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31 March 2008

Simple Family Life - Part One

I have asked my friend Belinda Moore to write about raising children while living simply. Belinda lives with her husband and six children to the far north of me in Queensland. She is a fine example of a modern woman who has not been caught up in the trappings of department stores and "I wants". Belinda writes from her own authentic experience, I hope you enjoy her story.

Living simply is an easy choice for an individual, I think. I’m married with six children aged 4-14, and sometimes I wonder about imposing my frugal ways upon my children. I feel a pang of regret that they don’t have bedrooms that look like pictures in a magazine. I micro-manage their wardrobes so I rarely pay full-price for shoes and clothing. Sometimes I make a deal that instead of going to the cinema to see a movie they’re really hanging out for we’ll buy it on DVD as soon as it’s released. We eat well, but simply and to a set menu, with few packaged goods and very little take-away, especially not from any of the fast food giants. There is a lot of pressure to provide our children with the best of everything – their own rooms, fresh new fashions each season, outings and holidays to expensive destinations. But we are choosing not to succumb to the pressure.

We bought a farm last year with a smaller house than we are used to, so the children are sharing rooms full of mismatched furniture including old wardrobes and bunk beds. For us this means keeping clutter to a minimum and ensuring they each have their own space within their room. There are other areas in the house to play and relax, and more than enough room outside. Our children generally get along well, know how to share and work together, and have company at bedtime. As we extend and renovate our house, some of them will still share rooms by choice, because they are friends as well as siblings.

Our children wear hand-me-down clothing, especially at home on the farm. I do love clothes though and they always have lovely outfits for going out – these are the better hand-me-downs, gifts, end-of-season and op shop bargains, occasional home-sewn items and store-bought for anything that’s missing when it’s required. To clothe six children in this way, I believe that I spend less than what it would cost to clothe a single child by buying all their needs in season, at a regular department store. And no complaints so far! This does take a bit of organising – I clean out their wardrobes and take stock of what they have and what they need well ahead of the change of season. I also keep a list of everyone's upcoming needs so I know what to look out for.

We choose quality toys and look after them. My kids don’t expect to get something new each time we go to a store. I prefer that they don't watch commercial television, especially the children’s shows because of the advertising. When they have birthday or Christmas money to spend I let them choose how to spend it, but do discuss the value of the items on their shopping list. Sometimes we end up with plastic, battery operated toys as gifts or bought with their own money. This doesn’t sit well with me at all, even with rechargeable batteries. These are the least-played-with toys, never last very long and usually don’t encourage creativity or imaginative play. They seem great in the box on the shelf, or on TV, but in reality are usually a disappointment destined for landfill.

There are many choices to be made by parents today. We need not listen to the advertisers, or try to keep up with what other households are doing. Ask yourself what’s best for your children, your budget, our planet… and don’t compromise your ideals to suit anyone else! If you’re being fair, and living an abundant lifestyle in other ways, your children will not wish for anything more.

* First in a series of guest posts by Belinda Moore.


  1. What a wonderful Post! I sometimes feel guilty too but I also see how my daughters enjoy their small country life. They love working in the garden:) They have fun ordering seeds from garden catalogs. We are hoping to get chickens this year and they are the ones most excited. They will be helping build the chicken coop:)

    I know with all my heart the simple live is best for us;)

    Thank you Rhonda for letting Belinda tell her story.



  2. Sounds like the perfect life to me and I bet the kids agree most of the time. Once in a while they might be envious of someone elses something else but not often. We brought our boys up similarly and they are still adorable most of the itme (they are 16 and 18, you have to have the odd snag!)and not at all materialistic despite everyone telling me that they would be.
    Stick with what you beleive.

  3. Rhonda,

    I love Belinda's post! We have always lived as simply as we can and that includes 'not living in a materialistic lifestyle'! I don't think that commercial television is good for children and my friends and neighbors think I'm a bit crazy for wanting to teach my children to eat healthy and to be careful of our resourses. I 'recycle' good used clothing with friends and the kids love to get a big bag of clothes to look through. Some of the clothes I pass along to others because I don't let the kids wear faddish or suggestive clothing. I like to think that my house (although mismatched in furniture) is as homey as I can make it. It's the people in the house that are important...not the 'things' we have! Thanks Rhonda for the I'm off to make some cranberry cordial! Blessings, Aunt Bea from Wildwood

  4. Isn't she wonderful! Belinda will write a post about her life every Tuesday during April.

    You can also visit her blog where she talks about a wide range of topics.

