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25 February 2013

Can it really be that simple?

On the weekend, me and my sister were talking about a TV program called Kevin's Man Made Home. Kevin McCloud from the Grand Designs program has this new show about building an off the grid shed in the woods in England. There's been a lot of debate about how self indulgent the project is, that it's not authentic and that building regulations would prevent most people building this way etc. etc. but I see the entire program from a different perspective. I'm interested in the happiness factor.


Of course this is not the first time such a social experiment has been done. I have this quote in my book, written by Henry David Thoreau, who did a similar thing. He went to live alone in the woods for two years on Walden Pond, USA, and then wrote this: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."




At the beginning of the program, Kevin explains how work, stress, debt and traffic can make life difficult and miserable. He wants to see if living alone, slowing down, making the things he needs in a rural home will make him happier. I think it will and I'll be watching him as he goes about it to see what he does and how he feels at the end of it.

We can all do this. Not in the flamboyant way he is doing it but we can all slow down and take our time. I think that is one of the keys to happiness, or at least contentment. When I moved from working for pay to the domestic work I do now, I realised that slowing down, as difficult as it is at first, made me concentrate on what I was doing and live that moment. It made me look inward instead of outward. I stopped multi-tasking because I wanted to really experience what I was doing. The other key point is to find joy and happiness in your own life, and that includes the simple, small, ordinary, mundane things that go into day-to-day living, as well as the big things, the celebrations and the beauty that make us sing out loud.

The way modern life has evolved has turned many of us away from our homes, to focus on what is outside. We're told that we can rely on convenience and to buy everything we need, whether we can make it ourselves or not and whether we can afford it or not. To do that you have to work hard for a long time to pay for it. I'm not against hard work, in fact I think it plays a large part in defining who we are. I have always been a hard worker but now my work, if it defines who I am, tells me that my family and home life are paramount and that convenience, for the sake of it, makes no sense at all.  We are encouraged to work to pay for cheap products that break, for clothes that last only a year, for new technology that is quickly out of date. There is little encouragement to buy quality products that last, to look after what we have, to repair and mend, to make do with less.


I am happier now than I've ever been. I think part of that is that I know I can look after myself and my family. I am independent and self reliant and that gives me confidence to do whatever I want to do. All the domestic work we have done here has allowed us to built our relationship with this home and the land we live on. When you step back from it all and think about how you're living, it is very satisfying to know that we, anyone of us, can reduce the amount we need to live on, the junk we live with and the time we need to work for a living to pay for all of it.

I don't know what Kevin McCloud will discover in his quest for happiness. I do know it will be lurking there if he slows down, looks inward, makes as much as he can and connects with the work he does in that English woodland. Can it really be that simple?

Addition: The link in the first paragraph is to iView for Australian viewers. When I looked for international links to it, they were all copyrighted, so I couldn't check them out and therefore can't recommend them. Please google the name if you're not in Australia and want to watch it. If you have a weak stomach, you'd best not watch Kevin's Man Made Home because along with the innovation and all the building, there is a lot of human and animal waste.


51 comments:

  1. Interesting show, isn't it? The children and I just watched it last night and yes, the human waste bits are certainly quite gross! If he wanted to make a point on how far to go with repurposing he definitely hit the mark!!
    But what also stood out for me was the sense of community and friendship. I realise it was a TV program and he probably called up his friends, who were happy to come on board, but none the less it made me think how much easier to build/create/repurpose, if there is that shared effort. We just don't seem to have that in Australia; perhaps because families move around a lot more here. I noticed it when I was in Austria last year too, how the village people helped out on projects together and then 'played' together.
    I feel its such a shame that we haven't managed to cultivate community yet because I'm sure it also has a hand in happiness.

