Haikus have always fascinated me. I remember learning about them at secondary school, discovering the syllable structure and strict rules that have governed the construction of these concise, beautiful Japanese poems for hundreds of years. Listening to them always created a sense of uplifting calmness in me.
Interestingly, haikus are governed not only by the syllable structure (it actually isn’t syllables, fact fans, but a ‘sound’ known as an on, which doesn’t necessarily translate precisely to western syllables), but by a focus on the senses, on nature and on a juxtaposition of flow and halts. The creativity contained in those clusters of words always seemed limitless to my teenage ear, despite the regimented, constrained approach to creating haiku.
Let's jump forward from my teenage years (no one wants to spend too much time revisiting their teenage years) to when I first embarked on the process of trying to be more minimalist and intentional about our belongings, almost exactly three years ago. As we began to contemplate moving the contents of a big rented house into our first purchased property, which was about half the size of the rental, what began as a process of necessity soon turned into a physical and emotional journey which affected every facet of my life.
Something that evolved out of the process over the first few months was the realisation that everyone in our family benefited from the ‘limitations’ that restriction of belongings imposed on us. Indeed, the general level of creativity, contentment and energy in the house seemed to increase every time we threw something else out - and by ‘threw out’, I do mean ‘donated’ where appropriate, I didn’t just chuck everything we own in the bin. I thought that cutting my children’s art and craft supplies by half would mean they spent far less time being creative and was expecting to repurchase as necessary, but suddenly the older two spent hours and hours drawing, both discovering a love of fantasy world creating and map making. All three began actually using the supplies that we had rather than getting them out, making a huge mess, and then walking away. And if one wanted to make something a little more, um, sculptural, they quickly became adept at raiding the recycling bin for supplies.
And it wasn’t just the children who benefited. I found that dramatically cutting things like craft supplies didn’t limit my own creativity but rather allowed me to concentrate on the fabrics and yarn that I truly loved, and to create with my most beautiful, favourite supplies without feeling guilty about not ‘using up’ the less nice things. Adam began to comment on how he felt able to sit and actually be with our children rather than spending half the time tidying up the mess they were creating.
In short, the constraints that we placed upon ourselves dramatically increased the level of creativity and joy in the house. Even now, I still find new expressions of this every day. If one of the children is abandoning games halfway through and getting ‘bored’, I find reducing, rather than increasing, the available resources actually improves their engagement level and mood. And when I get overwhelmed by something I need to do - in my case, most recently, trying to settle on a ‘feel’ for my photography and online presence - I find that limiting my options is the best way to develop creatively and increase my satisfaction with my output.
I am a fairly recent convert to mood boards - I always felt that they were a bit self indulgent and after all, everyone know what they like, right? - but when I realised it was another way of applying some constraints so that I might actually create more, it suddenly made sense. I have found the process of making a mood board hugely productive and a great way of releasing a ‘block’ I have, whether it’s around a piece of work, decorating a room or curating an instagram feed. It is, for me, another means of applying that haiku theory - add limits to some creative variables, to hugely increase the creativity in others.
And of course, let’s not forget the satisfaction to be found in the other constraints of haikus, which have also come into play in this latest mood board - those of juxtaposition of texture and colour, of sensory input, and of nature. I find when I take the moment to engage with and include all of these things in other areas of my life, the joy level definitely spikes upwards. Life is simply more pleasurable when I take the time to notice the spring flowers as they burst into bloom, to savour the contrast between an emotionally challenging moment and the pleasure of genuine enjoyment in a task, and to really stop and see, feel, smell and taste a meal in front of me rather than scrolling through instagram while I eat. OK, I’m not 100% on that last one, but I’m getting there.
Of course, it isn’t really about rules, minimalism or even haiku, although I am always at home to a good haiku, but about adding some intentional, considered constraints to our lives so that we can further explore the joy to be found in greater creativity and appreciating nature, the senses and the ups and downs that confront us every day. I'm calling it the Haiku Theory of Life.