I think we got lost for a little bit there… In between all the educating and the ‘how-to’ ing, when we started calculating that it was more economic to work more, keep our kid in after school care, and buy bread.
Because, future. We wanted one. And working our asses off in the office or out on the road seemed the only way to get there…
But somewhere in there, before we got in too deep, we remembered what life is – and it is this.
The hour spent reading with your kid before bedtime. The food you grew. The bread you baked. The frugality you chose. And the sunsets you saw as a result.
That’s it. That’s as good as it gets, for us. All the rest is aspirational hogwash.
So, we’re baking again. And growing. And listening. And caring. Doing what we can, living simple, working hard, loving large. And hopefully, that will be enough to get us by, while also contributing to a liveable future for all.
Good luck, to all of us.
When I wrote these words the other night, I’d just taken the bread out of the oven, and was considering it as it cooled, alongside all those chillis from the garden that I haven’t dealt with yet.
But now, I feel I should explain myself a bit more.
Living simple, working hard, loving large. Simplicity. Frugality. What the heck does that all mean?
And why would anyone do it for more than a ’30 day buy-nothing challenge’ type thing?
I can’t speak for anyone else on this subject, but at our house, in our family, voluntary simplicity looks like this.
Asher needs shoes. Sandals, to be exact. His last op-shop pair broke. We could go to the local mall – we would definitely find some that fitted, and were cheap. On sale, even.
But we go to the big Salvation Army op-shop instead. In front of us, racks and racks and racks of second hand kids shoes. We find some brown ones. They’re a bit big, but he’s growing fast. We pay $2. We take them home, talking about how many shoes there must be in the world, and how many factories there must be to make all those shoes, and get on with our day.
It’s dinner time. We know we’re going to be out for lunch the next day. We make up some brown rice fritters, add veggies from the garden and fresh milk from a friendly farmer. We make extra for tomorrow’s lunch. The next day, lunch is spent in a park with our fritters and a thermos of hot tea, munching + talking, rather than spending a bunch of money in a cafe, eating food that certainly didn’t come from a much-loved garden, or anywhere else nearby.
Nick is off to teach Permaculture in Sydney, 2 hours north. Instead of our car, he takes the train, and a bus, and another bus to get there. He carries a big backpack full of all his teaching gear. He gets to read his book, doesn’t have to negotiate Sydney traffic, and gets there soon enough.
The storms have come, and the beach is full of seaweed. We gather some fresh-looking bits of golden kelp, take it home, dry it out, and put it in jars for winter soups and stews.
After the storms, the field mushrooms come out. We gather them from the grass verges infront of beachside houses. Other mums from my kid’s primary school see me. We probably look like dorks. But we get fresh field mushrooms.
The cucumbers growing up the side of our shed are going gangbusters. All I can see is cucumbers. We make endless jars of bread and butter pickles and lacto-fermented gherkins. Later, when the cucumber vines have all withered, we will be glad, and thankful. Right now, I’m just tired and covered in vinegar.
Ashar wants a light sabre. Like, *really wants* a light sabre – the kind that extends it’s red plastic blade when you push the button. He’s seen one in Big W for 50 bucks. We don’t buy it for him. Not even for Christmas.
Ashar makes three other light sabres from thrown-out pool noodles, sticks coloured red and this other thing that I think he found in the river. The next time we go to the op-shop, there’s the same light sabre as the Big W one, sitting on the toy shelf. It’s $2. Ashar gets it with his own money, and then proceeds to play more with the other home made light sabres anyway.
Ok, you get the picture.
In Australia, we live in a world of lots of stuff, and not enough time. And we want more of both. Want, want, want.
Voluntary simplicity is, in essence, the not wanting.
The knowing that in having + buying + consuming more stuff, we chain ourselves to a life that revolves around needing to make more money, to buy more stuff. And to a system that will then produce more stuff.
On a finite planet, that is already heaving, and hurting, from our wants. Enough already.
There is already more than enough stuff. Enough food, enough shoes, enough light sabres.
And so by choosing to fix up, re-use, forage, make it / grow it ourselves or, sometimes, go without, we’re able to limit our impact, while getting to live a more creative, and livable, life.
We do have jobs. We do earn a living. We’d like to maybe own a little bit of land one day, to plant fruit trees, put down roots, milk a goat or two, grow more of those damn cucumbers (see? I’m already recovered).
But in the meantime, and in the course of life, living with less makes us free, and makes us rich – even though we don’t earn much, or own much, by contemporary Australian standards.
