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11 June 2013

Simple, small steps can make a big difference

Just before I travelled to Blackheath, I received this email from "Mary". I asked if it was okay to use it in a post because I think it shows how empowering simple life can be. Mary wrote:

I first began reading your blog while pregnant with my first child back in 2009. I remember the amazement I felt back then that there was someone out there living my dream and felt inspired by you. Since then I have taught myself to cook from scratch, bake and grow at least the herbs, lettuce and spinach I use regularly. (Due to rheumatoid arthritis I can't maintain a full vegetable garden) I began stock piling and began teaching myself to knit and sew. As time has passed I found the tv on less and less and look forward to the quiet in the evening after my children are on bed. My life has become a lot simpler and as a result I am a lot happier, for 15 years I suffered from depression but since really living this simple lifestyle the depression has cleared, I still have bad days but I get through them and continue walking the path of my life. A simple life and getting back to basics and being true to myself cured what 15 years of medication could not. 

It is now 4 years later. I gave birth to my second child five months ago and then six weeks ago my partner was made redundant. I can honestly say that if I had not discovered your blog all that time ago I would be homeless and hungry right now. My disability payment barely covers rent and bills and we are only surviving right now because we only live on the basics and had built a stockpile. I have enough food to feed my family for a month right now and we are eating quite well. Vegetables and meat from the freezer and pantry (canning and preserves) baking sweet treats for my son and drinking water and tea. It is the skills I've learnt from your blog and book (your book was my 30th birthday present and the only thing I wanted) and the inspiration to cook from scratch and stockpile that is allowing us to be comfortable and not too stressed with our circumstances right now.

Mary, I wonder if you agree with me that the depression may have lifted because you took control of your life. I think that when you have a compelling purpose and plan for your days, you have structure. Maybe that structure helped you through. Whatever the reason, it's wonderful. I know when I took control of my home, I felt empowered by it. There is nothing like that feeling. Sometimes it feels like you're running a small business and that you're the CEO and work staff all rolled up into one. You know your decisions can make or break your family and in your case, you set your family up for success while working through your health problems.

I'm sorry to read that your partner lost his job but there is no better way to face that situation than with a stockpile, the knowledge you have and the ability to make do with very little. You've done really well. I'm proud of you.

Often people think this kind of living is for those who are retired and have the extra time for it. I think Mary proves it's for all ages and for many circumstances and how making a series of simple changes can be life changing.

If you have some tips for Mary, please add them to your comment. There may be something she's not yet tried that will make a real difference to her situation. Thank you.


  1. This story touches my heart and is quite close to home. I found that when my husband was unemployed, I needed to EVERY DAY focus on what I could do (cook good food from scratch, stretch my meager grocery dollars, hang laundry outside, rescue sub-par produce by canning it and freezing it, etc. etc.). I also literally counted my blessings, over and over. Sure, on paper my family was/is poor in money, but we are rich in resources, education, love, family, friends, and creativity.

  2. When Mary got around to mentioning her age, I was surprised at how young she is. It has obviously been something inside her all her life maybe - this dream of being more of a homemaker. It's wonderful! And your comparison, Rhonda, to a CEO is apt - when you take the whole process seriously, it is like running a company or business.

    I'm hoping that Mary's arthritis condition will also improve as she eats better home-cooked and nutritious foods.

  3. Mary, I don't know if you're doing this yet or not, but when my husband was laid off and we were surviving on a very small unemployment compensation, the greatest help to us was going to an all-cash budget - doing as Rhonda suggests and setting aside a set amount of money every pay period for necessities. It gave me peace of mind to know I had money set aside for the absolute necessities of life.

  4. Hello Rhonda
    This is such a wonderful post I love the way you describe the running of the house as being your own CEO, on my agenda this week is making a new batch of soap and laundry detergent, cooking a casserole to freeze and sorting out winter clothes. I too have felt more content, depression is so debilitating and having purpose and control is such a key to happiness. thank you and all the best to Mary, she is a brave soul to share her story.
    regards Leonie

  5. Thank you for sharing Mary's comment.
    I too have been following and enjoying your blog for a few years now and have learned so much. I am stockpiling, pickling and preserving, and have my little allotment which keeps me in most of my vegetables and herbs. I am all ready for that rainy day. Thank you.

  6. I just wanted to say that I agree with Rhonda about the depression lifting because you had taken control of your life. I had the same experience and that's precisely what it was. I don't have a lot of advice, but I wanted to suggest that if you're nursing your baby to keep doing it as long as possible to save on costs as well as to maintain the baby's health, keeping medical costs down. Don't buy commercial baby foods, make your own or feed the baby whatever you're eating (when you start feeding solids).

