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– Much too much

May 4, 2012

We used to live in an ordinary house in Yorkshire, with ordinary things like mains electricity, hot water, a bathroom and a toilet.  We never gave them a thought, they were givens.  Well, we did sometimes give them a thought, particularly when the bills came and the standing charges for the electricity and the phone were always more than our usage.  Try as we might to save on electricity and phone calls, we could never get rid of that standing charge and it wrinkled.

Now we have our solar panels and our solitary battery.  It’s us and the sun.  Will we have electricity or won’t we?  I like that kind of simplicity, power or no power.  There are plenty of people around here who, like us, live with only solar power, but they mostly have bigger systems, ones which allow fridges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and televisions.  No one would know that they weren’t on mains power unless there was a long period of grey skies and no sun.  However, we enjoy the simplicity of our basic model, sun or no sun, power or no power, even though people often tell us we should get another panel or a bigger battery.  We never feel tempted, our small set up feels right, we don’t have a washing machine, a fridge or a vacuum cleaner but we don’t want them.  Somehow it’s satisfying to be able to live just as we please, without too much of anything.  If we want to watch a film on the computer one evening, we can as long as it’s been sunny and we don’t want to have a light on too. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, it feels about right, the value of our electricity and what we can use it for.  We have found that our version of simple living means making decisions like this, sensible, small decisions based on how important something is.

Thinking of the worth of things reminds me of how I suddenly felt the value of money when I didn’t have a salary arriving in my bank account every month.  I’d got used to it but I’d never really felt its worth.  I suppose because it was already spoken for in standing orders and other bills, just disappearing without ever actually being in my hands.  In our current life I might earn a few Euros teaching English but those Euros feel as if they have real value when I weigh them up against my week’s grocery bill.  There’s a certain satisfaction when things balance with each other, as if the value of each part is right.  Isn’t there some Dickensian quote about having sixpence and spending five pence h’penny and being happy?  I think he got that right but our thing isn’t just about living within our financial limit, it’s more to do with a certain type of frugality which really appeals.  I know that goes against the modern world’s flabby excess where more and more can never be the end, because more and more and more of anything can never satisfy, while more and more exists.  The thing that continues to interest me is just how little is enough.  How little money, how little electricity, how little a wardrobe or how little of anything really, is enough for us to survive and feel happy.

Strangely, I now realise that a lot of anything has never felt right to me.  Well, a lot of material things anyhow, because obviously a lot of time would be different.  Time is something we try our very best to get more of but there’s just one amount.  The skill is making it feel like more.  I know that our decision to live as we do was actually based on our wanting to be responsible for our own time, trying to value each bit of it; seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years.  We wanted to know that we had got as much as possible from it all.  Consciously trying not to waste any or use it unwisely by trading it for something which had no value.  We stumbled into it really while feeling depressed by boring jobs and feeling confined by our bills.  Suddenly we realised that by deciding to change how we lived we could be free of all that stuff.  We could decided what would be in our life and what wouldn’t, what was important and what wasn’t and what we would have to do without in order to have the things we wanted, all creative decision making.  I’m sure our life must seem like some kind of madness to many people but it makes complete sense to us.  We have our own rule of thumb or philosophy or whatever, which we arrived at by relying on our instincts rather than using anyone else’s set of rules and yes, much-ness or excess does have its place but only for measuring time and other exciting, creative endeavours and particularly our garden of plants and trees; important stuff like that.  Everything else is down to the minimum nowadays, including our electricity bill.

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