  5. What a great post Bel! You really have a great life, not just a simple life. How lucky your kids are. I look forward to your other posts!

  6. I really enjoyed this post and the whole blog as well. I've never felt inclined to check out any blog regularly, this one is spectacular and I've started checking in each day.

    If it gives you any support to know this, I'll share that my husband and I haven't let our two boys (ages 4 and 11) watch any media at all (no tv, no computer, never) for the past 7 years. It's very hard not using the electronic babysitters (I relied heavily upon them when my oldest was a toddler,) but after 7 years of this policy I can tell you the results are amazing.

    We have just started to introduce our older son to dvd movies at home on occasion as a family(we don't actually have any tv reception at all)and it feels like just the right time.

    Best Regards,

    Cam in Eugene, Oregon, USA

  7. What a pity other people can't see the benefits of ignoring the marketers and instead creating a wonderful childhood for their children.

    I'm sure children raised in this type of considered, thoughtful family environment where people come first turn out very different to the shopping mall 'I want' ones.



  8. Lovely post :) My kids don't get buckets of toys and brand new clothes, or watch commercial TV, either. In fact I now have to restrain my impulses to buy my 10 yo any "things" because they just never get used - we saw sense a couple years ago when her birthday rolled round without her having used any of her presents from the year before, which had been chosen with considerable thought to her interests. So now we go for experiences or consumables instead. 10yo herself now refuses to let her doting grandparents buy her any new clothes which were made in China, as part of her evolving social justice and environmental activism. She has truly embraced The Way of the Op Shop *g* I've found that being open and honest about the reasons for our frugality pays off in raising aware and concerned kids. Oh, and also homeschooling is a big contributor to keeping kids out of the peer-pressured buy-buy-buy mindset, which I imagine Belinda will get to in future posts :)

    Liz, aka geneste on ALS

  9. Thanks to both Rhonda & Belinda for this post. I don't have kids of my own but I do have nieces. at birthdays and Christmas I really try to put some thought into gifts. I often hand make something for them or if I do buy a game I try to look for something sturdy, non-plastic that looks like it will inspire some creativity or some sort of thinking. I'm sorry to say a few relatives have dubbed me "the cheap one" because of it. While it's true that my budget isn't big I'm really just trying to think long term of what they might get the most out of and also about the heath and environmental safety of those plastic do-dads. I press on with my effort but it's so nice to hear there are others out there that also have the same feeling. Thank you thank you thank you.

    Also passing some links for simple living for anyone that wants them.

    Virtual Dumpsters is a Freecycle-esque online stuff swap that employs the vast power of the internet to help find new homes for old stuff, all for free.

    Green Housecleaning – WARNING: PDF Document Make your household a non-toxic sanctuary!

  10. Belinda, thank you for sharing your story. Your kids will have wonderful childhood memories, and they last forever - far longer than any expensive outfit or toy!

    Rhonda, thanks for letting Belinda 'guest' for us!

    Have a great day everyone :)

  11. What a wonderful post. It's great to read of someone that is actually doing this at the same time as raising their children. This is an area we struggle in and basically have worked toward finding some kind of middle line. Interestingly enough, we have friends who in our opinion way overindulge their children and their children are much less content than ours. It has highlighted to us that you can never really buy "enough" to bring on contentment. Contentment comes from a spirit within rather than what you "have".

  12. Hi Rhonda Jean :) Great idea!

    Belinda, thanks so much for sharing. Looking forward to next Tuesday...

    Love, Q

  13. That was a great article. I assumed Belinda must be a homeschooler for her family to work so well together. It appears from her website that she is!

  14. Thanks for this Rhonda and Bel, sometimes it's so good to hear that we aren't alone in our parenting style and that it works for others.

    cheers Lenny

  15. I love your blog...I have toyed with living more simply for a long time; now due to circumstances it has become a must...this morning I show my hubby your blog and his particular intrested was taken by your aquaponics...he is somewhat of a fish expert-his concern was the possible heavy metal content of the fish from the galvanised tank. In his experience water from galvanised tanks and roofs cause heavy metal poisoning in fish and kill them; also he mentioned that you may have lost alot of your fish in the past after you did alot of mantainance ie water changes etc causing a massive p h change...hope this helps...again I love reading your blog...have made your gingerbeer and last night made the dog food (the dog would also like to thankyou for this)

  16. Great post, Rhonda. I have been making a lot of changes here at home and it gets difficult to stick to them. This was a great incentive to keep going. I have you to thank for getting me started in a much better way of living.

