Monday, November 8, 2010

Elegant sufficiency

We have a little tradition in my family that once we have finished a meal we declare we’ve had ‘elegant sufficiency’.  Which whatever its origins  (elegant sufficiency definition)  , is a beautiful thing to say. I’ve had enough and what I had was elegant and I enjoyed it.

We don’t seem to use the word ‘sufficient’ any more. And certainly not in relation to what we have. It seems increasingly difficult to find that emotional/physical line between what is enough and what is too much.

As I’ve mentioned before I live in a shed with my husband and two sons. You can see a photo below. It certainly isn’t fancy, it certainly isn’t big at 56 square metres. But it is sufficient. It is shelter that keeps my family dry in a very rainy wet season; it keeps us comfortable - warm when it is coolish and cool in a warm, humid sub-tropical climate. It has so far kept the winds out and we will find out in a predicted prolific cyclone-season whether this will remain the case. But so far, so good.
So my ‘laundry’ is outside – a washing machine under a verandah – but it still washes the clothes. Sometimes to free up space in the shed we move the dining table under the big verandah – we are happy to dine al-fresco and look out over our verdant, hilly, cane sugar and cow strewn surrounds, serenaded by cicadas, kookaburras and gobbling bush turkeys. Yes, we use a dinner set that I bought for my ‘glory box’ (oh I was so old-fashioned and daggy) over 15+ years ago but they hold our food perfectly, the cutlery set I got for my 21st, on tablecloths (when we’re being posh or have guests) that my mother handed on to me from aunts before her.  I sleep on pillow cases I bought when I was 18 years old and my boys sleep on a Holly Hobbie pillowcase I had as a little girl. I’ve managed to hang onto a ‘hutch’ (bookcase/ drawers) that was my brother’s and I first piece of bedroom furniture.  
And I am completely comfortable with this. They may not be new, or pretty or ‘trendy’ but they are functional and they have history. Why discard something that remains useful?

I love op shops and the hunt for perfectly good, sometimes funky, items of clothing (a gold cheong-sam my all time favourite find). And it isn’t, as someone once told me, due to low self-esteem and my not feeling ‘worthy’ of new or expensive clothing. (!!!) It is because the items still have value – their $ price is irrelevant to their usefulness or prettiness. It saves the planet from having to produce the resources to make more stuff. And the money goes to good causes. Buying brand new seems to make less sense from any rational viewpoint than re-using and re-imagining already existing items.

‘Minimalising’ is popular and there is a movement of people who are endeavouring to have less in order to have more. To consume fewer physical things, so that we personally aren’t overwhelmed with clutter and the inherent responsibility to store and maintain what we own. To be less busy doing things we feel obligated to do or don’t enjoy doing in order to spend more time with loved ones in soul-giving pursuits. It would do us and our planet a favour to embrace sufficiency over excess. Adequacy over endless growth.  Appreciate what we have before pining for a new thing that will satisfy for only so long. And often isn't it for show, the proverbial 'keeping up with the Joneses'? And how often, deep down, do we really even like the Joneses? Why is their opinion the gauge of our self-worth?

This isn't to say that I don't covet the new or want pretty things. And it certainly isn't to say that I know the 'sufficiency' line when I am eating! I don't as my waistline and arse would attest. 

However, I do think we should bring ‘sufficiency’ back and brand it ‘elegant’ once again.


  1. My father always says that he has had an elegant sufficiency when he finishes a meal. :-)

    I loved your post. We have mismatched hand-me-down furniture and we don't have all the mod-cons that many seem to find 'essential' (no pay TV, no big screen TV, one car, no air-con), but we have everything that we need (well, I tell my husband that I 'need' aircon).

    We do have heaps of 'stuff'. I'm trying to reform my packrat ways and clear out some of the clutter.

    I think your home epitomises elegant sufficiency. Thank you for the reminder that it is about being happy with what you have, not having everything to make you happy.

  2. I totally agree with you!
    Our house is an old tiny thing. We don't have the money to do it up either. But really, does that even matter?
    Everything we have serves us well, and I think alot of people forget that those material things are exactly that, material!

    I had a little clean out of cupboards yesterday. I have a bit of a problem with keeping bits of paper and odd things that we just don't need!
    I have a box in my cupboard though full of those special little things that cannot be replaced.

    Great post.

  3. Air-con definitely a must in Australia - if you don't have what I covet - a passive solar house with abundant breezes etc.

    And definitely have to keep those special little irreplaceable things - even if only you find them special. Baby hospital wrist tags, birthday cards...