Shredding and Thoughts on an Anxious System

Shredding DSC00379As part of our downsizing, simplifying, and search for a greener home, I have been cleaning up old financial records that I had basically just boxed up and kept forever. I checked online sources to figure out which records I actually needed to keep and which ones I could throw away and recycle.

I found out that the IRS has three years from your income tax filing to audit your tax return for miscellaneous errors, and six years if they suspect you of underreporting income, so they suggest you keep all your returns and documentation for seven years. As a minister, this means I must also keep the documentation for all housing expenses, since our housing allowance is treated differently for taxes than regular salary. I have also read that I should keep anything related to purchase or sale of a house, and permanent improvements to the house. (If you think you might want to do some shredding, please do your own research on this, because I am not an accountant or tax expert.)

I have been doing this process for an hour or two at a time, because the shredder gets tired after a bit of time, and I do too. I’ve fed it thousands of old receipts, old bills, old bank statements, old tax returns. I have filled up four huge trash containers with paper for recycling. I am just getting up to the seven-year mark in my papers–starting from many years ago I’m finished up to 2007. What am I learning? It takes almost as much work to eliminate old papers as it did to acquire them. Finances have gotten so complicated that they take more time and energy than I want to give to them. In the financial world “green” does not refer to environmentally sustainable.

It makes me realize that the structure of our society’s economic system is based on fear and anxiety. The IRS is the adversary who might bang at our door and discover we threw away the letter acknowledging a donation. I am not against the idea of taxes or contributions to social security. (I don’t appreciate that so much of the money goes to weapons and war.) Ideally, taxes are the way we support the Common Good, the way we recognize and contribute to shared resources like roads and firefighters and schools and libraries and care for our elders. I wish healthcare for everyone was also included among those shared resources. I deeply value giving energy to the Common Good.

And I wish there were a way to approach it all beyond anxiety and the complicated accumulation of records. I am curious if others have found a way to truly simplify the financial processes in our lives?

The Sacredness of In-Between

Circle Stone MJ DSC09547I love that there is a word for the sacredness of being in between one time and another, one place and another. It is called Liminal Time, or Liminal Space. It is the moment when magic can happen, when anything can happen.

I am now in the last week of my four-month sabbatical, and I am noticing that I haven’t finished any of the big goals I set for myself at its beginning. But that is okay–I am in a liminal space with each of those goals.  One goal is to publish my book, Finding Our Way Home. I have completed another full edit, and sent out queries to some publishers and sent out the manuscript. Now I am in the time of waiting to hear back.

Another goal is to find greener housing. Again, Margy and I have started on that process–we talked about what we want in a new home, we engaged a green realtor, we looked at some houses that didn’t fit, we sorted out some financing options. I’ve begun the process of simplifying and letting go of things I no longer need. That process will take a lot more time, and we are waiting for the right house to show up on the market.

A goal that emerged during these months is to do more with the Work that Reconnects. I want to devote myself to making changes that will move human beings into a more beneficial relationship with all life on earth. That in itself is not a new goal, but rediscovering the tools that Joanna Macy has created for this work has been a true gift of these months. I am imagining how I can bring those tools to my ministry in the congregation, and beyond. I’ve had a chat with a local colleague who is also interested, and I look forward to plotting together.

I feel like I have been planting seeds and tending the soil, but the harvest time is still up ahead somewhere, unknown and unknowable. And for now, it is important to let it be unknowable. If I want to experience the sacredness of this time, I must open to its mystery and uncertainty, I must celebrate its possibility, I must wait for its unfolding. The Holy is right here.

Letting Go and Giving Away

Books on Shelf DSC00283Even when there are no new houses to look at, there is plenty to keep me busy. Another side of searching for greener housing is getting ready for the move into a smaller place. This means paring down what we have collected over the years in a space that has abundant room for keeping things.

First stop: Books. I have shelves full of books that I have read and loved for many years. But I also have developed an allergy to any book that is more than a few years old. If I want to read one of my older books, I have to put on a mask and gloves, and even then I might get a headache from it. So perhaps now is a good time to let go of most of these old friends, and to pass them along to others who can enjoy them.

I had to take a deep breath when I thought about actually giving away my books. I decided to take pictures of the books on the shelf, because it makes me happy to see the titles there. And I still have to keep a few of my long-time, life-changing favorites. Even with a mask, I might need to read them again. I will also keep the books I am currently using in my work. In other words–I will still have a lot of books, just not as many as before.

I learned that our local independent bookstore, Longfellow Books, will take used books in trade for store credit. You can only bring in one bag or box at a time. My first grocery-size brown bag netted about $14 in store credit. It’s not a way to get rich, or even get very many new books. But it is a way to re-use and re-cycle and get a few new books, and support a great local institution.

I also did some research to see if prisons would accept book donations for their libraries–but I learned that certain ingenious addicts had figured out a way to import drugs into the prisons through book donations from their friends–so no more donations are accepted from individuals. But then, I heard about a Native group collecting books by Native authors to donate to the prison for the benefit of American Indian prisoners in Maine. I can’t imagine a better home for these particular treasures. I gathered two boxes that I will drop off.

I now know that the Portland Public Library will take book donations, and that Preble Street accepts donations of books and magazines for its center for homeless youth and adults.

There is a kind of joy in simplifying one’s life, in having fewer possessions to haul around. But it is an even deeper joy to think that someone else might be inspired through these books, by insights and stories that were so important to me on my journey.

