my travelling art-gallery-tent, summer 2010, Italy


I’m well-known for my thrifty adventures in Italy, and in Scotland before that: I’ve grown gardens from scratch with only a few seeds and cuttings, celebrated the magic others can’t see in a place – and made them want to be there, and have inspired folks to appreciate the simple things; to make do and mend by buying secondhand, and to get stuck into jobs around the house, even if you don’t know how to do it when you start…

I do get a kick out of having to get by, rather than having more than I need, and too much choice!

Occasionally though, I find it as hard as the next person to keep positive when I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel, when I just can’t see a single guaranteed payment transaction ahead.

There’s a prevailing psychology around wealth and our self-worth, which leaves many people feeling bereft, purposeless even, when they have less-than-expected, less than others have. Despite all my recent successes, there are still moments when I too get the fear o’ god in me, about having absolutely no worth, and therefore no purpose, in this world. My heart lurches, and my mind chases along behind like a big dog trying to bite a car bumper – barking ferociously.

I accept this, as part of our imperfect human intelligence, but I do not let it lead for long!

In these moments, I sit myself down with a hot chocolate, cuddle into my dressing gown, get an agenda out with all my plans, and get on with being actively frugal, whilst assuming that very soon I will no longer have to be… I view it as being a temporary situation, and know that my attitude about it is key to whether or not I rise up and out, or fall deep into a quagmire.

Like a true Scot, raised on island, and subject to seasonal scarcities, I still struggle to step into my business with genuine self-confidence, to gain my true worth in the world. But also like a true Scot, I’ve learned the basics of how to really thrive through the cold months.

I’m glad of a lean period, for these 5 very solid reasons:

_DSC0583 - Copia

secondhand leather briefcase – just needed some stitching and polish!


Being resourceful is a gift, and one that keeps growing, the more you use it. Working with what you have, rather than thinking about what you WANT: repairing a thing, learning how it works, rather than immediately assuming to replace it, is one of the most valuable skills we can have in life. Particularly during so-called ‘economic recessions’ as of recent years.

Example: the leather briefcase above; do you think I’d love it more, if I’d paid €200 for it? I don’t! For me, €200 should be paying for a month’s worth of groceries, or in terms of bag budgets, several years! A €1-in-the-local-market find, couple of hours of re-stitching and polishing, and a new strap from an old belt: my beloved dream briefcase which makes me smile with joy whenever I use it… priceless!


Rather than thinking about what I want more of, I’m much more fulfilled by appreciating what I already have. Rather than rushing out to spend money, time, effort, it is a delight to look at what can I do with what I have in this moment and time.

In more affluent periods, I’ve felt a little empty, trawling shops for a specific commodity, rather than having to fashion something ingeniously from what I spontaneously come across – there’s a magic in the latter, the synchrony of the world giving up to you, just what you need in that moment… That synchrony cannot always be bought, if at all.

Taking a moment to listen, to be still, to really absorb what is around us; taking time to go into nature, and breathe and listen, there are riches.

Example: I lived for 4 yrs in a council high-rise in Edinburgh: it gave me great joy, firstly, the fact it was the first warm and dry house I’d ever lived in! And it had this view – the sunsets were breathtaking… And it was right by the canal: a stunning wildlife corridor in and out of the beautiful city, laden with wild foods. And the community was the most generous and supportive I have known, bar the tiny clachan where I grew up. It was only from the outside, we were a bunch of negative statistics: inside there was warmth and intimacy far superior to the snobbery of the more affluent suburbs.



the first month in the arthouse, when it was just an abandoned house! I was shit-scared but soooooo motivated!


Okay, I’ll admit it, there have been more than a couple of times (since I bought a house in a foreign country, without no income, not many savings, and unable to speak the language) that I’ve thought what the fuck am I doing?! We have to take responsibility when we run out of resources: ask ourselves what are we doing – how did I get to this point with no funds or way forward, and what am I going to do about not allowing it to happen again?

Being in a challenging situation hones your energies and focus; it helps us to prioritise, because its more about life and death than the usual humdrum of job-home-sleep-wake, etc! It’s a chance to simplify, and to see clearly what the most important things are.

Often we spend a lot of our time running after distractions, taking onboard others’ issues, before attending to our own, wasting time with unnecessities and dross. When we’re being frugal, we get to be more choosy about this, as we’re too busy learning what we have to learn, in order to take the next step or bridge the gap.

Example: In the several scarily-meagre periods I’ve had here in Guardia Sanframondi, I’ve refined the art of getting by elegantly. Five years having gone by, I’m now at the stage of having gotten into a good creative routine, and have a list of great stories, anecdotes and life lessons to share. That, and a ton of visual imagery, paintings, sewing projects and DIY documentation – I just need the perfect platform and interface to commune with my growing audience.

Keeping the faith, I finally came across crowdfunding, and then crowdpatrony, in the form of Patreon – wow – when you’re there thinking up the ideas, and putting out the thoughts about your needs into the world, sometimes the universe comes up with the most marvellous solutions! Makes me feel like we’re all one big cosmic consciousness!

responsibilitytaking responsibility, painted in cyprus 2002


When we’re pockets-turned-inside-out, we have to ask for help, and people love to help. It’s the perfect partnership! Do you remember a time when you were able to give a hand, lend a tool, gift some cash, to someone who really needed it? How did that make you feel? Did you feel purposeful and like a good human being? Yeh! Me too!

Money allows us to separate from each other: it seems like the more we have, the more walls we need to protect ourselves from the assumed marauding masses. When we have less, there’s a need to connect in the most practical of senses; life is more base and face-to-face. There’s a lack of pretension which means we get to be ourselves. That is very precious.

haloofpeopleinterconnectedness – halo of people, painted in cyprus 2002


Whatever is going on with our income ‘stream’, i.e. if it is only a drip, or trickle, or has dried up completely, its good to know, we are not alone. We are legion, and the current western economic-polical theme means that there’ll be even more of us, before long.

Poverty puts us in good company, and it makes us humble – whether we like it or not, and humility is a vital aspect of a healthy soul.

But no matter how dire our situation, there are always many, many people much more worse off than we are. It’s good to remind ourselves of that occasionally; a gentle slap to the cheek, reminding us to appreciate how others suffer more than we do.

I’m talking about relative poverty, of course, and the poverty of the western world, where all kinds of back-to-front and upside-down value systems are in play. We have to have constant internet access, but cannot afford any food, we have TV but no funds to heat our home in winter.

Here’s to less wealth, in a culture where the free market gets you the choice of 100 slightly-different kinds of crap. Having to be frugal brings out the best in us, and should be embraced as a fact of life and a rhythm of nature, rather than being shunned as a reason to be shameful. There are all kinds of riches which you can find without spending, but you need to be in need, before you’ll think to reach out for them.

I’ll be letting you know about some exciting new developments in my creative life, next week – to do with Patreon, writing my book(s)… and a lot more.

Oh, and I’ll have news about my shop and a very special pop-up shop before Christmas!

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Tante belle cose, Clare


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