DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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24 June 2014

What does simple mean?

One of the ongoing comments I've had since I started writing my blog, and also in my real life, is that simple life isn't that simple. Many people tell me that spending hours growing and preparing food and cleaning products is much more complicated that buying mainstream from the supermarket. Many of them tell me that they're too busy to do those things and that buying what is needed every week simplifies their lives because it's easier.


That's fine by me. I'm not trying to convince anyone that this way of living is the grand panacea for all of life's complexities. I think that to live a simple life, at the very least, you need to cut out or cut back on a variety of things, but how you do that is up to you. I know what works for me and my family and that is how I live. We have cut our environmental footprint considerably over the past 12 - 13 years and we've done it consistently. If you're doing the same thing then you're on the right track. 


I've thought about this a lot and I know the following are simplified by doing them at home, from scratch:
  • baking bread
  • making preserves
  • growing vegetables and some fruit
  • keeping chickens for eggs
  • making cleaning products and laundry liquid
  • making soap
  • cooking from scratch
  • baking from scratch
  • disposing of disposables
  • mending
  • knitting dishcloths, jumpers, cardigans, gloves, hats etc
That list could go on and on.

Let me explain my beliefs. When I bake bread at home, I buy bulk flour in a heavy paper bag, bulk yeast (or I make sour dough), and I add things I have on hand for other purposes - oats, butter, salt, sugar, nuts, seeds etc. So I buy two products specific to bread making, that I buy every couple of months, and I have the rest on hand. Making a loaf of bread takes me about 15 minutes in work time. I make the dough in the bread maker and then bake the dough in the oven. That way I get a delicious loaf without too much time given over to it.  My electricity comes form solar panels.


To buy a loaf of bread at the supermarket, I have to drive to the supermarket and buy the bread - every day if I want fresh bread every day. That bread will have been made in some far off factory that is staffed by people who probably all used fuel to get to the factory, it will be loaded with preservatives and other artificial additives. It will be packaged in plastic with a plastic clip to hold the bag closed.  All the ingredients for the bread will have been transported to the factory, the rolls of plastic or bread bags will have been transported to the factory as well. When the bread is made and wrapped, then it's transported to the supermarket, where I drive to buy it. That's a lot of fuel being used for something that can easily be made at home. It's a lot of artificial additives too - I'm sure you don't add preservatives and artificial flavourings to your bread at home, neither do I. It's not necessary when you make it yourself.


The same could be said for every product on that list. I buy the ingredients, yarn or fabrics a few times a year and they are stored in my home till they're needed. Of course it looks simpler when you think you're just going to the shop to buy those goods, but they're all come from somewhere, they all have a chain of production and delivery, and varying amounts of fossil fuels attached to them. That is not simple, in fact it's extremely complex and unsustainable.

Some tell me they frequently use disposable products - that they save time. I've turned my back on as many disposable products as I can and my housework takes the same amount of time as it did before. Disposables don't save time, they're more convenient, yes, less messy, yes, but also unsustainable and much more expensive. Making do with what we can produce here at home has cut down the amount of rubbish we send to the land fill as well. If I was shopping like I did all those years ago, I'd be sending full bins and not composting or recycling anything at home, and still working to pay for it all.


"Simple" shouldn't be confused with "more convenient" or "easy". Simple usually involves you doing some form of work - to bake the bread, milk the cow, make the cheese, kill the pig, harvest the tomatoes, peel the potatoes, cook the meat, pack the lunch, fill the water bottles, knit the cardigan, darn the socks or whatever. More convenient is getting someone else to do those things for you, or buying the same thing over and over again. It is easier, and it might seem more simple to drive to the shop to pick up all those things, but think about what's gone on to get all those products on the supermarket shelves, all the fuel used to deliver the raw ingredients to the factories, all the people and fuel needed to process the products and to get the people to the factories and the products from the factories to the shops.

There are many definitions of simple living but I think it means taking control of your own life and becoming self reliant in many different ways. Through that self reliance comes the opportunity to pay off debt, to live on less money, to connect with your family and friends and to have your home and family as the centre of your world. Home, family, friends and your community become your focus and the commercial world and the flimflammery of modern life take a back seat. But that's my view, how do you define simple life?


