist blogs I follow about unplugging from technology for one day a week. Actually, it wasn’t that recent. It was, in fact, in August. I left the post in my Inbox and I’ve been thinking about it.

Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

All right, procrastinating about it.

You see, although it seemed like an attractive idea, I couldn’t unplug in August because I had a family situation that necessitated watching my e-mail closely.

When that was over, I thought about it again, but then I was watching … what? I can’t remember. A possible hurricane down south somewhere? I think so. Anyway, I really wanted to watch it. It was important.

I observed myself both want to unplug for a day and resist unplugging for a day. It reminded me irresistibly of giving up honey in my tea.

When I came to Maine, I changed my lifelong, mostly plant-based, low fat, low sugar (by this I meant, you know, white sugar) diet to eating keto. More about that journey here, here, here and here. I had, at that point, started every day of my adult life with a large cup of green tea sweetened with a spoonful of honey. It was an important daily ritual. I looked forward to it, counted on it, needed it. On the road, camping, or at home, I had to have my green tea and honey in the morning. I could do without sleep, hot and cold running water and food, but my morning tea was nonnegotiable.

Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Honey, that delicious golden elixir I used to buy by the gallon in spite of the cost, is a carbohydrate. Our bodies do not distinguish between plain old white sugar, honey, agave or any other kind of “natural” or “organic” sugar. For me, this means inflammation, autoimmune disease and chronic pain.

I was determined to regain my health. The daily dose of honey had to go.

I have an extremely hostile relationship with addiction, as my family of origin is affected by it and I know I’m genetically and behaviorally predisposed. I’ve stayed far, far away from any substance or behavior that I thought might potentially become addictive for me. At least, that’s been my intention.

However, life is going on while we’re deciding who we will not be and what we will not do, and although I was aware of how much I depended on my morning cup of tea, green tea is good for you, right? No harm in that habit.

Except I realized, after day two or three of tea without honey, that the tea was pleasure. The honey was addiction. I needed it. I craved it. I was miserable and angry and deprived without it. My body needed that first hit of carbohydrate in the morning, needed it desperately because I was basically chronically malnourished and addicted to carbs.

I was completely chagrined. Life is very humbling sometimes. Have you noticed?

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

Me being me, all I needed was to feel how much I depended on the honey to become determined to give it up. I was building a new life, including eating a massive breakfast of animal fat, meat and eggs every morning immediately upon rising. I went right on drinking tea, but I stopped using honey. I stopped needing honey because I’d finally figured out how to feed myself appropriately. In time, the craving went away, along with the majority of carbs in my diet and chronic pain and inflammation.

Make no mistake, though. I whined and complained and bitched every step of the way. For a time, I considered giving up tea altogether. I would never enjoy it as much again. The honey enhanced the flavor, and it just wasn’t the same without it. What was the point? Getting out of bed was no fun. The morning was no fun. Never again would I have a big cup of Earl Grey tea with lemon and honey and spend an hour sipping and reading a good book on a snowy afternoon, etc., etc., etc. It was pathetic and maddening. I hated myself and everyone else, and I resented my physical need to delete carbs from my diet.

I couldn’t help noticing how similarly I felt about unplugging from technology for even one day, in spite of priding myself on not being captive to it. I have a cell phone I hardly ever use. It’s an effort to turn it on every three days or so and check for messages. I don’t use social media. Left to my own devices, I’d never watch TV. The only tech I really use is my laptop, but I use that for many hours every day. I’d love to be able to honestly say all that use is writing, but it’s just not so.

I check the headlines on MSN, even though I know it’s all click bait and I rarely believe much of what I read in the “news.” Then I check the weather forecast. I check my e-mail accounts. I read the Google news headlines, not as sexy and sensational as MSN and slightly more reliable. Maybe. I bank online. I run the blog online. I do research. I check on local movies. I play solitaire.

I play a lot of solitaire.

I loved the sound of unplugging from all this for a day. It was such a good idea I wondered why I hadn’t tried it before. As soon as I looked at my calendar with the intention of planning an unplugged day, I began to recognize resistance.

A lot of resistance.

I didn’t want to admit it. I use less tech than anyone I know. I’m smug about staying away from GPS, social media and the need to have a cell phone surgically attached to my person. The truth is, however, that I’m just as caught in the addictive net of tech as anyone else.