  7. Mary- I'm proud of you too! You seem to be doing everything you can with the resources you have and YOU are an inspiration as well! You have learned for the best teacher. Thank you to you both. I have nothing to add but well wishes for Mary's health. I hope you continue to improve.

    Central Illinois

  8. Outstanding. Preparing for an uncertain future, while at the same time finding your own independence is empowering.
    I'm so glad that my wife and I put away a sizable "rainy day fund" because it started "raining" when my job went away. We had a stockpile of food, and savings, and paid ahead on the mortgage. We are doing ok. We have a couple of small streams of income, but it is half what we used to make. But we don't even miss it, because we were living below our means, and banking the rest. We almost have financial independence. And this after we were in quite a bit of debt before we started.
    I heartily recommend an emergency fund and doing things that are simple and frugal all the time.

  9. Mary's story rings so true with me! Fortunately my dear husband has not been made redundant, but 1.5 years ago I was forced to retire due to health issues. The severity of my issues and depression over living in constant pain has made my transition to "the simple life" more "off" than "on" some weeks...but I am getting there! I have begun shopping for things I need at the local thrift store. My dear husband and I have dramatically cut back on our food shopping and I am trying to work my way through our stockpile and freezer...after which I will begin stocking up little by little once more. This past Christmas I made quite a few gifts by hand, dramatically cutting down on the money we spent. I have begun crocheting dishcloths and washcloths and am currently crocheting a blanket and piecing a quilt for our guest room bed (where I sleep on really bad nights when my tossing and turning and moaning in pain would wake my dear hubby). I have turned the thermostat to a higher number and the AC is not turning on as frequently. I have begun to use Freecycle as a way to purge my home of unwanted clutter and also a way to obtain things I want or need for free. There IS a better way and thanks to Rhonda and the members who frequent her blog and forum, I'm headed down that path a simple life.

  10. Thank you for sharing this timely post. Being a depression sufferer, and it wosening recently, I have taken hold of simple living again. Something I let slip the last few months. I am so pleased this way of life has helped Mary. It's so refreshing reading about someone younger seeing the benefits of simple living. All the very best to Mary and her family.

  11. Such an inspiring story, so glad you shared it with us! Pam, Norway

  12. Well done Mary, you are on the right track,if you are allways aware of doing the simple, cost saving things, you will stay focused and the spending will be minimal.
    Could your husband start a little part time business by cleaning and servicing lawn mowers,there is not much to learn but nearly everyone puts away the mower for Winter without draining, cleaning,sharpening blades,checking spark plugs etc. even those who know how to , rarely bother with such tasks.
    If he does a mail box drop of his work description and basic fee and phone number(photo copy 6 flyers per page , at the library is cheap, may be free at Job search ) he may get some replys,and door knocking works well too.
    Some days "Woolies" have a big trolley taller than me, of fruit and veg that have to be sold before the new load arrives and it is sold by $3 a bag,fill yourself, it can be mushrooms, tomatoes,spinach etc. works out very cheap, enquire when this is done, or ask at other food shops for similar mark down times and do your menus and preserving around the sale produce.
    Is it possible for you to round up some "stuff" and have a garage sale, you can even find some outstanding bargains at the op shop and onsell at a small profit with your goods and some home baking also sells well.Don't advertise in the paper, just put up a big sign with the address at a busy intersection and notes on any free notice boards,and have some change ready.......Good Luck

  13. The warm fireplaceJune 11, 2013 9:43 am

    Wishing the very best to Mary and her family at this time. When i look at life it can be hard but when you are in control of it there is a contentment that no amount of money can buy, other things like being together and enjoying the simple things in life, and working together to make what there is go round makes all the difference.

  14. what a positive outlook you have Mary and that is what is making the difference in your life. I hope your hubby finds a job soon, and glad you are managing so far. Life has its downs so that we can really appreciate the ups :) thank you too Rhonda for all you do to help people enjoy the simple life.

  15. I would like to say congratulations to Mary. You are doing a great job looking after your family in challenging circumstances! I am a mum to two young children, am in my early 30s too, and have been living with depression for 4 years now. Your story has further inspired me to keep trying and improving in my efforts towards a simpler life for my family. Keep up your great simple living efforts as a close team with your husband especially, and hang in there. As a dear friend of mine has told me in hard times, this is just a season of your life, and just like any other, this season will pass.

