Most of you know there was a time when I didn't like being at home. I went to work, out shopping, socialising with friends and if there was nothing else, I'd go home. Things changed for me when I gave up work in my early 50s and although I didn't know it at the time I would never go back. I was about to turn my life on its head and to make the discovery of a lifetime. I was about to find a new world, right behind my front gate.
When I was here in my home in those early days, my kids were out at uni or working and Hanno was having fun in the shop he bought after he retired. I waved them goodbye in the morning and wondered what I would do. Well, to make a very long story short, we all know I ended up reskilling myself here. Domestic work and gardening changed me. I remembered how my mother and grandmother kept house and I modelled myself and my work on what they did. I already knew how to cook, grow vegetables, stockpile, sew and make various things but I'd buried the knowledge of those essential skills under too many Saturday morning shopping sprees and the increasing unhappiness and dissatisfaction I was feeling. I thought there was no cure for how I felt. I thought that was how life was.
Partially sprouted beans and legumes for the bean and ham soup with bean sprouts, below.
But when I put on my apron and started making bread, and cooking wholesome food for dinner every night, I realised the benefits of not only cooking your own food but producing it as well. We already had a vegetable garden and chickens but I wanted to make the garden bigger and get more chooks. Instead of just having these things because we could, I wanted to make our backyard productive and supply our own food. I wanted to see what was possible here, if we could move away from supermarkets and manufactured food and produce real food with our own hands. Over the following months that happened. New garden beds were added, fruit trees and vines planted and more chickens introduced into our little coop, and much more.
After a few weeks, I went to bed each night exhausted from the work I'd done but impatient for the new morning to break so I could do it all again. I had control over what I was doing and my self confidence was increasing daily. I was also feeling happy and content. What was going on! People were supposed to be excited about going out and spending money, being out in the wide world and part of the hustle and bustle, and here I was being made whole again by planting saved seeds, washing up by hand and sitting in the shade of an elder tree.
Within the boundaries of this land we live on, I felt more alive than I'd felt in years. I made up for my lost income by working smarter and towards different goals, redefining what I wanted from life and what I believed success to be. To add to the abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and eggs coming from our backyard, I shopped for groceries in a different way, stockpiled and learning to not waste food - not just once, but always.
It didn't take any extra cash, in fact it took less. I worked more but the work didn't feel like work - it was what I needed to do to live a better life and I was happy to do it. The house and yard work that both of us do now is fulfilling and enriching and it gives a flexible structure to our days. While initially being reluctant to join me, when he saw the difference in my attitude and that we didn't need the large amounts of money we used to spend, Hanno joined me and over the years he's simplified what he does too. I know I'm making it sound easy and quick, and it wasn't, but it wasn't difficult either.
The chickens exploring their yard after a tree was felled.
You can do what we did in your own way and in your own time. We can all define our borders and decide exactly what we'll have within them. We can create the world as we want it to be in our homes. We can walk around in 19th century dresses like Tasha Tudor if we wish to, or scarecrow clothes like I do; your version of simple living can look exactly how you want it to look. And we can provide ourselves with fresh organic vegetables from our own gardens or buy them from markets, we can keep bees for honey and hens for eggs, or barter for them; the choice is yours. We can bake, cook, sew, clean, read and work keeping our homes safe and comfortable. We can choose all that and mix it with as much of the outside world as we need to or want to. We can all do this, influenced only by the pattern of our own thoughts and values, oblivious to what goes on outside. And I have found that the more you make those decisions without that influence, the more self-reliant and independent you become. Think about that the next time you drive in your driveway or walk in your front door. It is your decision what happens in your home.
I don't think there are degrees of simple life - it's like being pregnant. You either are or you aren't. It's the mindset of simplicity that makes the difference and when you have that, even in the very early stages, you're living simply. No one will ever be at the end point of it either. There is no glittering prize to collect when you have lived slow and simply for many years; there are always reassessments and adjustments to make and new ideas to explore. Your simple life is its own reward.