Shit.

My choice about all this was to leave the post about unplugging in my mailbox, where I’d see it several times a day (because I check my e-mail countless times a day), and sit with my chagrin, my resistance and my recognition of my own compulsion to remain plugged in. I’ve been doing that for weeks now, alternating between resentment and amusement.

For some reason, late Saturday I decided I was going to take the bull by the horns and stay off the Internet on Sunday. Not off the word processor, but off the Internet. No after-breakfast check on the headlines, etc. while I drank my morning green tea (unsweetened). No first solitaire game, during which I thought about where to start working. No e-mail.

I needed to know I could do it, no matter how uncomfortable it was.

Minimalism is an amazing practice. It starts externally with objects, but once I began to look at my life in terms of what really matters and all the stuff that obscures and distracts from that, the internal work took over. My small experiment with unplugging from the Internet was a perfect illustration of the dynamic of unconscious clutter.

Sunday was the most spacious day I’ve had in months. I looked at the clock twenty times in disbelief. The day seemed to have about four extra hours in it. It was a beautiful autumn day, a day off from work, a day in which I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything. I got out the crock pot and made a keto version of spaghetti meat sauce with no pasta. I did some good writing. I read. I stripped the bed and did laundry. I put on some music and exercised. I prepared for the work week ahead.

On Monday morning, I came up the stairs to my attic workspace and opened up the Internet to see what I’d missed.

Absolutely nothing.

I had more spam than usual in my e-mail, because I hadn’t checked every hour or so and deleted it as it came in. My bank account was just as I’d left it (darn it!). The headlines were the same old headlines. The autumn weather managed to exist without me having read the forecast. I’d somehow navigated a whole day without sitting down to play a game of solitaire while I thought about the next step.

Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

It was an eye-opening experiment that will now become a weekly habit. It’s hard to think about totally unplugging and going screenless for a day, but not as hard as it was before Sunday. I am a writer, but writing is still possible the old-fashioned way, with paper and pen.

As I’ve worked on this post the last couple of days, my partner sent me a provocative article about our relationship with our smart phones. I’m not the only one rethinking my relationship with tech and clutter in general.

Instituting simpler Sundays without the intrusion of the Internet. My daily crime.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Resource

This summer is about resource. I’ve never picked a one-word summer intention before, but today I realize it’s been thrust upon me, willy-nilly. The Summer of Resource.

Photo by Landon Martin on Unsplash

I’ve been working with the idea of minimalism, which forces one to take stock of resource in the wide sense. What is resource? Oxford online dictionary defines resource as “a stock or supply of … assets that can be drawn on by a person … in order to function effectively.”

When I think about resource, it’s a jigsaw puzzle, and like a jigsaw puzzle, every piece counts if one wants to end up with the whole picture. When I hear the word “assets,” money is the first thing that comes to mind. Then there are external natural resources, which are also closely tied to money and more finite every minute.

In a capitalist economy, that’s as far as most people explore resource. What’s the bottom financial line? What’s the cost versus benefit projection? What’s the tax picture? How expensive is firewood, oil, electricity and food? What is the interest rate? How affordable is housing?

Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

Sadly, this is a short-sighted and nonsustainable view of resource. It’s also incomplete, because it doesn’t include the intangibles that can’t be quantified in terms of monetary value, and so become invisible. These include space, time, creativity, soulfulness, heartfulness, love and compassion. Also, more subtly, faith, patience, playfulness, innocence and integrity, some of which qualities are targets of active contempt in this culture.

How do we quantify the resource of a life, any kind of a life?

Pick a closet in your house. Open the door. What’s the square footage of that space resource? What’s in the closet? Any item you don’t want and/or don’t use is not a resource. It’s just junk clogging up you space. “It’s mine,” “I’ve had it all my life,” “I paid a lot of money for this,” “my favorite aunt gave it to me” and “some day I might need that” are not indicators of resource. A resource helps us function effectively, remember? Any item we don’t use but hang onto anyway isn’t helping us function effectively. Our shoe collection, baseball card collection or belly button lint collection might temporarily give us pleasure, bolster our self-esteem, distract us or even be a financial investment (probably not the belly button lint, but remember Pet Rocks?), but our collections frequently cost money to acquire and demand space, time and management. They own us as much as we own them.

