Friday, 25 July 2014


I met my friend Giles when I was training for ordination ~ as a Methodist minister but on an Anglican ordination course ~ back in the early 1990s. We became fast friends; we’ve lost touch now, but there’s still a bed made and a candle in the window in one chamber of my heart that is his own.

Giles has much about him intelligent, interesting and good, but what’s in my mind today is a word he brought to the fore in my life that I’d never much used before: ‘appropriate’.

I used to think of things as good or bad, nice or nasty, interesting or boring, desirable or a bad idea. But Giles recalibrated my thinking to the concept of something being appropriate ~ or not. So, of many choices or behaviours, one might ask not ‘is this a good thing?’ or ‘is this a bad thing?’ but ‘is this appropriate’. Time, place and people make a difference to the answer. What’s a good plan in 1977 might be a bad idea in 1992, even for the same person in the same place.

In my recent blog post about things I now own, headed ‘Inventories’, my friend Rebecca commented: ‘Interesting to muse about all that the iPhone provides in a simple lifestyle...Wish they came at less expense & didn't demand frequent recharging, etc.

That caught my attention, because it touched on a matter I’ve thought about long and hard myself.

There are different ways of living in simplicity ~ the Amish way is one kind, eschewing many forms of modern technology; rural homesteading is another, requiring quite a number of buildings and tools, equipment and livestock; hi-tech pared-down urban apartment dwelling is yet another way; squatting and freegan gift-economy living is one more; intentional community reducing personal possessions by increased sharing (or renouncing personal property altogether) is another.

All these seem to me valid approaches to simplicity, and choosing one way over the alternative options is achieved by working out what is appropriate for the temperament, circumstances and skill set of the individual.

Until very recently, I had a cell phone ~ the cheapest kind of pay-as-you-go basic no-frills Nokia. I also had a camera. I had a portable light (and candles). I had a collection of books and a large folder of music CDs. I had internet connection on my laptop via the wi-fi in our big house here.

Part of the reason I wanted to radically reduce my possessions and get down to the one-bag amount if I can, is because my life seems to have a somewhat nomadic character. I sleep in one place during the week when the Badger is away working in Oxford, another place when he is home. I envisage things may (or not) become a little more nomadic next year. Some of my location bases have wi-fi, others are entirely off-grid with no electricity or running water. I found shuttling about from place to place unsettling, and wanted to create a level of simplicity where I can move from place to place with one bag, just being where I am and using the facilities ~ whatever they may be ~ in that location.

Wherever I am based, I still have to be able to research and write, because most of my income strands require that. An iPhone began to make good sense: it allowed me to get online, and meant I could carry around a phone, light, camera, music facility, audio books and reading books (including Bible and prayer books), internet research and email facilities (because it has mobile internet connection) wherever I go.  I still need my laptop for preparing manuscripts and other documents, but with an iPhone the nomadic potential of my life increases immensely.

It is expensive, of course: I got my handset free, but tied in to a monthly contract giving me unlimited texts and calls and a certain amount of time online ~ plenty for research and correspondence. The monthly amount came to about three times my normal cell-phone bill. Because I like to stay frugal and small, I had to look at that very hard. I looked at other expenses I could reduce, so that my overall monthly expenditure could, if anything, go down rather than up ~ I want always to be travelling lighter, not just shifting the freight from one place to another.

Ideally, one day, I’d like to think about how I could reduce still further ~ reduce expenditure and possessions. I’ve already crossed off several items that were on the list in my ‘Inventories’ post.

I think it’s a matter of balance ~ achieving simplicity and a small, hidden life without walking away from the responsibilities and contributions to which God has called me. It’s all about that word Giles used so often: what’s ‘appropriate’, in this life, right here and now. That’s not static but part of a dynamic flow. Acting appropriately implies flexibility and openness to change, and one of the great virtues of living simply is it makes flexibility more possible. Also, the less stuff I own, the more readily I detect what is surplus and unnecessary, so that when it becomes appropriate to pass it on or leave it behind, I can do so.

At the moment I think the iPhone is the right thing; but I know I feel uneasy about being tied in to monthly payments on a contract. I’m happy to take this path for now, but I’ll continue to monitor it, and maybe something else will emerge as more appropriate when it comes time to renew the contract.

