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.

Use the good stuff

I hear the idea that you should “use the good china” quite a bit.  I like the idea – we’re never sure what’s going to happen from day to day, so it’s worthwhile to make every day feel special, and to not put off using or doing the things that will make our lives that little bit nicer in the present.


I’m not great at this.  I remember, as a child, being upset that my mom was using up the good soaps that someone had giver her as a gift.  I distinctly recall being upset because then she wouldn’t have them anymore.  It’s an idea that I’m not sure that I’ve ever completely shaken, and I still tend to hold onto things for longer than I should in an attempt to not use them, and therefore keep having them.  But it strikes me that if I continue living my life this way, some day I’m going to have to transport quite a lot of unused soap, candles, jam, pens, notebooks, and clothing to a new home, or that someone else is going to have to deal with it when I’m no longer around.  Worst of all?  I’ll have held onto all of this stuff without ever having enjoyed much of it.

It would be nice to enjoy these things while I have them, and to make good use of them.  I’m trying to find ways to be nicer to myself this year and to do things that I enjoy, and so I’m going to add “use the nice stuff” to my list of goals for the year.  I don’t actually have good china – I didn’t want two sets of dishes, I had no interest in worrying about damaging the expensive stuff, and I like my inexpensive white ikea stock just fine.  But I do have vintage mugs that I’m fearful of breaking, lovely soap that I’ve put off using, beeswax candles that I have yet to burn, notebooks I haven’t written in lest I make a mistake, and favourite clothing that I wear infrequently for fear of stains or tears.

Of course, this means learning how to accept that things are likely to be used-up, broken, or worn out.  But this also means that they will have been used and enjoyed, which is sounding more and more like a pretty good thing to me.  This afternoon, I’ll have a cup of tea in one of the jadeite mugs bought for me by my mom, light a beeswax candle, and open up one of those nice notebooks.  I’ll pull out my woefully under-used fountain pen, load it up with some of the bright green ink that I bought years ago, and start writing.  It’s not a huge shift by any means, but I’m looking for opportunities to make sure that everything I keep around is used and has a purpose and, even more importantly, to find small bits of pleasure throughout the day.  Nothing in my home should be too precious to use and enjoy.

Life, death, and work

It’s been an odd couple of weeks here, and I suspect that I’m about to get rather introspective and perhaps even a bit maudlin.  J.’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer just over a week ago, and died on Tuesday, only a week later.  While we haven’t had to travel or really do much of anything, the phone calls, discussions, and general sad moments have made for a rather quite, introspective, and low-key week.  At the same time, though, life goes on.  There’s been a lot of work to be done that simply can’t wait that long.  The teaching, marking, writing, meetings, and workshops go on the same as they always do.  There have been walks, yoga, visits with friends, cooking, and cleaning, albeit with more serious discussions than we might otherwise have.

It sometimes strikes me how much death affects us and how much it doesn’t at the same time.  Clearly, we keep on living, sometimes in ways that are much the same as we always have (especially when the death is someone to whom we weren’t particularly close, as was the case here).  But for a few weeks – perhaps even longer, in some cases – there’s this heightened awareness of the actual living of life.  There are often questions about whether we’re living the life that we want, whether we have the best life that we possibly can given our circumstances, and whether we’ll be happy with what we’ve done when we die.

This past week, I’ve given even more thought than I usually do to what I want to do with my life, what’s important to me, and the kind of life that I want to live.  I’ve tried to spend less time working and out of the house.  I’ve spent more time talking with J., reading on the couch, talking with friends, and eating foods that I really like.  I’ve also given some more thought to what kind of big things I want in my life.   I’ve started doing some more research on land ownership, building houses, and sheep breeds.  On a much smaller scale, I’ve also pulled out some knitting, a guitar, new music to listen to, and a truly impressive stack of books that I’ve been putting off reading for one reason or another – nothing major, but all things that make life feel that little bit better.

