What a long time since my last post. I’ve also been too worn out to reflect on things and to write. There has been too little space to think and write; both are activities I enjoy a lot, but which need space.
There was a lot of upheaval in my life a year or two back, when a relationship and much else in my life ended at once. My possessions went into storage. I sold my car. I got back on my bike. I travelled for a while, and then went moved to another country, to start over again: a new career, a new field of work, a new environment, new colleagues, a new city, a new country. My income fell by nearly 80%, and I found myself drawing deeply on my savings.
One real positive to emerge from that process was the realisation that my life had become decluttered. I had had vague feelings that I was living with too many things. The car drained my finances and my time, and money worries had been a factor in the end of that relationship. Not having to carry those issues around with me became an unintentional experiment in doing without. I more or less stopped eating meat. I declined a mobile upgrade and replaced a dead laptop with a second-hand one to install Linux on. I bought new things less often. I found cheaper things to do. I rode my bike more. I lost more than a stone. I felt better. I felt younger. None of this really involved any effort at all. Living more simply was a lot simpler than I had expected.
Before all this, I had had vague feelings of guilt about consumerism, about using resources unsustainably. The discipline of doing without was like a light coming on, slowly: I could see the things that I had hitherto only sensed. Now they were visible in sharp relief. At the start and end of my year abroad, I moved my life abroad taking only what I could carry: a bag, a box and a bike. I now feel able to live a life that’s more in tune with my beliefs. But the other thing is that the need for simplicity starts working on other areas of your life.
Now, I’m focusing instead on something that it seems far harder to ‘own’: time. I often find myself talking about not ‘having’ the time for this or that, when I wonder instead whether what I in fact mean is that I don’t ‘make’ time for them. Of course, there are some things that we all make time for, without even thinking about it: certain regular commitments, most specifically our work, which is assumed to fill time in our calendars: there before anything else, so unquestioned that we don’t even mark it in. Another thing that I have made time for is my Quaker meeting, which for the first time in my life is now a recurring fixture in my calendar – something I have made a commitment to, a discipline rather than something I will pick up if I feel like it. In return for the commitment, I am getting a great deal back.
What I don’t do so much is to make time for other things that I want to do, things I like doing, things I think I should be doing. Instead, I tell myself that by being organised, I can have time for all sorts of things, because that’s the kind of person I want to be – helpful, open, available. This has led me to take on commitments at a rate and to an extent that have threatened my sanity slightly.
But recently the lights came on again, bringing a problem I had hitherto only felt into plain sight. One reason is a recent bout of illness: a cold that stuck around for two weeks, and which became really debilitating. I was too busy to rest, but too ill to be busy. I woke up, every morning, knowing that I was going to feel worse in the evening and worse again the next morning.
Being ill brought back bad memories of my life as a teacher, where I complained constantly about my workload, eventually reaching a point where I could not carry on. I don’t want to do that again. I want a life that is spiritually and physically sustainable.
So I’m going to write a little series of posts about decluttering. Just as decluttering your possessions seems to be a process of learning which ones are really important, so decluttering my time is going to be about deciding which of the things I do really matter to me and my future. Perhaps the most important things are the ones that need the most planning of all: things we want but don’t have to do, things that are important rather than urgent, things that sustain us.