38 comments:

  1. For the past few years, I've worked a 4 day week. (Getting reduced was the best bad thing to ever happen to me.) I've used that day off to take care of our household--meal planning, cooking, home repairs, etc. This spring, in order to help out temporarily with an unfortunate situation, I went back to working 5 days, all my housekeeping routines went right out the window. Yes, I was making a little more money--which I spent on take-out food and extra clothing and gas for the car.

    For me, simple living means valuing time more than money. I would rather make my own food than have money to buy food that someone else has made. My food is better and healthier, for me and the rest of the world (for all the reasons you outline here). We all have to make choices about how to spend the resource of our time. Simple living means simplifying my life so I can use my time to take care of myself and my family (rather than my bank account).

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  2. Yes to all of this. My main definition for simple living is appreciating what you've got, whatever that is.

    People forget how easy it is to inflate your standards, tastes, and expectations. My bf and I used to order dinner in almost every night. When we stopped, we didn't immediately replace those meals with elaborate home-cooked food. Instead, we simplified our dinners and became happy with whatever we found in the fridge. I don't think most people realize that their perspective will change like that.

    The other thing is, okay, fine, you saved 10 minutes by doing something the easy way. That time is just going to be eaten up by something else, like Facebook or TV or texting. You don't actually *save* time--you just re-apportion it. Usually toward some kind of passive entertainment.

    Geez, I sound really judgy. I don't mean to. I know from my own life how necessary those habits can feel. But I'm also really, really glad I've been able to break out of them. The more I do for myself, the happier I am to take on more challenges.

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  3. I think people have just become complacent and too used to the consumer culture. Baking bread is so much faster and so much better than dealing with the grocery store. Plus, there is no feeling like the feeling you get when you actually do something. As soon as I finish my current quilt project I am going to try to teach myself to crochet. I want some crocheted dish cloths.

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  4. Well said Rhonda! I am finding that simple actually takes a little more effort, brain power. Because I am in the beginning phases I have to look at a lot of things and think about what I could be doing differently. And I am so glad that I have started this process.

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  5. Rhonda you did a excellent job summing up a simple life. You only left out one thing and that is making the big companies richer. When we buy all those convenient goods all we are doing is padding the big companies pockets and putting us in more debt over things we don't need or can make at home. Yes a simple life is more work but it is rewarding work. Rhonda you hit it bang on the head! Love this post!

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  6. We do many of the things you do, but here in the UK, most gardens (including ours) are far too small for self-sufficiency. This year, we have squeezed in some runner beans, courgettes and tomatoes. So far, we have won the battle with the slugs! Haven't tried making soap or cleaning things, yet; though would be lovely to make a shampoo free from all the horrid chemicals. I tried your recipe for cider vinegar mould removal, it worked brilliantly and several friends have tried it successfully too, thank you. The power of the internet!

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  7. I totally agree Rhonda. It isn't easier but so much more rewarding. We have recently dispatched a few roosters and as a family we processed them together. It was the first food we raised from start to finish. There was a lot of time involved but the result and taste was truly satisfying. Yes it would of been a lot easier to buy a chicken from the supermarket but we all learnt new skills doing it this way. I was only saying to someone the other day that to eat the way we do takes a fair amount of time especially when you add in the time of growing the food. Some days I feel I don't get out of the kitchen but I still wouldn't trade it for a job outside of my home. The simple life.... hard work sometimes but I get so much satisfaction from it.
    Thanks for a great post Rhonda.
    Mel:)

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  8. I have done or do many of those things in order to stay home and teach my children and therefore simplify our lives by not running to and fro from school and work.
    Thank you for being a voice in this calmer way of life.
    Blessings,
    Laura of Harvest Lane Cottage

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  9. Wonderful post, Rhonda! No simple does not mean easy and most defiantly not convenient by our modern day standards. But I am finding having “basics” on hand is convenient to make dinner from scratch, bread, soap and the list goes on. I do not believe I have bought a dish clothe in 35 years. My mother in law first knitted them for me , ( I was never without her hand knit dish clothes) then when she was getting to where she could not knit she gave me her mother’s pattern and I have been knitting them ever since for the entire family. I love living simply!

