If you are anything like me you have a vague sense of desperation about how cluttered and busy your life is and an equally vague idea that at some point you will go about simplifying it. The problem is knowing where to start. I have found myself wishing that someone would just take me by the hand and lead me through each room in my house in turn and help me to rationalise and minimise. So, Lorilee Lippincott’s book 3-2-1 Stop came along at just the right moment.
In fact, Lori’s approach goes a lot deeper than just de-cluttering the material environment, she takes the reader by the hand through the attitudes and aspirations behind our desire for simplicity, too. This is not simplicity for its own sake but simplicity with purpose that is rooted in our dreams. It is about making emotional as well as physical space in your life.
I think it is Lori’s conversational style and her generous and candid revelations about her own journey that make this book such a pleasant trip. It is exciting, too, because right from the first page you catch her infectious expectation that things can and will change for you. Beginning with some ground rules about attitude, Lori tackles the problem of “stuff” in the first section of the book. She gets down to brass tacks within a few pages. It’s not rocket science, it’s not merely theory, it’s common sense seasoned by experience and practice. Most of her practical recommendations are things I have half-heartedly attempted at some point in the past but I have benefited from having someone saying, “do this” then “do that” – once again, small steps. She even makes you take a step back and think about furniture. She then goes on to look at some of the typically problematic areas for simplification, and this includes personal areas such as money and past regrets.
These words come from someone who has actually walked every step she takes you through and that makes them personable and authentic. This book has become my “manual” for spring cleaning this year (and beyond) and it has renewed my commitment to a minimalism that is liberating and intentional.
Try as I might, I can’t dampen my enthusiasm for a handful of writers I like to call the “rugged individualists” of the 19th and early 20th Centuries: Henry Thoreau (1817-1862), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Thomas Paine (1737-1809), Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) and even Jan Smuts (1870-1950). What keeps drawing me back to these figures? I’m not in a position to give a scholarly answer to that. I just find that their philosophy excites me profoundly. None of them were at home in ivory towers and, for them, their ideas were not the intellectual toys that they have become. For good or ill they experimented with life, that is to say they applied their philosophies to the real world and the things they could influence. I admire that and I feel it is difficult to point to equivalent figures in our own time – perhaps that will only be possible for people to do a hundred years from now.
I’m willing to acknowledge that their thought has been so influential on the assumptions that I grew up with that it is not surprising that I should find a sense of spiritual kindred. I would even struggle to name what ties them all together in my mind. They all diverged from the orthodox dogmas of the Church in some respects, they all affirmed some kind of self-reliance based on the divine aspects of human beings and something else about the interconnectedness of all things. They were rugged individualists. I know that our western “individualism” is “bad” but I can’t help feeling these guys had more in mind than the American Dream.
Well, that’s my apology and here’s an excerpt from “Love, Life and Work” by Elbert Hubbard, an influential thinker and practitioner in the Arts and Crafts Movement and a founder of the Roycroft Community. The full text is available from Project Gutenberg and here is an audiofile of me reading this excerpt for the GoingPublic project.
Success is in the blood. There are men whom fate can never keep down—they march forward in a jaunty manner, and take by divine right the best of everything that the earth affords. But their success is not attained by means of the Samuel Smiles-Connecticut policy. They do not lie in wait, nor scheme, nor fawn, nor seek to adapt their sails to catch the breeze of popular favor. Still, they are ever alert and alive to any good that may come their way, and when it comes they simply appropriate it, and tarrying not, move steadily on.
Good health! Whenever you go out of doors, draw the chin in, carry the crown of the head high, and fill the lungs to the utmost; drink in the sunshine; greet your friends with a smile, and put soul into every hand-clasp.
Do not fear being misunderstood; and never waste a moment thinking about your enemies. Try to fix firmly in your own mind what you would like to do, and then without violence of direction you will move straight to the goal.
Fear is the rock on which we split, and hate the shoal on which many a barque is stranded. When we become fearful, the judgment is as unreliable as the compass of a ship whose hold is full of iron ore; when we hate, we have unshipped the rudder; and if ever we stop to meditate on what the gossips say, we have allowed a hawser to foul the screw.
