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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Small changes really do add up!

By Frugal Trenches

A little more than 6 months ago, I was a city girl living in London, working around the clock (often leaving my flat at 6am and arriving back sometime after 9 or 10pm), I was frequently flying for the day to Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh or taking trains across the country for meetings. I had a never ending list of things to do that I simply didn't have time to do. My weekends were often spent trying to get some work done from home, meeting a friend or two and simply crashing. The weekends were when I tried to recover, only in reality you can't really and truly recover from a 80 hour work week when confined by walls, in a city that doesn't sleep and when you know you have at least another 10 hours + of work to get done before Monday morning at 5am rolls around.

The last six months have involved a lot of changes, it was as if I knew where my destination was, but I wasn't so sure of the steps to get me there. I knew I needed to leave London, I knew I wanted to live back near family in another part of England, I knew I wanted to work on my health, stop being so exhausted and really live but I really didn't know how. So I started small and blogged through it all. Slowly I learned how to knit, began reading more. These two small steps brought me enjoyment and forced me to leave work at work and enjoy an hour or two in the evenings of a hobby that brought me so much enjoyment. I won't let you know how terrible my knitting skills still are 6 months later, but I live in hope :0). I joined a book club and helped form a knitting club. I worked out with my employer a different work schedule (part time) knowing that it was simply buying me time to leave. A couple of health difficulties and sick time really gave me the push to put myself first now rather than later. I had saved up 6 months worth of expenses so knew I could take the plunge when needed. I began swimming again, something I'd spend many hours of my childhood enjoying. I met a great group of early morning swimmers who while 50+ years older than me, are a great source of inspiration and determination. I resigned.

Many people questioned what I was doing. What I was doing was finding my life and learning how to live it. Instead of a complex, career & money driven existence I was embracing a simple, green and frugal life - a life filled with new experiences (growing veggies, making my own shampoo and soap, learning to make things), volunteering, helping others, working in order to live not living in order to work. I let go of the illusion that I needed my own house (I don't say home because a home is anywhere you feel at home and at peace) and decided more than that I needed balance in my life in order to live fully. I cut my expenses by 75% in the areas of housing, bills, travel, food. And I learned to live and love life.

I feel that by embracing simple, frugal and green living (and yes I still have a way to go!) I found myself. I awakened something inside me that lay dormant when only focused on following the herd - working full time, climbing the career ladder, building up my pension and owning a house. The reality is we need money, but my reality is needing money will no longer interfere with every other area of my life. It will no longer be the reason I do something, instead it will be 1 or 2 pieces of my puzzle. The reality is I'd rather have a lot less stuff and more experiences, I'd rather be true to myself, I'd rather have the time to help others and contribute towards a better earth so really the choice is simple.

Had anyone told me I'd be capable of these changes I would never have believed them. They didn't happen over night. It was a year long journey that in many ways is just starting. I didn't turn into a green thumbed, domestic goddess overnight and yes I'm still far away from reaching some of my green goals but now I have no doubt I'll get there because I have not only the motivation but the time.

I thought I'd leave you with this quote that really sums up the learning I've experienced:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, "Wow, what a ride!!!"

I'd love to hear from any of you who have made big changes, where did you start? How many little steps did you have to take before you realized just what you'd accomplished?


Kate said...

I totally believe this. My current lifestyle has been arrived at through countless changes, and most of them were indeed small. I think having faith in small things is especially important in our culture, which so often contributes to our feeling of powerlessness and insignificance. I think that's why we have such trouble addressing the huge problems we face today. But the idea that the little things we do won't make any difference is a lie that just promotes the status quo. Thanks for sharing your example of how the opposite is true: little changes are the way forward.

Ramona K said...

Thank you for sharing your inspiring experiences with us. Even if, as you say you have a long way to go, you have been brave enough to make these life-changing decisions. I have now retired so I have had the luxury of time to reflect and make changes - it´s never too late. I am hoping though that my adult children "see the light" while time is on their side. I will be doing all I can, without intruding too much, to encourage any steps in this direction they care to make.
Best regards from Sweden
Ramona K

AccidentalHW said...

How true! Last February I took the tiny step of trading paper napkins for cloth and now I hardly recognize myself from back then! Great post!

OzCan Adventures said...

