Simple simplicity

Quakers are sometimes quite proud of our commitment to simplicity. And yet Quakers are often wealthy – not only in global terms but also locally. It is said that this happened in part by dint of being hard workers and known for integrity and honesty. Wealth makes it hard to live simply: we become accustomed to scooting off in a car and not having to plan in extra time to wait for a bus, or to cycle, or walk.

I walked in to town yesterday, along the sea with the wind and rain howling in my face. Although it is a walk I enjoy and that I hadn’t had the opportunity to do in the years I’ve been living elsewhere, I can’t say it was enjoyable. And it certainly took about four times as long as it would have to ride smoothly in a car along the paved roads, ignoring the wind unless it was strong enough to buffet the car.

But what I really wanted to write about is the effect of visiting someone who simply lives simply. She is not a Quaker and is not working hard to live simply. But this is the most plain house I have visited in the past several months of travel.

You wouldn’t think to see it, as the house is full of ruffle and paisley carpets. This is because the house came furnished, and there is little need to renew everything (except for aesthetic reasons – but is that enough to rip up a carpet that is still bright and soft despite being more then 15 years old?) The kitchen is not crammed with overflowing cupboards, as in nearly all the other kitchens I have visited, but instead the sparse population of packets of dried beans and grains and vegetables are elements for tasty vegetarian meals. Appliances are present but not new or elaborate, and they are turned off unless in use. Visiting here gives me inspiration for simply living simply, without fanfare or too much discussion.

18 June 2012: And now, from another house which is also simple, I am once again challenged to think about all the things which I may not need. This house is simple also in terms of space. There’s only one shelf for dry goods in the kitchen: how many dry goods you need to keep on hand? A radio but no TV (ah, but internet!); no bookshelves but some drawers into which a few books can be put. In fact, I would have trouble living here for longer than the month planned, as I love books and like to put my shampoo on a shelf in the bathroom. But someone does live here fulltime, and that fact gives me pause for thought.

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