Minimalist Monday: 10 Simplifying Lessons from The Rule of St. Benedict

Whether you're Christian or not, some interesting insights can be gained from The Rule of St. Benedict. For those constantly overwhelmed by physical possessions, internal clutter and society's spiralling superfluity, The Rule of St. Benedict, can be a mighty tool towards living a happier and more minimalistic lifestyle.

So, who was St. Benedict and how can his spirituality help those aspiring to minimalism today?

Benedict was a 6th century monk from Nursia near Rome, who first lived as a hermit before establishing various monasteries and writing a Rule to guide monastic living. His Rule is still used today in many monasteries and convents as well as being followed by many lay people.

Whilst many Christians practise the traditions of fasting, prayer and giving to charity during the forty days of Lent, the Benedictine way of life is like a permanent Lenten journey. At the heart of St. Benedict's Rule is his message to listen to God's voice in the everyday. However, Benedictine life is not about total abstinence. Instead it's about moderation, humility and serving others. 

Some UK readers may remember that the Benedictine way of life was the subject of two BBC TV series The Monastery and The Big Silence broadcast about ten years ago. The aim of these projects was to enable people from different walks of life and different religions or non-religions to experience monastic life for a sustained period of time and thus to reveal to the participants and viewers new insights into their inner lives and spirituality. 

I didn't watch the TV series at the time – I was probably too busy collapsing in front of something far less meaningful on the box after a demanding day working and dealing with my own two young children, if I remember correctly - but the results were fascinating and can be read here. Similar TV series were later broadcast in the USA and Australia. 

Now, whilst we can't easily give up our current lives to seek spiritual guidance in a Benedictine community there are simple ways we can incorporate St. Benedict's ideas and values into our everyday lives.

Eat simply - Eat modest amounts of simple food but always have enough to share with visiting guests. The Benedictine ideal is neither affluence nor poverty. 

Set limits - Live in a minimalistic but comfortable home. Have just enough clothes to meet your needs.

Live an alternative non-consumerist lifestyle – Don't be afraid to be counter-cultural. St. Benedict preferred solitude to the decadence of society and was determined to live out the gospel in the midst of a complex world.

Embrace humility – Stop chasing perfection and recognise both your human weaknesses and your capacity for greater self-knowledge. Don't expect reward and recognition for everything you do. Being humble doesn't have to mean losing your self-confidence. 

Seek quiet – Disconnect from technology more. Just as Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to pray and escape the busy social whirl of his ministry, Benedictine life can teach us the value of moments of quiet contemplation in our age of multimedia communication. Learn to appreciate the beauty of nature and make time for moments of silence and stillness as much as you can. 

Be a good household manager - Many of St. Benedict’s ideas for running a monastery make good sense: to value and respect basic commodities such as water, to look after all created things, to not be wasteful and to repair things and recycle as much as possible. 

Limit your possessions - And as for personal challenges beloved of many minimalists (100 less things, Project 333) St. Benedict can teach us a thing or two! Each Lent it's customary for monks to submit a list of their personal possessions (a poverty bill) to the abbot as a means of examining their relationship to stuff and also to assess what they can live without. Modern Benedictine communities value and enjoy the usefulness of possessions yet practise restraint in terms of attachment and ownership. Ultimately, personal ownership is seen as a vice because material things derive from God's creation. 

Respect other faiths – Benedictine followers have great respect for different Christian traditions, other faiths and an openness to sharing their lives with the non-religious. They have strong links with Buddhist monks whilst recognising their differences. Different faiths can learn from each other, find common paths and unite through prayer. 

Cultivate discipline – Don't be put off by the discipline of monastic life – it doesn't come easily to the monks at first. Instead try improving your self-discipline in incremental steps. If you feel you need to stop bad habits do so gradually. Reduce sugar from your diet one foodstuff at a time, don't cut out alcohol completely but practise moderate drinking instead. As you cut out these distractions and obstacles gradually you'll slowly encounter the keys to unlocking what's been stopping you seeking ultimate fulfilment. 

