30 April 2008

Frugal living

Photo taken last year in our herb patch.

It is strangely comforting to be in a group of people all excited by the possibilities presented by frugality. I started one of my budgeting courses yesterday, six people made a booking to attend, 13 showed up. There was a bit of last minute photocopying, cups of tea and coffee were made and then we settled into it.

I usually make a few notes to work from when I do one of these workshops but I'd been busy with other matters and meetings, so the notes went unwritten. No matter, I've done the course a few times now, I write about my frugal life frequently, I thought I could wing it. It was the best thing I could have done. Just speaking to what I know and not from a pre-prepared list, made it all flow naturally and it encouraged questions and discussion.

With the price of food and fuel rising so fast, the discussions where mainly on how to shop wisely. We talked about stockpiling, shopping at Aldi and local markets. I gave out a collection of my cleaning recipes, instructions for making bread in a machine and a few cheap recipes for a family to make from stockpiled items. I didn't think they'd be interested in making soap, so at the last moment I removed the soap recipe, but they asked for it. It will be in the next bundle of recipes I give when they all return next week.

My group was mostly women, there were two men. I loved that they were really enthusiastic about learning these new ways. Most of them were already doing a lot of wise things and having new strategies presented to them gave a sense of excitement to the room. We didn't talk about simple living but I did talk about how living within your means can bring joy and satisfaction and that it is possible to live a full and rich frugal life.

Sometimes in the past people have come along to my groups when they've been struggling with their finances for years and feel defeated by the entire process. This group was optimistic about the possibilities of frugality. They understood that almost everyone deals with having to financially restrict themselves in some way and that choosing new ways of dealing with those restrictions could open up their lives. They also understood that spending less makes a very strong green statement, when people realise that they often see cutting back in a new light.

I set some homework to be done before they return next week for the final session. They're tracking their money. Many of us here know what a surprise that often it and I'm sure it will trigger a healthy discussion which will lead us onto how to make up a budget. THE BUDGET - that often misunderstood piece of paper that many see as a way of ending fun and closing down lives. I see it as a map to future happiness, a way of showing where the money is and what needs to be put aside for regular bills and food needs, while keeping some for those bright spots that make life a joy - be that books, a little holiday, a trip to the movies or a special meal with friends or family. For one thing is certain, if we spend until nothing is left in our purse, if we don't take the time to examine our financial needs and to organise them to suit the life we live, we will be poorer for it - and not just poorer in a financial way.

29 April 2008

Simple Family Life - Part Five

I love reading about some of the readers here in Rhonda’s Our Simple Lives posts this past week. It is so uplifting to read of others’ journeys different and similar to my own. Thank you all for sharing.

I have decided to post an adapted article about home education I originally wrote a few years ago for a newsletter. I hope to write guest posts for Down To Earth again, but this is the final of my five-part Living Simply series for April. Thank you to Rhonda for allowing me to write from my heart and trusting that what I have to say might be of interest to others. I feel honoured to have contributed to this highly regarded online space again.

Home education is an intrinsic part of our simple life. If it weren’t for home ed., things would be much more complicated, and I think more expensive! This doesn’t mean that schooling families can’t implement a lot of the living-simply ideas shared here by Rhonda and myself, but being at home with my children has really allowed me to weave the routines into our days. I could go on and on about our homeschooling days, but I think that sharing the why? of home education in Australia will help others to understand the essence of what we’re doing.

My children have time to cook and garden with me. We can spend hours choosing a pattern and fabric remnant from my stash to sew some clothes. Their animals are an important part of their lives. We create presents and cards together. We go out to pick fruit and come home to make preserves. We meet interesting people in our community who have much to share. Our children’s consumer expectations are generally lower than their schooled peers. Daily discussion topics include Peak Oil, relocalisation, relevant history and current affairs to explain what is really going on in the world, spiritual matters, environmental issues and more. We’re very aware of the ‘real world’ and feel that we’re more in touch than most schooling families because we have the luxury of time together to discuss and study what matters to us. Life is full and chaotic, but it’s our chaos. I feel blessed to be responsible for educating my own children at home.

I hope you enjoy this article.

Why Home Based Learning?

“Children are being freed to learn as nature intended” – just one comment I love from my research into why Australian parents are homeschooling their children. I asked friends and mailing list members, read comments from studies on the subject, and gathered some reasons as to why so many are taking the plunge into home based learning in Australia.

Some parents actively choose to home educate. They make the decision sometime – whether when their children are infants (and even earlier), or when they feel dissatisfied with their children’s schooling for any reason. Some parents feel that there was no other choice. They may have exceptional children (ranging from those labelled “learning disabled” to those with apparent giftedness – and many others in between), or their children are sick or injured, or unable to cope with the stress of school, or they are geographically isolated. In most of these cases, school was the original or preferred choice, but it just didn’t work out for the families involved – they feel that home education is the only option left for them. Yet, most declare that it is the best thing to happen to their families and continue with homeschooling even if the original hurdles are overcome (eg: in case of illnesses or living in a remote area).

Many parents lament that at 4,5 or 6 children are too young to hand children over to a system that is seen as having many flaws at the moment. Beverley Paine (homeschooling pioneer) explained, “We loved April and didn’t want to miss a minute of her five year old life.” I think many home educating parents utter a resounding “hear, hear” at that touching comment. Indeed, these early years are a sensitive time for the little ones. Many argue that it the ideal time to begin academics – the children are so open to new ideas and often learn at an accelerated rate – but at what cost? Pioneer homeschool authors Raymond and Dorothy Moore, in their book ‘School Can Wait’, give a great deal of evidence that early academics and separation from parents can do a great deal of harm.

In my research, parents reiterated that the freedom home based learning allowed them was the greatest gift. Time with their children, without the constraints of the school bus, cut lunches, school uniforms and a lot of rushing was what they valued most. Others stated that the upholding of family values and their religion are the main reasons they chose to educate outside the system. It is true that most schools today in Australia are not inclusive of all belief systems, and logically so – with so many people in an artificial social structure it would be near impossible to be so diverse in their curriculum alone!

I was touched and enlightened by a comment that home education allowed a child to evolve as a spirit at her own pace, to grow beyond what a school environment would allow. One caring mother said, “Maybe some of us homeschool out of curiosity of the possibilities. I’m sure that’s part of why I do.” And that gentle statement rang true with me. I see my children and can imagine how a school education would shape them – in and out of the classroom. I know I don’t like those possibilities. I can see the difficulties in home education and be hopeful that any obstacles are outweighed by benefits. The mother quoted above also said to me, “I think living in the inquiry and continuing each day and being open to questions allows the flexibility that gives her the space she needs to grow. And I don’t think that’s a bad place to be.”