  17. Thank you for adding this post from Belinda, Rhonda. As a mother of young children it saddens me sometimes when I read your website because although I would LOVE to be doing what you do I can only do it to a certain degree because we not only have ourselves to think about, but also our children. I am constantly trying to balance doing the best for my sons now versus working to provide them with opportunities for the future. It really is a great struggle.
    Having said that, however, I think that the more we educate our children as to the reasons for our decisions ( e.g. no commercial TV, no plastic toys and latest gadgets) the easier it is for them to accept. As we teach them about processes and cycles, as in permaculture principles, they understand that their actions influence the world.
    I have often romantised the BBC "the Good Life" with friends who respond " yeah, but they don't have children". That is why it is so great to see how parents with young children implement the simple life.
    Thanks again to both Belinda and Rhonda.

  18. Hi Belinda love the post

    Its so truei have just been tidying my 6year old sons room and all the presents others bought for christmas are broken or unplayed with

    We spent very little but on things that have been played with its his birthday next week so the influx of plastic junk will begin again but he's getting a set of woodworking tools from us he loves helping dad do jobs in the workshop he even has some toy guns made from wood that he's made i keep telling family not to buy stuff but they don't seem to be able to comprehend how do others deal with this issue

    Sharron in the UK

  19. Hello everyone! Wow, what a great response. I will expand upon this post each Tuesday during April, so stay tuned...

    Renee, you're going to LOVE chickens! We have had them for a few years now and are now that we have the room we're breeding them, which is even more fun.

    Thanks Lizzie, good to hear from someone a little further along the journey than I.

    Rabbit, stick to your ideals with those handmade gifts. You're giving your nieces the right message. If they don't hear it now, they will one day appreciate your efforts I'm sure! Hang in there.

    Busy woman, didn't the couple in The Good Life end up having a baby? I thought they had a baby boy - but you're right, extra hands sometimes don't make light work! :p

    Sharron in UK, one thing I've tried with our extended family is using gift lists - ideas of toys we approve of, building onto things they're collecting (like Lego) which we think are okay and so on. That said, I own a business which sells natural toys and gifts - I explained to the in-laws why I'm running this business and our preferences, and still the pink plastic battery-operated garbage comes. Sigh!

    Thanks to everyone who posted "us too" comments, I love hearing that we're not alone!

  20. Hi Belinda, your family life sounds much like ours. I am now recycling clothes for boy #3 and along with these, there'll be a small handful of sale bought items to freshen things up. My boys are always snazzily dressed for trips to town (some op shop, some bought new but always on sale), but we get around in good practical clothes on our farm.

    The little boys share a room with bunks and a cot. Occasionally they want more space, but I find having a smaller space just makes it easier to keep tidy!

    Ditto re: the battery toys. The one toy I'm happy replacing batteries in, are torches - which are always so much fun for sneaking around at night, and reading in bed when you think no one knows you're awake. We have the occasional squabble over hot wheels cars, and over who built which marvellous lego creation.
    The big boys mostly play with their cars and bikes and footballs and cricket sets etc.

    Baby spends all day walking around with a copy of The Ugly Duckling so he can show us all how clever he is by saying his sole word, "duck", by casually pointing at the cover. As long as you don't try to pinch his book, he's immune from the power of toys.

    I'm looking forward to your next entry. Lisa x

  21. Oh - and Belinda - did you know there's a whole "school" of decorating with mismatched items - called "found objects". My entire home is a found object, and that's the way I like it!!

  22. Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing your experience! I love how you break the "raising children is expensive" myth.

  23. Don't feel guilty. Our girls are grown now, but they have both told us often that the days when we were so broke we could barely pay attention were some of the best in their lives. The important things are that they feel the love you have for them and the security of their home - the framework of a happy family (and hopefully with God at the center of it).

  24. When I left home in 1981 to go to uni, I left television, too. I did watch far too much of it when home after the "accident", but left it again when I returned to uni to redo my final year (I'd only done a term first time round & spent the rest in & out of hospitals). We had no TV with the childer growing up & now Annon refuses to have 1 in the house, much to my amusement (& relief). We both read, knit & crochet & have started watching DVDs on the computer. This often ends up in film comparisons, discussions on acting styles, "did you notice this or that in such & such a scene?". We often end watching the extras or leads in the background in subsequent viewings & will pick things out that aren't obvious with the first watching~ developing observation skills.