Give something up for a day – Paula Huston's Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit gives imaginative daily prompts useful to anyone interested in trying out St. Benedict's ideas. Paula Huston is an American author and Benedictine oblate (a lay Christian who is associated with a Benedictine community). Each day in Lent there is a simplifying idea to try (clear out a junk drawer, scrub a dirty corner) followed by guidance on how to go about each simplifying act together with thoughts on how they might enrich your spirituality. I like the variety of the daily actions. Doing something extra (invite a lonely person in for tea and conversation) or giving something up (email, TV) for just one day seems more interesting and easier to follow than giving up one thing for the duration of Lent. Also, by doing so many different acts hopefully there will be less sense of failure  and new lessons and habits may be borne. And there's no reason why these practices can't be followed outside of Lent.

Early church tradition is rich in the wisdom of soul simplification and offers a multitude of spiritual disciplines to counteract the temptations that muddles our lives. ~ Paula Huston

Abbot Christopher Jamison who featured on the The Monastery has since written two books Finding Sanctuary and Finding Happiness. The message of his books is similar to the findings of the TV series: seeking happiness through consumption and chasing status is not a successful route to long lasting fulfilment. Rather, discipline, moderation and simple pleasures are 'stepping stones to steady our nerve as we make our choices about where to go next in search of happiness.'

The Rule of St. Benedict is accessible to anyone regardless of their religious beliefs. It certainly offers some fresh new ideas to ponder and try out if simplicity's your thing.

Simplicity is harder to follow than fashion but a far more rewarding journey.   




Minimalist Monday: Memory Keeping

On Thursday, at his funeral, many memories were shared of my dad, Michael. We each had different memories to share and the stories that were told that day created a wonderful sense of pride, love and respect in us all. I wrote and read Dad's eulogy and, as my nerves settled, I realised what an honour it was to tell his story to his family, friends and work colleagues. It made me realise how much our lives overlap, how much we can influence those we come into contact with and how we remember someone for how they made us feel as much as for what they achieved. 

The love and stability he created for his family will live on as will his example of living a good life: always hard-working, loyal, caring and respectful to others, very positive and determined to enjoy life. 

As we begin our 'new normal' lives without my dad, his memory and example will live on.  

As I posted this another wonderful tribute to Dad was also published, this time from two of his running friends (the two Daves) - read it here. Thank you both!



Minimalist Monday: My Word for 2015

Hello. A little late this year, forgive me, but here is the word I have chosen to guide me through 2015. This is the third year I have chosen a word as a theme for the year. In 2013 I chose 'focus' and in 2014 'purpose'. Clear has a different feel to it than my previous words that were very driven and were about finding new direction (although I did define 'focus' as 'to see things more clearly' - so maybe I'm going round in circles!) I think my direction has become clearer over the last two years and I won't be making any major life changes in 2015, especially since loosing my dad recently. 

Here are a few definitions of clear that I've found:

1. Uncomplicated, simple and user-friendly
2. Transparent, unclouded
3. To be away from
4. To remove an unwanted item from somewhere

My hopes for 2015 are to

- keep things simple in my home, my work and my attitude - why complicate things?
- provide simple, user-friendly information on my blog to inspire others with their simplifying, with maybe some more vlogs and possibly an e-book - what do you think? Any other suggestions?
- to spend more time off technology than on, especially in my free time
- to clear more clutter and have some clear shelves and cupboard space - wouldn't that be wonderful?
- clear more junk from my diet and drink more water 

So, in 2015 I'm ambitious but in a minimalistic way. As I'm a bit late to the party with my word for the year, how about sharing your progress to date if you've chosen a word for the year? Or what's the one thing that's complicating your life that you're finding it hard to let go of? It's always wonderful to hear from you. Have a great week xo



