Kettle’s Yard: a reflection

I recently visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK.  Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede during 1958 to 1973 . Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London 1920-30s.  Collecting and curating art and nature in his home, became his cure for undiagnosed PTSD brought on by the Great War.  He became a patron, collector and buyer of works by then unknown (and some famous) artists- paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

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This work, called ‘Bird swallows a fish’ by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, made a profound impression on me. Very pertinent for our ecological crisis.

Jim did not distinguish between high art, naive art, and nature.  There are no labels, so the visitor enjoys the work as it is.  Surprisingly for a curator’s home, there no curatorial statements either.  Alongside carefully positioned valued artworks, we find broken and old furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects. The aim was to create creating a harmonic whole, not perfection. He was influenced by his visit to India after the war and his work reflects his interests in Eastern religions and folk art.  He invited students for talks at the end of each term and in the end, left the house to Cambridge University.  He meant this humble home to be neither ‘an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.’

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Humble collections of stones, arranged carefully, give a peaceful ‘zen-like’ calm to the home.

Looking and reflecting on the interiors, as an architect and home maker, I came to realise that to create a home you have to know yourself and your own needs deeply.  And to create such an harmonious home, you don’t need expensive things- just things that reflect who you are.  So Jim and Helen Ede’s home could be viewed by some as eccentric and unsophisticated but the abiding impression is that of a couple who consciously chose to eschew the materially rich for that which is soulfully rich.  A lesson indeed for these chaotic times and materialistic culture.  Such expression where someone’s inner life has been thrown open public gaze requires inner confidence, critical thinking and unwavering certainty.  This is the home of someone who has absolute happiness, not relative one.  In the end, the lesson for me wasn’t from the art but from the collection and the home as one.

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Works of art by famous artists are placed deliberately low on the floor so that the viewer can sit down and contemplate these.
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Light and shadows play a part in how sculptures are placed
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Plants also part of the display- a living natural art
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You are invited to sit on the chairs to contemplate the space and art

Lessons on design and interiors from Kettle’s Yard

  1. Make the design work for you, don’t follow others blindly.
  2. Choose things that enhance the spaces- these might be cheap things like plants, rocks, books and sea shells. They could be things that you love to touch and see.
  3. Follow the design through as you walk from space to space.  It might be simpler and cheaper to have a flow, rather than each space having its own ‘theme’.
  4. Remove and hide things seasonally.  This gives a sense of the home through the seasons.
  5. Eclectic collections have a charm of their own.  Many design magazines feature empty monastic looking spaces but as this home shows, you can have many things if displayed well.

 

Insight of the day

‘If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present’,  Lao Tzu

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This is my friend’s five year old.  While I was talking to his dad about future projects, our worries and the state of the world, this young man decided to enjoy his surroundings.  While the grown-ups’ talk was getting darker and depressive, this child found my Venetian mask and said he would put on a ‘funny face’.  As soon as we saw him, we all started to laugh.  The present moment was alive again.  I realised we were having a dinner party and we weren’t actually enjoying it.  We were drawn back to the present, thanks to the intuitive wisdom of a five year old!

The most powerful life tool you have

Every lesson you have learnt about time management, decluttering, managing your work, dealing with people, healthy living and finding happiness boils down to one thing- the choices you make.  Whether you decide to spend some time reading, keep a piece of paper, do a particular type of work, the friends you have, your weight and the fun you are having is down to the choices you have made in the past.  Buddhism says that if you want to know the future, look at the choices you are making today.  And that if you want to change your future, you need to change the choices you are making today- it is as simple as that.  However, despite being simple, this can be a daunting and not everyone is ready to throw something away- whether a piece of paper or a friend.  But as I have grown older, I think it is getting easier to let go.  But if you can do, you have the most powerful tool for living your life as you want- your choices.

This powerful talk by Caroline Myss is worth listening to if you have any doubts or are feeling you need some support in this area.  It really helped me.

 

A cluttered mind

I have recently been revisiting videos and writings on decluttering.  Why?  Because I forget to clear up and then I find more clutter when I am busy with other things but why is clutter collecting anyway?  Here are some things I have found out about reasons for clutter collection with some useful tips.  According to Oxford psychologist Stelios Kiosses, ‘There’s a bit of the hoarder in all of us … it’s when it gets out of hand, there’s a problem.’  My thing is once I have cleared up, it builds up again and then it gets out of hand.  I don’t have a cleaner, manager or organiser.  How can I stop cluttering?  I have tried so many methods.  As someone who is actively working in the environmental and ecological fields, I feel ashamed that I have so much stuff in my own house and office.

I have tried the Marie Kondo approach but you have to be very careful with that as you might end of throwing away useful things and also that approach doesn’t go far into why one creates clutter in the first place.  You have to know yourself in order to find out why you create clutter or collect.  So here is what I have learnt-

  1. Look around to see what it is that is cluttering up your environment.  In my case, it is definitely paper in some form- books, documents, paper, cuttings, etc. I spent more than £5000 on headed paper and have hardly used those and they clutter up my office storage.  Then there is also stationery that I have never used- dried up pens, rubber bands that have crumbled away, tags that don’t fit and so many items that don’t work. Kiosses also believes that hoarding comes from suffering owing to a loss of some kind.  But then we all have had loss of some kind and yet some of us hoard more than others.