I think the defining moment for our change in direction was when we were pregnant with our first child. Before this we had been distracted with owning a home, having good jobs and trying to 'exist'. When I fell pregnent I had this little person that I was responsible for and it made me look at the life we were living and I thought, what the heck are we doing? This isn't what I want!!! I then travelled a long but blessed and guided journey into natural birth and things have snow balled from there. I think our generation where raised with such a lack in respect for the earth and also for ourselves. I am hoping to provide a simple, green and frugal environment for my family to open their eyes to the true gifts that life has to offer. Thank for you reminding me that although some times the steps are small, they are still steps in the right direction. Great post.

Country Girl said...

Great post, love the quote. Thanks for sharing your story!

Notes From The Frugal Trenches said...

Thank you so much for all the wonderful contributions and sharing of your stories, they are inspiring!

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, it is a good reminder to me to see the power in the baby steps!

Roop said...

My steps started small too. They began when we were saving for our wedding. We didn't realise how much money we simply frittered away on nothing until we took a closer look :O.

Small changes turned into longer term habits altering our way of spending and slowly our priorities too.

It has been a gradual journey to date but one thing I know for certain: none of us should underestimate the difference a small change today can make not only to tomorrow but to the rest of our lives - be it in any area.

I have also started to share some of the small steps taken on my journey to bring order to my finances and life via a blog. I hope it appropriate to share the details here

Thanks for sharing your story.

Regan Family Farm said...

My steps are also very small (smaller than I would like to admit) but my daughter made cloth napkins, and last week I cleaned my shower with baking soda! I have started adding coffee grounds and egg shells to the compost, and we've recently purchased used milk bottles for our raw milk shares, instead of buying new. One thing I really appreciate is "meeting" so many others who share similar desires for simplicity and reusing/repurposing. You are an encouragement to me!
Blessings today~

Val said...

We've got a LONG way to go, but we made a big move recently and both left secure jobs. Now I am staying home with our children, we've got a nicer house, we drive less, and we see family and friends more. A lot of debt got paid off and we've got a plan to pay off the rest by the end of 2010.

I'm a horrible procrastinator so the garden isn't planted, my house is a mess, etc. But all the little things are starting to add up:
-cloth diapers
-line drying clothes (love summer!)
-keeping a bucket in the sink to collect "warm up" and "cool down" water as well as rinse water, etc.
-keeping another bucket under the leaky faucet outside!
-learning (slowly) to make my own bread

Rhonda Jean said...

I absolutely loved reading this post. It's empowering in many ways and a reminder that change is possible for all of us.

I particularly liked this: "I awakened something inside me that lay dormant when only focused on following the herd..." I found that too. I believe there is something deep inside us that is awakened when we make these changes. When you awaken that spirit/feeling is all makes sense, and it gets easier.

Thank you for sharing your story. I found it enriching.

Anonymous said...

addition to the great quote:
I'm done! Time to go.

Koningskind said...

You wrote down a wonderful story of accomplishing big changes by taking babysteps.

My first steps were writing down a goal I wanted to reach and stick that on my kitchencupboard to remind me every day on the road I needed to travel to reach it. Every time I need to make a decision I think about the question if it will bring me towards or away from my goal.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for such an inspirational post!
One of the things I am determined to leave behind in my life is the drama.
I am 52 and learning bit by bit,both green,simple living and a peaceful existance.
Thanks once again for your post.
It encourages me in my journey.
God bless,

Mare said...

Thanks for the wonderful post! I am just getting started being more self sufficient. I too took a knitting class (next is crochet) I started making my own bread and now it has been many months since i've even looked at a store bought loaf. I am also making my own ice cream too. Last Winter i hung a clothesline in my basement and no longer use my dryer except to fluff some particularly scratchy and wrinkled things...and then only for a few minutes. No more bleach and softeners. I only use plant based soaps and detergents, vinegar and baking soda. I use re-useable bags at the market, shop at the Farmer's Market whenever i can (every week for a while now) This year i am growing my own tomatoes and basil in containers...I am starting to figure out ways to reuse my gray water...i try to recycle everything i can, including clothes and books. And i really love my compost piles!

Rose said...

What a powerful and inspiring post! Thank you.

We left teaching ten years ago to run our own small art supply/framing business. Our income is less than half what we earned previously (and people say teachers are poorly paid!) I thought I'd learned to simplify and downshift until I made the fortunate stumble onto Rhonda's blog.

I'm treating myself to some extra blog reading this long weekend and will start with The Frugal Trenches.


Katja said...