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  10. I agree with you completely, we live a simple life but I am very busy and some of my more simple life necessities take much longer than store bought, thats fine, its healthy time spent, thankyou for your wise words,

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  11. It reminds me of the old fable The Little red hen. No one wanted to help her make the bread, but they all wanted to eat it when it was ready! I don't sew, and we cook family meals 5 out of 7 nights a week. We do have a garden. I would like to start making my own soap & laundry detergent. Baby steps for us, downsizing & becoming a little more organic in our lifestyle

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  12. I make my own bread. It takes about 10 minutes, tastes so much nicer. I would say not always cheaper when supermarkets discount at the end of the day. There is no contest though in taste & quality.
    A close friend of mine says ' a badly made cake tastes so much better than the top of the range bought one'. I completely agree with that.
    Best wishes,
    Angela ( south England) UK

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  13. Thank you for putting into words a concept that I have struggled to explain when asked why I would butcher our chooks or knit a scarf when you can buy them. I think you described the reasons perfectly.

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  14. What an interesting question, Rhonda! You did an excellent job of explaining it!!
    For me simple living means “free of secondary complications, obligations, etc.” To live simply so others may simply live, is a value based system. However, in another sense of the word, simple living is definitely not simple – it can be very intricate, complicated and demanding, depending on who you are and your situation in life. People embrace “simple living” for different reasons and via different routes. Blogs, fora, books, articles and speaking circuits such as you do, Rhonda, are immensely helpful for the broader perspective and discussions that empower people to embrace the simple lifestyle according to their values and opportunities. The weekend reading suggestions that provide links are quite useful and interesting! Thanks for sharing them.
    Regarding our resource allocation decisions: Each of our decisions has a far reaching – even global effect. If enough other people stop using disposable aluminum products in the home – foil and containers, it may affect someone’s job somewhere else in the world by reducing mining and production, yet enhance recycling/reuse of aluminum or alternatives such as glass.

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  15. You've hit the nail on the head- the lifecycle of many products made at home is vastly smaller and more efficient than those bought regularly from the supermarket e.g. bread. This is what makes it 'simple'. There are less steps, people, resources, and money involved (especially if one considers 'true costs' such as environmental damage etc). Of course there is also the wonderful benefits of feeling connected to what you make (e.g. knowing where your food came from) and the feeling of accomplishment when you look at all you've achieved.

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  16. The issue is the confusion of the words 'simple' and 'easy'. While we've become addicted to 'easy', the true concept of 'simple' has become lost.

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  17. I think simple living is about the pace of life. Todays modern conveniences cost more so you need to work more, which gives you less time for anything but modern conveniences and you are adding stress and chaos to your life. I see it every day in the lives of those around me who don't think they have time for doing things the simple way, but really they are choosing the busy and "convenient" lifestyle because they cant see it any other way. I think this lifestyle is one that you are called to from within and develops over time. It is hard to adjust to but soon becomes a very valuable and common sense way of life. The things we do to have a simple life require a slower pace, and some patience, and developing a love and appreciation for the simple things.

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    1. Yes, I was reminded of this yesterday. My DH grew up in an African village. There is a seed called egusi which is ground up and used to thicken a popular soup. Every one of those seeds was shelled by hand! A seemingly long and onerous task! But I thought that actually it must be so meditative (a bit like knitting) and an opportunity to rest and be alone with your thoughts/watch your children play/chat with other villagers. Not quick and easy but a much simpler and slower paced life than rushing into the store to buy a bag of shelled seeds.

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  18. "Simple" shouldn't be confused with "more convenient" or "easy". Right on!

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  19. This is a great list. I'm hoping to start on cleaning products and soaps this winter!

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  20. Thank you for this. It was good to take time out and really think about it! It sometimes feels hard spending extra time on things (eg growing salads vs just grabbing a plastic bag full at the supermarket), but part of it for me is wanting to develop skills and pass them on to my children, to show them how to grow food and have that connection to what they are eating, their environment etc. I love being part of that chain, our great-grandmothers knew how to do these simple, practical things, and there is a risk we're forgetting how to help ourselves!

