Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Samuel Smiles on the Art of Living: Cultivate a seeing eye and feeling heart

*This is part of a series I am writing on insights gleaned from Samuel Smiles' book Thrift. Even though he wrote in a different century, I find many of his ideas worth discussing and applying to modern day life. If you are struggling with a tight budget, I hope this series encourages you!

"It is not wealth that gives the true zest to life, but reflection, appreciation, taste, and culture. Above all, the seeing eye and feeling heart are indispensable. With these, the humblest lot may be blest. Labour and toil may be associated with the highest thoughts and purest tastes. The lot of labour may thus become elevated and ennobled. . . Scarcely have you passed the doorstep of your friend's house, when you can detect whether taste presides in it or not. There is an air of neatness, order, arrangement, grace, and refinement, that gives a thrill of pleasure, though you cannot define it, or explain how it is. There is a flower in the window, or a picture against the wall, that marks the home of taste. A bird sings at the window-sill; books lie about; and the furniture, though common, is tidy, suitable, and, it may be, even elegant." - Samuel Smiles, Thrift

If you judged the message of our world by the catalogs that arrive in the mail, the posts you see on social media, or the ads or shows you see on television, you would think that in order to have the good life, you must be financially wealthy. Certainly many homes and lifestyles could not be obtained without money. But the real question is, are they the only ones worth living? Could you have a beautiful, satisfying, meaningful life even if your income never got any better than it is right now?

This is a question I have been asking myself lately. The whole point of this blog is to chronicle our journey to get out of debt. This will put us in a better financial situation (hopefully), but I think I would be missing a lot if I thought that this was the whole point of life. Or that life only began when we had a good, reliable income and no debt. It would certainly be easier in some ways, but I agree with Samuel Smiles that the "humblest lot may be blest" with a seeing eye and feeling heart.

Some David Austin roses from our garden this past spring. I spray painted a small Ball jar gold and have used it repeatedly for different arrangements.
There are many drawbacks to technology and the Internet, but one benefit they do provide to those who are tight on income is access to a world of beauty and education. You can watch a lecture series on the meaning of music, learn about art and download pictures from some of the world's best museums, check out classics from your library and commit to working through them with the help of a book like this one, or teach yourself code and learn how to organize your pantry.

In short, the ability to cultivate a seeing eye and feeling heart are not limited to those with money to spend. While it may not be within the budget to get a season pass to the Philharmonic, you can listen to a multitude of symphonies online (and even watch them).

I was blessed to be able to visit the National Gallery of Art, but many of its images are also available for free download.
Our home is nowhere near Smiles' description of an abode of "neatness, order, arrangement, grace, and refinement," but I find myself often thinking about these aspects when I am left with a desire to improve my home with very little budget to work with. So let's break these ideas down a bit and think about how they could be applied to a low-income situation:

Neatness and order
No matter what I have, tidying up a room, a drawer, or clearing off a cluttered table always makes me feel better. It costs nothing but time, and pays huge dividends when you can see signs of a well-ordered home. It's like a visual hug that makes you feel like everything is going to be okay even on a rough day. Organizing a closet or drawer removes frustration in my daily routine and allows me to better spend my emotions elsewhere.

If you are feeling frustrated by your situation today, I would like to challenge you to do one simple thing - go clean or organize something that has gotten out of order. Maybe it's a emptying out a purse, a room, doing those dishes that are staring you down, or starting a load of laundry. It may seem mundane and boring, and the last thing that you would want to do, but might be the very thing you need. You can make it more interesting by listening to music or a riveting podcast (I like this one). The world would like to tell you that you deserve a better-performing washing machine or a new smartphone, but I will tell you that having a well-ordered home will probably do more for you and not cost you a single cent.

I was planning on covering arrangement, grace, and refinement, but I think I will save those for the next post in this series. Until then, if you have thoughts on Samuel Smiles' observations, I would love to hear them!

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