Previously on The Clearing, Sarah said…
“You know the Leeds Liverpool Canal? If you had a year to live would you bother finishing it?”
“No” I unhesitatingly replied.
A third episode of getting rid of the stuff of our lives that’s lost its meaning.
So here at Clearing Central in Liverpool we’ve already made a start on the latest round of clearing what we do. We’ve cleared that supposed complete canal walk for no better reason than we couldn’t be bothered finishing it. A good sound reason.
Along with the canal walk we got started with a serious clearout of possessions in the first of this series of posts. Next we gave the people we know, or don’t really know, some profound consideration along with a bit of unfriending in the second post. Now, to round things off? Well let’s start with some more potentially wasteful and redundant activities that might want clearing from our lives like the canal walk?
How about watching the television? How much of your precious life is that swallowing? Now perhaps you imagine you only watch serious nature documentaries, highly regarded art-house films and those marvellous music genre histories on BBC4. But that’s not true is it? Not even nearly true. Fact is many of us will watch more or less anything, resulting in more or less anything duly being made to fill up the endless hours of pointless tedium that are our lives being eaten away.
You could just not have a TV, our choice, or at least instal an imaginary crapometer to continuously ask you the question:
“Is watching this stuff really part of the life you want?”
And where the answer is “no” you can treat standing up and turning the thing off as valuable physical exercise that just might help to get you into shape for the day you eventually recycle the thing (responsibly) at your local charity shop or Domestic Waste Reception Centre, as council tips are now called.
What other activities might go?
How about summer holidays? Years ago I can remember a real societal pressure from work colleagues and even people in the house to have booked a two week family summer vacation in the sun as soon after each Christmas as possible “to have something to look forward to” for the rest of the year.
Skipping over the facts that these rarely lived up to expectations and were in any case too long spent in the one boring place, they didn’t actually bankrupt the rest of the year back in those days, as they were traditionally cheap holidays in other people’s barely functioning economic misery. But these days the travel agent windows that I pass seem to price these forlorn jaunts at the price of a decent quality second-hand car per person. Meaning you’ll be lucky to have barely managed to pay the debts off off before the whole Christmas and next year’s summer holiday rut arrives again.
So why not clear this bet it all on one big holiday urge and enjoy yourself more all the rest of the year? I do get that it’s good for our bodies and souls to have time off from working. But why splurge the whole budget on two weeks at RyanAir-DelMar so all you can afford to do the rest of the year is sit stupefied in front of the television?
“Is this the life you really want?”
And don’t even get me started on Christmas. We cleared it here a couple of decades back and have never missed it. But I do get that many people are addicted to it and anyway the economy now depends on it so it’s become a kind of patriotic duty to celebrate it. But mightn’t we enjoy Christmas more and mightn’t it make less people unnecessarily lonely if it only turned up every four years, say, like the Olympics or the World Cup? A sensible clearance that would save time, money and the grinding tedium of taking unwanted presents back to Marks and Spencers.
Sensible yes, but I know I’m on a curmudgeonly loser with clearing Christmas so I’ll move on.
Not to clearing the fact that we all need an income to live, but to questioning the ways we’ve chosen or allowed work to be organised and how much of it we’re expected to do?
The hours and days of tedium where you can’t dare risk doing anything else while you wait to be called in to your zero hours job to do the back to back shifts that will exhaust and flatten you for the days following while you wait for the phone to not ring again at some distant person’s whim. Or in pretty much all office jobs where so much that gets called ‘work’ just steals our time. All those meetings, annual appraisals, away days, pointless bureaucratic due processes and the writing of back covering reports to committees who won’t read them. Couldn’t we be organising how we work more intelligently to give you more of your life back?
“Is this the life we really want?”
Well perhaps it isn’t. Almost definitely it isn’t, I’d say. But maybe by tilting at institutions as sacred as work and Christmas you’ll think I’m ‘going too far?’ And maybe I am but I think this clearing thing needs to push at the edges of what we’re comfortable with and ask these hard questions about how we choose to or a forced to spend our time.
Because to get to the life we really want, as individuals and as a society, we have to know what that looks like, to know what we want. And to know that takes time, along with imagination and desire. Time we don’t get if we continue to allow our lives to be filled with whatever is choking them up at the moment. Hence my suggestion in these three posts that you think about clearing. Not clearing your loved ones, the things you love doing or your most precious possessions. But the other stuff, the stuff I’ve written about. To clear yourself some time and some space to have a think.
An almost casual think at first perhaps, like:
“Do I really need all those books? Or those college notes from twenty years ago? Or those clothes that were just the job when I was twenty one? Or that dusty keyboard I know I’ll never want to play again?”
But if that casual think leads to a casual clear, then the space, time and energy that will create, in my experience, Sarah’s too, may lead to bigger questions and bigger clearings. And eventually, just maybe, to the life you really want.
“And it really isn’t all big stuff and negative stuff” chips in Sarah when she reads the first draft of this. “Even small amounts of clearing can give you the space and mental energy to do things that can have seemed too complex to get round to, so you’ve put them off. Like that new technique you’ve needed to learn to get those new gloves knitted, or that new friend you’ve wanted to make more time for. Clearing, to me, has always a been really positive thing to do. And it can and has led to big changes, in time.”
It all starts quietly though. With taking that bag of books to Oxfam. Or whatever your equivalent waste of your particular space might be? Go on.
A large and appreciative nod here to Roger Waters for his beautiful, life affirming and, yes, curmudgeonly recent record “Is this the life we really want?”
And then this, from friend and blog commenter memoirsofahusk on the Swedish practice of ‘Death Cleaning.’ Why leave it to your loved ones to clear up after you? Make them gifts of what’s precious and clear out the rest, regularly, before you die.