The Search for Greener Housing, Part Three

House Search #1 DSC09847Following our dream of finding greener and accessible housing, we have now looked at six houses. The first was in a great location (halfway between the houses of two friends!) and had an amazingly private back yard, despite being right in town, though it was hard to get to the yard from the house. It had an almost south facing roof, but narrow hallways, and we couldn’t imagine how we could make it accessible without major reconstruction. Plus, there was a tenant in the basement who had lived there over 25 years, and the house wouldn’t have worked for us without the basement space. Bad karma?

The second house had such great character–it was a house we would love to live in. There were blueberries and raspberries in the yard, which we were told we could pick, and so we did. House Search 2 DSC09736There were gardens and a hoop house for extending the growing season. Lots of windows, sunny, and though it was a bit out of town, it was close to a lake, which was a nice bonus. There was not quite as much work to make it accessible, (though still some) but it was a very old house, and there was water along the edges of the basement–along with a mildew smell. And because of the unique shape of the house, it might be hard to insulate and put up solar. Regretfully, we decided it was too much to take on.

The third house had a great open living/dining/kitchen area, a lovely back deck, and also a great yard–though the very back of it fronted onto an in-use railroad track. It looked like we could put solar on the garage. But the bedrooms were dark and felt small, and there were two very tiny bathrooms that would have to be remodeled into one. We talked about whether we could put in more windows. Also there were a lot of steps to the front door.

The fourth house was on a busy street, too small, and not really worth looking at.

The fifth house was fully accessible! It had a lovely open kitchen/living area, a great deck, and nice bedrooms and bathroom. BUT–it was larger than our current house, and so that didn’t fit our goal of downsizing and having fewer expenses. They said it had been insulated, but it had used quite a bit more gallons of oil over the season than where we are now. However, it was great to see what someone else had done for accessibility and beauty.

The sixth house inspired a long conversation with our green-building savvy real estate agent. (That was one of our practical steps–to find an environmentally experienced agent!) The house was in great shape, with a lovely living room with a fireplace, a big mud room, two nice sized bedrooms on the first floor and extra finished space in the basement. It had a one car garage that probably could have been expanded to two ($), we’d need to remodel the bathroom for access, widen a doorway–and once again, it was an odd-shaped roof, so solar might be more expensive. Plus it had these great old cast iron radiators along the baseboards, but if we went electric they would all have to come out with much ado. And even with a lot of work, we probably couldn’t get to zero-carbon in this house, would have to keep using oil.

Our agent suggested that with all of these houses we’d seen so far, we were trying to squeeze ourselves into a house that wasn’t really quite right for what we wanted. Each one would require a lot of renovations in addition to solar and air-source heat pumps and insulation. It is an emotional up and down–excitement over houses that seem worth seeing, and in some ways are so close to what we want, or have such nice qualities, but then the disappoint that they don’t quite work. AND tomorrow could mean another house comes on the market that could be just right.

The Search for Greener Housing, Part One

For a long time, I have been saying to whomever might listen that my fantasy is to live in a zero-carbon home, a home that is so energy efficient that it doesn’t put carbon into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels, or use energy that is based on fossil fuels.  There is more to it than that, but ultimately, I am hoping for a way to live more in harmony with the whole of the living earth, to live as if our human future holds life-sustaining possibilities.

So, my partner and I have started on a new adventure toward this greener living.  We have decided to downsize from our current home, and look for a smaller home that could be retrofitted to approach zero-carbon efficiency.  It is an adventure full of anxieties and tensions, so I decided to create a blog journal as we go.  I want to remind myself of the core values involved in this transition, and the grace and magic available to us when we take steps toward our deepest earth connection. It is also a way to honor the challenges we face as we seek to create change.

Our house with trees

Our house with trees

There are so many things we love about our current home–it is a well-built ranch-style house on one acre of land full of grand mature trees–large maples in the front yard, and tall oaks, pines, hemlocks, spruce, and birches in the back yard. We have such privacy and beauty around us when we go outside, and this place has been a teacher for my journey into deeper connection with the earth. There are birds and chipmunks and other critters who wander through. The house is full of light.

So why leave? For one reason, there are limits to what can be done with this house toward greater sustainability.  It doesn’t have the right alignment for solar power, for example. Secondly, it is out in the country/suburbs, and totally dependent on automobile transportation for every human need. So even if the house could be made more efficient, the location is oil-dependent. Thirdly, and perhaps most basically, it is more house and land than we really need, and expensive for us to maintain and take care of.  We couldn’t afford to do much more than we have already done toward greener living in this house. And as we look toward the possibility of future retirement, we realize we couldn’t afford to stay here at all on a retirement income.

One essential part of this process of change is the grief that emerges when we contemplate letting go of a home we have loved, and these trees that are older than we are. When we open our hearts to the land, we open our hearts to the particularity of a place.  This unique place.  I have taken hundreds of walks down this road, taken photos of these trees in all seasons, walked to the conservation land and the water district land just half a mile away.  I’ve cross-country skied back behind the yards and houses through little paths in woods out to hidden fields.  I know where the lady slippers bloom in the spring. We’ve planted flowers and bushes and young trees here, along with blueberries and raspberries.

Can a part of the magic of this change create protection for this land we have nurtured? Only if some new resident falls in love as we fell in love when we arrived here. Maybe someone with more resources could even take this place further on its own path to sustainability.  In the meantime, we keep our hands in the soil and our hearts open. We gather this season’s raspberries and keep going outside. Perhaps our love for this land is a part of the magic of this journey.

Next time, I will share our particular dreams for the new home we are seeking…