Some parents argued that, due to the pitfalls of attending most Australian schools, home education is an ideal, holistic environment to learn. They see home based learning as a near-perfect, tailor-made education, superior to even the “best” private schools available. The school community commonly resents this attitude; they see it as elitist and therefore un-Australian. I must admit to subscribing to the idea that home education offers the Individual Education Plan which schools hope to offer, but logistically are unable to manage. We were taught at University, during my Bachelor of Education, that this was the way of the future. Over ten years on, there is still mass-production schooling happening in almost all Australian schools. Perhaps I am the only student of my class able to put theory into practice as a now home educating mother of six?

Parents are deciding to home educate for many reasons. Each family has its’ own list of reasons and its’ own method of conducting their home based learning journey.

Home Education Association
Aussie Homeschool Classifieds
Home of Learning
Joyous Learning
Home Education Posts on my Blog

* Fifth in a series of five guest posts by Belinda Moore. Here are part one, part two, part three and part four of this series.

28 April 2008

Worm farm maintenace and harvesting the castings

Our vegetable garden is vitally important to us. It gives us the freshest organic food at minimal cost. To keep the cost of the garden down as much as possible, we make our own fertiliser, harvest rain water and save a lot of our own seeds. That has two advantages - it provides us with a closed system - reducing the risk of introducing weeds and disease from outside, and it increases our level of sustainability.

We have two big clumps of comfrey that grow all through the year. Comfrey makes a great fertiliser as it's chocka block full of nitrogen - the element that makes green leaves grow well. Comfrey tea is made by cutting half a bucket of comfrey leaves, putting a brick on them to keep them under water, then filling the bucket to the top with water. You need a lid for the bucket as this brew stinks to high heaven. Leave it for a week or so, then dilute a small amount of the brew with plain water till it looks like weak tea. And that's your nitrogen fertiliser. This is perfect for plants like silverbeet (swiss chard), lettuce, cabbage, kale and all the leafy greens, but should be used sparingly on fruiting plants like tomatoes, capsicums and cucumbers. Putting too much nitrogen on fruiting plants will cause them to grow lots of green leaves and not so many tomatoes or cucumbers.

The fruiting plants are much better served with worm castings as it provides a rich fertile soil in which they will thrive. Read more
about the benefits of microbes in the soil here and here. Microorganisms in your garden soil will increase your yield of fruit and vegetables. The simplest way to increase the level of microbes is to add worm castings to your garden.

I have already written
about setting up a worm farm using an old bathtub, now I'll talk about harvesting the castings and maintaining the worm farm.

From day one of your worm farm, when the
catching bucket under the worm farm is full, you should pour that back into the farm. After about a week or so, you can start using the worm juice as fertiliser. The longer the worm farm goes for, the better the juice will be - beneficial bacteria and various microbes will built up in the juice and castings and will boost your crops when you apply it to the garden.

But let's get back to maintenance. Over the months you can scrape off castings from the top of the farm and use them on your plants. However, there will come a time, depending on how many worms you start off with, when it will be worth your while to rebuild the worm farm and harvest all the castings. In the photo below there are thousands of worms lurking. So how do I get them out of the castings so I can use it on the garden and
keep the worms working in the farm? There are a few ways to do this, this is what I do.

I move all the castings over to one side of the bathtub. Use your hands, with gloves if you prefer, to move most of the castings - using a shovel or trowel will kill too many worms. Then, if you have weed mat or a microfibre filter under your castings, pick that up and roll the casts over. You will then have half the tub with only gravel under the filter material and half the tub full of castings and worms. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Now start building up the empty side. You can do that the same as the instructions for building the worm farm, here I used shredded paper and completely composted horse manure. Before adding the next layer, I hosed this layer down to make sure it was completely wet. Remember though, you don't want your castings wet as the worms are in there and they don't like wet conditions - like like it moist, not wet.

My next layer was straw and any organic food I could find. Make do with what you have on hand. Here I have some old organic chook pellets that we decided were too old to be fed to the chooks and some green leaves picked from the garden. You're after variety here. The worms will eat everything you put in - the paper, manure, chook food and the leaves. Hose this layer to make sure it's completely wet.

Then I covered the new section with an old wet bathmat. The worms will eventually eat that too. I wanted to create a tasty attractive environment so that the worms would travel from the castings over to the new side.

I did this one week ago and when I checked yesterday the worms had already moved into the new food. I'll give it another week and then take all the castings out and use them on the garden. There's about 30 kgs of castings there - a huge boost for our vegetables and fruit. When that side is empty, I simply repeat the layering exercise, and the worms will eventually eat their way back to that side too.

If you've been thinking about starting a worm farm, jump right in. Even if you're in an apartment and want to do some composting, a small worm farm will use up all your kitchen scraps and give you great castings for your indoor plants. And don't worry about constant care. If you've given your worms a good feed and they're in moist conditions you can easily leave them for a week without feeding.


Swap Photos

Hello ladies! I am in the process of moving all the tote photos to a flickr account. The address is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/down-to-earth_swap_photos/
I am still in the process of moving photos, so if you don't see yours up yet, don't get worried, as it may take a while to get everything sorted out. Those of you who sent photos using 'photobucket' will need to send me a jpeg attachment so that I can upload it to flickr. Once you get to flickr you can click on each photo for the "tag" --who sent it and to whom it was sent. Please be patient while I finish switching all the photos. Eventually, I will move all the swaps photos to flickr groups, but this may take a few weeks.

26 April 2008

Our Simple Lives - readers stories, part 2

This is the second part of our simple lives. It's been a real eyeopener to me to read all these incredible stories. Thanks to everyone who shared their simple story.

Lis at alteredcutlery write about how she lives simply with two children, an ex-husband, a new partner and a job. Lis is a great cook so check out her story and stay for the cooking, here.

Jessica is in the USA and she writes:

Hi Rhonda Jean,

I enjoy your blog. It's inspiring for me!

