Sunday, May 18, 2014

Aspirational clutter

Last weekend I spent some time with my mother, a dedicated mother-daughter I'm-not-hear-to-do-the-clearning day. (Or at least that was the idea).

My mother has had a number of health issues in the last two years and I've not been able to support her in a practical sense anywhere near as much as I would like to. The price of living in another country (and a cost that seems increasingly high for the benefit.) On one notable occasion, I wasn't able to take the time off work to be there during her operation but managed to come for a weekend shortly afterwards. I woke up early because of the time difference and, with the house to myself, just started a bit of tidying. This rapidly became an epic cleaning session, partly because I just knew my mother was sitting looking at the mess and grime accumulate, feeling miserable and guilty but unable to do anything about it, and partly because once I started it was so satisfying to see the space emerge from the stuff. When I finally finished and sat down for a cup of tea with my mother she burst into tears, she was so touched and it was so lovely to be able to do something for her.

I was determined this weekend we would not get side-tracked by cleaning, but in the end we spent most of the day decluttering her bookshelves. We had a total blast and talked and talked and talked, and I was struck by how much easier it is to help someone else sort through their clutter than it is to deal with your own. All the things I challenged her on - have you ever read this book? Wouldn't you just look it up online? Does it add value to your life? - are echoing back at me in my own home.

One thing in particular struck me. The stuff we hang on to because, very deep down, we want to be the kind of person who has x or does y or knows z. I realised this a little bit when I first went through my books - I had a copy of Samuel Beckett's short stories. I read them alone in a pub when my friends were late and it was a thoroughly depressing read, made me feel utterly friendless and despondent. I have no wish to read it again, but I quite like the idea of being the kind of erudite person with Samuel Beckett on her shelf. I let go of the book.

My mother had several books on wine - in particular, guides on which wine to buy. She was keeping them because of a vague fantasy of exploring the world of wine with someone discerning. The books dated from 1996 and had never been opened, and for me it was so easy to suggest that if she does think about exploring the word of wine, perhaps she might want to either buy something up to date, use the resources of the internet, or even better, go to some wine tastings.

I do need to find a way to capture that clarity for my own things. But one thing I have let go of is the lace pillow. I learned how to make bobbin lace at school when I was about 10, and I loved it. I have since then accumulated bobbins, books, patterns and a lace pillow but have never made anything out of bobbin lace. I have finally acknowledged that, at least at present, I have limited time for craft activities and I prefer to invest my time and energy into things like knitting and sewing which give me practical, useful and wearable outputs - I don't really know what I would make bobbin lace for.

It was a bit of a wrench but I have let go of the image of a life when I can spend hours clacketty-clacketting the bobbins to make beautiful, delicate lace. 

I have also tested my fabric stash and given away all the synthetic fabrics which realistically I will not use. For some reason, I have never thought of craft materials as clutter because they are 'useful' and crafts are an integral part (for me) of a more simple, homemade life. Now I see that one of the areas I have accumulated the most clutter is in the various crafts I would like to do but have never really had time for. I have NEARLY got my entire craft selection to fit tidily into my craft cupboard, with four substantial exceptions - my current work basket, my yarn stash, my ragbag and the pile of odds and ends intended to become a patchwork quilt. (So really, it's not nearly at all...)

The thing most holding me back is a wish to be a thrifty crafty creative person who finds a use for old discarded things, rather than just throwing them away, but to be honest I have more things and ideas than I have time to implement them. I also have a stash of dubious quality, bought before I had learned what I liked or planned what I wanted to make - and this stash is preventing me from getting started on projects I know I will enjoy and benefit from. Time to let the stash go?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

'Normal' bodies

I went today to an exhibition of 1930s fashion at the Museum of Costume and Lace in central Brussels. (The exhibit is open until February next year and is free on the first Sunday of every month. Details here.) The collection is not huge but there are some really stunning dresses.

As we walked around, two things struck me. Firstly, how modern many of the clothes look.

Secondly, how much the female 'silhouette' (such an innocent-sounding word for something that prompts people to push themselves to extremes of diet, corsetry etc to imitate) has changed over the decades. The silhouette on which fashions are modelled dictates an idea body that has somehow become the only acceptable body.

Looking at many of these clothes, I was particularly struck that my body shape is actually very similar - specifically the high waist and generous hips - to the 1930s silhouette. These clothes look so glamorous and get I look very awkward in modern clothes. The exhibition really drove home that this is because I am wearing the wrong clothes. Modern trousers divide the body at the hips rather than the waist, which makes me look frumpy and square. My natural waist is much higher than the waist on modern clothes, and this does not make for a comfortable or an elegant fit.

Project 333 has really driven home that, rather than having too many clothes, I in fact have too few clothes that I love, that fit beautifully and make me feel beautiful wearing them. And this is in part because the clothes in my wardrobe do not reflect my real body shape - or to be honest my evolving taste/style.

Time for a 1930s-inspired sewing project, perhaps?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Slow Living 2014 - March/April

This post is part of a series started by Christine at Slow Living Essentials.

{NOURISH} More yoghurt, and my first sourdough loaves (second one better than the first but it's not quite there yet...) I can definitely smell - and taste - as the wild yeast culture evolves and matures.

{PREPARE} Pickled beetroot. Can't wait to start eating it in a few weeks time after the vinegar-y tang has mellowed. This time I added cinnamon and cloves as well as black pepper to the red wine vinegar - it smelled very Christmas-y.

{REDUCE} Well there has been quite a lot of decluttering - clothes, books, household goods. My skirt made from an old pair of trousers and old shirt of my boyfriend's is progressing. I've also started another round of Project 333 in my wardrobe, and am attempting something similar with my library of books. I've also been using leftover breat crusts to make croutons which are a handy addition to a soup or stew, or a nummy snack.

{GREEN} Another batch of homemade handcream - this stuff is the bee's knees. We've also been engaging in a slow, gradual repair of a leak in the toilet tank by using vinegar and baking soda to erode the build-up of calcium and the red metal deposit we get from the water here. (I'm not too sure what it is.)

{GROW} This week I will harvest my first radish. Radishes are going strong and the beetroots will gladly use the space they leave behind them. However, I haven't planted anywhere near as much as I wanted because I haven't found the tubs/containers and have so far refused to spend major money on plastic ones from the gardening centre. I have realised that a lack of planning is definitely delaying/inhibiting my growing here.

{CREATE} Oh so much knitting.

{DISCOVER} A growing appreciation for craft beer, and a common interest in attempting homebrewing with my boyfriend. We're currently researching the necessary ingredients and kit, and I hope we'll have a go at this in a few weeks.

{ENHANCE} Spending time with friends, with my boyfriend and also by myself. I'm rediscovering the pleasures of reading a single book continuously instead of constantly jumping from book to book.

{ENJOY} Life is good. Still some issues around balance at work, but in general, life is good, and I get a warm feeling every time we sit down to share a pot of fresh-brewed coffee and a slice of homemade cake, everytime we sit outside on our balcony with a locally brewed beer and admire the laundry blowing in the breeze and the radishes spreading their leaves. Simple pleasures.

How about you? How has your month been?


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