I recently went to the South West of England, to a beautiful place called Dartington.
Rugged rolling hills, fresh air and sparkling stream – I always feel refreshed, detoxed and new after visiting the West country. Feeds the soul for sure.
I’d gone there for a talk given by the author and activist Satish Kumar. If you’re not familiar with his books and work then I thoroughly recommend you explore them.
His vision, message, and mission are very close to my heart so I relate to his words and their meaning strongly.
He was speaking about his latest book ‘Elegant Simplicity’ and how we must learn to change our relationships to material things.
He very wisely says that things should be crafted by us or at least made by hand, and should be beautiful, useful, and durable.
If we have things, why not make them beautiful? It’s not about being shallow or face-value, as there is so much value in beautiful things.
As humans we are natural drawn to beautiful things; flowers, sunsets, art.
Beautiful things feed our souls and give us pleasure, so why have things which are not beautiful.
Now, in this he was describing beautifully crafted things and finding true joy in having them around you – not actively collecting everything around you which is pretty.
He was explaining that to have real appreciation for something beautiful we must build a relationship to it, and the best way to do that is to make it ourselves, or for it to be hand-made, hand crafted, with pure materials.
On the flip side of that, if we are going to have things around us, we should have some use for them.
It’s no good filling your house with beautiful nice things if none of them serve a purpose. And objects which serve a purpose don’t need to be ugly, they can to be beautiful; our clothes, the tools we use in the kitchen or garden, our furniture.
Making beautiful things is fun, but if it has no real purpose it can lose its allure and we have less appreciation for it. When we like something, we tend to care for it more, and so they stay beautiful for longer, or improve with age.
Trying these two qualities together we must create things which are durable.
It’s no good having something beautiful and useful if it gets worn out or breaks after you use it once.
We must craft our things with good quality materials, with care and attention, making them strong to withstand time and use.
There is still a strong ‘throw away’ culture around the world, but if we chose to make and use things which last a long time, we are helping to look after the environment as less used-up things will get throw anyway to sit in landfills for years and years.
I found myself adding to the three principles in Kumar’s list with a fourth element.
I thought of the quote by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Live simply so that other may simply live.’
For me this is also needed for us to move forward sustainably in our somewhat material world.
We should apply the three attributes to our material possessions and ask ourselves are they beautiful, useful, and durable?
However, I think we should also think about what we can do without, and not what we think we must have.
It’s good to enjoy empty space around you without needing to fill it.
Taking joy in knowing everything you own means something special to you.
If you simplify your material needs, and don’t keep making our getting new things, you will feel lighter and you’ll be more inclined to share what you have with others.
Simplifying our lives is the best thing we can do. There are so many distractions and so much information surrounding us every day, why add to that on purpose?!
Give yourself some room and learn to live in elegant simplicity.