16 July 2007

Convincing the family

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.


  1. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    I retired 4 years ago and dh is retiring in 5 years. We are counting down the days. We have started our journey toward a simple life. So far today I have filled 3 trash cans and have 3 boxes of books to donate. I am on way to joining you.

  2. I'm doing extactly what you wrote about and J is already taking note of things and following my lead in making changes :)

  3. Good post Rhonda, nobody likes to be told how to live but if they see something that will bring them benefit and joy they are more likely to join. Plus they often come up with ideas that never even occurred to you.

  4. I'm interested to know if you made the decision to head for the bush before or after you both stopped paid work. I am single, and while my kids are on the way to independence they still come "home" from uni regularly and require some financial maintenance. However, I can see freedom from such encumbrances on the near horizon, and a simpler life appeals to me greatly. Its the prospect of moving, by myself, from the big smoke to a slower community where I can live more cheaply and simply that does my head in. Its such a big change...

  5. Thank you for such a thoughtful entry.

    DH and I have been feeling, keenly, how our different "abstract" opinions about the future affect our family and marriage. I "discovered" global warming and peak oil a couple of years back and became exponentially more worried and impatient to make a change. He insists on a very technologically optimistic worldview (someone will invent something...). It sometimes makes for discussions that leave me sad and desparate and feeling not a little bit trapped, even.

    But this is when we discuss, say, "peak oil" and "what makes life worth it". When I propose he drive the car less, we stop buying plastics, and put together a potted herb garden, he's all for it and will often improve on my plans.

    Still, my concern is this: is there enough time. I'm not a no-or-never person, I think I am realistic in asking for a change in the next 5-10 years (we're both in our mid-30s), he finds that preposterous... "When we retire," he says. :) I don't think we have that kind of time.

    In any case, I have been thinking about this the last couple of weeks, when my plans for moving to a house with 1 acre so we can grow food and live more sustainably have not received the kind of enthusiasm from DH that I had expected.

    Reading your post made me realize that we *are* making differences together, and made me more optimistic about making it work, eventually, for the both of us.

  6. I was walking home the other day thinking about The Good Life, a show we used to watch as a family. I was wondering if it was at all possible to actually do outside of British situation comedy. There's a range of factors against us making the complete break you have (mortgage and schooling most notably) but you;ve made me think of upping the ante on frugality, not least so that we can maintain our current situation where only one of us works.

  7. What a great post Rhonda and a timely reminder for me to just be a bit patient.
    Although my Dh(Shane) is not against what I want to do he is not overly enthusiastic which can sometimes cause me huge amounts of frustration. I need his brawn to help me get projects done around the place but they always seem to come second to him working on one of his bikes. He is very keen on the cutting back aspect of simple living as long as it doesn't affect him restoring his bikes.(he has 8 of them!!)
    He does agree with me about doing our bit for the planet and will run around turning off appliances but mention peak oil and his eyes galze over. Being a bit of a revhead it is something he just doesn't want to think about.
    We have been married almost 29 years and I know that we will work through this together and your post has made me realise that it will happen all in due time.
    Cheers, Michelle.

  8. Rhonda,
    Now remember, there is at least one man reading this blog; and I'm a DH as well.
    In our home I felt like I was the one that was being drawn towards a more sustainable lifestyle. I would talk to my wife about some of the changes I wanted to make, and she would listen but then it didn't really seem to resonate. Then all of a sudden she'd come out with a great idea or something that she was excited about too, like making sure that we had fresh tomatoes or started using some old fashioned organic cleaners to reduce the chemicals in our home. I have found that she is a great compliment to me. I have a tendancy to be a great dreamer without dipping my foot in the pool of reality often enough. She tends to look at the black and white things and grounds me while still encouraging my ideas. I whole heartedly agree that the best way to begin making changes is to take them yourself. I have found that when my consciousness is focused on what I want and I envision it completed, the world will open up avenues to get there.
    This was a great post Rhonda.

  9. "It's more about giving up what you can do without so you have money for things that are important," your words really spoke to me Rhonda and this is truly what I am trying to achieve with babysteps. Thanks for your inspirational writing.

  10. Elizabeth, it sounds like you're making some good changes. Well done!

    That's good, Ali. Living a simple life is actually more work than what has become the norm so working together makes really good sense.

    Welcome Marg. We moved here ten years ago, well before we changed how we live. We live on the edge of a small rural town but we are only one hour from our capital city, so we really have the best of both worlds. I grew up in Sydney and H in Hamburg, we didn't want to live in a city again but we wanted to be close enough to everything (uni, entertainment, beaches etc)for our boys who were just leaving school when we moved here.

    I have lived in isolated towns, big cities, small cities, and large towns and I could have lived simply in any of those places. Simple living is more a state of mind than a geographical location. There are pluses and minuses in both places.

    Maybe you could stay where you are, or move to another neighbourhood, or to the edge of your city. There are some options that might keep you close to family and friends but in an area where you feel more relaxed and inclined to slow down.

    Katrien, that's right, you're already making changes and those changes will facilitate other changes. Most of the changes you make towards a simpler life are small ones. The large things like moving, leaving or changing jobs are far less frequent. Just keep implementing small steps, don't comment on them, just live them. Soon they will be your reality.

    Kris, frugality is the glue that holds a simple life together. Even if you are comfortable and have money in the bank, being frugal is a major part of living this way. I believe that if you continue spending you're not living simply.

    Michelle, just keep doing what you're doing. I know you've made really big changes already and they will lead to other changes. You are the leader there, keep learning and reskilling and eventually your DH will catch up with you.

    Thank you Patrick. You two sound like H and I - we are opposites, but that makes us a great team. H is much more pragmatic than I, he helps me see all sides, instead of the ones I would prefer to see. I guess everyone's expression of simplicity is different and having a pragmatic partner allows us to see around corners.

    Lisa, that sentence is the most important one in that entire post. All else is filling. : )

  11. Marg, you CAN do it. I lived in a village before my move, originally with my ex & 3 childer, then by myself with 3 childer. I moved to another country, up a mountain & I don't drive! My then 9 yr old came with me, the other 2 staying in England. I sold it to Annon as a huge adventure. When she blamed her lack of friends on the fact that we don't have a car, I pointed out that soon NOBODY will be able to afford to drive a car & she would be used to walking & they wouldn't! We have a school bus that picks her up for the 2 mile journey now (sorted out after my drowned rat puddled her way into school so often) which the car-owner childer also use & they love to see the animals when the bus pulls into my yard ~ chickens, ferrets, ducks, goose, goat & manic kid usually.
    I purposely chose a part of Ireland where I knew nobody, so my friends wouldn't feel that they had to take care of me & I've made some lovely & strange friends here ~ Christy, the retired farmer, Loughisle born & bred, the Lads & Joy on the Traveller Site who want to protect me & Liam Drom, a Tramping Gypsy, who has no home anywhere, not even a tent. I wish I had my Vardo here so he could use that when in Kilcommon.
    Rhonda Jean's blog is a wonderful way to learn about this lifestyle, as is Phelan's.
    I'm disabled, so do things cack-handed in my own strange fashion: regard this lifestyle as a cackhanded way to live, but a very workable one


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