Saturday, 29 October 2011

Doing without and making do

Doing without something that we usually take for granted, like electricity or running hot water, or bedrooms or bathrooms is a challenge I (rather oddly) enjoy. Although I might moan if the washing machine freezes in winter or the door falls off secretly I quite relish getting the buckets out and scrubbing away! I know it's wierd! But as if by magic,the washing pile is always smaller when I hand wash, and I am far more aware of what I'm washing, hmm, funny that one....
At the moment we have run out of the giant bottles of calor gas which heat our water. We have them delivered to the edge of the wood, then have to maneouvre them in along the little path into our clearing.  As we are about to move, it was generally deemed not worth dragging a new bottle in, and as I am generally keen to reduce our reliance on non renewable fuels anyway, I was quite happy to do without. Now, I keep a huge cauldron of water on the woodburner and dole it out like a miser in giant tin cups. We have all experienced the joys of  'the splash bath' (standing in the shower and pouring tin mugs of water around) and I feel as if I have a new child to tend to, as I nurse the woodburner to just the right temperature and plan water use, monitoring how much has been used for hand washing so I can still do the washing up later on.

Strangely, rather than cursing the lack of easy quick hot water,  I have felt more grateful for the water we do have. It feels more like the precious resource it is rather than an expendable commodity. The time I spend fussing over it builds my relationship with it; connects me with it, and I don't take it for granted. The sentiment is of my children just asked me what he could do with last night's hot water bottle water, as it seemed wasteful to just chuck it away. Scarcity of resources engenders reverence and care, well it should, though we could learn a thing or two about oil.
It was the same in our yurt, where we lived for six months in 2008. For the first few weeks we had only an outside cold tap a short distance from where we cooked, and bucketed everything in. Finally Hugh found time to make an outdoor sink and we had running (albeit still outside) water. The moment Hugh turned the tap on for the first time felt like a festival, everyone was so excited and we all felt so grateful (well mainly me) that we weren't carrying heavy buckets every day. Weeks earlier we had been living in a comfortable house with hot baths on tap, but the period of abstinence completely changed our relationship to water, and lots of other things.

We all loved our tin baths! (the adults had theirs indoors by candlelight)

 In tandem with our appreciation for a precious resource, and a greater connection with water, I did also realise what tough, time consuming labour it is, not having running water. In my time at the yurt, I found it hard to find time to write much, or have any personal creative time, and large parts of my day were spent kneeling by nappy buckets, sluicing and scrubbing! I felt connected by invisible threads to women all around the world who do expend huge amounts of energy fetching and carrying water and scrubbing things, babies, dishes, clothes....In fact I  felt connected to everything, the water, the clothes, my sore hands, my knees on the hard ground. I was aware. It wasn't a bad feeling.
The problem is my life is too fast. I felt as if I was living in the 19th century at the yurt whilst still trying to maintain 21st century speed in all other areas of my life. Trying to maintain the two in parallel was exhausting.

What am I trying to say? I'm not really sure! A large bit of me longs to live simply and sparsely, paring down the dashing, accumulating, achieving parts of my life to spend time calmly creating what I need, with my own hands. Clean clothes, delicious food, toys for the children, knitwear, medicine, candles, work, crafts. My labour and time, not money or a switch. The problem is that I do try to do all this, but also dash around and put pressure on myself to achieve as well. Two life styles in opposition?

 I do know that doing without a so called 'necessity' such as electricity or running water can bring me down to earth with a big flash of realisation about just how disconnected we have all become from what is real in our lives. The easier and quicker tasks are to achieve, the less I engage with them and the more I try to cram in. I don't have to use my ingenuity and creativity to work out how to do something or develop a system to cope with a difficult task.
The work  involved to fill the gap left when I can't just flick a switch does help me to slowly slowly think about radical changes that I can make towards simplifying and enriching my life.

Times are changing for us.
How about you, do you find satisfaction from doing without? Do you become more creative and have fun from making do?


  1. We are about to embark on a similar journey, at least for a time. The house we are moving into will not have all the modern conveniences; we may or may not have a little electricity provided by solar panels, to start off we may not have hot water, we will have a dry toilet which every few weeks will need attention, removing a bucket of urine to sit in the sun before being added to the soil. No washing machine, no refrigerator, no oven and so on.
    I am looking forward. I have not had much experience living without these things but feel like you that in our hectic lives there is far too little time to connect to the actual work involved with the basics of living.
    Becoming aware of our bodily waste through a composting toilet, cooking over a fire, washing clothes brush in hand scrubbing, growing the food we eat, living in the wilderness where full awareness must be exercised with each step, I long for it, I find it healthy and good..
    ~Enjoying your writing very much~

  2. Thankyou so much for sharng your journey..i'l be followng it!
    Yes, isn't it good to be more aware..with our compost toilet I actually find it far less disgusting than using drinkng water to flush it all away out of our sight, for some other environment to cope with. So good for our children to see the whole process of life and its impact, not the sanitised censored version. I feel myself sink more deeply into the earth each time I reduce and simplify, and am so grateful I can!


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