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  2. Just beautiful, Rhonda. I loved every word, thank you for sharing this today.
    -Jaime

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  3. We've been watching Kevin as well as we quite like his show Grand Designs. I did think he came across as a bit over the top in this series but whatever floats your boat as they say. We couldn't watch most of it last night with all the poop talk, gross!
    I'll live my simple life as I currently do :)
    Judy xx

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  4. Interesting blog, we've been watching the show too, and each time I have been struck with how much he is enjoying it. Kevin's face is just so happy, like a little boy. Although i think his deck chair from the old tractor needs a head rest. Meryl.

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  5. We have also been enjoying Kevin's show.And after reading your post today I would like to rid myself of more stufff, to reduce even more our minimal consumption.Dive even deeper into handmade. Kevin looked like he was having a lot of fun, really enjoying himself creating, using his imagination. And very inspired by his waste digester!

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  6. DH and I have been watching Kevin's Handmade home too. Got to admit all that animal and human waste didn't gross us out neither did the rabbit glue or anything else for that matter. We saw it as a man who was genuinely happy trying something new and having fun in the process. As a society we seem to be so disconnected from where most of our current "conveniences" originally came from. While I don't think we will be heading in the direction of building a home like he did - DH was quite adamant on that...lol - we admire the man for having the courage to try new/old techniques. That he had a close community of friends to help him made it all the more special. In our own lives DH has two very good friends who are into experimenting as much as he is - recycling used engine oil is the latest on the drawing board - and they have a ball. Not only trying new things but discussing them and coming up with solutions to any problems. Whatever happens we know that between the three of them our families are secure and that they have the skills to adapt to whatever arises. That's the same feeling I get from Kevin's show. That he is willing to adapt and try new techniques in order to make something worthwhile - his home and refuge.

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  7. I thought his show was brilliant and too bad if people thought it self indulgent...it his property, time and show.......I love the sustainability and community aspect behind it all..... and there is so much joy in his show.....sure parts of it have been gross but he does it all and doesn't get anyone else to do it for him.... go kev...I want to build one :)

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  8. My husband and I both watched this programme series last year and it is truly educational in the art of self reliance. I won't spoil it for you, but it makes you wonder who discovered the process in some of the solutions they had to find, I am thinking in particular to their need for strong glue. I won't say any more and I hope you all enjoy it as we did.
    Joan A.
    Wales (UK)

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  9. Everytime I read your posts Rhonda, I think I too would love to stay at home and be able to be a full time home maker - however the money to live does have to come from somewhere. I love being at home, making things, doing things to make our home more welcoming, comfortable and restful. But the fact is that I need to work to pay the bills. Water, electricity, rates, insurances, health costs, home costs, car maintenance and fuel etc. None of these things, I see as being negotiable - unless we lived in a tree. Unfortunately the cost of daily living, without any luxuries or treats, seems to be increasing and I dont just mean grocery items.
    Being the age I am , I cannot access a pension or superannuation and as my husband was made redundant last year, I am now the sole bread winner of the family. It is terribly daunting knowing that this will be my lot for many years to come.
    we have cut back as much as I can, at this time - we make our own bread, soap, washing detergent, meals, grow our own veggies etc and I knit or sew a lot of our gifts, so I am trying as hard as I can at the moment. And to give credit where it is due, I have been inspired to make our own soap etc, thanks to you, Rhonda.
    So while I too have been watching Kevin having a grand old time, lets not forget that he is a very wealthy man, who is being paid to have his whimsical experiment and he has access to huge amounts of money to make it all look very frugal; in that he can afford to take time out of normal 9 to 5 work life to make this show.

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    1. Im feeling your pain. I too am in the same situation but with no redundancy payment and having to go from two to one income. My husband is only 52 and cannot find work despite 35 years experience in his field.

      But, you know, im actually finding a little bit of enjoyment in the having to be frugal and saving here and there. Im taking a lot of the tips from Rhonda and her followers and applying it where i can and i think im doing well. It is scary knowing that you are carrying the load but there are alot of men out there doing this everyday and its given me an appreciation for this (though i have always worked full time). I know that our credit card would have reached the 5k mark since Christmas with our normal spending habits (2k a month which we always paid off) and right now its sitting at 1.8k because of savings and little payments whilst meeting all our bills at the same time. Im even managing to make payments on the power bill that's looming. Its become a challenge to me to see how much i have left of my single income at the end of the week, which of course goes straight on that visa bill. My husband is proud of me (though very depressed and seeking counselling) and wonders why i am so relaxed, why im not stressed out. Thanks girls/guys for your support and information.