Even money, inappropriately managed, becomes an ineffective resource.

We are constantly assaulted by sophisticated marketing persuading us to buy products that will make our lives better. Most of us know intellectually we’re being manipulated, but the lure is irresistible. We’re so hungry for love, for healthy relationships, for comfort, for distraction, for beauty. It’s an empty promise, though. We buy, but we’re still hungry, so we buy more, like the good little brainwashed consumers we’ve become.

Many folks here in Maine harvest wood off their land in exchange for financial resource. Some harvest sustainably, but most clear cut. People sell what resource they can in order to stay afloat financially. I understand. I’ve done it, too. That destroyed forest, however, is–was–a natural resource of unimaginable complexity on a finite and increasingly depleted planet. Systems scientists are only now beginning to glimpse the intricate interconnections between life on Earth–all life on Earth, not just human life.

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Life is resource.

Clear cutting a few acres of wood might help us face the immediate necessity to buy firewood this summer and heating oil over the winter. We can quantify those costs. We can’t quantify what the loss of those few acres are in terms of healthy land, water, air, and the innumerable forms of life that were destroyed with the trees. We don’t know exactly how the destruction of a few acres here in central Maine contributes to cumulative global breakdown and change, because we’re not aware of all the complexities of our dynamic living global system. It’s too big to think about, too far away. Many of us are simply trying to survive for another day or week or month in the long spaces between paychecks. We’re far too overwhelmed and desperate to try to grapple with the whole picture. After all, if we can’t get through today there is no tomorrow.

What will the last tree be worth in dollars? In possibility? In beauty?

I can’t think about resource without thinking about sustainability. Working 60-hour weeks might provide comfortable financial resource, but it’s not sustainable. Using up money, time, space, patience, and even things like hope faster than we create or save them means we’ll run out, and when we run out of resource our lives stop functioning effectively–fast. Then we’re forced to shape a new life, whether we’re prepared to or not.

Renewable resources need time to renew. Few of us feel as though we have enough time, and what time we do have is sucked up in earning money, dealing with the consequences of how we manage it, and relationships. It’s possible to set aside time for self-care and creativity, but it requires discipline and boundaries. It’s possible to grow food and harvest natural resources sustainably, but not as long as we value money over all other resource and our population continues to be in overshoot.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Like everyone else, I have needs and limited resource available to help meet them, but if my life is too cluttered, noisy and/or busy, I lose track of both my needs and my resource. I forget that I’m more than my ability to pay the bills, more than the numbers in my bank accounts. The practice of minimizing helps me remember to appreciate and protect all my resource, and make clear choices about sustaining and strengthening what I have so it supports who I am.

Minimalism encourages a kind of inside-out thinking. Not “I need a bigger house,” but “I need less stuff in this house.” Not “I need more money,” but “I want to spend less money.” Not “I need more time,” but “I want to do less with the time I have.”

Less, not more. The goal is to have what we need, but not more than we need.

What investments will truly increase my resource, financial, emotional, creative and intellectual? Only I can say. I’m the only expert on my own needs. I’m the only one who can identify the unrecognized or poorly managed resource in my life and implement different choices. No advertisement, expert, tweet, social media post or self-help book knows more about me than I do myself, and none can make choices for me. It’s all on me.

Rats.

It will be an interesting summer. I’m letting go of objects, some in exchange for money. I’m liquidating a financial asset to pay debts and invest in my ability to spend less. I’m investing time, energy, faith and hope in my creative work.

I think about effective living all the time. What, exactly, do I need to have and do to live effectively, and what do I have and do that are not helping me achieve that goal? What does “effective” mean to me? What does my particular expression of being require to thrive? What are my total resources, and how renewable or sustainable are they? How can they best be invested in order to create more?

The Summer of Resource. My daily crime.

Photo by Diana Măceşanu on Unsplash

In the Spaces Between

Barn and house

One of my favorite things about this land we live on is the old barn. Circa 1832 in the original part, it dwarfs the house and consists of four stories topped by an attic space under the roof. The cellar contains several rough animal stalls and is the occasional residence of a skunk, raccoon, woodchuck or grumpy porcupine. Phoebes nest every year in the cellar and first floor rafters. We store wood on the first floor. The second and third floors were an old hay mow and now are a repository for discarded furniture, miscellaneous remnants of wood, and old windows and doors. This is New England. These Yankees keep everything!