Not every moment in life can be the highest of highs.  There will be lows.  There will also be a reasonable amount of minutiae that needs to be dealt with – paying the rent, doing the laundry, or waiting in line.  But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of room in there to find many ways, even if they’re small, to make life a little bit better, a little more satisfying, and a little bit closer to the lives that we want to leave every day.  For me, today, that means spending some extra time on the couch with a novel, cooking a delicious dinner, and then watching a movie curled up under a warm blanket with J. and a large bowl of popcorn.  Everyone’s ideals and preferences will be different, but I hope you have a chance today to do something that you truly enjoy and that will make your life a little bit more wonderful.

Returning to routine

I’ll readily admit that when my friend goes out of town and leaves me her car, I tend to be delighted.  I still don’t want a car – not really, anyway, although there are certainly moments where the usefulness is striking – but having one for a week or two at a time raises all kinds of possibilities for taking care of all of the things that I’ve wanted or needed to do for awhile.

That said, I’ll also admit that the combination of convenience and working on my to-do list completely throws me off my routine because I feel pressure to get things done.  I gave the car back last night, and although I’m well stocked in terms of flour, toilet paper, root vegetables, gatorade, shampoo, cabbage, prescription medication, canned beans, rice, scrub brushes, eggs, used books, and a new computer battery, I’m rather behind on exercise, grading, job applications, and writing.  Most of the time I had free these last two weeks went to errands.  This probably saved me time in the long run – many of these trips are close to an hour each way on the bus, in very different directions – but crammed into the span of two weeks, they really add up.

Today, it just feels like a relief to slip quietly back into my routine.  I know that a lot of things have been taken care of, which is very good.  I know that we’re good for food and a whole bunch of other goodies.  I also know that any trip will now take me a good long time unless it’s in walking distance.  There’s now a lot less incentive to go very far afield, and a lot more focus on staying home and not going out on trips that take half a day at a time.

I’m looking forward to getting solidly back into my routine (yes, I probably could have kept up more of a routine while I had the car, but I didn’t for whatever reason).  It felt good to go for a run this morning, and then to sit down to meditate.  I followed that up with a day spent on the couch with a cup of tea, working on a lecture and some writing.  Tonight I’ll make dinner, write a bit more, and then read for a bit before heading off to bed.  Tomorrow, and probably the day after too, I’ll do much the same.  I’ll be home, reading, writing, cooking, working, and sleeping.  While I’ll go out occasionally, probably for a few walks, I’ll be spending a lot more time here, doing my regular, everyday things, and I’ll be grateful for it.



Giving thanks

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada today, and worth thinking through the many, many things for which I can give thanks. We’re now at the end of the harvest, a time when people would typically we take stock of the year, give thanks, and prepare for the winter.  More and more I find myself appreciating taking the time to reflect on life – where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to – and giving thanks is becoming an important part of that.

This isn’t just a Thanksgiving thing, of course, but this is certainly a nice time to stop and be reminded again of the important of gratitude.  Admittedly, I’m still pulling myself out of whatever rut I’ve got myself stuck in this year.  But the truth is, I’m lucky.  Hugely, incredibly, awesomely lucky, and I’d do well to remember that more often than I do.  Here’s why.

I have a wonderful, caring, and understanding husband who makes me laugh every single day.

I have a great, supportive family that just wants the best for me.

I have wonderful friends who make me laugh and help pick me up when I’m down.

I’m apparently quite healthy.

I have money in my pocket, and a reasonably steady job.

I have kind and helpful colleagues who are always happy to give advice and assistance.

I have food in the fridge (and in the cupboards, closets, and pantry).

I have a fine place to live with plenty of the extras that make life pleasant – tea, books, musical instruments, comfy furniture, cosy clothing, and warm blankets, just to name a few.

This, plain and simple, is a good life.  I hope I give back half as much as I receive, and that somehow, some way, I’m making some kind of difference for the better in my little corner of the world.  And I also hope that you have at least as much, if not more, to be thankful for in your lives as well.