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  10. I discovered the show by chance last night and very much enjoyed it. I love the reminder of what's important, how nature provides all we need (e.g. one brain enough to tan one hide), and watching the joy Kevin experiences as he achieves his dream. I love camping for similar reasons-it's restorative and makes you value a hearty meal and a warm, dry bed. And someone to share it with ;)

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  11. Being in the UK we've already seenm the whole series and it is just fantastic. The "slowing down" thing is interesting - there are so many ways of doing this - when we took the decision to move out of London a few years ago, we only moved 20 miles or so, but even in that distance we truly noticed the slower pace of life. When we spend time up in the Outer Hebrides of course we notice it even more!

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  12. I love this show for the simple pleasure of watching Kevin and his mates, mucking around, creating something out of nothing, using their intelligence and creativity to create whilst at the same time having fun and just being cheaky boys (all be it slightly older ones). Yep, the dog poo did gross me out but the concept of biofuel was amazing.

    On a different note, i cant tell you how much joy my garden is giving me at the moment. Happiness is having visitors come "free shopping" and leaving with bags of silverbeet, zucchini, spring onions, basil, herbs & tomatoes. Getting a call and being told that their meal was from my garden and how great it was. I think happiness for me is in the growing and the sharing.

    Great post as usual.

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  13. That bread looks delicious. What recipe do you use?

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    1. It's my usual bread recipe (on the blog) using a mix of rye and organic white flours.

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  14. Totally agree with kathyros - complete publicity stunt. He is making it seem attractive to go back to a peasant way of life that none of us have actually lived. The very last thing I would give up on gods earth is indoor plumbing. This is a complete fantasy freak show. Dont buy into it Rhonda; technology is the thing that is going to save the world not bad hygiene.

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  15. The gross factor is interesting. Because it's not that there is more of it in the handmade life, just that you actually get to experience life firsthand, the beauty and the gross. Much of living with modern conveniences is actually hugely more gross - using a flush toilet, wearing leather shoes,eating hamburger - just that it's out of sight and out of mind, which allows it to be multiplied many times over, quite beyond what any of us would accept up front - Jamie Oliver's Fowl Dinners makes that point. Isn't it funny that most of us will willingly clean poo off a baby's bottom, making faces and jokes about the grossness but absolutely accepting that it's best done with care and responsibility by a real human. Nurses and paramedics deal with gross first hand. Kevin's show is an interesting challenge to think about how "real" we are with gross, and from there, how real we are altogether.

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    1. Yes, I agree with you Linda and I like your point about baby's bottoms. This real human has been reacquainted with them again lately.

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  16. Hi Rhonda,
    Yes we watched it to and I loved it. The big fellow was not so impressed but to me it was so interesting. i agree with all you have written here.
    Blessings Gail

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  17. Oh Boy Rhonda, so surprised at some of the comments left here on this post! I thought people were stating to learn that when you live with love and intention that life became enriching and wonderful. Which is exactly what you write about on your blog in your own way. (and what I believe that Kevin is searching for on his show)

    to lizzie- technology isn't going to save the world, only love can do that!

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    1. I agree, that is what he's searching for. The comments today have been very interesting, haven't they.

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  18. I've found Kevin's Man Made HOme very interesting viewing.I'm wondering if on watching it, though, many people will think that living simply is just too hard. Kevin has access to all the expertise in the world at his fingertips to help him on his quest. Most of us have to rely on ourselves and our immediate circle to work things out. While working, raising children etc.
    The point is we don't have to remake our way of life in the way Kevin has attempted to do to receive the benefits. Don't know if this show will help people make that connection if they haven't already.