  16. Mary, if you can't handle a large vegetable garden, I am wondering about container gardening. I have COPD, so being outside in any kind of heat and humidity makes breathing difficult, so I have made gardening as easy as possible for myself. My husband built a waist high raised bed that is about 3' wide x 18' long. I also have 8 big pots and I keep a chair by them to work. I have tomatoes, green beans, carrots, winter and summer squash, leeks, and various herbs and lettuce. Everything is in a compact U-shaped design so I can get my work and watering done quickly early in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. I got the idea of the high raised bed from a home improvement show. It was being built for someone in a wheelchair and I thought it was a wonderful idea for someone not capable of getting down on the ground. It has made gardening enjoyable for me again. Good luck.

    Massachusetts, USA

  17. Thanks Rhonda for posting about Mary. I too suffer from depression and have had my husband lose his job to redundancy. I wish I'd have had known about your blog then . When Rhonda said," I think that when you have a compelling purpose and plan for your days, you have structure. Maybe that structure helped you through. " I think she nailed it on the head. This has really helped me as I've given myself purpose living a simpler life with my little family. This is also the happiest I've been. Isn't it wonderful that we can share our experiences in a caring supportive environment such as this. You're the best Rhonda and Mary, I'm proud of you too. Kind wishes, Nicole.

  18. Mary thank you for sharing this. You will be stronger for this time of trial in your life. I've suffered depression and now have been diagnosed with Lupus so understand how the vegie patch is small. I too have days where things are hard. Just do what you can and know that it does help. When you hit rock bottom the only way is up!

  19. Ditto! Ive just come out of 5 months of the same situation. Two days before Christmas my husband was put off without notice. I also, thank goodness for my new garden and the skills that I learnt in the previous year through Rhonda's and other like minded bloggers. We stayed out of debt, became more frugal, I shopped better and made more. Now at the end of this time and hubby now in a new well paying job, im not letting go. His income is going straight on the mortgage and we continue to live on mine. Thanks to all the wise wise women (& Gavin) that have helped me to grow. PS. I also stopped taking anti-depressant during this period as I felt so in control. In charge of my life rather than a victim of circumstance.

  20. Mary, I am so sorry for the hardship that you are going through at present. You sound like you are handling it with maturity and wisdom. Your comment about R.A. hit home for me. Three years ago I was struck with very severe rheumatoid arthritis, to the point where I was considering having to move to a nursing home. Eventually came good with high doses of Prednisone, and since then have kept it under control with Olive Leaf Extract, despite doctors telling me that I would need a milder drug for the rest of my life. I take 8ml of OLE twice a day. It is an extremely good anti-inflammatory and it is inflammation that causes the pain in rheumatoid arthritis. OLE isn't cheap and I know that you wouldn't be able to fit it into your budget just now, but you might like to try it in the future. I'm glad that your depression has departed. It robs one's life of joy. God bless.

    Lyn in Northern New South Wales.

  21. Many years ago, my husband took early retirement from work (had no choice really) and as I was training to be a nurse we thought we could manage. Then depression struck me and we were both out of work. Luckily the mortgage had just been paid off! However, we went from £1500 income per month to just £500 - what a shock. After all bills were paid, didn't know how we were going to feed ourselves and our family. Internet barely around then. Our answer, WWII rations, gradually started and fully implemented within a few months. Stayed on them for 6 years. Best thing we ever did!

  22. Jessikah of OregonJune 11, 2013 6:01 pm

    Mary's story rang so close to home. I am 38 and have been living the simple life for the last 15 years. I also found peace in my work here at home. I also suffer from RA. Mary I have a full garden every year but mine is kept in food grade bakery frosting buckets, that I get free from the grocer. There really is no hard labor. My husband replenishes the soil for me every year, mixing in homemade compost to refresh the soil. Plus there's no weeding. I even grow corn in 4 extra large rubber maid containers. We mulch with pine straw so watering is kept to twice a week. This year we have 8 tomato plants, 8 pepper, 24 corn plants, peas, pole beans, fava beans, broccoli, kale, spinach, celery, 4 different lettuces, onions, garlic, carrots, radish, leeks, 15 different herbs, apple, apricot, pear, grapes, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, pumpkin all in pots or buckets around the house.

  23. Mary you are amazing ! I know you are going through some ups and downs at the moment but I think you should print this page off and keep it somewhere to reread when you need reminding how wonderful you are . Be so proud of what you have achieved .... you are an amazing individual who has taken control of her life in so many ways.

  24. Hi Mary, sorry to hear about your husband's redundancy. I know how stressful that can be, but luckily you are prepared with food stockpiling. Well done on trying to overcome your depression by taking control of your life.