    I can't afford to give my childer bright & shiny designer labels or stuff, presents tend to be books, art supplies or useful things that will be used: Annon asked Santa for a "big pencil case & some highlighter pens if it wasn't too much trouble" this last Christesmas. She's 11! She accepts for the most part that I don't drive & that having no car, necessitates walking to the village, or waiting for the weekly bus to town (she can only go during the holidays).

    Reading this wonderful post & the comments, I'm glad I'm not the only "cruel" mother depriving my childer of the influence of consumerism & mass marketing.

    Annon gained respect from her peers after we had a school bus up here & they saw "her" animals ~ the poultry, ferrets, dogs, cats, goats & horses. OK, we don't have the latest things, no car, no TV, part renovated house, but she has ANIMALS, lots of lovely animals!! The horses help, too, as this is horsey Ireland.

  25. Hi Andrea, we don't ahve the aquaponics now. I sold it to one of the readers of this blog. I hope it will be set up and functionaing again soon.
    Tell you DH that the tanks are lined, so there is no possibility of metal contamination. Also, we only ever used rainwater in our tank, so we didn't have a problem with pH rsing or falling. People who keep aquaponics generally test for pH, nitrates, nitrites, ammonia etc on a regular basis.

  26. We're also trying to live simply with our children. We don't have cable TV and they do not go to school. Right there that eliminates 90% of the consumer influences kids are exposed to.

    Providing for a child's future is a noble cause, but I bet most grown adults would trade a free and lovely childhood with lots of time to spend with mother than a paid-for college education. IMO, kids who grow up confident and secure, who really know themselves, will go far in life no matter how much money their parents have saved up for them.

  27. Thank you everyone!!

    Lisa, have you seen the wind-up torches? You can get them from around AUD$15 from hardware and camping suppliers and they are amazing. We've had some for a few years now and the rechargeable battery is still going. It's recharged by winding a little handle on the side of the torch, even little ones can do it.

  28. Thanks for this post. I'm looking fwd to the rest of the series. I agree that it's much easier to live simply when it's just yourself. In addition, many of us with young families do not live in rural, farming areas.

  29. Belinda, I loved your post. We are living similarly in rural Ireland. I find our kids birthday parties the hardest thing to deal with, even if I write 'token or home made gifts' we still get hi profile mega marketed dolls and gadgets, often costing far more than what we have spent on the children for our birthday or xmas gifts to them. The best toys are the small, simple or thoughtful things. My 6 year old was given a cutting from a house plant by her friend whose Dad explained 'its to help you learn about minding a living thing'. Just brilliant! The other most played with thing was a home made finger puppet ... it was the finger of a glove snipped off with the fabric flower sewn on for a hat.

    Last year my 6 year old came up with her own party gift idea. She asked the each family attending give a donation of €10 into a pot. As we knew 5 families were coming she had spent (borrowed from me) €25 on craft materials as her gift ... when she got her €50 at the party she paid me back and donated the other half to charity (sponsored a flock of hens to be provided to an African family).

    I'm delighted to have found this blog via Musings of a Stonehead. I shall be subscribing. x

  30. What a great post; I'm looking forward to the follow-ups. I'm another proud Mummy whose children aren't acquisitive -- at least, not yet!

  31. PS I linked back to you today!

  32. I am the eldest of seven children and we were brought up frugally because my father's wage didn't allow for more than the necessities for us. I want to assure you that those kids won't hold any grudges about the way you are bringing them up.
    I remember our childhood as idyllic, and the treats really stand out as good memories. Kids that have treats as their normal way of life grow up with nothing to look forward to, and are never satisfied.
    We are all very self-sufficient when it comes to entertaining ourselves and would rather be doing things than being entertained. I still cannot sit down without something like knitting or crochet in my hands.
    I am eternally grateful to my parents for their self-sacrifice (even though they assure us that none of us were "planned"!).

  33. Great post!After hiring a teenage to clean out the basement of all the junk toys etc my children are finally starting to understand "value" The used inline skates bought at a thrift shop with their "own" money are the most played with things for months now--possibly due to the clean basement to use them in! I would love to move to a smaller home, too. I really like they way you've described your choices.

  34. What a wonderful post. At the foundation to me this speaks about living mindfully. And it is so much more meaningful than consuming, consuming, consuming.


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