If I got at the heart of simple living, what does it really mean?
It is a question I need to ask myself. To know what are my expectations and limitations. Otherwise, they are just broadly defined words, empty phrases like sustainability and ethical design. Honourable concepts, but what are they at the crux?
So to start, what are my boundaries on this idea of simple living. How far am I willing to go?
As life is a journey, I will point out that my standpoint applies to the here and now. My viewpoint does not consider the possibility of changing views, accretion or loss of abilities and skills or change of circumstances. We can not know what is ahead of us, nor can we prepare for every eventuality. And nor can we live according to an ideal if we do not currently possess the resources or faculties to make it a reality.
I have no desire to embrace the stark frugality and intense commitment of a completely self-sufficient lifestyle. And I am not entirely sure if the two terms are synonymous or interdependent anyway. Suffice to say that I am not seeking a Scott and Helen Nearing existence.
I want to try my hand at elements of a self-sufficient lifestyle – growing our fruit and veggies, preserving the harvest, baking and preparing foods from scratch, knitting and making gifts etc. And now that we have four sheep (the poddies we raised from last spring), I hope to add processing our wool to that list as well. But I know we do not have the time or skills base to apply ourselves to some of the grittier elements of self-sufficient living. One day we may be more resourceful and possess ‘jack of all trades’ characteristics.
While I love traditional methods, I am not a Luddite and appreciate the immense conveniences of modern appliances and having a car. A car, in particular, provides freedom and a sense of security (perhaps somewhat false as the road is a dangerous place). But we are isolated on a property with no access to public transport. A car is a practical, if expensive, asset.
In saying that, I would like to be less reliant on a vehicle. It is a sticking point and one that my eldest son and I converse about at length. Inefficient and obsolete planning policies and adherence to outdated transport models have left most of our neighbourhoods, towns and cities, completely car-dependent. All I can do is modify my behaviours.
Our village boasts a school, a post office and a well-appointed bakery. Carbohydrates aside, we can not shop where we live. Thanks to some pretty sloppy experiences with home delivery, I chose to shop in person, especially for fresh produce. But I can limit the number of times I leave the village to shop, which requires planning, order, and forethought. I am busy building these skills.
We are, by modern standards, a large family. We want our children to have opportunities to pursue their passions and to have experiences outside the family home. We can’t expect them to all play the same sport or like the same things, and they are at different ages and stages of life. We also can’t dictate how clubs and schools schedule classes and events. We have to roll with the punches and work around what’s given as best we can. Sometimes we strike gold and manage to have the kids activities almost simultaneously and in the same locality, but generally not.
I have struggled with this element of our lifestyle the most, primarily because of our ‘rural isolation’ (we are 15 mins from the outskirts of the capital, so I do say this tongue in cheek!). We have to drive backwards and forwards while trying to make the most of that time in between. Often our travel time is greater than the class. It feels imbalanced, and I wish it could be different. But, we have negotiated as far as we can on that front. We support the kids in one sport each term (or all year if that is their preference). Their time at home is fleeting, and I don’t want to waste it quibbling over the afternoon taxiing service. Ten years from now, I’ll wish I could do it all over again.
I feel a strong sense of service to my community and willingly give my time to volunteer at the local primary school where two of my children attend. I like to help. It makes me happy and gives me purpose. But I do have to be careful not to say yes all the time. It is easy to feel the thrill of engagement and getting involved, so long as I balance that time with everything else that is going on in my life. If I overcommit, I feel stretched and under pressure. I prefer not to disappoint anyone, or myself for that matter, so I have had to sit back and think about where I can best serve the community without it becoming a full-time job. On that note, I truly believe that volunteers make the wheels of many machines turn around and deserve support!
I love a productive kitchen and garden and a home that is welcoming and evokes an old-world charm. I shun pretentious spaces and find minimalism impersonal. But old-world and busy homes can often appear cluttered. Over the years, I have learnt to be organised and efficient amidst the busyness. I am honestly not sure I could survive otherwise! I need order around me to feel at peace, and I need productivity to feel I am fulfilling a purpose. Balancing the two has been a vital lesson to learn in my simple living journey.
A productive and welcoming home does not mean you need lots of stuff, nor does it have to be brand new, bespoke, or eco-designed. It is all too easy to think these items are essential to fulfilling your goals. I think you can achieve a lot by starting where you are. I don’t want to invest a lot of money, contributing to the pitfalls of consumerism. I want to use what is available around me and only bring something in if I can’t achieve my goal without it. Thriftfullness and frugality are behaviours I have had to be constantly mindful of and has required more of an emotional compromise than I would care to admit. I like beautiful things, functional items handmade with care and attention and respect for the human and physical environment. But these are wants, not needs. When I truly need something, I start here, if and when I can. Otherwise, I try to be honest with myself and make do with what I have already.
I guess this is the crux of what simple living is to me. It means less. Less focus on income, fewer possessions, fewer demands on my time. My focus turns towards what is necessary, my service to others and what brings me and my family joy.
If you have gotten this far, thank you for bearing with me while I think out loud!
It is a worthwhile exercise for anyone, whether they are seeking a simple, self-sufficient, minimalistic, or any other lifestyle, to think of what that lifestyle looks like to them and how they can achieve it. It helps you to stay true to your path, your priorities and your philosophies on life. It also highlights when something is no longer working for you. It is a deeply personal process with as many renditions as there are people in the world.
I wish you all joy and contentment on your journey. Until next time, take care.