I had to smile at the end of your post because I have the quote as desktop background on my computer. :-)
I hope your post encourages a lot of people to drop out of the rat race!

Kalianne@theBowerbird'sNest said...

Thanks for sharing your experience! Your new life sounds really great. My husband and I recently moved from a busy city to a remote wilderness area. It wasn't our choice. Just the way things worked out. Talk about culture shock. But we're learning to love this life style and hope we can stay. Here we have a real life. Time to breathe the air. We're learning to vege garden. We pump our water from the river. To keep warm we must chop wood. We saved a rooster, now we have a flock of chickens to care for. There are no shops for miles. Satellite internet is slow! I've taken up knitting and joined the local patchwork group, things I've not had 'time' for before. Funny thing is, despite being remote we get more visitors to our farmhouse than we ever had in suburbia. Social life is good as people are more connected and rely on each other more. My health is improving. I can't complain.
Best wishes,

Jennifer Dee said...

What a lovely post, and thank you for sharing your thoughts and deeds of the changes in your life. I'm sure a lot of people who have read your post will be inspired by what you have done. Keep up the good work.

linda said...

I started when I was forced to stay off my feet during my pregnancy with twins. I had to leave my career behind but thought I might go back after a while. Unfortunately, I had serious complications that changed my health for the worse and this lasted a very long time. I journeyed into alternative health first as doctors couldn't help me. In an effort to heal myself, I found ways to heal the planet, raise children outside of the mainstream and to live a simpler life. This all added to my final decision to not return to my old career at all but to spend my time dedicated to raising my children. Everything was about them for a long time, but as they are older now, I find that everything I did for them, was a gift to myself and to my environment as well. It was hard going because back then, people were much less supportive of stay at home mothers and were not aware of environmental issues as much as they are now, so I faced much by way of criticism. I didn't care. I chose to never go back to my career but to work towards a livelihood that was on my own terms. Its been 17 years total if you include part of the pregnancy and it was the best thing I have ever done.

Karen said...

it's so good to be constantly reminded that we're all in this together. ... i'm hoping to no longer have to work full-time when i have kids. i want to homeschool, definitely! thanks for being one of my very best inspirations!

Notes From The Frugal Trenches said...

Thank you again for all your wonderful comments, stories and suggestions! I feel like I'm not really anywhere near inspirational in my story but that I simply learned to really follow what life is about and it isn't money!

I'm so so happy there are others who are stepping out, finding themselves and finding freedom! Thank you for being part of this community!

cumbrian said...

Your story rang a lot of bells, I lived that dream (work, money, pension, etc) for a lot of years.
A mortgage, nice detached bungalow, the "needs" of a new car on the drive, a big TV, exotic foreign holidays, etc, etc.
I worked from home, long hours, just about every day. I developed a chain-smoking habit, a heavy drinking habit, several credit cards, and a desire (or my wifes desire) for the latest everything. My "pleasures" seemed to revolve around keeping my earnings high enough to pay for a lifestyle I now realise was probably unattainable, and certainly unsustainable.
Strangely, even with all the material trappings of what classes as success in our modern society, I felt a bit uneasy with it, always worried about keeping up.
My change happened rather dramatically when my wife of 35 years decided she no longer wished to be married to me, and demanded that I left the house.
Which left me homeless, jobless, moneyless, but sadly not debtless. Because we had a 12 year old daughter, and she'd never worked, the divorce judge decided she could have the house, the endowment (19 years 11 months paid out of 20 years) and I could keep the debt and my pension.
Denied access to my home, I received my clothes in a few black plastic bags thrown onto the drive and told to collect them as it was raining.
She also closed our joint bank account and kept my mail, consequently bills went unpaid and my credit rating suffered.
So I was there, aged 55, with next to nothing.
A few months in a rented cottage,a year under the doctor suffering from depression, and no earnings, made me take stock of life.
I was lucky enough to meet a lovely girl, lived together for a couple of years, then got married. Sadly she developed a disabling back problem and is now a wheelchair user needing a lot of care and can't work, so we live on very little money.
I've lost the smoking and drinking habits.
But we seem to be so much happier, neither of us want much, we have all the time in the world for each other. We don't even have a TV. Our pleasure is watching the birds in the garden, on a good day we can take a drive (in our old car) and watch the sea, time to appreciate the simple things I never noticed for so many money-chasing years.
I've learned to make do with very little, and surprised myself as to how little we really need.