Keep your mind on the great and splendid thing you would like to do; and then, as the days go gliding by, you will find yourself unconsciously seizing the opportunities that are required for the fulfillment of your desire, just as the coral insect takes from the running tide the elements that it needs. Picture in your mind the able, earnest, useful person you desire to be, and the thought that you hold is hourly transforming you into that particular individual you so admire.
Thought is supreme, and to think is often better than to do.
Preserve a right mental attitude—the attitude of courage, frankness and good cheer.
Darwin and Spencer have told us that this is the method of Creation. Each animal has evolved the parts it needed and desired. The horse is fleet because he wishes to be; the bird flies because it desires to; the duck has a web foot because it wants to swim. All things come through desire and every sincere prayer is answered. We become like that on which our hearts are fixed.
Many people know this, but they do not know it thoroughly enough so that it shapes their lives. We want friends, so we scheme and chase ‘cross lots after strong people, and lie in wait for good folks—or alleged good folks—hoping to be able to attach ourselves to them. The only way to secure friends is to be one. And before you are fit for friendship you must be able to do without it. That is to say, you must have sufficient self-reliance to take care of yourself, and then out of the surplus of your energy you can do for others.
The individual who craves friendship, and yet desires a self-centered spirit more, will never lack for friends.
If you would have friends, cultivate solitude instead of society. Drink in the ozone; bathe in the sunshine; and out in the silent night, under the stars, say to yourself again and yet again, “I am a part of all my eyes behold!” And the feeling then will come to you that you are no mere interloper between earth and heaven; but you are a necessary part of the whole. No harm can come to you that does not come to all, and if you shall go down it can only be amid a wreck of worlds.
Like old Job, that which we fear will surely come upon us. By a wrong mental attitude we have set in motion a train of events that ends in disaster. People who die in middle life from disease, almost without exception, are those who have been preparing for death. The acute tragic condition is simply the result of a chronic state of mind—a culmination of a series of events.
Character is the result of two things, mental attitude, and the way we spend our time. It is what we think and what we do that make us what we are.
By laying hold on the forces of the universe, you are strong with them. And when you realize this, all else is easy, for in your arteries will course red corpuscles, and in your heart the determined resolution is born to do and to be. Carry your chin in and the crown of your head high. We are gods in the chrysalis.
I’m currently working my way through Louis Fischer’s “Life of Mahatma Gandhi”. I say “working my way through” because it is impossible to simply read about such a life without being forced to look long and hard at one’s own. One of the many things that strikes me about Gandhi’s life is his unending experimentation.
Many of his contemporaries found this a very frustrating aspect of their Mahatma. As much as they loved him, it was difficult to keep up with his ever evolving attitudes and approaches. Just when people thought he had nailed something down, he would move on, backtrack, repent, try something else. This champion of non-violence and enemy of the British System, nevertheless supported the British war effort by recruiting and serving in an ambulance corps. During his lifetime, Gandhi completely reversed his opinion on inter-caste marriages within Hinduism – from complete disapproval to virtually insisting on it. And he never stopped radically changing his dietary habits in line with his evolving view of human health and ethical vegetarianism.
He was a slippery fish – you never quite knew how he was going to respond to something, but he was always ready with a reasoned answer to his surprised and exasperated followers. This apparent inconsistency was not a weakness but appears to spring from a humble openness to change and learn, make mistakes and experiment.
In spite of all this it appears that three things remained fixed, two of which were phenomenally practical. He maintained a lifelong commitment to Khadi (homespun cloth), he never gave up his focus on integrating the “untouchables” in society (he renamed them “Harijans” – children of God), and he was unashamedly religious. Khadi, Harijans, and God – these were the forces he believed in for the transformation of India.
I admire the clarity with which he was able to pick the issues he would die for (as he nearly did on a couple of occasions due to self-imposed fasts). But, I am also determined to learn from the humility with which he was able to try new ways of aligning his convictions with his actions, and to say, “I got that wrong” and move on to try another approach.
