What I Shed Today

lightening up a little at a time

– pair of license plates

Yanking and shoving tools and supplies on my garage shelves into (slightly) better order, a box corner caught on something flexible yet firm. What’s fallen down there? I wondered, reaching bravely into the dim, cob-webby corner. My hand brought out not spiders (most of which are harmless, right?), but two old license plates.

licenseplates

I don’t recall or recognize them as any of mine; they must’ve been lost by some previous owner of our house. They failed the test of the Morris Rule (neither useful nor beautiful), and ordinarily I would’ve tossed them in our nearest recycling bin, but one commemorated the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games (which were hosted by Atlanta with the help of the rest of the state). And, practiced as I’ve tried to become at refusing it, I fell again for one of my favorite rationalizations to fail to shed: “I don’t want this, but someone surely would.”

How to find that interested collector, though? I tried posting an ad to the “free stuff” category on craiglist and had an inquiry within minutes. Success! I thought, smugly dismissing the reservations I’d felt.


… I fell again for one of my favorite rationalizations to fail to shed: “I don’t want this, but someone surely would.”


But Kenny never came to collect the plates, though I left them leaning on the mailbox post for two days. A second caller’s passionate promise of interest also evaporated overnight. Apparently a challenge of giving something away for nothing is that nothing is the value that may be put on it in our consumer culture.

John, however, was a craigslister of his e-mailed and telephoned word, and he now possesses the plates. I doubt it makes the world a better place … but maybe there’s a slight net increase of happiness. I am, at least, a few ounces lighter.

shedding style: give away
destination: John’s collection

Comments welcome … shall we call a moratorium on collecting other people’s collections?

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playing cards (with thoughts about gifts and the Morris Rule)

I make much on What I Shed Today of what Nimue and I have long called “the Morris Rule.” Straight out of an essay by the 19th-century English artist, designer, and social critic William Morris, the Rule says, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” We find that, handled confidently, it is a very sharp knife to divide what should stay and what should go.

Occasionally we ruefully amend the Rule: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, believe to be beautiful, or was given to you by someone you don’t wish to offend by ditching it.”

Bemusement aside, I believe that “thank you,” “congratulations,” “great job,” “you’re appreciated,” “please care about me,” “I’m glad we’re us” and like words are the finest things people say to one another in ordinary discourse. We say them—aloud or by signs—to connect, keep connection, or strengthen the bonds of relationship. Gifts signify that.

So I don’t want to be ungrateful nor treat them shoddily. But when I look around at my clutter, I see a fair amount that came to me as gifts. Is it possible to separate the significance of those objects from their qualities of usefulness or beauty so as to keep the connection to the giver but permit shedding the gift?

The question is tender, one I don’t want to rush to answer. But I recognize that the solubility of memory sometimes yields a “yes.” Nimue and I recently counted our decks of playing cards: we had six. The most we could imagine wanting to need were two. How did we wind up with so many? At least five were given to us, we thought … but we can’t remember by whom, nor when. Without diminishing a sort of general gratitude for everyone who’s ever been generous toward us, I think we can shed them.

For the rest of our gifts that we don’t know to be useful nor believe to be beautiful, I don’t know yet. But I sense that the generalized gratitude I sometimes feel might be cultivated and grown till it thanks the generosity of all life. I think if I could do so, I might discover a freedom to reverently yet lightly receive, and as lightly release in giving on, that would answer my question without words, but rather a wise wink.

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shedding style: give away
destination: thrift store

Comments welcome … what do you think? Is it possible to separate the significance of objects received as gifts from their qualities of usefulness or beauty so as to keep the connection to the giver but permit shedding the gift?

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inelastic waistbands

A young but treasured institution of Athens, Georgia, is the EcoFocus Film Festival, a week of environmentally-themed cinema with panel discussions and, sometimes, visits from the film’s makers. It breaks my heart, because I’ll pick a half-dozen or more films that touch on my interests and concerns, but find I can attend only two or three. This year I’ve managed just one. It was, however, an offering that strongly appealed to Nimue and me. We thought it might both speak to us where we are in our quest to simplify and prepare our lives for whatever’s next and challenge us from a far point on a path we seem to be traveling. So last night we went to the screening of Tiny: A Story about Living Small. On and off all day today I’ve been drafting a post about our reactions to it, but I’m not nearly ready to hit the “publish” button, so I need another subject for an easy shed tonight.