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  19. I am sitting somewhere in between these comments. I agree that Kevin is making a 'reality TV show' but I don't think the point is to emulate is way of living. I think that we should do everything we can do to move towards a simpler lifestyle, and this does not mean giving up our 9 to 5 job, getting a compost toilet and abandoning the supermarkets all at the same time. But it is desirable to work slowly towards these things. His experiment shows us that we can always continue to improve our sustainability choices.
    The reality for me is that to live my life in the woods I need to set up a solid foundation which means reducing my mortgage as much as possible and learning new husbandry skills. All in good time.

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    1. Wonderful comment, Kali. And you're right, we all deal with our own reality in the way that gives us the best result in our own time.

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  20. Great post Rhonda.
    My husband loves that programme, but we missed that episode. I will have to get hime to watch in online.

    cheers
    Fi

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  21. I have been planning a big move to the country in a few months and I think you description here fits exactly what I want to get out of the move. Wonderful post.

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  22. My husband and I are loving this show- he's an engineer, and I can see the cogs turning. I'm sure he'll have lots of ideas if the time comes when society has to be more self reliant. Our 2 little girls aged 6 and 4 are quite interested too, and I love that they enjoy these shows. They also love River Cottage, Gardening Australia (they love Costa!), and Gourmet Farmer. A bit different to the TV I watched as a kid! Can't wait to see the final episode next week.

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  23. The warm fireplaceFebruary 25, 2013 10:58 am

    I am from the UK and saw the programme, it is good, but i know where he was inspired he did a Grand Designs with a Ben Law he built a house in his own woodland, he worked his own wood and made the house from his own timber and straw bales, it is the best of all his Grand Designs, Kevin Mccloud always said it was his favourite one to do, he re visits him twice more and you see his whole life develop is brilliant.
    Sue

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    1. I agree, Sue. That episode gives me goosebumps every time I watch it (the one with the timber house). The builder is a hard-working man with simple pleasures and his contentment and happiness are such a contrast from the rich-beyond-belief bankers etc often on Grand Designs (you know, the type where the kitchen work-top alone costs £15,000).
      Very inspiring.
      Karen (Scotland)

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    2. I was just going to mention Ben Law and his woodland home. :) To the people who are criticising this show because obviously Kevin McCloud isn't short of a bob or two, you would really be interested in Ben Law and what he did in an early series of Grand Designs. I haven't watched Kevin's latest project but I did watch the Ben Law programme and was really inspired.

      Ben was able to get planning permission to build a home in Pricklynut Wood (I think that's the name) which he owned as long as he worked the wood himself. Once he no longer works it he has to knock the house down. The home cost little to build as the wood came from the area and he was assisted by a huge number of his friends!

      Ben has extended his home now he has a family. So, perhaps Kevin's project is 'vanity' but he was inspired by Ben and wanted to try something similar himself. And why not? It's a decent thing for him to do.

      This is a link to Ben Law for anyone interested: http://www.ben-law.co.uk/


      xxxHelena

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  24. We watched the show and loved it. We often go away in our caravan and live fairly frugaly (it's amazing when you dont have somethings you dont seem to need them) Very grounding experience

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  25. All 4 episodes are available to watch on YouTube, I've got them in my Favourites playlist and I just checked I can still watch them. In YouTube search for:
    Ch4 Kevin McClouds Man Made Home 1of4
    2of4
    3of4
    4of4

    Its on Ethator11 Channel on YouTube.

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  26. I have already watched the whole series too, and I loved it. I agree there were some aspects as mentioned above, about he has the money to be able to switch gears and it is for tv, but who cares if it changes 1 person's attitude to how we currently live?
    It actually inspired me to learn more about leather/fur curing, I live in a farmhouse on a farm (though not our farm) and there are a lot of animals around here that when they die I am sure their skins aren't ever used, so good for "practice". Putting that on my bucket list - a curious thing to put on it, but why not?!

