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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Living small


Rhonda Jean
Down to Earth

It never occurred to me when I was a spender that I was actually giving away my independence. I thought the opposite. I believed I was the queen of my realm and the more I had and the more dollars I spent, the more power, strength and independence I had. When I stopped spending I realised how pathetically wrong that was.

What I was doing was working in a job I didn't like so I had enough money to pay for a lifestyle I didn't want to live. I was shopping for clothes and shoes to make me look like everyone else, I was buying things for my home to make me feel comfortable in a place I didn't take the time to feel comfortable in, and I was buying foods to comfort and nurture because I didn't feel at ease in my life and I didn't have the time or energy to cook the foods I liked. And the strangest thing is that when I was doing that, I didn't think about the sadness I was feeling, I didn't realise I was unsatisfied and I didn't see the need for change.

I only realised that need when I took myself out of the shopping frenzy and sat alone on my verandah and thought about what I was doing and how far from my ideal life I really was. When I stopped shopping, I saw it in a brighter light and when I saw its ugly side, I didn't want to go back there.

I realised that I could do all those things I used to spend my money on. I could make clothes, I could cook well, I could do my own housework, but when I started doing those things I found that I'd lost many of the skills I grew up with. I'd forgotten how to sew and knit because I paid someone else to make my clothes, I'd forgotten how to cook well because I'd been buying all sorts of foods that didn't require me to exercise my mind and spend my energy on making my truly favourite dishes. When it came to housework, all I knew was to get the Chux and Mr Sheen from the cupboard and wipe. I was really pathetic - a grown woman who didn't know how to look after myself or my family properly; I'd forgotten the skills that all my great grandmothers had passed on to me - I, my friends, was a modern woman - I was dependent on others to help me live.

You don't have to be a genius to shop, you need limited skills to be good at it - all you need is money, or credit, and time. All that time to spend walking through shopping malls searching for something made (usually) in a foreign land by people who are probably underpaid, producing millions of products exactly the same as the previous million, and the million that will follow.

On the other hand, not shopping requires a multifaceted strategy. You need to know how to create, cook, clean and sew, you need to make do with what you have, to reuse, recycle and repair, you need to barter, grow food, preserve, and it helps if you love doing it. You have to discover for yourself the true beauty of being able to look after yourself, your family and your home with a minimum of outside help. The beauty of it is there if you look.

I am much richer now than I've ever been in my life. I know how to live now. I have the skills to survive a crisis, I have the strength and knowledge to produce my own food and to store it. I can clothe myself and others. All these are real life-engaging and self-empowering skills. But the real skill here is to do it and love doing it. Relearning those lost skills, and then loving the doing of them, is an act of subversion because you're not doing what women and men in our times are supposed to be doing. Nurturing your family and yourself with cooking, gardening, housekeeping, dress making, knitting, making soap, baskets, shawls and jam, and all the other things you learn to do in your post-consumerist life, not only enriches your spirit but it makes you an independent force.

Ladies and gentlemen, may the force be with you.

Graphic from Allposters


23 comments:

Ramona K said...

Wow Rhonda Jean!
It´s a very late-to-bed night for me but I couldn´t resist peeking at my favourite blogs before I went to bed......
I have been following your wonderful blog for some time now and have on your advice included this site on my very short daily check-out list. I have enjoyed and felt empowered by the advice and comments written by like-minded contributors to this blog.
But today Rhonda you are really firing from all cylinders. I wonder if anyone could read your lines and remain unmoved. I have said it before and I say it again. You really have the gift of inspiring and empowering others.
I have for many years taken many small steps away from consumerism but I can honestly say that your writings have made me feel so much more committed to this life-style choice.
Our family Christmases have become simpler and more focused on getting together the past years. This year I feel that your wisdom and experience have given given me added strength to continue along this path. I can celebrate the urge I have had to make Christmas presents for my grandchildren from the things around me instead of rushing into town to buy something. OK it´s nice and often necessary to be frugal with money but the real joy is in the making, taking slow steps to create something for someone you love.
Well, it´s bedtime now for me. Have a lovely day and - thank you again Rhonda Jean
Ramona K, Sweden

Karen said...

love it. and ... YOU!! hear hear!

claudia said...

