Unburying the Self

What we’ve not been doing…

…is buying stuff. Reducing what we buy. Of course the odd thing has slipped through the net and as Christmas approaches this has increased. But we no longer by what we don’t need, what we won’t use, what we won’t love.

What we have been doing is clearing out, de-cluttering, moving things on. Creating space we desperately need and no longer willing to give it up to items that just clog up our time and home.

I started to feel saturated with stuff a couple of years ago when, in anticipation of our third baby’s imminent arrival, I wondered where I would cradle our new daughter. I was overwhelmed by the piles of miscellaneous objects that covered almost every surface and filled every single space. I was always tidying and never feeling the place was tidy.

We’d moved as a family with a toddler and baby from a 3-bedroom house to a 2-bedroom cottage, added another child into the mix and collected (see ‘hoarded’) a whole load of stuff along the way. We were at bursting point.

Enter KonMarie. Or Marie Kondo. Or rather her book, The The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (you may have heard of it). Suddenly, there was my answer and I felt rather foolish for not having seen it before. Instead of trying to build an extension we couldn’t afford, we just needed to get rid of all our stuff. Instead of insisting our old, beautiful furniture wasn’t suitable storage for 21st C life I could fit everything we need in and just get rid of the rest. it was so simple. I felt elated when I announced this epiphany to my husband who was, understandably, less enthusiastic. But buoyed along by this new sense of freedom I began to slowly remove much of my unwanted belongings. Only mine. I didn’t do it strictly as Marie Kondo recommends, spare time is brief with 3 kids. But gradually….

Then finally, out of sheer frustration at not being able to find yet another important thing, my husband gave in. He took the kids away to his parents for a week and for that whole week I removed as much unwanted, unused, unloved stuff out of the cottage as I could find. Six car loads. CAR loads. Not the boot or a couple of boxes on the back seat. This was a seven-seater with the back seats folded down. Full. Five went to charity shops, one went to the recycling centre. I felt ashamed that there had been a car load of broken, un-usable junk in the house.

I declared myself a minimalist. A label I would have once laughed at, thinking the art of minimalism was cold, stark, bare and not for me.

But minimalism looks differently for everyone. There are those who aspire to live with barely any possessions, those who own a magic number of items, those who desire to live without. For me, it is less about living without and more about discovering what I need, what we need, to live. Each persons list will look differently.

Imagine, realising that my minimalism is all the rage. That I can buy as many books as I want about it (I limited myself to two), that dressing my minimalism with wool blankets, sheepskins, replacing plastic kitchen utensils with wood, replacing mass-produced crockery with handmade. Turning out the lights in favour of candlelight (the children love eating by candlelight at our new dining table, built by my husband). Favouring reading books over watching TV. I am Hygge minimalist. I am in danger of becoming a cliché.

But removing the things we don’t, need, use, love and giving space to things we do need, use and love makes our home what it is. The same with time. Removing the unnecessary journeys (buying less stuff means fewer trips to the shops needed), moving appointments, saying no means we can say yes. Yes to coffee with friends, yes to a yoga class, yes to a walk with the children as the promise of WInter kisses their cheeks to a blush red.

Yes to living.

I’m not going to tell you how you should be living, that you should be a minimalist, that eliminating and reducing will give you more.

But I will tell you how we do it, what it looks like and what we achieve. We still have a long way to go. Step by step as we finish the cottage room by room. For now,while we still live in a renovation chaos slowly being tamed,  our Hygge, our cottage this Winter looks like this…… 14611051_10211574452975782_6876877536433065054_n

…pull up a chair, read our story, join us if you wish.

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Morus y Gwynt….

Morus y Gwynt ac Ifan y glaw,

Daflodd fy nghap i ganol y baw!”

Morus the wind and Ifan the rain blew my cap into the middle of the dirt….This couplet has been recited to young children in Wales for generations. Naming the notorious winter weather isn’t new here. But now the trend for naming storms has reached the UK and storm Desmond was the latest.

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A moment of clarity….Wales. Home. The calm before the storm.

Wreaking havoc in places like Cumbria, where the towns of Keswick and Carlisle are now dealing with the aftermath of flooding, farms are struggling to manage livestock and businesses as their land and stock lies submerged. And it’s happening time, after time, after time…

People are losing posessions, irreplacable belongings but more importantly, they are losing the sense of security that a home brings. Knowing that shutting the door on the weather isn’t always going to guarantee safety anymore. Farmers are losing animals that they have raised, cared for, invested in, they are losing feed stock leaving them unable to provide for the animals that were able to reach safety, they are losing money when they have no produce to sell on. And it happens so quickly, a few hours of a passing storm and when the storms blows itself out, it takes a lot of security and certainty with it.

Communities rally round. Doors are opened and beds are offered to those who can’t go home. Spare clothes, toys for the kids, hot mugs of tea, shoulders to cry on. Neighbouring farms open their barns to animals who can’t make it home, share their stock to feed a neighbours flock, lend machinery, spend time helping the farmer who needs to rebuild fences, clear out barns, replant his crop.

It’s the same the world over. Humans come together and help each other out when it’s them versus Nature. Risking lives to save lives. Because in the grip of Nature’s force, all we can do is cling to each other and hope it will pass quickly, hope that there will be something left to rebuild.

As a nation, the British are obssessed with weather. We are known for it. We complain when it’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy. We use it as a topic to break the ice in social situations. Because we never really know what’s coming in from the Atlantic. Or Siberia. Or the Sahara. Now we’re naming it as if it won’t make it seem quite so alien. ‘Oh, that? That’s just Desmond hammering at the door and ripping the roof off.’

We escaped unscathed. I think, in no small part, due to the small trench I dug a few hours after Desmond arrived. When we were still on course to build an extension there were groundworks done at the back of the cottage. On the one hand, it held rainwater and surface water draining from the higher field behind us and created a rather impressive lake. On the other hand it held that water away from our indoor floor level long enough for me to realise that a problem might be looming, long enough for me to dig a trench deep enough to drain the excess water away from the cottage. So we didn’t flood, because I had learned from experience when, back in 2012, we did.

Just two weeks after moving in, with a 2 year old and 4 month old we experienced more rain in 12 hours than we would have in a month. And while I was stood in the kitchen that afternoon, I saw the movement out of the corner of my eye. That trickle, that became a stream, that covered half the kitchen floor before it reached the front door and found a way out. But by then it had already covered the bathroom and the boys bedroom. The water levels outside had ‘breached’ our floor level. Once it had drained enough surplus though half the cottage, it stopped. I ran outside and could see, just by the volume of rain, by the waterfall that had appeared from the field behind and by the lake that was filling quickly, that it was going to happen again. And this time it was going to come in through the back door as well, which meant the lounge was going to flood. I lifted the baby, sleeping in his rocking chair, and placed him on the kitchen table, I ran into the lounge and threw every item on the floor onto the chairs and sofa. I scooped up the toddler and waited. What else could I do? And the water came in. Silently. Contaminating the home, not with sewage, but with anger and despair. At 1,000ft up a mountain with the nearest water source in the field below us, we never imagined we would be at risk of flood.

The second time round wasn’t as much fun for the toddler who had splashed through the first lot. He was frightened and as more water came in I began to wonder just jow long it would last, how deep would this actually get? I’ve never been a fan of Robbie Williams but when his song ‘Candy’ came on the radio we began to dance. I danced around the sleeping baby on the kitchen table, with the toddler on my hip and water around my ankles. I wondered, what the hell had we done?

Later, C , who had been stuck at work with their own crisis to deal with, was told that many women would have packed up and taken the kids elsewhere. We were lucky, we lost nothing. The damage was more psychological than anything. So when the rain falls heavily and for a long time, I will go around the back of the cottage and just check.  And if it starts to look like a small lake, I make sure the kids are safe and see where I need to dig. A storm drain is high on our list of priorities.

Morus can howl as hard as he likes, and Ifan can pour an ocean, but we will do what we have to protect our cottage and it’s precious residents. And I hope the people of Cumbria feel that in amongst the things they lost, they didn’t lose their sense of home.