Life evolves.


gail said...

Hi Pen, I haven't progressed to an iphone yet though I see the benefits and ease of just having one device. I'm struggling with letting go of things. I tend to feel guilty about just passing things on that I have used our money to purchase. I like the word "appropriate", and often find it a very useful way to look at a situation, object or even a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts on mind clutter in our world today. This is another thing I struggle with. As always I'm enjoying the conversations your thoughts bring forth on your blogs.
Have a lovely weekend.
Blessings Gail.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, I used to feel guilty about moving on things I'd bought, and I've often heard people say it would be dreadful to get rid of this or that possession because they paid three hundred pounds for it, or whatever the sum was.
In a similar way I used to feel terrible about wasting food - I thought if you didn't want it you shouldn't buy it or put it on your plate, and if you'd over-bought you had to eat it up because it was wrong to throw it out.
Then one day Bernard (my previous husband) commented to me, 'But if you don;t want it and you eat it, you're still wasting it and throwing it away - you're just using yourself as the dustbin.'
Gosh, I thought; he's absolutely right.
I still don't throw food out to landfill. We compost all plant-based food and any left over food from our picky cats goes to the seagull. Any other food that's getting a bit old is gratefully received by the fox.
As to unwanted possessions, well I still buy things, but I regard it as a purchasing a lease of indefinite length - renting the item for as long as I need it. Clothes I mostly buy second hand on eBay at a knock down price. And if there are no separate categories of 'us and them' - if we are all 'us', all family, then passing along to another member of the family something we can no longer use seems okay to me. I think the same applies as to the unwanted food. If I have bought items - even expensive ones - that I can't use and don't want any more, I'm still wasting them; just using my home as a dustbin.
I no longer mind if things are expensive or cheap. I like to buy second-hand and live low and humble. But nowadays I feel that life is not really about money, and the money I have is primarily for the common good of the tribe I travel with.
I am familiar with the feeling that the more something cost the longer I should keep it, but when I think about it, I'm not sure it has a very sturdy logical basis as an idea.
Mind clutter? I am addressing that right now in my life. i've downloaded Eckhart Tolle's book 'The Power of Now' onto my iPhone, and every night before I go to sleep I lie quietly in bed as the night falls, listening to him reading a chunk of that brilliant book. xx

Rebecca said...

Practices vary from one Amish district to another. Here, many of them have cell phones (and boom boxes) and computers.

Each of us have to evaluate for ourselves (as you have done), I think.... Mindfulness & periodic evaluation in decision making is key.

"Appropriate" is a GREAT word! I'm going to be milling that over in my mind a bit this afternoon.

Pen Wilcock said...

'Periodic evaluation' - I think that's a key element, and a vital alternative to obsessing!

gail said...

Thanks for your response Pen. We too never waste food, as we compost or let our chooks eat any excess that hasn't been added to soup or bubble and squeak.
My clothes are usually second hand and I'm finding that I don't need as much these days. The mind clutter is what I need to address. I'll be checking out Eckhart Tolle's book. Jesus took his disciples away for rest. I believe that we need to disconnect for a time each day. Perhaps we can't climb a mountain but just finding some quiet time to find that peace we all need. Easy for me to say and my intensions are good, but often I neglect this important part of my life.
Blessings Gail.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes indeed. Also, I'm finding, way more than I anticipated or ever imagined, there's a link between physical and mental clutter. As I get rid of possessions, somehow (I can't explain this) I can see more clearly; things become apparent - I start to notice where there is mental clutter and find the inner spaciousness to examine and deal with it.

Deborah said...

I long for an IPad or a Kindle or SOMETHING that I can use for the internet as my Windows XP computer is on it's last legs and sooo slow these days. Everything is way too expensive though and that is very sad for me :-D

The other thing I am in great neeeed of *cough* *cough* is the next book after The Breath of Peace...jus' sayin'... :-D

Deborah said...

