Grateful without

A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.

– Henry David Thoreau


When I’ve spent time focusing on the things I’m grateful for – something that I’m trying to do more of these days – I’ve often focused on the things that I have.  Family, friends, food and shelter are constant themes, although I’ll admit that books and a guitar make regular appearances, too.  Sometimes, though, I still find that I suffer from twinges of wanting things that I don’t have, so one thing I’ve been trying to do is to see the good in the things that I don’t have, and the ways that not having certain things is beneficial.  This involves a bit of a shift in focus, but it’s refreshing to reframe a few of the things that I’ve been thinking about recently and look for the good instead of the challenges.

At this point in my life, I’m grateful that I don’t have a house and the fees, work, and maintenance that that entails.  While I’d love to own one eventually for a lot of different reasons, it’s a relief to not have a mortgage to pay, repairs to make, or appliances to maintain, and it’s nice to feel that we’re not tied down here right now, especially as we work on figuring out where we want to be and how to get there.

I’m grateful that I don’t have a car.  While I appreciate not having the costs associated with car ownership, I’m even happier that I can get by with the bus, walking, or biking, all things that are better for the environment and they even let me get in some extra exercise, too.

Although J. might disagree with me at times, I’m grateful we don’t have a dishwasher.  Sure, it would likely be easier and keep us from getting inundated with dirty pots that need doing, but I love the evenings where he does dishes while I cook dinner and we listen to music and have long talks with lots of laughter.

While I’m grateful that I do have a job, I’m also grateful that it’s one that allows for a good bit of freedom and flexibility, and summers off.  This is one that I’ve struggled with quite a bit – there are times when I’d really appreciate something with more security and a better salary and benefits.  But I’ve recently been reminding myself of all of the good that comes with it – time off, a bit less work-related pressure in certain areas, flexibility, interesting teaching assignments, and the fact that we still have enough to get by on.

The truth is that I don’t really need more than what I have right now, and not having these things does not diminish my life in any way.  I’m grateful that I’ve learned to be without them, and that being without them is simply normal, even pleasurable, and not a form of deprivation.  I’m grateful that I’ve learned that there alternatives to what many people seem to accept as a given, if not some inalienable right granted by the gods of credit and debt.

There are moments when I whinge and moan, as I suspect that many people do.  It seems far to easy to think of all the ways that my life could be easier, if not better.  Those moments when the dishes and laundry are piled too high and the grocery stores seems thousands of miles away and I have more work than I know what to do with seem to bring what I don’t have into focus more than anything else.  But these moments are the exceptions, and I’m as grateful for what I have as I am for what I don’t.  It’s a good feeling this gratitude, especially when it works more than one way.

Having versus doing

In my zeal for taking on a more sustainable life, I sometimes acquire things.  These things tend to include books, tools, pots, pans, jars, yarn, knitting needles, bike trailer, blankets, and all manner of other things.  But lately, I’ve been wondering if I’ve been more focused on the having rather than the doing, and if I’m far more focused on acquiring these things than figuring out what to do with them and how to use them effectively.

Clearly, tools are important.  It’s necessary to have knitting needles and yarn to be able to knit something.  It’s just as necessary to have a canning kettle, jars, and lids to preserve food.  But without learning the skills and practicing, it’s going to be hard to turn out some socks or a nice sweater, or to produce healthy pickles and flavourful jam.  But despite their importance, tools don’t always have a lot of use without the knowledge and the skill to go with them.  And, as with many other things done by hand, the skills are those that usually require practice.  They don’t just develop overnight, and they certainly aren’t conveyed simply through owning a particular object.

I’m acutely aware that although I have quite a few useful tools, my skills aren’t all where I want them to be.  I can cook a great meal, sure, but if we had to survive next year on my gardening skills, we’d likely be in trouble.  I can knit a sweater (probably still with a bit of swearing involved), but a bike repair is almost completely out of my comfort zone.  There are many skills in which I am significantly lacking, and all the tools and supplies and books in the world just won’t get me there on their own.  I can cook, can, bike, run, hammer, saw, and do all kinds of other things that I’m sure I’ll forget about until I’m reminded that they’re needed.  But at the same time, I know there’s a lot of knowledge that I should have, and some that I would like to have, that I just don’t.

I suspect that sometimes I get seduced by the the idea that things will somehow magically change me.  It’s easy to believe that by having something, I will be transformed, with little to no effort, into something else.  Of course, it’s not that easy, and it’s high time that I actually use the things that I own in order to work on developing my skills.  With the end of the semester, I’ve been pondering what I want to accomplish this summer, and I’m sure that working on reskilling will be one area of focus. But until I figure that out in a bit more detail, I have frozen cranberries waiting to be turned into sauce and canned, and we’ll be trying a new recipe for dinner tonight.  I also have some lovely sock yarn that I’ve just started casting on, and a guide to bike maintenance ready to go.  Although it won’t happen just yet, I’ve been looking at quilting patterns that I might like to try.

Sure, it’s better to have the stuff than to not, but the point is to actually use it.  Having is not the same as actually doing, and now is as good a time as any to rectify that.