I Believe in Happiness

I believe in happiness, especially in finding it in dark places. Sometimes happiness overflows in our lives and we're like a sponge, soaking up as much as we can and then releasing it in tiny bubbles for others to share with a kind smile, a hug, a laugh or a generous act. Other times our happiness quotient is depleted and our sponge dries up to a hard crusty shell as we neglect our well-being, shut down and make less contact with others. Happiness, the kind of happiness that money can't buy and which is borne from self-acceptance and practising gratitude never disappears completely. When life gets tough or you simply feel rubbish you need to remember that you have inner happiness and how much better life can feel if you use it. On those dark days, seek happiness in simple pleasures, in the world around you, find the positives in the situation you're in and try and make some contact with others. If you can nurture yourself, appreciate the beauty and simple pleasures of daily life and be open and welcoming to the friendship of others life begins to feel better. All it takes sometimes is a quick soak, a gentle squeeze and off you go. 



Minimalist Monday: Decluterring the KonMari Way

Over Christmas and new year I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo after hearing good reviews around the internet. This book is a little gem of inspiration if you are considering a big declutter in 2015. For me, it was a chance to glean some new tips on decluttering. I like Kondo's organised and positive approach to the subject and her philosophy of treating possessions with respect. However, I'm not convinced that this book alone would help me to declutter my entire house from scratch as some practical information regarding timescales and how to actually discard items was missing. Also, whilst decluttering in one go sounds wonderful, I think there is wisdom in not rushing the process if you are not mentally prepared. Her folding methods are also beyond my clumsy hands but there are some KonMari folding tutorials on youtube should you wish to learn. 

To summarise, I would recommend this book as any new angles on decluttering and understanding why we hoard are useful. I have made a note of 20 tips that, in my opinion, sum up Kondo's 'KonMari' method. I know I will be trying out a few. How about you?

1. Putting your house in order should be done once only and in a single period of time.
2. Concentrate on discarding first. Don't get distracted by storage methods.
3. Tidy by category, not by place.
4. Begin by focusing on your motivation for tidying by visualising your ideal lifestyle and why you want to live like that.
5. Handle each item and consider if it 'sparks joy'. Keep only those items that you truly love. 
6. Discard in a certain order starting with the easier categories first: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items. Within each category subdivide your discarding for extra efficiency. For example discard clothing in this order: tops, bottoms, clothes that need hanging, socks, underwear, handbag, accessories, sportswear and shoes. 
7. Don't discard for other family members and don't force your discarded items on them. Begin by discarding your personal belongings and your example will set off a chain reaction of tidying in others. 
8. Choose a quiet environment for tidying to encourage an internal dialogue between you and your belongings. The best time to start is early morning.
9. If you find something difficult to throw away, ask, “Has it already fulfilled its purpose?” Let these things go with gratitude. 
10. Gather every item together from across your home and place on the floor.
11. Don't downgrade discarded clothes items for loungewear.
12. Keep storage simple. Folding clothes is the KonMari ideal storage method for clothes. The physical act of touching clothes as you fold them has a positive effect on clothes. She is anti stacking items preferring vertical storage. Shoe boxes are also recommended for storage.  
13. Hang clothes by category and arrange them so that they rise to the right with heavy items on the left side.
14. Keep all your clothes ready to be used year round, regardless of season.
15. Set limits. For example Kondo suggests 30 books as her ideal number. Kondo talks about finding your 'Just right click-point'.
16. Be ruthless. Kondo applies this to paperwork and other miscellaneous items like spare buttons and unidentified electrical wires.
17. Don't stockpile.
18. Empty your handbag everyday. 
19. Celebrate letting go of your possessions. 
20. Tidying is just the start. By questioning what 'sparks joy' and eliminating items that don't make you happy you can get closer to discovering your passion in life.

This post was almost finished last week but was not published due to being at Dad's side. It has been quickly finished this morning and it feels good to post something useful and interesting for you. Many thanks for your messages about Dad. Support from you and others is so generous, restorative and moving. Quite overwhelming, really. Much love, Claire xo.