I love this posting! Although it kind of makes me sad, because I used to live the simple life and do for myself, friends and family. I am now a single mom of three fairly grown girls who are trying to get to the point of making it on their own. I am working full time to "just get by". I don't have the time to cook, sew, clean (properly) and do all those things I used to do, because of my full time job. When I get home from work I am so tired I can hardly put decent food on the table, not to mention food that I have cooked myself...it is usually something frozen. Do you have any suggestions for me and how I can get myself and my family back to some semblance of simple living...I do crave it! I know I should get the girls to help, but they are either working and or going to school and we all have some pretty crazy hours. Where do I start??? Thanks for any help you can give.

heather said...

excellent post! i LOVE bartering for things that we need. right now i barter by working part time at my daughter's school to help pay for a good part her tuition. (public school in my area is beyond abysmal)and at our local natural foods co-op grocery store. if you "work" there 8 hours per month you get 20% off your groceries each and every time you shop the following month. it's amazing how these two little part time efforts, both things that i thoroughly enjoy (and the school job my daughter is with me for!) and they help us out so much without actually dealing with cash. really cool.

Barb said...

Amen and amen and once more amen!

I aspire to be what you are, Rhonda Jean. In my own small way, I will continue on the path.

Green Bean said...

It is so true, isn't it? We get caught up in what we are supposed to be doing and end up living a life that we aren't meant to. Beautiful post.

Hana said...

Claudia, I know so well what you're talking about! When I was a child, we used to do simple things to make ourselves happy, made our own jam and so on. Nowadays we're grown-up, but still studying, we don't get together so often, we don't have much time for making our own meals during the week...
But there still is something you can do, I'm sure. For example, find a local producer of food, as Rhonda often suggests. This week we bought apple juice from our relatives who live in a village and have an orchyard, for a cheap price - and yet we must have helped them by it (my sister found a lot of other customers among her friends and colleagues). We get "homemade" honey from grandfather's friends from time to time. Such things could be good starters for you.

Eilleen said...

Thank you for such a wonderful post Rhonda. Its a wonderful and empowering journey, isn't it?

bethanyjoy said...

You have said eloquently what I was trying to explain to a friend yesterday. Learning to do for and by oneself is incredibly liberating; it brings a sense of peace that is hard to describe.

MystikMomma said...

WOW! Just last night, before going to sleep, Hubbie and I were talking about our lives and how we have really paired down to focus on the core of our family. This dialogue meandered to the topic of gardening and putting up food. I was raised with canning and preserving, however I have never done this on my own, without the skill of my mom or grandma. I have this inner urge to keep these skills alive in my family and share the routines with my children. I agree, we grow up with certain routines, but them discard them thinking they are not important anymore. Instead the quest for amassing money and spending it are more attractive. Maybe the more we spend the richer we are??? In actuality, we become poorer because we lose important skills, ideas and most importantly...CREATIVITY and RESOURCEFULNESS! How rich we all would be if we tapped into our own wealth of creation and expression. What a beautiful world we would live in!

Tracy said...

Claudia,

Here's one other idea. Perhaps on one of your days off, you and your daughters could make a lot of food that can be frozen? Then you will be eating your own lovingly-prepared food on those hectic work nights, and will likely save some money in the process.

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

Wonderful post, Rhonda. Pointing out the illogic and bitter irony of the trap that a lot of women are still stuck in.........In some ways it is more complicated that this, but your real point is to examine, reclaim and make satisfying your own life. And so generous of you to want to spread this idea to others.

Kate Bruning said...

What an amazing article and just when I am needing it most in the pre-Christmas rush. I have to keep in mind that my five year old keeps talking about seeing his grandparents and cousins, not the presents, thank you.

Joanne said...

Rather than honouring women by appreciation of traditional 'women's work' many have viewed the work itself as unworthy. And sadly many women feel this way. This is in part because success in the western world is equated with money and possessions, what we have rather than who we are and how we enrich the lives of others.

Bovey Belle said...

