Clutter and the “Busy-ness” of Life

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars
~ Walt Whitman

I live a cluttered life: full-time work, volunteering at three different organizations/grassroots groups, family, university studies, writing magazine articles, gardening, blogging, maintaining websites, reading…

I’m constantly bombarded by emails and requests: announcements, important news to read, invitations to events, conflicts to solve, donations requests, “friends” requests, family and friends saying hi, reminders…

I’ve managed to fill out my life and my house with “stuff” and commitments. I suspect I’m not alone in this predicament, and in many ways, I feel trapped. We have managed to complicate our lives and the world outside: we rush, we push, we request, we acquire…

But there is a way out:  I’ve managed to cut my shopping to almost non-existent (just for groceries and books), we have reduced our energy consumption 15% over the last year, I don’t watch TV (there is one, but it is for my son and for an occasional movie-night), I am introducing the “two sinks” system to wash our dishes to save water, we use cloth napkins to reduce paper, I compost most of our kitchen scraps, I have cut down my Facebook use to 1%, and so on…

There are nine teachings from Permaculture that may help with this process:

  1. Start any design or planning (of goals, life changes, moves, etc.) by “observing and interacting”: identify what are the current “sectors” in your life: family, friends, work, studies, groups you belong to, etc. don’t judge them, just observe and take note of how they affect each other (and you) and what you “get” from them as well as how much effort or other inputs you have to “invest” in them.  You can do this with your house and the “stuff” in it, with what you eat, with your garden, community and overall life. Identity also the patterns/repetitive behaviours: when they happen, where they come from…draw this interactions and patterns, ask significant others to add their observations. This will show you where you are. No guilt, no judgement, and no regrets: this is what you are and this is where and when you are now. This is your system: identify what’s working and what is not.
  2. Find the solutions within the problems: there is no “away” and external inputs are usually costly or unsustainable in the long way. In most cases, observation will give us the clue of where the solution is. This works for relationships, diets, “problematic” areas around the house, life or work. Adopt an attitude of “solution-looking” instead of “problem-solving”.
  3. When “designing” next steps, start with zone “0”: in Permaculture, this is your house, or your body. There is no point trying to decide about far reaching people or issues if our house is not in order. In Bill Mollison’s words: “The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Make it Now.”
  4. Guilds: in Permaculture, you grow different plants together to give each other support or shade, exchange nutrients, etc. Guilds may be structural, functional or both. Same in our life: we need to surround ourselves of people who nurture and support us, and we have to become supporters and nurture others who need us.
  5. In Permaculture, every “object” needs to play different functions: the same way we choose to grow certain plant close to another because they act as nitrogen fixer, soil cover and water infiltrator, they add beauty and may attract insects; we may need to see at each “object” in our life through its multi-tasking potential. This can be done with commitments and projects, jobs and choices in general. The more they can “do” the better they are. Which also serves as a tool to screen things out: is a job only giving you “money” but not a feeling of being worth and useful to society? What about all the other “stuff” we are surrounded with, is this “stuff”, commitments, etc giving you enough variety and/or playing different important functions for things you care for?
  6. Similar to the above, functions and needs are covered by many “objects”: they act as a “back-up”: how many sources of energy do we have for heating and cooking? How many ways to earn an “income”, how many sources of life energy for our bodies and spirits? It is not about “having more” but about being creative and think how we can make sure our true needs and tat of our family have many ways to be supported, by using what is already in the system…the less we depend on external “inputs”, the more resilient and self-reliant we become
  7. Obtain a yield: how many times we do things without really “getting” any of value from them? And how many times we allow things to go to waste without respecting what they have to offer to us? It is a sin against Earth to fill our garbage bins, it is a sin to all those starving to throw food and waste water, it is a sin to our own life and those we love to waste our time with non-sense and uncalled-for conflicts, it is a sin against Nature not to grow gardens (edible or not) and allow them to become a home for pollinators and other creatures. We better start choosing our commitments, the people we surround us with, the causes we support, the stuff we use, the jobs we accept, even our goals: we only have so much time to live and enjoy life. We only have so much time to care for what is left in this world and make sure our children and all the other species have a place to call home too.
  8. Use small and slow solutions: there is no point on rushing and acting as a hero. Small and slow solutions with big, long-term impacts are better than big and fast solutions with short-term impacts. Long-term, instead of short-term vision: the high we get today when eating a dessert will reflect in our body weigh next week. This “stuff” we want today will hurt our credit cards tomorrow. This commitment we are trying to accomplish so hard may be lost among chaos and regrets five years from now.
  9. Produce no waste: nowadays, we waste time, energy and resources as if they would be with us forever. There are many ways waste is manifested, but “clutter” (both physical and mental) is obviously part of this. A good designed system uses little external inputs and re-uses its own waste so it becomes energy (or food, or another tool or resource) for another subject within the system. I have to confess that I struggle with this one, as our lifestyles, community and houses don’t provide enough room to change the structures or processes so we can reduce our waste to zero.

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. ”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
~ Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living

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