I began trying to live simply when my husband went back to school full time and we needed to cut back on expenses. We lowered the temperature that we heat our home and covered the windows with blankets in the winter. I line-dry our clothing outside when weather permits and use lines in our basement otherwise. When our youngest was born, we went with cloth diapers instead of disposables (I love them!) I've been composting, too, and my husband is building raised beds to grow our own veggies. I'm so excited! It's been amazing to see how much less we put in the trash when we aren't throwing away food scraps or diapers. Eventually we want to move from the city and have a small farm where we can do a LOT more as far as sustainablity.

Thanks for the invitation to share!

Elaine needs some answers to a couple of questions. Can anyone help? Elaine writes:

Hello. We live in town and are really mere beginners at this journey but this is what we are accomplishing so far. I enjoy cooking and baking from scratch--no box products for me (although I do seem to have a weakness for box cakes mixes-oh well!); growing tomatoes and peppers; canning same tomatoes and sauce, jam, peaches, pears, applesauce and freezing peppers; making own cleaning products; composting leaves and yard waste; keeping home a bit cooler in the winter months; working closer to home; packing own lunches.

I enjoy learning things from these blogs so much! I would love to learn from you girls how to make a good "green" carpet cleaner (not just a freshner but for a deeper cleaning); also some kind of "green" lawn weed controller--we don't use chemicals but I yearn for a lush lawn; lastly for those of you who refuse the plastic bags--I know you must have some trash--what do you put it in?

Have a wonderful day. I have enjoyed the blog so much as well as the comments.

Nicole is teaching her children about living simply as they grow. She writes:

Hi Rhonda Jean,

I do have a blog over at http://www.cottonwoodherbals.blogspot.com/ and will be writing a bit more on simplifying over the next week.Thank you so much for taking the time to post about your life. I get so many ideas to implement into my own home. I don't have any land to have a garden but we do have containers full of herbs we use. We put up tomatoes and apples we purchase from the local farmer's market.I'm teaching my children about recycling and making healthy choices. We always purchase organic when possible, turn the lights off, use less water and be ever mindful of not wasting anything.Each week we introduce something new to add on to what we are already doing. It may be making our own shampoo and conditioner, I already make our own laundry soap and herbal remedies. It may be using the back sides of paper for my 6 year old to draw on, it may be making our own bread (thanks to you)All the little steps we take add up. I teach my children it isn't All or nothing. For us, it is baby steps and hopefully I can share what we do with others.

Kym is reusing everything she can, she writes:

I am inspired by all the things that I have read here, I am fairly new to the idea of simple living but I think I have been doing some of it most of my life. The concept of a disposiable world has always bothered me So reusing everything possible is my mantra. I have recently started using homemade cleaners and laundry soap,wow not only supper cheap but no more plastic jugs in the recycle bin, they just keep getting refilled. It is interesting to read what others are doing and hopefully I will move into a greener life as I go along. Keep up the inspireation we really enjoy it.

Leanne is in New Zealand and, naturally, raising lambs. Check out her story at her blog here. She really is living the good life.

Kristi in the Western Reserve is living with her son in Ohio. She writes:

I am a 63 year old new widow who lives with my vegetarian grad student son on an acre and a half of land in Bath, Ohio. In a way, we were never wildly into consuming, but as I was older, and my husband ill, I began to do things like buy paper towels for convenience. I am just beginning to redesign my changed life. I'm not sure how long I will live here, certainly until Andy finishes his degree. I am trying to recycle and am giving away many things as we have much to much.........But we have lived here for 28 years and it will take a while to streamline things...But I am working on it. We have always believed people are more important than things and I want to be involved again in work with local refugees. I am debt free, I guess. (Well, I just had to buy a new car and it will be paid for in two years. I din't want to pay for it outright since I want to keep my money together. I could have, but got zero per cent financing. I wish it got a little better mileage, but it could be worse. We garden, Andy and I, but in Ohio one can only garden from about April to October.....We belong to a local CSA farm and I buy locally from a lady who raises chickens....I'm diabetic and try not to eat too many carbs, but eat a lot of tofu and am trying to increase this......So far I am not a vegetarian but can see I might end up closer to this. I do buy from and donate to thrift shops. People are more important than things was something Paul and I always tried to teach our children and I think we succeeded. My kids don't really watch tv, and I am being more selective (partly because there is so little that's any good and I don't want a cable package. We have a 99% efficient furnace and pretty good insulation.....I have a freezer and a pantry and stockpile stuff. I'm not a fanatic, (don't mean the term to make being green sound bad!) but find myself doing more and more greenly. My blog is not active yet. That may change this year......

lorisdoris is simplifying and teaching her children as she goes. Check out her story here, there are some really nice photos and a very interesting story.

Kimberly is living in suburbia and dreaming of a home in the country. She's made big inroads into living more simply by taking small steps. Here is her story.

Jeannie, yours sounds like the perfect life. What a wonderful place to live in. Jeannie writes:

I live on an acre section in a tiny coastal village of the West Coast, North Island, New Zealand. Living is easy here, proximity to the ocean provides abundant shellfish and fish, the river has whitebait and trout, the riverbanks give us blackberries and mushrooms, there are even wild plum trees in the village.

Like most I have a large vegetable garden,but am fortunate enough to also have an orchard, greenhouse with hydroponics, run a few chickens. Preseve most of our fruit and vegeatbles, make cordials, wines and whisky!Have been living the simple life for over thirty years, keen spinner, and weaver, and knit, sew and crochet some of our clothes.Our house is sited to make best use of the sun, and we have installed a woodburner for the colder days (wood is freely available along the riverbanks )

Our lifestyle is frugal by choice, we make our own cleaning products and reduce, reuse and recycle wherever possible.

This is from earth heart. She and her husband are living in a similar way to Hanno and I. You will find her simple living post here.

And finally, Mrs Kaos, who is just about to celebrate her first anniversary, writes about carry on family traditions. You can read her blog here.

Thank you all so much for taking part in this wonderful excerise. I found it a real eye opener. It reaffirmed my belief that simple lives may be lived anywhere and that while all our lives are different, we share a lot of similarities. Please take the time to visit each of the blogs listed and leave a comment. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was to connect us all and help us feel that we are part of a caring community.

Nadine write about her life here.

Libby described her version of simple living here.

Niki at Rural Writings shares her simple farm life here.

And Amy writes about her simple sustainable choices here.


Our Simple Lives - readers stories, part 1

Being part of this blogging community has a few benefits - we connect on a daily basis with like minded people, we share ideas, we learn new skills and sharpen up old ones and we gain inspiration to live according to our own terms and circumstances, going against the tide of the mainstream. Here are some of your stories. They are listed in the order I received them. This is a post I doubt you'll get through in one session. I'll put it over on the side bar so you can easily come back to it.