And because of these choices, we have a bit more time.
Time to swim across the river and gather seaweed on the beach beyond. Time to bake bread. Time to grow food. Time to cement our reputations as the weird neighbours by gathering mushrooms from out the front of other people’s houses.
Time to make wands, and star wars helmets from milk bottles, and to keep bees at our friend’s farm. Time to make cider from roadside apples. Time to call friends, and actually listen to them.
Not all the time in the world, please don’t get me wrong. We still have crazy working weeks sometimes. And sometimes there is no bread, because nobody had time to bake any. But we try to make space, make time, not buy things, make the right choices.
And of course, we’re coming at these choices from a point of privilege. We’re white kids with a good education in a land of free healthcare. We were raised in loving families. We have all our teeth. We have no debt. Our rental home is cosy, and there is space for a garden. Our child is healthy and happy. We have many reasons to be grateful.
All that said, however, it’s still up to us to do our best by this planet, and try to live a good, simple life in the process.
And that is what voluntary simplicity and frugality means to us.
Living with less, to allow for a life that is more lived. We’re not here for long, after all.
Better to make the best of it, both for ourselves, and for those who come after.
Possibly my favourite post ever. It made me want to punch the air and shout “Yes! This!” I am also very fortunate. I could buy anything I wanted and so friends are often shocked at my op-shop clothes, my home made lunch and my lack of hair dye and makeup. Every year I have less. Every year I give up more and more of the things that I once thought would make me happy to focus on the things that really do. You’re always a source of inspiration and particularly so with this post. Thank you.
Well said. It’s a tug-a-war between what’s enough and what’s most convenient. Unfortunately what’s most convenient, on a full time basis, is often soul sucking as a result. Taking time to be present in your activities, brings so much more satisfaction. 🙂
Thanks so much Kirsten!! Time is so fleeting & if we don’t take time out now & again, we miss the cool little things 🙂 My kids make us birhday cards. This years one from my daughter read (lovely lovely lovely..) ‘you are my role model’ made my heart squish. Becuase I make the cakes, take them op shopping, get them to help in the garden & don’t I know how to use makeup 😉
Thank you for this post! It’s the path I am on at the moment, simplifying and slowing down, making do, embracing the present moment, living life! Over the Christmas break we did a huge de-clutter, donating and selling lots of “stuff” (we haven’t missed any of it!), I deleted my FB and Instagram accounts (major procrastination time-wasters for me) ) and I’ve taken a pay-cut to finish work early so I can be home when my son finishes school (I am so grateful to be privileged enough to do this). Your last two lines sum it up beautifully xx
Spot on folks.
Thank you for reminding me about what is important. Very thought provoking.
This post resonated with me so deeply. Thank you.
Good on ya!
Nothing new here, yet each generation blessed (or cursed, depending on your POV) with overabundance gets to rediscover it. Much harder is Involuntary Simplicity.
of course it is, that’s called poverty. and yes, this nothing new, but it’s still important to live like you mean it, with as little impact as you can manage.
Thank you for cracking this one for us.
This is a beautiful post. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂
lovely! we’re on a similar path here in rural Maine. we picked up and left Baltimore a year ago and had most people scratching their heads and wondering what the heck we were thinking – but we’ve never been happier, secondhand clothes and all. thank you! and thanks to Rhonda at Down to Earth for linking to you!
(I’m at twobirdsintherafters.com if you want to stop by!)
This piece made me feel like I had met a kindred spirit, like I had come home. Thanks for sharing
Very well timed. I too try and live a bit more frugal, yet the rest of the family are still working the roundabouts and sewsaws. So it has been a mind struggle for me to stay on track. Yet we are a bit more along the journey than you guys, we have no debts, money in the bank is growing and has not been used. We also have 40ha apart from the house in the burbs, that I am working on weekly to get established as a holistic regrarian retreat, with swales, fruit trees and alpacas. So keep going, live… Read more »
I love this post, it’s my ideal/dream life.
“The hour spent reading with your kid before bedtime. The food you grew. The bread you baked. The frugality you chose. And the sunsets you saw as a result. That’s it. That’s as good as it gets, for us. All the rest is aspirational hogwash.” Kirsten, your quote above has stayed with me since I first read your article in 2016. I keep it bookmarked on my computer and as a note in my phone. Since then I have revisited it countless times, and bring it up it often in meaningful conversation with close family and friends. I recall it… Read more »
Oh wow – thank you, Lana. That means a lot 🙂 x