Gandhi’s own body and soul, his surroundings and his sphere of influence were a laboratory in which he was prepared to constantly refine and improve his methods in search of the truth. He reminds me that our goal in life is not to become an increasing point of stability and so-called “reliability” but to be dynamic beings, adept swimmers in a sea of change, lifelong experimenters and unashamed modifiers of our selves.
Before we got rid of our TV, I was becoming weary of the amount of hours dedicated to cookery programs which encourage people to “fetishize” food and slaver over exotic culinary preparations. Historically, an unhealthy fascination with gourmandise seems to have proliferated in civilisations on the cusp of decline and I think we are no exception.
Not only do I feel convicted about the excesses of our western diet but it has become a matter of financial importance to rationalise our grocery bill. I have also noticed that the only times I have been successful in losing weight and enjoying the benefits of a healthier diet where when I pursued a simple and fairly repetitive “ethnic” diet in the past.
Previously this consisted of a “raw” porridge of soaked oats for breakfast (with salt or honey), miso soup for lunch and simply prepared vegetables for tea (usually stir fried with rice or noodles). Knowing that the majority of people in the world do a full day’s work on a bowl of rice or some other staple, with some sort of garnish, convinces me that it must be possible to flourish on a much simpler diet.
I think it was Mahatma Gandhi who said the table fork is the most destructive weapon wielded by humans. For ethical reasons, meat and dairy no longer make an appearance on our plates but I have noticed how I have still clung to the pursuit of a rich and exotic palate. After paying our mortgage, it is our grocery bill that consumes the next greatest segment of our household income. No small contributor to this is the tendency to need a specific, exotic ingredient for a particular dish, that usually prompts a trip to the supermarket where a number of luxury “treats” also tend to be put in the basket before the checkout is reached.
For the sake of austerity and health and in order to bring our pantry more into line with the simple food of our fellow humans in poorer parts of the world, the next step was to cut the number of ingredients available.
Initially I have opted to limit the entire grocery stock to 35 items. This is still incredibly generous in world terms and I think we will still be enjoying a richer and more varied diet than most global citizens. However, it is just an experimental step in the general direction of a simpler existence. At the same time I hope to cut the weekly grocery bill to £30 a week for the two of us. I think that is realistic.
So, for the curious, here is the new stock list:
1. Rice (at the moment this is white basmati rice)
2. Pasta (dry fusilli)
3. Rolled Oats (jumbo organic – for raw porridge and the occasional flapjack)
4. Wholemeal Flour (for bread making and other baking)
5. Maize or Plantain Meal (African staples that are filling and nutritious and hopefully making more frequent appearances as I learn how to prepare them)
Pulses (Our core source of protein – I adore all beans but had to pick my favourites)
6. Lentils (for bulking up soups and preparing dhals)
7. Butter Beans (I usually use in stews or mash)
8. Mung Beans (for sprouting and other uses)
9. Chick Peas (one of the most important items in our diet of curry, hummus and falafel; also delicious roasted as a snack)
10. Red Kidney Beans (mainly end up prepared with chilli or refried, Mexican style)
11. Olive Oil (only used sparingly for dipping and dressing)
12. Rapeseed Oil (absolutely my oil of choice, a great “butter” substitute in most recipes and doesn’t burn easily)
13. Salt (of course)
14. Agave Nectar (trying to switch refined sugar out for this)
15. Vinegar (prefer cider vinegar for most purposes but it will be a case of what is available)
16. Cocoa Powder (Probably one of my most useful ingredients, not just for hot chocolate and baking projects but I have it on my oats and am currently exploring other uses)
Seasoning (these tend to be ones that are easily and cheaply bought in bulk)
17. Chilli Powder
21. Black Pepper
22. Mixed Herbs
23. Dessicated Coconut (for baking and dhals and other curries, can be soaked and blended for use as “creamed coconut”)
24. Almonds (appearing a lot these days, I’m learning to prepare my own almond milk)
25. Dried Dates (use as a sweetener and a snack)
26. Tinned Tomatoes
27. Tea (for drinking but also makes rice more interesting, just as toasted rice makes a cup of tea more interesting …)
28. Ground Coffee
29. Rooibos (also known as Red Bush Tea, can be used as a herb in cooking)
30. Peppermint Tea
31. Garlic (I’m not ashamed to say we eat a lot of it and I believe in its medicinal properties)
32. Onions (everything starts with onions)
33. 3 Other Seasonal Vegetables
I don’t expect to be either bored or malnourished … but I’ll let you know how we get on.