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  27. Hi Rhonda, I'm a newbie and have limited Internet reception so Im using my phone so please excuse the anonymous icon. I've been watching kevin all series and it gives me such a warm gushing feeling everytime. Just to know it is possible to do all these things, fills me with enthusiasm for the life we are all trying to forge out from whatever is available to us. My partner gazes over to me and says " Karen , what are you planning on trying now" it makes me laugh, I want to immediately run outside and clad our humble shack with driftwood and start making our own fuel ! Inspirational if nothing else. Reading your posts and everyone's comments help me have faith in our decision for a sea change, simpler life, and embracing the challenge of this journey, is not as crazy as others may think
    Karen-ann
    Pinks beach, SA

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  28. This comment is from Fran. Fran, I had to edit your comment because I don't want any advertising in the comments here. I understand you were being thoughtful and I'm not annoyed at all. I just needed to explain why I took out the bit I didn't want in there and this is the only way I can include your comment. Blogger doesn't allow me to edit comments, only publish or delete them. I hope you understand.

    Hi Rhonda, Such a wonderful post yet again. I enjoyed the quote from Henry Thoreau - thank you for being so knowledgeable. I've enjoyed the series from Kevin McCloud and found the glue made from rabbit skin amazing!

    Cheers from Fran.

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    1. No worries Rhonda, just thought of you when I saw the ad. Keep up the good work! Cheers Fran.

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  29. I have been watching and enjoying the show as well. I feel that the biggest benefit it that he is exposing a wide range of people to the idea of self-sufficiency/sustainable living that would otherwise tune out to other shows. And I would suggest the blokey humour (which seems to skirt the boundaries of good taste) the grossness factor of showing what some uses for our waste and animal products are before technology arrived on the scene is one such way of getting that message across.

    The show makes good points about the busyness of our lives, how we value our time, how we use that time, and more importantly, how it is possible to make an effort to slow down and reconnect with the environment around us.

    What it really shows also is that the technological progress we have experienced over the decades has really separated us from nature and in turn separated us from each other such that we no longer have access to communities of like minded people.

    I have being enjoying the wide range of comments, it just goes to show there are no right and wrong answers and we have to decide for ourselves how we live and how we value our lives and time.

    Liz
    PS: I'm coming up as anonymous 'cause I can't get my wordpress account to work!



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    1. Not a problem, Liz. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

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  30. I sooo didn't want to enjoy this program as sometimes Kevin's views on Grand Designs demonstrated to me how difficult it is for him to get his mind around anything different, BUT I have been so absorbed by his adventure into off grid living and the joy that gives him just makes me happy. I love seeing him discover and develop (with the aid of his offsiders) his ideas and bring them to a very satisfying conclusion. I particularly loved the window he made last week from scratch.

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  31. Hi Rhonda,
    I think you are so right. You don't need much to be really happy. I feel much happier with less than I felt years ago with a lot more ; )
    I try to make things myself as much as I can. I knit and crochet a lot.
    I am a volunteer at a repair club. Once a month people bring things that don't work anymore. It varies from coffeemakers to clocks and we have several volunteers with their own specialties and they try to repair it. That way the things get a second chance. I think that is great.
    Sometimes it is hard to repair, because things are really made to throw away at the moment, but the guys are very recourseful ; )
    Have a great day.

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  32. I have watched 2 of Kevin's Man made home shows. Whilst I realize that it is a 'reality' show, I found the segments on rabbit glue and the making of glass very interesting and also my 24 yr old son sat down and become interested in the show. I love Kevin's attitude which seems sincere and full of wonder at the creations that he and his friends are making.

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  33. Rhonda, I had no idea about this programme (I'm in the UK) as we gave up our licence a couple of years ago, but I can see it's on 4od so I'll set a reminder to watch it now.
    I love Kevin McLoud but stopped watching Grand Designs a few years ago because of the scary over-consumption and the crazy rich people who were often featured in the show (£15,000 for a kitchen work-top?!).

    This looks like an interesting show. Unrealistic for the majority and maybe indulging a whim but no doubt interesting with plenty to glean from it and maybe inspire. I might be mildly green-eyed while watching it but I'll accept that we all have a different lot in life (as I also used to accept while watching Grand Designs!)

    I am lol at those grossed out by poo. Flushing it away doesn't make it actually disappear...! As a cloth nappy user for almost seven years solid (4 babies), there is very little that can gross me out now!
    Humans are so detached from our own bodies and our place in any ecosystem that we forget we are, basically, animals (spirituality aside). Technology is unlikely to ever change that, no matter how hard we try. We will eat, we will try to stay warm, we will pee, poo, bleed. We have to produce the food and dispose of the waste. Governments and corporations do that for the majority of us at the moment - let's hope we never have to do it for ourselves as so many will find it gross and unhygienic. ;-)

    Looking forward to watching the show.
    Karen
    (Scotland)

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    1. Great comment Karen, thank you. I'm sure you'll enjoy the program.

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  34. So interesting. I'm going to check out the youtube videos of this. This is my year of less and you blog is such an inspiration to me.

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  35. Apparently it is that simple. You did it!

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  36. Last summer, we began a two year trial of a water meter as we were fed up with the charges of un-metered water. One of the first rules we 'engaged' was "if its yellow (wee) let it mellow (don't flush), if its brown flush it down (speaks for itself!)".

    We don't have a shower so share bath water 3 times a week which in the event of a drought, would be used in the garden, where we now have 3 1/2 water butts just coming off the garage. Little changes yet the difference in cost both to us and the environments is amazing (roughly £30 per month).

    A neighbour was also thinking about changing and was appalled at us not flushing the loo after a wee. She also leaves her tap running whilst washing up so she can rinse the plates and both of them power shower for 10 to 15 minutes every morning. Don't think they would make any saving, probably fork out much more.

    Each to their own I say. If we lived outside our village we would have a wind turbine to generate our electricity but can't have one where we are so at the moment, we are doing what we can.

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  37. My husband and I are loving the show, if only for the outrageousness, but also for the various small things that maybe one day we could use to build our own home. I also love love love that David Theroux quote, and lived by it for quite some time.

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  38. HI there Rhonda,

    I live in NZ so we have had the privilege of already being able to see this. All my family loved it, including the kids, We have also had a program called The boat that Guy bulit, which was also very interesting, he did things like make a shower using a steam engine.

    Loving the blog
    Thanks for the inspiration.
    Nic

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  39. I'm a stay at home mum to 3 kids 4 and under and life can be very challenging sometimes. I've also battled with depression for most of my life and ante natal and post natal depression with my older 2 kids. I only share this for context. Since falling pregnant with my youngest who is now 18 months old I have finally found my niche. I am a homemaker and budding homesteader. Greening up our lives, making do, mending and doing without as well as "damning the man" by making at home as much as I possibly can (this is a learning curve and work in progress but we are getting there) and avoiding supermarkets wherever possible has become my life. We moved in December last year to our new home on 1/2 acre in rural Victoria and I realised on Sunday that I am actually happy. :) Not every moment is cotton wool and fluffy bunnies but the satisfaction I gain from baking my own sourdough bread, growing fruit and veggies (not much harvested this season but we've learned a lot) and I'm even learning to take satisfaction and pleasure from the most mundane and despised of tasks. There is incredible satisfaction in getting my overwhelmingly large pile of clean washing folded and put away or clearing the kitchen, even if it's just stacking the dirty dishes neatly. As much as I enjoyed my work before I had kids I am not planning to return any time soon as I thoroughly enjoy my slower life. I just hope we can one day be in a position that my husband can stay home with us whilst the kids are still young enough that we can all be happy together. :)

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    1. rabid, I go through a range of emotions when I read the comments people leave here. When I read your comment just now it was joy, and from "sunday" I smiled all the way to the end. I just wrote an incredibly long reply but I think we should let everyone know how we feel so I'm going to make your comment and my reply into a post, that's if you don't mind.

      I'm so pleased you feel what I feel and that the depression has lifted. Stay tuned. :- )

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