    Because my husband was found to have high blood sugar, his Dr sent him to a nutritionist who suggested he start on the Paleo Diet. I had never heard of it and bought a book to inform myself and to help him. Dr Loren Cordain who wrote "The Paleo Answer" and "The Paleo Diet" mentions that giving up ALL GRAINS and dairy are the answer to cure us all from inflammation and autoimmune diseases like cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, etc. He advocates just eating fish, meat, eggs, veggies and fruit.
    I know that just in 2 weeks my husband's sugar levels have gone down, he has lost a couple of kilos and lost cms around his waist. If you get a chance get the books from your library and read them you will be amazed at what a change of diet can do.
    I left a link so you can read about RA from his article.
    Best of luck and lots of health.

  25. Wow! What an inspiring post! Mary, you are doing a wonderful job, and things will improve for you as life changes all of the time and can get better as well as worse. In the meantime, you have learned well, and more importantly are applying that knowledge. Best of luck to you.

    Potatoes are fun to grow in a bag or small garden, as well. You could consider raised bed gardening or container gardening which makes things a bit easier for those who are suffering from physical problems.

  26. Good for you reaching out Mary as not everyone is strong enough to ask for advice in tough times. It sounds like you are on the right path and will make it just fine.
    Can you barter with friends for things like you knit dishcloths and they make soap and you can trade? Or maybe someone grew too many tomatoes and you have eggplant and you can share?? Also, don't buy expensive creams for moisturizing when grapeseed oil, olive oil and coconut oil all do just as well if not better.
    Can you arrange a clothing swap with some friends so there is no need to buy things for yourselves or your little ones?
    In case you are not up to a garage sale, one of the things we have done is sold a lot of stuff to Amazon for things our baby actually needed. Our DVD collection went down to nil, we use Netflix anyway and have no TV or VCR/DVD player anymore, as well as sold books we no longer read. We even sold a digital camera to Gazelle and got a Wal Mart gift card a few years ago. With Amazon, you can keep the amount on a gift card and use it when you are ready as it never expires. So if you want a dehydrator or nappies or a birthday comes up, it is nice to have.

  27. Mary, my husband and I live on the disability and wife's pension - and rent. I began to teach myself to knit a while back now. I have since joined a knitting circle at my local wool shop and go to the classes regularly for only $5 per class. I can also bring in my projects and get help with any problems with them. Older people are wonderful to learn from too! There are groups out there you can join for free who are happy to teach you too! I have joined the Spinners and Weavers and go there once a month and get taught to spin my own wool for free. I bought a spinning wheel at my local silent auctions place for only $20! You can find some bargains out there!
    Bit by bit I have developed my skills (and continue to add to them). I have a goal to knit all my husband's and my clothes - and am getting there nicely. I figure we should have a good little wardrobe of clothes by the year after next. I learned to make my own jam and sauces and to bottle and preserve fruit in the summer. I have a chemical free home where the use of baking soda and vinegar are the cleaning products I use most.
    My husband and I have decided we need more income now if we are to have our own home in which to settle as we get older - so I have decided I need to get some work so we can get a home loan. I'll still find time for knitting and (trying to) crochet, though. I love these skills I have learned!
    Learning things bit by bit is the key to this lifestyle. As you pick up one skill you can begin to think about adding another. Pretty soon you have a whole load of skills that you have learned - and loads of information to gain from! Stay with this blog and you'll learn so much! I have.

  28. VERY close to home. I came to this blog after starting our journey to self sufficiency but I too have suffered depression my entire life. I have had a rough run for several weeks (putting it down to the change in weather) but I too have found things are much more under control and I am taking much greater responsibility for things, for my family and for our life and footprint on the earth. The too hard basket gets smaller every day. :)
    Well done Mary and keep up with it.
    As for making ends meet, have a look online for your local food bank. They are there to help. Gleaning is another way to help fill the cupboards. If you're in a location in the country there are often fruit trees ont eh sides of roads that can be harvested for nothing as they're wild. There's probably little left now (my district is suffering the heavy frosts of winter so even the last of the apples are gone) but that does depend upon your climate and you may find some fruit trees with the last of their produce just waiting for you or the birds. :)

  29. I hope Marys husband finds some new work soon, such tough times, so many people losing their jobs at the moment. I love Freecycle for getting rid of and gaining items, especially helpful for baby things that always go in and out of use quickly. I would say don't be afraid to ask a friend for help, let as many people you can think of know you're partners looking for work, its often who you know, or they might have some small jobs to help make ends meet. If you live in town you might be able to offer your land for gardening and share the produce, I have friends in the city who have done this. Rheumatoid arthritis is a rotten thing, I hope it stays at bay.

  30. Taking charge at home is empowering and inspiring in so many ways. I am so thankful for your blog as it is clearly helping me and so many others, like Mary. I hope this hard time passes for her family with speed, but it is a true gift to have the strength within from the empowerment of that simplicity and joy in the meantime. Thanks for sharing this story, Rhonda.


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