The barn is a tenement for rodents, bats, insects and birds, along with creatures like the aforesaid porcupine, who wander into the cellar in search of shelter.

New England Barn
Barn Cellar

When I moved to Maine, I stored some of my things in the barn; things I didn’t have room for in the house but wanted more accessible than the storage unit. Now that I’ve moved out of the storage unit and everything is here on the property, I’m determined to go through each box and discard what is no longer useful.

I work in the second story of the barn. The south wall contains a row of windows, several of which are broken. The west wall also has a broken window, and plentiful bat guano on the floor under it tells us this is their favored access point.

My hours in that space are strange, almost otherworldly. I sit on an old round lidded metal bucket that once contained popcorn. My table is the lid of a large plastic storage bin. I unpack the boxes I taped and labeled more than four years ago in Colorado, in a different life and half a world away. The barn is alive with stirrings and fugitive drafts. The wood floor dips and sways, creaking underfoot and showing cracks between the planks. The scent of apple blossoms floats in through the windows, along with the sounds of insects and the sweet calls of the phoebes as they hunt those insects. Once I’ve settled down quietly to work, squirrels, mice and chipmunks forget my presence and begin to scurry overhead and in the walls around me. I know bats are clustered under the roof, a floor and a half above me. Light comes in through countless cracks and crevices in the walls. The roof leaks in many places.

The body of the barn is loosening and thinning, much like my own skin, but as it does so it’s becoming rewoven into nature.

I’ve gone through boxes and boxes of beading material, sewing supplies, wreathmaking tools and elements, camping gear, seasonal decorations and kitchen items. The quiet barn fills with my memories as I review where I’ve been and recognize the steps that brought me to this place and this moment.

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash






We love increase in this culture. The journey of childhood to adulthood. Increasing income in order to increase spending power. Upscaling, upgrading, updating, trading in. Increased choice, increased technological power and speed, increased likes and friends, increased access to “information” and entertainment. Bigger, better, newer, faster, more.

Now, suddenly I find myself strangely captured by the beauty of decrease. Perhaps what I’m feeling is a kind of surrender, a letting go. The barn lets go of its glass window panes, its nails, its roof shingles, the mortar in its foundations. As the fabric of its structure thins, life pours into it. The world inhabits it. The boundaries between the building and its setting are softening.

New England barn in winter
Winter barn

Observing this process of gradually increasing boundary ecstasy is breathtakingly, almost piercingly beautiful. My appreciation of its magic mingles with tears, memories and nostalgia as I unwrap and handle my things, once so beloved and important in my life, now boxed and stored.

As I load up the car and donate to our local charities, sell or give away what I no longer need, the storage space in the barn gradually empties. Sunlight fingers the floor where a stack of boxes stood. An errant breeze swirls dust into a brief glittering cloud.

Is empty space, or an empty moment, ever really empty? Can it be? Is a quiet afternoon without distraction or entertainment sterile and boring, or filled with peace and possibility that we no longer recognize or welcome but are starving for nonetheless?

Watching the reflection of moving leaves or water and sunlight on a bare wall feeds my creativity and joy in a way the finest piece of manmade art never could.

As I empty my life of so many objects, it becomes like the barn. I allow the cracks of long use, weathering and aging to show. I allow my memories and experience to mingle with the light, the moving air and the life outside my boundaries and barriers. I feel less isolated and more grateful, less anxious and more peaceful.

What is a life defined by the spaces between objects and tasks rather than the objects and tasks themselves? What is life in the spaces between our debts, bank balance and paychecks? What are the gifts hidden in decrease, in the slow passage of time, in loosening skin and softening bone? How much creativity and wisdom fill the spaces between our obligations, habits and addictions?

What hidden infinities lie in the spaces between each tick of the clock, each heartbeat and each breath? How much light can come into me as I widen the cracks in my physical envelope? More importantly, how much of my light can shine out into the darkness around me?

Widening the spaces between. My daily crime.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash