Tag Archives: Stuff

Johanna Derry on Burning Buildings

10 Apr

In our first guest post on this week’s challenge topic of Simplicity, journalist Johanna Derry explains how the 2011 London riots caused her to reflect on what she really needs. 

JohannaOther than your family and pets, what would you rescue from a burning building? It’s a classic hypothetical question, asked so you can work out what matters most to you. In theory once you know what you value, you can simplify or prioritise your life accordingly.

About 18 months ago, I found myself in the slightly odd situation of actually trying to decide what I to rescue if my flat were to burn. I lived above a Greggs bakery near to Clapham Junction in London and, in August 2011, a handful of Greggs’ in the city were burned to the ground, the carbonised product of a few nights of rioting.

That week I happened not to be staying at home, but house-sitting for friends around the corner. My flatmate was away, so our flat stood empty.

It was the third night of the riots, the night when there weren’t enough police to deal with every troubled hotspot. Friends watching the news in other parts of the country started texting me to see if I was okay. And then friends who lived near to me, started offering their spare rooms. Clearly living on a high street in London above a bakery isn’t the advisable thing to do in a time of civil unrest.

I wasn’t scared for my own safety, but I still got spooked. I decided to brave the streets and go home to rescue the things I valued most, in case my building burned that night too.

It’s weird staring at all your worldly goods, the tangible evidence of the money you’ve worked for and spent, and knowing you could lose it all. What DO you choose to save?

I filled one plastic bag with exactly these things:

two pieces of jewellery that belonged to my grandmothers

a picture of me and one of my sisters as children, painted by my aunt

two Bibles I had been given by family members as gifts

I hovered before I left, wondering if I should take more. I could have definitely carried more, but then where would I have stopped? Even then I knew that I didn’t actually need the stuff I’d put in the bag. I already had a place to stay. I knew my friends would feed me. In the bag were things that made me feel close to my family.

Shelter. Food. Love. That’s all.

Everything else can burn.

Johanna Derry is a journalist, editor and blogger who lives in London (not above a Greggs anymore) and who likes attempting to make bread (she missed the smell of it). She blogs at: http://meandthegirlfromclapham.wordpress.com/


God 52 – Week Fifteen (9/4/13)

9 Apr

A prime example. I owned this, obviously.

My garage was a temple to Mammon. One wall was completely filled with the most comprehensive movie collection a man could wish for – an alphabetised shrine to cinema, containing DVDs of the greatest films ever made (and Transformers). Not only DVDs – two-disc special edition DVDs. Limited edition collectors tin DVDs. Fold-out-Optimus-Prime-figure-edition DVDs.

I don’t think I’ve ever put the second disc from a two-disc special edition into my DVD player. But I’ve bought 100s of the things. Why?Because the marketing draws me in – like popcorn sizing that promises so much more for a modest price increase – and every time it does, it strengthens the hold of materialism in my life. So while I didn’t watch them, I enjoyed the shiny packaging – the sense of having obtained great possessions. Often I would walk into my garage, like some very rubbish version of Alexander the Great, and survey all that I had conquered (from HMV).

A few years ago, I started exploring the Spiritual Disciplines, one of which is Simplicity. Practicing Simplicity requires us to ask three questions of ourselves: a) where should I do less, b) where should I have less, and c) using the space created by the first two, what should I do more? We practice Simplicity in order to rebalance our lives – to work out where we’re badly investing our time or resources, or where our ‘stuff’ or our busyness is getting in the way of the important things in life: time with God, friends, family; resting, and feeding the soul.

God spoke very clearly to me as I tried to work out how to practice this discipline. The wall of DVDs had to go. So – very painfully – I sat one night and disassembled my collection. The films themselves – the good ones at least – went into a plain library folder to keep; the shiny boxes went into black bin liners. And all those disc twos – the things I’d paid an extra five pounds for just to make me feel smug? They went into the black bags too. I tossed the whole lot into the council tip – and as I did so, I felt an enormous sense of freedom.

This week then, we’re going to practice the discipline of Simplicity together, and focus on that second question: where should I have less? And to that end, here’s the challenge:

15: Get rid of something you want, but don’t need.

Identify one possession (or more) which you like, but isn’t actually vital to you. Don’t choose something of great sentimental value – rather find something of material worth which is hard for you to give away, but which you don’t really need. If you want to take that a stage further, see if you can choose something which actually gets in the way of your relationship with God and others – but it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Perhaps you simply want to get rid of something in order to say: ‘I own my material possessions – not the other way around.’

It’s up to you how you dispose of your possession – but I’d suggest that this offers a perfect opportunity to also practice generosity – so you could give it to a friend or to a charity shop, or sell it on ebay and give the proceeds away.

If the challenge seems too easy, make it more difficult. The act of giving up should hurt a little; the resulting sense of liberation will more than compensate.

Take that, materialism!

We’re always on the look out for guest bloggers. If you’d like to write a guest post this week on practicing simplicity, please read our writing guidelines, then drop me an email.