Kim at hedgeshappenings talking about simple living and the chicken house.

Trying to be green tells us about the simple life of a college student who grew up in a green loving home.

Journeyer writes about changing and improving her life.

Lizzie writes about her simple life in England.

Lightening wrote: We're a long way from "arrived" yet (I guess for most people simple living is a journey rather than a destination). Anyway, my journey initially started with a quest for frugality that would enable us to pay off a house without me returning to paid work. It was then fast-tracked when I had a nervous breakdown and "things" suddenly seemed less important to us than life itself. In a way it was similar to a "near death" experience.

We sold what assets we had in order to pay down debt and since then have continued to live a frugal lifestyle. With the sale of a couple of small assets and some VERY careful saving, we ended up paying off our home in about 2 years. We've just come through 6 of the worst years farming has ever seen and yet we seem to be in a stable financial position due to our desire for "less stuff" and "more life". Frugality has been our saviour in many ways.

I wrote a series on my blog "our journey toward simpler living" a while back which details my nervous breakdown and the changes we made to our lifestyle as a result of that. The links for this series are in my sidebar on my blog.

I know for many our level of "simple living" is nowhere near the level many people are at. And yet the changes in our life have been significant and we're making slow and gradual changes each year.My DH has just gotten enthusiastic about the benefits of my vegetable garden (health wise more than anything). I'm hoping that'll lead to him getting going on our chook run which I want to turn into a kind of permaculture set-up. That will allow me to grow more vegies than we currently do which would be great.

For me it's all about baby-steps toward a more sustainable and frugal lifestyle. :) Her blog is here.

Kristina in Nebraska wrote: What a great idea Rhonda Jean! I do not have a blog but absolutely LOVE reading other people's stories and gleaning from them as much information about simple living that I can!
We have a farm here in Nebraska and we live as simply as possilbe. We raise a huge garden every year and I preserve a huge portion of our own food. I can tomato salsa, tomato soup, whole tomatoes, green beans, dill pickles, berry jellies, and sweet relish. I cut corn off the cob and freeze that. I also freeze as much brocolli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and herbs as possible. We raise our own meat --beef and chicken -- so we know what goes into our meat.
We entertain ourselves at home as much as possible. We have just the very basic satellite package for our television as we cannot receive "free" television here and we do like to watch the news and some sports programs and public television. I make my own laundry detergent and only line-dry my laundry unless it is 20 below outside as it sometimes gets in winter here. I have started using only homemade cleaners. Organization is the key to simple living and I have purged so much unnecessary clutter from our house.
My kids go to public school and the bus picks them up in our yard and delivers them each afternoon. I limit them to one or two activities a year -- anymore and we get too bogged down with activities and no LIVING! We are not debt free yet but we are working diligently on that. Times are so tough for everyone now and they are only getting tougher. I think it's so important for all of us who want to live simply to work together and encourage each other with kind words and advice. Thanks so much Rhonda! You're an inspiration!

Rachel is over in New Zealand, she writes about her simple life here.

Maggie is a single woman living simply in Canada. Nice photos of your baking, Maggie!

Kate in NY and her family are downsizing and reclaiming their lives. This is what she wrote:

We are in the process of getting ready to sell our big home in an affluent suburb of NY so that we can "downsize" to a more modest home in a more modest town. My husband's commute will go from 1 hr. 15 min. each way to 25 minutes door to door! We will be able to pay off all our non-mortgage debts and take on a smaller, 15 year mortgage (rather than 30). It will be a little tight with 4 kids and (hopefully) more to come, but we are thinking of it as "cozy." Our new town will not have the "top rated" schools the current one does, but our children will be exposed to many different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.

When we bought our home 5 years ago, we were thrilled about how "impressive" it seemed - but the only thing impressive now is how much it costs to maintain, and how hard my husband has to work to do so. Thank you for being an integral part of our newfound, simpler-living philosophy. Thank you!

Carla is living the simple life in north Idaho and loving it. Check out her seedlings here.

Stephb has dived right into her simple life. This is what she wrote:

What a great idea Rhonda.
Well....My family is at the beginning of trying to live a simple life. We have two small children (3 & 1). I left a high paid job to care for them as I could'nt face leaving them with a stranger. Since Christmas, when I realised that we were living beyond our means, I have discovered your website and have begun my journey to a simpler life.
During the day, I bake my own bread, cook all meals & puddings from scratch, I have converted to your laundry powder and cleaning products. I have made my own soap, took part in the Tote bag swap which introduced me to a sewing machine for the first time in my life. I next plan to do one of your stichery patterns and also take up knitting.
I work in a local supermarket three nights per week to help pay off our debts a little quicker. Working in the evening is demoralising, but it is a better option than leaving my children in daycare.
I love my new way of life, I do find it alot of hard work as cooking from scratch take alot of time, and with coping with two small children, it can be tricky, but we get there.
Most of the changes I have made are through reading your blog Rhonda, so I doubt there is anything new here. I just wanted you to know how you have changed my life and made me see the light. I am 32, and hope that withn the next 5 years because of your help and guidance, we will be debt free and living a sounder exisitence.
All my love and respect.

Rosieb is living her simple life in an English village. She writes:
I live (alone) in a tiny rented property in a village (England) and have no car so my outgoings are fairly straightforward. A few years ago I became too ill to work and needed to get a grip of my finances. Now I work to a budget, keep track of my spends and, just by this one change, my life became simpler and less stressful.
I reduce, reuse, recycle as much as possible; since early last year I haven’t bought any new clothes (apart from underwear and socks!) but instead I’ve sourced elsewhere - ebay, freecycle, charity shops, etc.; this has filtered down to other areas of my life too and I’m currently reworking curtains to fit my new home.
I couldn’t manage a vegetable garden on my own but I’ve had success growing a good variety of vegetables in pots and this year I’m also planning a small herb garden. I’m enjoying cooking again, I make my bread, preserves and even make butter sometimes; I’d forgotten how much satisfaction there is in home cooking! Having been through some very lean times when my kids were small I like to keep a very well stocked pantry but now I buy ingredients rather than ‘ready made’ and I’m lucky that I can buy good quality food from a local butcher and greengrocer.
I’m rediscovering old skills that I’d forgotten - making rag rugs (like we used to when I was a child), sewing and knitting and I’m getting a lot of satisfaction in being able to provide for my own needs. As you said, Rhonda, ‘This is a journey, not a destination…‘ and I’ll find many more ways to simplify a I go along.
I’m looking forward to reading other people’s stories. :)

Vickie and her husband are celebrating life in Canada. Check out her story here.