Forgive the slightly bawdy content, but I think most WIST readers will agree that if, as William Morris advised, we are to have nothing in our houses we do not know to be useful nor believe to be beautiful, we shouldn’t suffer such on our persons either. So every two or three years I find that I can no longer ignore the lassitude of the elastic in the waistbands of my examples of what used to be called (in a genteel euphemism that managed to remain descriptive) “small clothes.” Consequently they ride up or fall down and in either case irritate me slightly but continually. Why I delay to enact the simple, obvious solution of buying a new five-pack says a fair amount about how cheap (if not downright miserly) I can be, but also suggests that I’m not often in stores that sell them. And that’s why, when—back in January—the moment of reckoning came for the current set of drawers in my drawers, I sought replacements on-line. It was easy and inexpensive, even including shipping. I was quite pleased.

Until The Great Department Store in the Cloud required fifty-five days to fulfill the order. What’s so scarce about sourcing or complex about mailing men’s cotton boxers? I’ll never know. I’m simply grateful they arrived today so that tonight I can shed my shorts.

shedding style: replace
destination: the rag pile

Comments welcome … would you be embarrassed for your mother to see the contents of your you-know-what drawer?

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more cranky fountain pen ink

Whew! We’ve completed a month in this year of lightening up! I didn’t anticipate how quickly it would lead me to poking about in the sub-basement of my psyche. But enough about me, let’s shed something!

The fountain pens struggled to deliver while I was writing my “morning pages” today. I shed a bottle of fountain pen ink on 7 January but spared a couple others in that purge, hoping to squeeze a few more fillings out of them. The “Claret” consistently clogs, however, and the “Regal” does little better. Should they stay or should they go?

I wrote hundreds of pages with the inks from these bottles, but no more.

I wrote hundreds of pages with the inks from these bottles, but no more.

Nah, let’s talk about me some more. Often I put up with something that’s only half-working because:

  • I value economy. I paid for all of it, so I want to receive its full value.
  • Systems, once established and stable, seek to maintain the status quo, and I’m a system. Replacing what half-works will take time, money, and trouble; at the moment the cost of twiddling with it a little longer appears lower—whether it is or not.
  • I spar constantly with perfectionism and sometimes accept “good enough” just to spite it.

Occasionally those are good reasons. More often I expect they unnecessarily burden me. How can I distinguish between “still good enough” and “not working for me anymore”? The Morris rule is a sharp knife. “Do I know it to be useful?” If the answer is, “Well, kinda,” that’s a “no.”

There’s always one good reason to keep using a thing past the point of convenience: avoiding waste. I want to participate as little as possible in behaviors which, writ large, are changing earth’s climate and killing eco-systems world-wide. Don’t shed blithely—I declare that another rule of shedding.

The glass bottles went in the recycling bin. The plastic parts had to go in the garbage can.

shedding styles: recycle, throw away
destinations: community recycling stream, landfill

Comments welcome … what might you shed today?

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rival model bb-40a baseboard heater repair

I felt ambivalent claiming this as my daily shed, because nothing left the house. Though I’m glad to dismiss non-tangible mental and spiritual clutter like advertising e-mails and negative attitudes, the rules of the game seem to say: if it’s a material object getting shed, it’s got to go away. Or at least get queued up for departure.

But Nimue reminded me that William Morris enjoined, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” “It wasn’t useful, and now it is,” she said. “Isn’t that a weight lifted?” As so often, she’s right.

The heater stopped working years ago with a flash and curl of smoke. I planned to take it apart so I could at least recycle the steel housing, but realized all it needed was a connection cleaned up and restored.

"Just a moment, I'll grab my soldering iron!"

“Just a moment, I’ll grab my soldering iron!”

I’ll never call it beautiful, but the heater will comfort us while remodeling the sitting room if the polar vortex shoves another frigid lump of arctic air into the southeastern US.

electric fire!

electric fire!

shedding style: repair

Comments welcome … what might you shed today?

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the mad farmer’s rule

Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.

—Wendell Berry, “Prayers and Sayings of the Mad Farmer,” from Farming: A Hand Book

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the “one in, two out” rule

If a new material object comes into your home or life, shed two others to maintain momentum on the side of lightening up.

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the “one-a-day” shedding rule

Every day, shed at least one thing—material or mental—that clutters, or attracts chaos, or drains energy, or clouds vision, or simply doesn’t work or fit or please or inspire anymore.

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the Morris Rule

Believe me if we want art to begin at home, as it must, we must clear our houses of troublesome superfluities that are for ever in our way: conventional comforts that are no real comforts, and do but make work for servants and doctors: if you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it:

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

—William Morris, “The Beauty of Life,” Hopes and Fears for Art, Five Lectures Delivered 1878-1881

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