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  1. Hence you need to think about why you hoard that particular thing– again in my case, it was always ‘just in case’. I write a lot so there are books and cuttings.  But there is also my fear of appearing ignorant, so I keep the backing for ‘ my proposition or thoughts to prop me up intellectually.  In other words, I need these bits of paper to help me because I can’t be bothered to think for myself or challenge an argument.  It is also a habit that is built up through our education system, with constant referencing that is required for any essay or paper you write.  But there is no need to store references- most are available on the Internet.  My headed paper also reflects an insecurity and an allusion to scarcity- I kept those sheets for the future.  Then the future arrived and everyone is using the internet and so paper sent by post is getting scarcer in every discipline.
  2. Be kind to yourself as you decide to change- I realised I had to treat myself gently in order to draw me away from drowning in my clutter.  The more harsh you are, the less workable decluttering is; which is why many give up on the Kondo method.  Rome wasn’t built in one day and the clutter wasn’t created in one day.  Clearing up one small area that is bothering you works best as the clearing ripple spreads. I am also now less harsh towards others- I recognise the hoarder that Kiosses talks about exists in me and others too.  There is no need to look down on others.  Also, I recognise that it is precisely because of this reason that you can’t clear someone else’s clutter.  That is why you can’t have decluttering theories that apply to everyone and follow ‘how to declutter’ books by someone else.  It is all in your mind.  Just as you are unique, your style and method of decluttering will be unique.

As one website says, “When you get rid of the vast majority of your possessions, you’re forced to confront your darker side:

  • When did I give so much meaning to possessions?
  • What is truly important in life?
  • Why am I discontent?
  • Who is the person I want to become?
  • How will I define my own success?”

The aim of decluttering, should not in fact be to purge your belongings but to enjoy the objects and environment you’ve chosen to live with.  That knowledge comes with knowing yourself deeply and well.

Small wins

I did couple of things last and this month that I would have never considered doing before.  These are small things and perhaps not very significant to anyone else.  But for me doing these opened my eyes to the possibility of change in my physical and emotional life.

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The first was climbing this hill in Edinburgh.  The guidebook said that it would take 20 minutes but it took me over one hour, that too after resting many times.  There were people climbing- some women even wore heels!  For me, getting up Arthur’s seat (250 metres high) was a major challenge.  I was so tired after that that I have taken three weeks to recover. Probably I won’t ever do something like that again but I have done it once. That was so empowering!

The second thing was I cut my own hair. I watched endless videos of hair cutting and steeled myself for how I could end up looking as the result was right there for everyone to see!  I realised I had to have this courage and belief in myself- the same as climbing that hill in Edinburgh.  Both are different things and yet are very similar in their emotion.  Both felt very empowering.  Everyone is different- and for everyone, there are new things to try out.  Now every month, I have decided to do one new thing.

Critical

I was thinking about how I used to like the ‘likes’ on my social media pages.  Now, they don’t matter so much.  So I began to reflect on why that might be?  I know that since starting these pages and sharing my thoughts, I have also began to clarify my feelings and experiences. Consequently I am feeling stronger and happier than I ever was before.  Childhood experiences often shape us stealthily and it is much later when we ourselves become parents that we start thinking about these experiences.  Thinking back to my childhood, I had a very critical father.  Some of my work involves being critical- writing and to choosing employees, etc.  But was I transferring my critical habits at work to my home?

Now, being critical has its good points and bad ones.  Critical people are able to distinguish between important issues, make choices and reflect on things intelligently.  In the fields of arts and literature, being critical helps us to edit and curate our choices.  However, taken too far, being critical, can be very dangerous.  Especially where personal relations are concerned. If someone is very critical, then they are less likely to have close friends or family.  Critical people also have a need to be in control and to have a say in everything.  Criticism can become all consuming anger at every one and everything that is not going someone’s way.  Having an overtly critical parent can turn to us to wanting love and attention in other ways.  Wanting ‘likes’ might be way of saying I need love and attention because I am not getting it in other ways.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my younger son announced the other day that he was not going to go for a school prize that is given to ‘popular’ children- that is popular with teachers.  He said that he would be pleased to get it on his own terms (he is a polite and popular boy anyway).  He didn’t want to do things like writing poems or ‘thank you’ letters to teachers for no reason, staying on for extra lessons (not because they want to learn but to earn points), smiling all the time, etc.  He said he just wanted to be himself and if anyone thought he was good, then it was fine.  Here was a boy who used to be anxious to see how many ‘likes’ he was getting in the social media posts.  I realised that I had become happier, let go of the past and become less critical, so my son was a result of the change in my parenting.

Happy and perfect

‘Just do it’ is the phrase used by a well known sports brand but I am using it in a different way.  I am using to mean a determination to be happy- to be just happy.  I was recently watching a programme about advertising and how advertising creates a gap between yourself, the reality and the image presented (the illusion).  We try to buy stuff to try to close this gap.  Often we get ourselves into trouble of various sorts, such as financial difficulties or unhealthy mental states.  In particular women are more prone to compare themselves to others and make themselves unhappy.  So many of the ‘happiness or beauty products’ are aimed at women because it creates a compulsive and everlasting consumer.

I have also been cleaning my house, using the ‘Konmari method‘ which is basically a method of editing your stuff (keeping only stuff that ‘sparks joy’) and keeping them tidily.  Out of my dark cupboards, hidden for years, have come out piles  of self help books, mountains of clothes, cosmetics, and many things I bought for ‘just in case’ occasions. Looking at them and adding up the costs of buying them, not using them and now having to dispose of them in a responsible way, is costing me more time and money.  Why oh why did I buy these things?  Perhaps I could have saved some money to pay off the mortgage, perhaps saved some time looking after myself instead of shopping for that perfect thing that would make me happy?  Perhaps.  Anyway, the feeling was first of disgust at myself and then forgiveness.  Perhaps, it was convoluted path I took to get here and some people don’t get here easily.  So I have decided not to buy anything more unless it really nourishes my life, not to watch any thing that doesn’t inspire me to do good and not to feel bad about the past.  I decided, I am happy as I am- that is it.  No more reading about happiness or perfection- I doing it, I am already happy and perfect as I am.