Linda is living simply in remote Australia. Her interesing story is here.

Anonymous @ 13.37 is living the good life in remote Alaska. She wrote:

Hi, Rhonda Jean. I do not have a blog and I rarely ever comment. I do read your blog daily and enjoy it so much - I refer to you as my Australian friend - and you don't even know me! I live in the bush - Alaska, USA that is. We live 33 miles from a town of 1,400 where my husband drives daily to work at the post office. We had homeschooled our children and they are now with their own families and we look forward for them coming home to visit. Our son is a US Marine and is gone a lot. We try to live as sustainable as we can. We garden and I can and dry a lot of vegetables (tame and wild), we gather wild as much as possible - fruit, herbs and meat. We have no shopping centers around us to tempt - the closest city to us is a 4 1/2 hour drive. This is our year of trying to pay off debts - our truck - credit card. We live without electricity - we have a generator when we need it -and haul water from my Mom's which is next door to us. We have in a 3 mile radius two full time neighbors, other than my Mom. I'll keep this short -I'm not good with words - just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog and thank you for all the time you put into it. I want to start making soap too!

Busy Woman is living the old fashioned way. She writes about her life here.

Elizabeth is walking her own path and enjoying life with her husband and Miss Candi. Read about her changes here.

Maria is living in Tasmania. She wrote:
Thanks for your blog. We do the best we can and I'm gradually incorporating simple things into our lifestyle. We are still in "the rat race" but here are some of the things we do:
My husband takes the bus to work.
I make his lunch every day so he doesn't have to spend extra on lunches.
I bake our own bread, and cook meals and bake from scratch as much as I can.
I stay home with my children - my mother-in-law helps me out sometimes too.
I use cloth nappies, I breastfeed, and I don't buy jars of baby food.
We don't have a vegetable garden but I buy farm-grown produce whenever possible, free range eggs and butter from my butcher.
We recycle what we can, and I can sew and mend clothing.
I'm about to try making my own cleansers.
We don't have a credit card debt. We save for what we need before buying it.
We don't have pay TV but we do enjoy the internet!

p~ writes: Rhonda, It's been so long since I commented, I feel remiss.
I always enjoy reading about your simple ways of looking at things. I work a full time job out of the home, so my daily schedule is faily boring, I have however thought about getting the real captain of our ship, my wife A~, to write a guest entry for us talking about all the things that she does. Good suggestion Rhonda, I'll get on that this weekend for sure.
Don't forget to check p~'s blog later in the weekend for their story.

Sadge hasn't written her story yet either, but there is plenty of information about her simple life already on her blog, Firesign Farm.

Rachael has written about her simple life in Sydney with her expanding family. Congratulations on the baby, Rachael.

Jenny has written about how she and her family live their simple lives. You can visit Jenny here.

Tracie has discovered farmers markets, cooking from scratch and many other things using a small steps approach. Read her story here.

Pebbledash is content living her simple life in Cornwall. She writes:
Hello Rhonda, I'm going to put my contribution here....have a rather hectic day ahead! My journey started six years ago when I moved to Cornwall after nearly twenty years in London. I live on my own in a little granite cottage, along with my two current dogs (rescue golden retrievers who've been with me for nearly a year). I'm fortunate to have a garden (a lot of people in my small town only have tiny yards)which I've just started to work on, with the aim of having a small veg patch and eventually a couple of chickens.
Some things I've done for years - green cleaning products, though another step, I'm now making my own,organic gardening, recycling etc. I don't have a tv - when I moved here the tv licence was an easy thing to say no to! I read a lot, and since having a computer at home, I use the internet too. I've always cooked from scratch, and I love cooking, so that side isn't hard for me. I also make jam, marmalade, chutneys etc. I've just taken up knitting, and am learning how to use my sewing machine properly. I love crafting, especially with paper, and like to make my own cards etc.
I'm quite a solitary soul, and self-reliant, so not going 'out' is not a problem, I do love being at home! However, while all that sounds good , I am carrying a lot of debt and am slowly slowly making progress on this, but it's a big mountain! I think I finally 'woke up' at the start of the year. I used to be a consumer, beyond what I could afford. Happily, I've seen the light!! I do several jobs to make ends meet, but need more work. Cornwall has a very poor economy and wages are very low compared to the rest of the country - particularly the south east. I'm proud of the progress I've made in the last few months, and am really enjoying this journey. Rhonda Jean, I have to thank you for all the inspiration. Visiting Down to Earth, and reading your posts along with all the comments from your readers gives a wealth of information, guidance, warmth and friendship. Happy hugs to everyone! Diana Diana's blog is here.
She adds: I buy local - often from the farm gate, and from June to February I have a locally produced veg box - all the produce is grown four miles up the road from me. I don't use plactic bags, ever, it's something I feel really strongly about, and water in plastic bottles. I'm just starting to knit my own dishcloths....so much pleasure in a simple thing like that! I spent a year working in and managing a farm shop (this was a couple of years ago) and learnt so much about the food industry, and the journey our food takes to reach our plates. It was a valuable experience. The other thing on the road to simplicity is clearing the clutter - not only not consuming, but getting rid of the excess - ebay, car boots, freecycle and charity shops. This makes life so much simpler, makes home feel bigger, and easier to organize and clean, and makes a few pounds in the process.

Danielle is happily living in the suburbs. She writes:
I dont have a blog im afraid but i will tell you a bit about me. I have recently become a SAHM to my four kids- it should have happened years ago really. I have chooks and a vege patch and love growing herbs. i make my own clothes washing goop and use bicarb and vinegar for most of the other cleaning. I make a lot of stuff from scratch- it tastes better and you know whats in it- its also cheaper. We live on a large suburban block and we are surviving on hubbys wage and doing ok thus far (fingers crossed). I am loving having time with the kids and the garden and not having the daily anxiety attacks from going to work. I sew, knit and crochet. We dont have pay tv but we do have broadband ;-). I buy a lot of our stuff secondhand and make a point of never paying full price for anything- shopping around and waiting for sales. Love your blog!

