Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The aftermath and side-affects of walking the caminos

Every time I return from the camino I get this urge to make changes in my life and chuck stuff away!
For the last three weeks I’ve been spring-cleaning. Just a couple of hours each day which has resulted in us carting boxes of junk to the recycling bins, sacks of rubbish to the dump, and boxes of books, ornaments, clothing and other unwanted stuff to the SPCA. My poor husband groans every time he sees the piles of stuff coming up for dumping.

June 2002:
I remember standing in front of my clothes cupboard after the first camino in 2002.
“What are you looking at?” asked Finn.
“All this … this .. STUFF!” I replied.
I felt almost repulsed by all the clothing hanging there. Why did I need 13 t-shirts? How could I possible wear 9 pairs of shorts and 7 cycle shorts? Rows of blouses, shirts, denim jeans, track suits and dresses. Most of the t-shirts were hand-outs from running races and were much too big for me but I had jealously guarded them until that moment. Out they went – to anyone who needed them.

July 2004:
When I got back from walking for 6 weeks in France and Spain I had an irresistible compulsion to change the décor in my living rooms. Why did I need all those pictures and photographs, ornaments and souvenirs cluttering up table tops, mantelpiece and corner what-nots?
My poor husband watched bemused as I packed them all into boxes.
“Why are you getting rid of those?” he asked.
“We need to re-decorate” I told him.
“What’s wrong with the way it is?” he said.
“It’s all too busy,” was all I could say.

I still don’t know why our things and colour scheme lost their charm but I had an overpowering urge to go minimalist, quiet, plain, de-clutter. I had shelves full of birding books, flower arranging books. I used to scour second hand book shops and flea markets for these books, often spending my last few available pennies on them. I had a collection of every bird book on the market and flower books that that included everything from Ikebana (3 years of Ichiyo School) to George Smith (favourite flower arranger of Princess Grace). They nearly all went to the SPCA. Ditto all the novels.
I cleared away all the little ornaments, animal carvings: made plain cream curtains to replace the burgundy shantung and put in a plain sandy coloured corded carpet. I covered the Chintz lounge suite in a plain colour and covered the pink draylon dining chairs with cream curtaining.

July 2006:
When I returned home from walking the Via Francigena I decided that I wasn’t going to wear my gold watch and diamond engagement ring anymore.
“Why not?” asked my husband.
“I do so much walking – I could be mugged for them” I said.
Truth is I didn’t want to wear gold and diamonds. They’re better off in the safe anyway. I never have worn much jewelry but my tastes have changed. I wear a string with a Santiago shell on it or a cord with a wooden Tau. I wear a cord wrist strap from La Faba and a wrist band with Ave Fenix printed on it. (I'm starting to look like a hippie!)
For years I have been the one to plant the flower beds while Finn does all the hard work maintaining the rest of the garden. I love flowers and worked with them for 25 years, but I would really like to rip out the entire garden and go indigenous so that the garden will care for itself with Aloes, agapanthus, watsonia and other indigenous plants.
I now had two Compostelas and a Testimonium as well as pebbles from Paris and St Jean, Roncesvalles, Santiago and Finisterre, Lake Geneva, Gr St Bernard and Roma. What to do with them? I framed them all and hung them in the guest bathroom!

July 2007:
My artist friend Sandi Beukes did three small Santiago paintings for my entrance - Santiago Apostle, Santiago peregrino and Santiago Matamoros. My sister painted a pilgrim walking on the path to Hontanas. When I got back from walking the camino I took down all the framed prints in the house. Who needs prints of boats, Big Ben, waves crashing on some unknown beach when you can have Sant'Iago and peregrinas?

My friends and family buy me anything with scallop shells - soap dishes, gift boxes, ornaments, serving dishes. I added a shell ornament from Croatia to our entrance, a moulded shell to our front door, a little brass shell on the entrance table, replaced the door handles in our bathroom with shell handles. I started serving Spanish food when friends came to lunch. Nothing like a Tortialla Espanol and ensalada for lunch or a large Paella for supper!
I went through my clothes - again - and gave away more t-shirts, jeans, dresses, blouses. When summer arrived I looked for something cool to wear one day and found that I didn't have a summer dress - not one! I decided not to buy one either - don't need them.

I used to enjoy looking at the season's fashions and bought a few new items of clothing each season. My clothing habits have changed. I'm only attracted to outdoor and hiking shops. I can spend hours looking at the gadgets, backpacks, new hiking shoes and boots, feeling the weight of shirts and fleeces. No more Daniel Hechter or Jenny Button for me. Now it's not the colour for fashion that is important - it's the weight! If they don't weigh under 100g I'm not interested in buying them!

July 2009:
Last month when I got back from Spain Finn said, “What are you going to chuck out or change this time?” I think he’s getting nervous of this new, minimalist me! After all, some camino pilgrims not only change their lifestyle, they sell their homes and emigrate to Spain.
“I’m going to clear the storeroom” I said.
Our storeroom is two rooms underneath the house. They are only just higher than head height but are packed to the top with boxes and packets of stuff that ‘we might need one day’ – like boxes that new irons, kettles, toasters, key-boards, lamps, radios came in … all things that might stop working which would necessitate a return to the store where we bought them. So, the boxes they came in (with purchase slips stuck to the lids) all found their way to the storeroom. Some were from 2003. I don’t think we’ll be able to return these item, so the boxes have been flattened and taken to the cardboard recycle bin with all the other cardboard that ‘we might have needed one day’. This is a mammoth job which will feed my need to chuck out for at least three months - which is usually how long it takes for me to settle down again. While I'm working the little stone encased in wire dangles around my neck. It is worth much more to me than the gold chain I used to wear - it was made by Pepe, a perpetual pilgrim - and the stone is from Aragon, very precious.

Walking the camino changes your perspective on many things. It helps you to find what it important in your life - what you really need to be happy and how little you need to survive. It helps you to divest yourself of psychological and emotional baggage.

This clearing out transfers itself to material baggage too and many pilgrims have said that they too come back and start decluttering their lives. I know a pilgrim who sold her television, DVD player and computer when she got back from her third camino.

I could do without the television but I think I'll hang onto the computer. I need it to write stories, to sell to magazines, to make money to pay for my next camino!


  1. What a lovely post, Sil!
    And I do identify with your decluttering urge. I am one of those who thinks I could sell our house to move to Spain...
    I also have a scallop shell by my front door. I don't think I have as much as you do though :-)

  2. I love your beautiful icons. If you ever get the urge to send them off someplace...!

  3. now that i am able to say , " i too, walked the Camino Frances from SJPP to Muxia via Santiago de Compostela ", it is time to thank you for your advice, via Amawalker, your prolific comments on many other blogs and St James websites and personal replies.

    Keep up your love for the Camino and all allied aspects of longer walks and pilgrimages.

    i have my Scallop Shell from Finisterre beach, which will hang on the my front door.

  4. Welcome to the confraternity of pilgrims-past, FSG! Share your experiences with others, especially wanna-be pilgrims who might be nervous about doing such a long walk. I hope to walk in your footsteps one day - should I have an opportunity to do the camino again.