Thankyou for such a heartfelt and inspiring post. It takes great strength to step off the roundabout of life completely. Sometimes folks can only manage to put a foot off and pedal slower for a bit, but it's progress. Keep up the good work.

Bovey Belle said...

As an afterthought, I often feel that how we are needing to return to living is to how it was when I grew up in the 1950s - which I remember as a time of mums at home (in our road anyway), hardly anyone could afford a car, no-one had money to burn and you used to Save Up for things - especially a deposit on a house. HP was frowned upon and credit cards not even dreamed of! All the meals were cooked from scratch, all leftovers used (we didn't have a fridge until the 1960s) and everyone grew their own fruit and veg, to one degree or another, and the houses had been built with 100 foot long gardens with this in mind. Quite a few people had their own chickens in a run in the garden too. Mums knitted and mended, quite a few could run up a dress or a skirt, and they took pleasure in having a pretty garden. Market gardens outside of big towns supplied them with locally-grown produce. No air miles and no strawberries at Christmas . . . Looks like we're coming full circle.

amanda o said...

what an inspiring reminder!

jacqui jones said...

i walked the shops today looking for things for my kids to supliment the handmade toys and things i have and am making them
i came home empty handed.
there was NOTHING that wasnt over priced junk. no inpsiration at all
i feel i turned a corner as i too would of once spent a fortune on a day like today

Mrs. Anna T said...

Great post Rhonda - and an educative one! I remember reading it (or similar reflections) on Down-to-Earth, and this is a helpful reminder. I actually feel as though owning too many things drives me crazy - I'd much rather have only what I really need.

Annette said...

So very true! Wish every person could read this and take to heart!
Makes me sad to think of all the knowledge I lost when my grandmother passed. =/

psuklinkie said...

Claudia,
I'm just starting out in my adult life, but I have some good suggestions for you. I work a full-time job, but I still manage to make bread each week for us and prepare healthy delicious meals by budgeting what little freetime I do have. For instance, I set aside a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday to make meals for the rest of the week, but I'll make sure I use that time super-efficiently. For bread, I'll make that first so that the dough can rise while I do other things. While the dough rises, I'll start making sauce and preparing the ricotta for a lasagna. As the sauce is finishing, I'll throw the noodles on to cook and knead the bread dough. If I time everything right, the bread and lasagna can cook together (saving time AND cooking energy).
For the rest of the week, we'll have lasagna and sandwiches for lunch -- one meal down all week.
I also love to make the most of my cooking: instead of making enough chili for one meal, I'll make a huge batch and freeze half. We'll have leftover chili for a few days and, in a couple of weeks, have leftover chili from the freezer. If we tire of the chili, I'll stuff it into tortillas with cheese and veggies to make tacos, or even sneak some into an omelette, or toss it over pasta.
Pizza and stromboli are another easy way to make delicious meals without taking tons of time. Your local pizza shop should be able to sell you fresh, raw dough. When you get home, just stretch the dough into a circle and either make your pizza or fill half the dough circle with fillings (I use whatever leftovers we have), fold the dough circle into a semi-circle and twist the edge dough together to make a stromboli. All the ingredients you put into the dough should be already cooked, so you just have to cook your stromboli until the dough turns into bread. I love to take frozen veggies (think spinach and broccoli) and whatever protein leftovers we have (lunchmeat, Thanksgiving turkey, breakfast sausage, chili, any sort of cheese) stick it all together and bake it into delicious food. Experiment with spices and what your family likes to craft the perfect, easy meal.

sheila said...

I so agree with everything said in this post. I'm sure some of my friends don't realise how beginning to live like this, even in a small way, is cheaper, empowering and - the big bonus -it is also so enjoyable and fulfilling. I do try and tell them though....:o)

Prudent Homemaker said...

Wow! This is fantastic!

And I don't shop much at all, so reading about all the things that I DO, in such a great way--

I am down to three pairs of pants. I actually don't want to buy anymore clothes for myself, because, honestly, I would rather make what I REALLY want, instead of wasting so much time and energy searching for what I really want to wear.

How refreshing! Thank you!