Pippa is one who, like many others, has discovered simple living after becoming ill. She writes:
I never thought of our life being simple or otherwise until I became ill and the doctor told me it was all due to stress. While I was supposed to be 'recovering' and away from work I started reading about how to make our life simple and less stressful.
I haven't returned to work because of the changes we have made in the way we live I didn't need to. My darling husband now works withhin walking distance of home. I have the time to make our bread and cook all our meals from scratch. I can go to the farm shop but I do still use the supermarket.
I have the time to think about menus etc before I go, therefore I don't buy on impulse. Laundry is much simpler as now I can hang out on the line to dry during the day. We make do and mend many things. Darling husband has always had a workshop where he tinkers. I have started sewing, kitting and stitching again. We stay at home in our free time, reading, making, watching TV and of course using the internet.
I am in the process of making a small veg plot but this will still be about half of our garden. I feel I need to be growing some of our own food.
We stopped going on hotel holidays and bought a tent. Never had so much fun in all my life, camping is just brilliant.
We aren't debt free because with four children going through school and some to uni we needed to offer asssistance. That has ended this year so hopefully debt will become a thing of the past very soon.
There are other things we need to address to help us on our road to the simple life. I am working on simple cleaning at the moment. Using less shop bought products and making my own. Love to try soap making next. Just a little taste of how we are trying for the simple life.

Chas talks about her family's simple life over at Heritage Farm. Great photos Chas, thanks for sharing them.

Anna Marie writes from England. She and her husband have downshifted and simplified. She writes:
After twenty years of the rat-race, my husband and I decided to down-shift and simplify. House:
We live in an old farmhouse in the UK that is heated by woodstove. Our goal is to get ourselves off the power grid by the end of this year, as we are still reliant on supplied electricity. We are adding a wind turbine to our "green energy" arsenal.
Garden and food:
We have a large veg garden and a greenhouse, with 2 apple trees. We just put in grape vines, and I have planted blueberry bushes and some hardy apricot and plum trees. As Rhonda knows, we will be reintroducing chooks into our garden (we have foxes, and the last batch succumbed). I bake our own bread and cookies/biscuits that my hub takes for lunch, and we eat meat once per week now, as I am a bit anemic. I'm learning how to preserve food again after a bit of a hiatus. What we can't grow, we buy from the local farm shop, milk is from the local dairy. I am negotiating with the farmer down the road to "rent a ewe" so we can have lamb this next year.
We have broadband, but no television, though we do treat ourselves to a season's worth of cheapie seats at the symphony, because we both love music. We take holidays in our 25-year old caravan in the Uk and on the Continent, and neither of us has flown for the past four years. I hope frankly I don't have to get on a plane again, and I think hub feels the same way.
We both still work, hub full-time as an engineer, and me part time as a university lecturer/historian but have enough emergency savings we could get by for a number of years without a job. After lots of years of saving, we now have no debt and a rental property that provides us income. Mainly we are still working to save more in our pensions and diversify investments.
We have one paid for car that is high efficiency diesel that husband uses for his 5 mile commute to work. I take the train.
1. to get off the power grid
2. to increase vegetable/fruit production for total self-sufficiency
3. to learn enough about canning/bottling food to do without a refrigerator and freezer.
4. to be proficient as a basic sewer, though, by gum, I can now knit a dishcloth and mend!
;-) thanks for the blog Rhonda. It is a wonderful creation.

Christine has written about what it's like to live a simple life as the wife of a military man. She writes about many things on her blog, check it out here.

Boondoggle has written about the steps she has taken towards living simply. Check out her story here.

Roobeedoo has a blog here, but she wrote about simplifying:

Well, I live on an 85-acre farm, but sadly it is no longer cultivated, as we made a loss every time we tried to grow crops for sale. We had to hire contractors to plough / sow / harvest and it was more expensive than the value of the crops. So for now we grow a little bit of veg for the family. I want to keep chckens, but because my husband is ill, this has been postponed for a while - one more responsibility too many! I bake our bread and buy beans, flour etc from a wholefood co-op. We eat meat because my kids are dairy allergic and a vegan diet feels like a step too far while they are growing. I make my own clothes... and it sounds like I make a lot of excuses too! I love reading your blog - it is inspirational!

Rinelle has given us a condensed version of what she is doing, but you can read more on her blog here:
I read this too late to actually do a specific post about our simple living on my blog, since I've just written two posts tonight anyway, so I thought I'd do a quick summary here. There are lots of pictures and stories on our blog about our lifestyle change though.We moved from an apartment in the city a little over a year ago, and are currenly living in a garage while our house is being built. We have bought 3/4 of an acre in North Brisbane, have bought our first chooks, and are starting a vegie garden. I love making our own clothes and household items, and even have a spinning wheel and plan to spin our own wool. We will begin homeschooling our nearly 4 year old daughter formally next year.Though neither DH nor I expected to be going down this road, we are really loving it, and DD often comments that she loves our new home. Every day is an adventure, and you never know what it will bring.

Charis writes: I've bee a frugal homemaker for 32 years and I'm still learning. I was reading a 'posh' woman's magazine last night and they were extolling the virtues of being a career driven granny "many of my colleagues have photos of their grandchildren in their briefcases" the journalist wrote. What have I missed out on? Maybe the back of the mag was a clue. Pages of adverts for nannies, live in help, gardeners, carers for the elderly. Only the elite can afford to 'have it all'. And at what cost? I prefer what I have. It's authentic. Even if it's patched ;-)

Pauline is in Scotland, working from home and homeschooling. She writes:
I've just recently discoverd your blog, and totally empathise with your lifestyle. I live in Scotland, UK, and have recently moved from a lovely simple, crofting lifestyle on a small island to a bigger village with a metropolitan attitude on the mainland. My children are all home-schooled and are now flown the nest,(my partner also - flown, that is!) and i'm trying to establish my simple life here among neighbours - trying to recreate that very haven of peace that is home. I am very rich, except in money, live frugally, i make, mend, sew, knit,read,grow veggies and much more. I miss my goat,chucks especially, and am having to re- learn my skills to suit my new environment, eg learning about food growing in a confined space. I am lucky enough to work from home, making fishing creels and also having a small etsy store, and aim to make just enough money as I need.

Silver sewer is living on a limited budget, but enjoying life and travel. Her blog is here and she writes:I was brought up for part of my early life on asmall holding where as much as possible was grown. We kept pigs and chickens and also had my uncles heffers grazing on our fields.
My first marriage was a long one, but try as I might I could not get my husband to get interested in any form of gardening although he was quite happy for me to do it.
I had 4 chidlren and much as I wanted to stay at home I ended up going back to work in term time, to put shoes on their feet and clothes on their backs, althoug I still cooked from scratch, knitted and sewed, made bread etc.In 1990 I decided I had enough, all the chidlren were grown and living their own lives so I left.
My now OH and I lived togetehr for 7 years before we were able to marry. We mananged to buy a house and as far as possible grew what we could, we did not have the opportunity or the cash to do what we wanted to do, which was to buy a house with a large garden so we could be as self sufficient as possible.
To cut a long story short, we had to move into assisted living accomodation last year. We have an allotment where we grow as much as we can, we have fruit and veg on there. I cook from scratch, bake, make bread, preserve mostly by freezing.....I am thinking of going back to making my own clothes. We live on a very restricted income as pensioners. We use the local transport to buy our food, shopping on the local market for what fruit and veg we cannot grow. We are reliant on a supermarket.....I haunt the reduced shelves picking up what I can which is either frozen or cooked straight away. I shop for staples one a month. I find I spend less that way.
For years I have used a monthly menu list and I have a shopping list on the computer which I use to check my store cupboard before buying new stock, always bringing old stuff to the front and putting new at the back.
I use no chemicals to clean. dusting is done with a microfibre cloth slightly damp and furniture is then buffed up with a dry cloth. I have old flanellette sheets which I cut up and overlock to use for buffing. once every 3 months I use a beeswax polish on my furniture and then again buff it up. windows are cleaned with a spray I make up of white distilled vinegar and water, spray on the window and buff off with a dry cloth. I also use vinegar to clean the bathroom and kitchen, I do use bleach in the loo just once a week. the rest of the time the loo is wiped each day with a dmap cloth.I make my washing powder by using the cheapest powder I can find and mix it with a bag of washing soda, just half a cup to each load of washing.....I have a friend who was sceptical about this until I put a load of her washing in the machine without any added powder, there was enough soap residue in her clothes to do a wash. She now uses the same mix as me and there is no difference in results.
I could go on for ages, but this post is long enough.........

Cindi has written about her lifelong simple life on her blog. They have bees now too!

Tania writes about her simple life in the outback of Australia. It's a great insight into remote living in Australia. Check out her blog here.

Shelley is living in Texas making do with what she has and making a good life in the process; I really enjoyed reading her story. You can find it here, on her blog.

Tocco is wondering is there is such a thing as simple living. Read all about it here and about the new chickens.

OK, I'm taking a break now. I've been at it for three hours on this post. I'll return after I've had some tea and toast.

25 April 2008

Our simple lives

When I'm reading comments or emails I often wonder how others live and what I can learn from the people who contact me. You see, most of the emails and comments thank me for my contribution and assistance, but I know full well that given the chance I could learn from that person in return. We all have our own story - everyone has something to teach. The thing is, you never know what it is others need to learn. Everyone seems to pick up on different things.

So here is my plan. I want us to blog today about our simple lives. I'll give you a concise rundown of how I live, I want you to do the same, on your own blog if you have one. Write about your life on your blog, put up some photos and give us a link to it. If you don't have a blog, tell us in the comments section. Tomorrow my post will be the links and descriptions of our simple lives. Sharing how we all live, showing others how far along the path we are, might open up a whole new world for some readers or give others ideas on what they could be doing.

I know that many of you would like to live as Hanno and I do, and you all know I wouldn't change our lives, but the truth is, the way we live is only one version of simple living. There are many other ways. I hope that by sharing all your stories, the readers here will see the variety and be encouraged to give it a go, or to keep doing what they've already started. I think that as soon as you start, you're living simply. We all come to this way of living for various reasons, some want to be greener; some see the need to cut back to basics and live a frugal life; when you live simply, you do all those things. This is a journey, not a destination, it is never finished, there is always room for improvement or things to change when new and better ideas present themselves. So let's get to it. Let's open up this sometimes mysterious world of simple living and see how many ways it can be done.

This is our story: I retired early and Hanno is on an aged pension. Our plan is to live an ethically and environmentally sound, frugal life for as long as we are able to do the work that supports it. We left the rat race behind and don't work for a living anymore, but we do work for our lives. The amount of work we do at home now is much more than what we did when we both worked. We stopped buying convenience and the time other people put into what we need and we put that time in ourselves. We have an acre of land with a creek, so we're well placed to grow vegetables and fruit.

These photos were taken yesterday afternoon.

We have a flock of hens that supply us with eggs and will soon give us enough to sell. Selling fresh free range eggs doesn't bring in heaps of money but it does pay for their food and allows us to replace them when they die with other pure breed chooks. We support seed saving, heirloom seeds, keeping pure bred poultry and dogs. We hope in some small way we help keep these old breeds going for the children of the future.

We eat from our backyard as often as possible but we also supplement the backyard fresh food with stockpiled simple food bought as cheaply as possible as close to home as we can. We support local food - our main local groups here are dairy farmers, so we always buy local milk, cream and cheese. We don't eat meat. We use our resources sparingly and I keep a close watch on our electricity and water meters, making sure our usage doesn't quietly rise.

A simple sweet rice pudding. Recipe: one cup of raw white rice, three cups milk (I used powdered milk), a splash of vanilla and two tablespoons of sugar. Mix it all together and let it heat up slowly. Cook for an hour on low. It's ready when the rice has absorbed all the milk. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Serve with stewed fruit.

I cook from scratch, making sauces, jams, preserves, bread, cakes, biscuits, tea, cordials, stocks and soups. I make our own cleansers, knit dishcloths and recycle old towels as cleaning cloths. I knit mend and sew. We try to use as little of everything as we can. Almost everything now is either made with, or transported by, fuel/petrol/diesel, so using less of everything means we are reducing our dependence on oil. We have a small car, we use it sparingly. Hanno does most of our household repairs and makes most of what we need in the backyard from recycled materials.

We live debt-free. We have given up a lot of the entertainments we used to reply on in days gone by and are content with reading, talking, knitting, TV, radio or surfing the internet in our free time. We live on $400 a week which covers all our needs, including health and other insurances. It's getting harder to cover everything with that amount, so we've been cutting back even more in some areas.

My philosophy is to love and nurture my family, to be kind and generous to others, share what I know, volunteer some of my spare time to a local charity, remain aware of my community and my world and to do my fair share in all things. I am content to live as I do, I am happiest when I'm at home and I look for the beauty that surrounds me. It's sometimes difficult to see, and often surprising, but it's always there.