In spite of the fact that we risk information fatigue as we are overloaded with data from the web and other media, I can’t help noticing that sometimes something I see among the hundreds of pages and pictures and clips that I view every week “sticks” and begins to embed itself on another level. This TED talk from Bunker Roy is one such sticky thing. It fed my soul, reawakened something, pulled some threads together. I’ll let it speak for itself for this is one of the most inspiring and heartening things I have seen for a long time:
I tend to get the blues every October. It sneaks up on me. I’m half way through the month and wondering why my energy levels are shot and I’m going round in circles feeling quite miserable and unmotivated. Then I remember: it’s just October. Usually I’ve pulled things around come November. However, this year I had an exciting and productive month. The secret, I believe, is oats. So here I’m republishing something I originally put up on Triond a long time ago.
Small Changes for Health
People who are successful at making lasting improvements to their health are those who have good habits father than a tendency to go “all out” for one thing or another without being able to sustain it in the long run. It is the simple things you do every day (like brushing your teeth) that have a cumulative beneficial effect on your ability to fight infection, maintain a safe body weight, and stay well. It is said to take 21 days to form a habit and just 4 to break it so you need to be determined. However, most of us try to bite off more than we can chew and change too much in one go – setting ourselves up for a fall .There are simple things that you can introduce gradually into your daily routine to reap lifelong benefits. Pick just one to do every day and when you have got that down, add another one into your daily practice.
Start the Day with Oats
Oats are a natural antidepressant. When I was growing up, many of my wider family were polo players. A couple of days before a polo match, the ponies’ feed would be switched from barley to oats. Those stable boys knew how to make a horse lively! It worked, the horses would be as high as kites. We can enjoy the beneficial effect of oats every day. Oats work in three ways to improve your mood:
Regulating bowel function by providing a source of fibre. Most of us don’t realise how miserable our bowels make us when they are not working properly but they have been consistently linked with mood. Even if things feel alright down there, your body can still be under unnecessary stress when digestive processes are sluggish.
Boosting up the production of serotonin – one of the “happy” neurotransmitters. Many antidepressants work by acting on the serotonin system. Oats are a natural answer. Vitamin b6 found in oats is an essential raw material for the production of Tryptophan, an amino acid that is an essential stage in the manufacture of serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depressive symptoms, interrupted sleep and craving for carbohydrates and can be a particular problem when you are not getting enough sunlight.
Balancing blood sugar and energy levels. While oats are being digested they release energy to the body on a slow and sustained curve for several hours and so provide a more useful supply of energy through the day. This is preferable to a “sugar high” that causes stress to the body’s systems and results in those cravings for more carbohydrate. In my own experience, if I have a decent bowl of oats at about 9am I can easily last until 2pm before feeling that I really must have something to eat again.
It doesn’t matter how you get your oats, raw by the spoonful, as porridge or even by switching to oatmeal based bread and other cereal products. Of course, big organic rolled oats with bits of hull stuck to them would be my ideal choice. For me, the best practice is to start the day with a bowl of oats and to redouble the benefit you can receive from this, take a tip from ancient tradition: Ideally oats should be soaked overnight in water (or a non-dairy milk). This makes them more digestible as enzymes will have begun to get to work by the morning and a tiny bit of fermentation enhances the nutrient content.
Try a daily dose of oats for a week and see if you notice the difference in your mood.