Saturday, 1 November 2008


Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

Most people would presume that there’s nothing simple about a family of eight. We are two adults in our 30s with six children aged 4 to 14 years.

I’ve always been interested in living simply. As a teen I loved to buy a bargain item of clothing from the op shop and help Mum alter it into the perfect outfit. I’m not sure Mum understood, but she was always supportive. I’ve planted things into the earth my whole life, for me that’s just part of being. My husband doesn’t have a similar background, but he’s green at heart and a very practical person. My enthusiasm and his understanding compliment each other.

We’ve almost always lived on one income, and sometimes it was a low income. All the tricks of a simple, organised, frugal lifestyle meant that life almost always feels abundant. And it’s that feeling of abundance and the gratitude for enough that has encouraged me to continue with living simply even when we’ve been able to afford to be more frivilous.

You don’t need to be a green thumb or a domestic goddess with endless spare hours each day to live more simply. That’s why it’s called simple living. We regularly make changes in our lives to save a little money or tread more gently on the planet (and those two often go hand-in-hand). These positive changes make such a difference not only to our own lives, but the future of our society. Each one of us can make a difference. Choosing the simple or green option doesn’t mean we’re missing out on anything. Simplicity really is abundance in plain clothes!

My passions are growing food, and encouraging children to connect with nature. We homeschool our tribe, which allows us a lot of time to simply be in nature. We’ve managed that in an urban backyard as well as here on the farm. As a child I lived in high-rise units for a time but still had contact with plants and animals every day. Children need nature more than anything – and for so many children it’s the thing they have the least contact with! Our children are blessed to have lots of space to roam, animals to care for and care about, and encouragement to plant seeds, nurture the gardens and reap the abundant rewards. Snacking from the vegie patch tastes so good! I write seasonal and gardening columns for Australian and international magazines and websites, where I share ideas with other families who understand the importance of balancing the lives of our little ones with time outdoors, noticing the seasons and creating family traditions.

Years ago I used to read books about food forests and wish for more land, more time, more money to set up the gardens… I was missing the point. There was enough in my life already – seeds to save from the vegie scraps, green waste to compost, a plethora of books in the library and kind-hearted neighbours from whom I could learn, and swap seeds and produce with. And so the garden grew. And it grew onto a spare block of land next to our house. And materials were recycled and we waited until the things we needed came our way. And the garden kept growing – big, abundant patches of food plants, chickens for eggs, entertainment and fertilising manure, fruiting trees and vines, rainwater tanks, a roadside stall to make a little pocket money from the excess… And it rarely seemed like work. Then it came time to move. We’ve come to the perfect place to create the food forest, and have one hundred times the skills we had back in the days of wishing for more, more, more. There is a season for everything in life, after all.

"Simplicity really is abundance in plain clothes!"


kiewies said...

I have big dreams about gardens, farming, goats and chickens and right now it's just not going to happen. But I am happy with what I do have, a small vegetable garden to experiment in, two chickens and the possibility to expand (just a little) next year. So I'm happy I've been given time to develop skills and just try things out and grow my own food.

I don't know if this is coherent but I wanted to share anyway. And I really like your post.

Willow said...

Yes, another great post! I'm really enjoying all the articles on this blog, and have picked up so many ideas on how to live more simply. We've had a couple of chickens for a few years now and enjoy their beautiful eggs every day. Our plan is now to grow some veggies in the spring and install some rain collectors, as we get such alot of rain here in the uk!
Willow x

Kez said...

Love your writing Bel. Great post and love the quote.

Heart in the country said...

Another lovely post. Some great ideas or simply encouraging thoughts come out of this blog.

Posh And Trendy said...

I love your post too.. I'm an old gal that grew up on a farm.. around here they say "you can take the girl out of the country but you can't take the country out of the girl" and that's simply the truth. I still miss the farm and would be living on one now but I'm too old to be able to do all the hard work.. so I just garden in my backyard now and sew to my hearts content.
We had very little as kids and my mom was frugal with what we had, we grew all we ate and raised all our meat. It was hard work but we never felt poor, we always had plenty to eat and lovely clothing that my mom made us.
I admire you for your dedication to living frugal and home schooling your children.

Lea of Farmhouse Blessings said...

Your article is so inspiring. Reading it was like taking a breath of fresh air.


dragonsue said...

Your words are still echoing in my heart and mind! You have said all that I have experienced and am still experiencing, it is almost as if I am following in your footsteps.
Thank you for a wonderful, inspiring blog.

Toria said...

Can I question what you mean by only living on a single income? Does that mean that you do not accept any form of additional government payments? Just curious, because with 6 children, you would be raking in huge amounts of additional money, so the 'single income' becomes a bit of misnomer.

Anonymous said...

Could you please explain how you "tread more gently on the planet" with 6 children? Yes, lifestyle influences how much of an impact we have on the earth but 6 of eeverything just doesn't seem sustainable. What if your kids go on to reproduce at this rate?

Bel said...

It's wonderful to hear from those of you on similar journeys, thank you!

Toria, technically you're right - I do receive family tax benefit money from the government. At times in our family life, this has been as little as $36 per week though (back when the gov't were not so generous) - and interest rates were 10.5%, my husband was working and studying and I was home caring for two little girls...

I haven't always had six children - they came along one at a time thankfully! So in the meantime our payments were less than you might imagine with the combination of lesser payments and less children.

Now the family tax benefit is generous, but less than a second income of the traditional kind. I am grateful for every cent, and try to invest it wisely in our lifestyle.

Because of our lifestyle choices I don't use childcare or schools, and rarely claim through Medicare, so I like to think of the money I'm saving the government as well.

Thanks again, everyone! :)

Bel said...

EM, thank you for your observation. I believe that our lifestyle, compared to many smaller families in different situations, is more sustainable in some ways.

We're very aware of our potential to have a larger footprint, just by being a larger family. "Six of everything" is a generalisation though, and of course we reuse and recycle a lot of items.

It's true I can't guess how many children my own children will go on to have. I hope that the era of senseless consumption is coming to a close, and lifestyles will be more sustainable across the board.

kathi said...

Love your article!

I reckon that 6 children who tread gently are probably an asset to the world.

Wibsey said...

Toria, A large family these days is termed "Three or more" by our government. And for having three or more the FTB increses $10 per child....hardly a windfall!

Sounds like your living the dream there Bel, with a wonderful big family of children to continue on your lovely lifestyle!

Anonymous said...

Your journey is filled with an abundance of beauty and inspiration.

We were made to make love and have babies not destroy the earth. I agree that 6 aware minds will be a wonderful asset to mother earth, she needs all the protection she can get.