Convincing the family

16 July 2007

It's difficult when one person in the family decides to change in certain ways and the rest of the family want to stay the same. I think this might be happening in many households where one person sees the need to change to a more simple life and then agonises over how to create the same need in the rest of the family.

I was no different. H was certain that we needed one of us to remain working, I was certain we didn't. I'm not blaming him for a lack of vision here. It was simply that I felt the dissatisfaction first, then did some reading and found information that convinced me that we had to change. But our story of change probably started before that. I had been operating a successful technical writing business for ten years before I realised I wasn't satisfied with what I was doing. I was spending a lot of money on rubbish that I didn't need and I was unhappy. I thought long and hard about my life and what I wanted. What made me happy? Well, my family did and I loved them dearly, I also loved reading, gardening and my friends. That was it. None of it was connected to money or how successful I was. What a surprise! I closed down my business.

I made it my job then to save enough money in the home so that my lack of income had a reduced impact. I read everything I could, I joined a forum where I learnt from others about making do, cutting back and living frugally. The longer I stayed at home, the more I learnt about homemaking, the frugal arts of bread and soap making, stockpiling and looking after what we owned. I'd always had a vegetable garden and chooks but we expanded our gardens and bought more chooks with the hope of providing all our vegetable, fruit and egg needs from our own backyard. That eventually lead to worm farms, aquaponics and sprouting.

While all that was happening, I didn't try to persuade H one way or the other. I wanted my actions to speak for themselves. I wanted him to realise for himself that it wasn't just a change in the way I shopped and looked after the house, it was a lifestyle change. Over the months our costs dropped dramatically. We ate more wholefoods, stopped eating out and generally became healthier for it. H had managed our money very well over the years and consequently we were debt-free. He was amazed and delighted when I always had money left over from my monthly allocation. We built up an emergency fund, kept our private health insurance and still had money left over. He started to make suggestions about other things we could do and we started talking about simple living, slowing down and enjoying life.

It was then I talked to him about him giving up work too. Initially he was against it so I let it go and just continued what I was doing. Eventually he realised that he could go on a pension, he was over 65, and we'd still be financially sound. We closed down our shop. That was a momentous day. It was our liberation day.

All along I encouraged H to quietly observe what I was doing. I didn't challenge him to join, I didn't ask for his help (much), I just wanted him to watch and see for himself and for him to realise that we could do this. Good men have an overwhelming need to provide for their families, they will not give up traditional ways just because you ask them to. They need to see for themselves that it works and they can only know it by seeing it with their own eyes.

Now I don't expect all of you to want your husbands to give up work to live simply but you can start with small steps and gently demonstrate that simple ways will work well in your lives. Start with the obvious things like saving electricity and reducing the power bills. Then the water, petrol and housekeeping. I guarantee if you can consistently save money on these things and put that money in a no-fee savings account, your husband will be surprised, happy and impressed that you did it. The next step is to teach everyone in your family to do it too, saving even more. The payoff can be a family holiday with the money you all save. And along the way you will teach them that simple living isn't about giving up things they like. It's more about giving up what you can do without so you have money for things that are important. That is a significant lesson for anyone to learn, be they 6 or 60.

After that first family change, you can introduce others ... slowly. You might move on to other things like getting chickens, starting a garden and keeping a worm farm. You might get rid of your second car and use public transport or start paying off the mortgage faster. Small steps, but once the ball starts rolling you will pick up momentum and a couple of years down the track you'll be living more simply and reaping the benefits of that. Small steps pay off in big ways.