I've started scanning my loose photographs and storing them in my pc til I can get them loaded onto Flickr...and then I shred the photos :-D That's creating a whole heap of space and one of my friends is doing something similar.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Debs - I know money is very tight for you, so it may not even be possible for you to do what I did, and get a contract phone. But if you look at the numbers, it can be very economical.
I used to spend perhaps £10 a month on calls/texts for my pay-as-you-go cellphone, and I have a contributing share to the phone and broadband costs for our household.
My iPhone cost (if you don't include the monthly insurance I opted to add on) is £32.00 a month. That includes mobile broadband.
Therefore, if I lived alone I could have that instead of both internet and phone. You can also use the iPhone as a Kindle device.
This means that I probably would actually be paying less per month than for a phone and broadband provision for the house plus cellphone costs. It also has the advantage of going with me wherever I go, and if I were somewhere with wi-fi, I could connect to that rather than use my mobile allowance.
The handset itself came free.
This might not work for you - I don't know your situation well enough. I'm just saying that when you look into it it's not quite as comparatively expensive as you might think at first.

Well done about the photos - that's one of the tasks ahead of me - I have an archive of stuff that needs scanning and uploading to a data traveller. Meanwhile I've been ruthlessly giving away or burning whatever I don't really need to keep - retreat resources, posters I'd made, letters and photos etc etc. You have to be form, don't you! But it's worth it.

Right now the next Hawk & Dove book is under negotiation with the publishers, and I think it will go through, with a delivery deadline (from me) of December 2015. So it will be a while yet!

Deborah said...

2015???...I could be DEAD by then... (exits the room with a dramatic flick of the pony tail and an exaggerated sigh) :-D


Thanks for the information but there's not a mobile phone package on the planet (I think) that can beat my TalkTalk landline package. Unlike you, I live on the phone both nationally and internationally and I regularly spend 2-3 hrs hanging out with my best friend and 2 year old godson in Australia in the middle of the night. She puts me on speaker phone and I get to hang out laundry and play in the tent with Levi and all sorts of other stuff too. We both love it :-D As long as I hang up before I hit the 60 minute mark I can phone back and the calls don't cost anything extra to what I pay for the package. My internet is included too with unlimited downloads and they've just reduced my rental by abot £7.50 a month for the next 12 months. I LOVE TalkTalk...they are fab and as a lot of my friends live overseas it's a great way to keep in touch :-D

At least I still have a working pc and for that I am greatful. :-D

Pen Wilcock said...


Sound like you have sourced an excellent package for your life ~ very appropriate!!

Julie B. said...

I am also thinking a lot about the word appropriate these days, in relation to my husband's illness and his care. Appropriate for him doesn't necessarily mean good for me. Appropriate helps me look at things from a better perspective, though. xoxo

Pen Wilcock said...

Hmm. It flows both ways, of course - appropriate for you doesn't necessarily mean good for him. About 40 years ago (can it really be so long?) a friend gave me a piece of wisdom that's stood me in good stead ever since. He was into psychotherapy and had done a lot of reading around this topic. And he said that every relationship and human situation has to bear the characteristic of mutuality or it will soon founder. It has to work for both people (or all parties involved).
Altruism is always only for the emergency - the very short term. It isn't sustainable. For a person's care to be sustainable it must - absolutely must - work for the carer too. This is non-negotiable, because the wellbeing of the one cared for depends entirely on the wellbeing of the carer.
You are finding appropriate solutions and doing well. xx

Julie B. said...

In the past many weeks I have come to see that what you've said here is true. I know Michael's care is appropriate, right and "good" for both of us, but it will always feel "not good" for my soul and heart. My body and mind are saying thank you, but my heart occasionally says "how could you?" I trust that this will ease as time passes. :( xoxo

Anne said...

Your cell plan makes a lot of sense! I too am not worried or bothered to pass things on. I have made decisions as I go along that seem to get better with the practice so hopefully all mistaken purchases will be in the past. Am feeling as you once wrote about dresses. Skinny jeans do take up very little space. No more swishy skirts that I tried to convince myself to wear! I will hang on to a few dresses but how many I really need will be my next decision. This process is making me feel more fully myself ( wearing only what is truly me) and more in control.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - the cell-phone is working out well - the important thing about it is that it keeps me in touch with work commitments; and as those are minimal it's important to pay attention to them!