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  21. Well said Rhonda! Since I went back to a more simple way of living I've managed to cut my paid working hours from 40 to half of that - 20 hours a week. We are no worse off financially, my home runs better and I am not living under constant stress of trying to get everything done on the weekend. I love my simple life, I wouldn't change it for all the convenience goods in the world.
    Thank you for the constant inspiration. I especially love the photos of your home and garden.

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  22. I love this post, Rhonda. I am reading Michael Pollan's book, "Cooked", at the moment and he argues in it that when we outsource the cooking of our food to large corporations, that we ultimately lose some things that are really important. He also argues that it's not necessarily any cheaper or time-saving buying convenience foods. He shows that there is no way that a pizza-in-a-box can replicate the love, time and nutrition that go into a home-made meal. There is so much more to food than just the eating!

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  23. I love how you show the "cost" of a purchased item, Rhonda! It is such a difficult thing to realize how just much "cost" there truly is to those things we purchase. This is why it is so important to eat local and support local businesses!

    To me, the simple life isn't about doing less; it is doing more. We try to do more for ourselves, but there are times, such as now when we are needing GOOD fencing done, that we will pay someone or barter to get it done. To me, it isn't that we are living outside the idea of simple living, but we are contributing to our local economy AND getting work done that we aren't skilled to do. However, for example, I have spent today painting in my house. And, while I am covered in purple paint, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I painted my front door and I didn't have to pay someone -- and while that was being accomplished, my bread rose, the laundry hung on the line, and my lettuce was basking in the sunshine.

    I agree with you that each of us has to determine what our idea of simple is. And, I agree that simple living means to live with the values that the individual has to leave less of a footprint, contribute to getting their own food in some way, and learn to "use it up; wear it out; or do without!"

    Very thought provoking post!

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  24. I agree that living the "simple" life or adopting some "simple" life practices whilst living in the city are not simple and in fact take a lot of organization in order to achieve those things. Soap - I have made it once and I got such a kick out of and I'm down to one bar which means I need to set the time aside to make some more as it has to cure and be turned over for 6 weeks. Because I've only made it once and that was 7 months ago I have to almost start from scratch because I'm not familiar (as you would be) to make it so I feel like I'm doing it for the first time again. It would be so much easier to buy some soap from the supermarket in the meantime but I loved the soap, making it and using it but 7 months has passed so I feel like I'm a beginner again and just need to make the time when the kids are at school and do it.

    Last night on A Current Affair they had a "Thrifty Family" on TV and I was interested in seeing what else they do that I'm not already aware of through sites like yourself. The family was on an annual income of $40,000 and paid off their $100,000 mortgage in 5 years and when the loan got down to $8,000 they bought a new car because the other one was quite old and needed replacing. It wasn't we need to get the latest car or update, they wanted a good reliable safe car for the family of 4 so they borrowed back on the mortgage and paid that off in 12 months. I don't know the value of the car but it wasn't a $50K SUV. He was a Pastor and worked 1 day a week and she worked 2 days.

    It is a good and lengthy segment which I enjoyed. They don't eat out, have pay TV or fancy mobile phone plans but anyone reading this site would already understand the extra $$ that comes with these things. They had a small veggie garden, chickens, made laundry powder etc. had only 2 lights on at the house at anyone time so if they left a room, they turned that one off and turned another one on.

    Even though things they mentioned are things we discuss here it was truely inspiring that the family of 4 lived off $40,000 and paid off that amount of debt. I think that's incredible. The cost of electricity, water, rates, house and car rego, car insurance and petrol at the moment adds up to a huge amount in today's budget. I don't have solar and can't afford to get solar currently. Anyway if anyone has a big debt they think they can't pay off and eat well take a look at this interview. Thought it might help to let people know about this Rhonda. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

    http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/article/8864036/australias-tighest-family

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  25. The more you do these things the easier it becomes I'm finding. I no longer need to consult a recipe to bake bread or make laundry powder. I think its like anything in life we do. The more we do it the more efficient we become and it then feels like less of an effort. I don't have a bread maker but make bread regularly although we are a family of 5 so I also but bread too. But its all progress and our house has undergone big changes in the past year. Thanks for your post, as usual very enjoyable to read.

