Like most people living in Central Europe, I have come to view Scandinavian countries as being very progressive regarding issues of sustainability and models of advanced ecological awareness and practices. Swedish Greta Thunberg is the perfect illustration of an emerging culture that makes sustainable living a priority. When I arrived in Copenhagen all my hopes and aspirations were met: bicycles everywhere and extensive public transport, comprehensive recycling centres, no nuclear power and plenty of innovative alternative energies to fossil fuel, to name a few. Landing on Bornholm was a very different experience.

Until quite recently Bornholm was a poor and isolated island. Easy access to the island came in 2000 with the Øresund Bridge linking Copenhagen in Denmark with Malmö in Sweden with the regular speedy ferries between Ystad in Sweden and Bornholm replacing the slow night ferry. Poverty and isolation have generated other issues in terms of sustainability. For instance, for lack of natural predators, rats proliferate on the island and it is not recommended to compost. The commune of Bornholm even boasts a rat lady who deals with any rat issues we might come across. The only recycling centre was built recently to prevent people dumping their rubbish and trash in their back yards. Unlike Copenhagen domestic recycling is limited to paper and other materials are left to personal initiatives because of the costs of shipping them over to bigger centres.  

In a few words, what seemed obvious and easy in Copenhagen suddenly became a challenge on Bornholm requiring careful thinking, an invitation to be mindful of our choices and not to take things for granted. This was put to test when we decided to renovate the old farm buildings adjacent to our house. Renovation is very costly and it would have been much cheaper to tear them down and put up something new, wooden ecological huts for instance. We did consider this, weighing the pros and cons, and resolutely stuck to our initial decision to honour the story of the house, to transform and renovate the old and to build the new on the existing.

As work progressed on the transformation of the former stables, we came across local habits of hoarding and burying things. Again poverty, isolation and plenty of space available supported people in accumulating things, piling them up around the farm buildings or burying them when they needed to fill in holes and cavities. All around the island, many farms and half-abandoned houses show obvious signs of this and we have been told horrific stories about what is buried beneath the soil and of homes where you can barely walk around, not to mention the rats and mice running around freely.  

As we dived into local history and cultural habits it became clear to me that our transformation project was about clutter clearing, tidying up and cleansing the past. The almost daily humps and bumps around the renovation work have been clear signpost for this. This is a time to release the old and to make room for the new and fresh, and I have set my heart on doing this: clearing the soil under the foundations of the new buildings and taking the waste and rubbish down to the recycling centre; spring cleaning our home and discovering the delights of homecare (love in action);  clearing out the garden, the hedges and the wood alongside the garden and using the cut branches and twigs for creating a new fence bordering the field. Interestingly, the big enterprises led to many smaller ventures such as cleaning up my contact list and deleting names of people who I couldn’t remember, going through my books (an endless task), going through draws and cupboards, changing my identity documents (the latter has been quite an adventure, so maybe not a small task and definitely a topic to explore in my next post).

All these jobs have been fruitful in grasping the deeper purpose behind my urge to tidy and clean up, and why I have repeatedly been presented with experiences that enable me to feel into this and to act upon it. I have been looking into my own habits of hoarding, my difficulties sometimes in letting go, my need to cling on to things and people in order to feel safe and to secure a sense of belonging, those things that feel like a second skin or a comfort blanket each time I uproot myself and settle down somewhere else. Over the past weeks I have decided to embrace all these experiences and to honour what I now call my cleansing energy, which, I must admit, is often seen as maniac activity when I get really going. You can ask John! It has been a journey in clarifying the vessel and clearing out the sludge so that more light can come in. My personal experience around the house and the renovation is also reflected in similar concerns on the planetary level, i.e. # trashtag. We can no longer bury trash or sweep it under the carpet leaving it for someone else to deal with. The bigger invitation is to clean our homes and vessels, to let get of our cumbersome and loaded past (ours individually and collectively) and to prepare for new beginnings.

I came to think of Einstein’s quote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” This is why we need to clear away the cobwebs and the dust that clutter our vision, literally and metaphorically, and to become open and available to what wants to come through us. Becoming aware of old structures and belief systems, recycling and composting them enables transformation and opens the gateway to fresh perspectives from the future. It has been a joyful and mind-clearing experience for me to work on tidying up our farm house and turning it into a place of beauty and love. May you too enjoy the freedom of letting go of your burdensome past.

With love