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  26. Your words have really inspired me. I have only just begun my journey and feel more calmer and grounded already! Thank you.

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  27. I'm inspired to live more simply and give away things I don't use.
    Small steps beginning with chickens once the weather warms up again.

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  28. What a fantastic post! You summed it up so well. Simple Living is about making informed choices about how to obtain the items you need. Not always easy but feels good and right!

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  29. I have always understood the value of a dollar, but there was that first moment I remember that started my journey. I read that fabric softener was a petroleum by product that coated your clothing. I started using vinegar and have progressed to this day. I love the simple life style. It's a rewarding way to live. Actually live.

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  30. Good post. I have recently stopped working (which wasnt very well paid) and my lifestyle (committees, running things etc) to look after my grandchildren. Front garden gradually getting into shape (my shape, not the neighbours'!), back garden - gulp - well perhaps next year. But the h/m bread and yoghurt is on the menu again tho I never found that h/m washing gloop did much for the washing and everything else will follow I am sure.Didnt do fabric softener but hang the washing whre poss tho do use the dryer when necessary - in the long damp days mostly .Have always frozen l/o and used them for another meal in a hopefully unrecognisable way (I dont mind but some do) Fortunately I have always been fairly thrifty so could afford the salary drop as didn't rely on it in the first place. I am lucky, I think. Tho many think I am bonkers!. Always enjoy your posts; when the twins are bigger will be able to do more I hope. from the sunny and far too hot (!) south of the UK

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  31. All sounds nice, but i absolutely do not want to do any of those things you list: grow a vegetable garden, make preserves, bake bread. I just can't go there. I did that as a child on a farm, and I never looked back. I read and listen to music and watch movies; meet friends for coffee or lunch. I was apparently born to have servants, and the bakery, grocery store and farmer's market serve that function.

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    1. I can't help grinning over this - sorry! I have some friends just like you Anita, and my opinion is that we are all different, formed by our life experiences. I must admit I'm like you in that I don't bake bread, make preserves or have a veg. garden, and I also like music and meeting friends for coffee, but there are other things I do to 'reduce my carbon footprint'.

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  32. I'd probably describe a simply life the same way. I'm very grateful I've found such a wonderful blog. You're a breath of fresh air :)

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  33. Hear, hear! I think that many people hide behind 'being busy' and that 'busy' becomes an excuse not to do things, such as spending time with friends or taking the time to learn a new skill and reaping the rewards!
    A lovely & thoughtful post!

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  34. Like Anita, I don't bake bread, but I do cook all our meals from fresh ingredients, and I bake desserts and cakes etc. from scratch. And I don't have a veg garden for several reasons, but I buy fruit and veg in season from local markets and green grocer. I remember my Mum in the wash house doing the washing by hand, boiling linens in the copper and hand rinsing it all before pegging it out on the line. So I am grateful to live in an era where I can use a washing machine and drier occasionally if need be. While I use and appreciate modern electric conveniences, I try to reduce my carbon footprint by having solar panels installed, a rain water tank, and keeping hens to produce eggs and fertilise the garden (even though we don't grow anything there!)

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  35. I love your blog! you are living a simple life that my family is on our way to obtaining. thanks for the awesome info and tips and stuff. I had a question. I noticed your celery, mine is small like that too. I just thought it took a long time to grow, does yours get much bigger? Thanks again for a great read!

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  36. The satisfaction I get from making things myself is truly worth the effort. Buying ready made stuff never measures up to that feeling. I love simple. I'm drawn to simple ;-)

    Thank you, Rhonda, for your kind words in my blog. I appreciate you taking the time. Thank you also for listing my blog as one of the places you visit. I'm honoured!

    I'm also grateful for your sister Tricia's lovely comment in my blog. Do say hi to her from me.

    Mia

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