And now it's your turn, either write a short story about your way of living in the comments section, or write about your life, with photos, in your own blog and give us the link so we can visit you. Tomorrow's post will be about all your stories ...


24 April 2008

Seed Swap Buddies

Hello ladies! Here are the swap buddies for the seed swap. There were two ladies who didn't leave their e-mail addresses, so if Julie in WAu and Hopewell mom school could please give me their e-mails I can get them down on my list (Sharon: cdetroyes at yahoo dot com). Please check your e-mail address here and if there is a change e-mail me. All swap buddies can now e-mail their partners to work out the details of the seeds they will swap. Enjoy this exchange! Update: Thanks hopewellmomschool!!

Heggie: heggie at roadrunner dot com swaps with Hopewell momschool: hopewellmomschool at yahoo dot com
Mim mimsfam at gmail dot com swaps with Sharon :cdetroyes at yahoodotcom
Anne: backyardtreasures at wordpress dot com swaps with Regina: rcs at stancills dot com
Carla: nooncarl at yahoo dot com swaps with Jayedee:ntiveheart at cfl dot rr dot com
Erikka: smadaakkire at gmail dot com swaps with hedgeshappenings:kmhedges at gmail dot com Jean: jean dot maples at yahoo dot co dot uk swaps with Babs:babs331176 at aol dot com
Clare:clare0311 at hotmail dot co dot uk swaps with Cat: sistersconranbrown at hotmail dot com
Rhonda Jean :rhondahetzel at gmail dot comswaps with Tracy:sunnycorner2340 at yahoo dot com dot au
Robbie: rc at skymesh dot net dot au swaps with Jennie Tanovic: jennifer dot tanovic at three dot com dot au
Hannah: han underscore ysic at hotmail dot com swaps with Paddysmum:littlepaddy at adam dot com dot au
Bel: bel at spiralgarden dot com dot au swaps with Lorraine: ma underscore pabarney at hotmail dot com
Ruby Red: alexia dot broome at student dot qut dot edu dot au swaps with:Paula: mrs dot paula dot moss at gmail dot com
Julie :marchett at bigpond dot net dot au and Lara (the crone):larazheng at hotmail dot com
Ann: forhim1981 at shaw dot ca swaps with Constance:connie at trepanier dot com
If you need any help or have any questions just e-mail me (Sharon) and we will get it sorted out. For those waiting for more photos of the shopping totes, I am working on getting a Flickr group up where we can post all the swap photos and everyone can go and look at all of them without having to hunt for them in the blog posts. I hope to have this up and running by Sunday!!

Training Day

I've finished work for the week and now I'm free to roam around my space here doing the things that nourish my soul. Before I get on to the rest of my post I want to tell you about what I did on Tuesday.

It was my Training Day.

I booked myself into a day of training that was about the management of volunteers. I wasn't looking forward to it but as I'm the coordinator of 13 volunteers now, and I have had no previous experience working with volunteers, I thought it was a wise thing to do. I actually thought it would be a bit boring and that I probably wouldn't learn a lot. Wrong! I came away from that training day knowing a lot more than I did and with information vital to our organisation. And like all good training, it made me look at myself and how I worked, with a critical eye.

I don't want to pat myself on the back here but I believe I've made a big difference at my Centre. I've changed things for the better, made systems more accountable, expanded programs and increased the number of volunteers significantly. I am praised for my work all the time, constantly told how wonderful things are and stupid me, I fell for it. I believed my own publicity! I actually thought we'd just about reached our goal and that we could sit back and let it all take care of itself. I sound really full of it, don't I.

My training day was also attended by 20 other people from non-profit organisations similar to mine. We talked about the challenges we all face and the differing ways we used to address those challenges, as well as the previously unthought of responses offered by our trainer. It left me surprised, motivated and inspired. I discovered new ways of dealing with problems and I finally understood that sometimes, there is nothing I can do to fix something and that I just have to accept that and move on. That's a tough one for me because I always think I can do something to fix what is broken.

I have been working at my Centre for almost two years but now I feel like I did when I first realised the immense amount of good that comes from that place and how many people are helped. So now I am set for more changes, I will do more, scrap some things (and be okay with that) and fashion our responses to better suit the times and the people we seek to help.

It's all about the perspective, isn't it. When you look at a situation from a different angle, you see it in a different way. Just when you think you know something, it changes and you see more angles, greater divides, more ups and downs. But taking yourself outside your normal framework to look at something familiar, also gives you a greater understanding and shows you more solutions.

That's one of the reasons I think blogging is important to so many of us. It allows us to see what other people are doing and how they deal with the challenges of everyday life. We see things from a different perspective, we see our own situation played out somewhere else in a different way, and when the results of that difference are rewarding and cohesive, it inspires us to try other ways. Sometimes it shows us a different way to make bread, at other times we see new ways of living.

Today I'll be visiting my daughter-in-law to take her a birthday gift - a box of soap making supplies, my recipe and instructions for making soap, and a verbal promise to come and help when she tries it. I'll also be working on Shane's quilt, making a salmon mornay and Brussel sprouts (Hanno's favourite) for dinner, baking bread, organising the laundry and washing the floors. It's good to be here at home again.

Graphic from allposters.com

23 April 2008

Maintaining clutter-free zones

To follow up on Bel's excellent post yesterday on organising yourself, I thought I'd write today about clutter-free zones. How depressing is it to walk into your home and see old mail, books, keys, toys and magazines all over the place. When all that clutter is near the front or back door it's worse because it is usually added to as the days go by and soon you have a real mess.

It’s important to provide homes or places for all the things that come into your home on a regular basis. Just as you have a home for your preserves, soap and clothes, you also need to provide a suitable place for your mail, newspapers, magazines, mobile phones, backpacks, purses, business cards, keys, flyers, school newsletters and reminders. A lot of these things tend to be dumped near the front door, or in the kitchen, but there is a better way. Give each of these items, plus any others that you have in your life, a practical home. For instance, newspapers might be placed on the coffee table for a day and then in a box for recycling, install a key rack or place a tray for keys near the front door and make sure all keys are left there. Hats, umbrellas, backpacks and purses can be hung on racks near the door everyone uses.

If your phone is not in your bag or being recharged, make sure it is in its own place. The same goes for keys, if they're not on a key rack, make sure you always put them in the same spot when you come home. I put my keys in a small bowl near the front door. I also put my name tag from work there and I know, without fail, when I go back to work or go out, my keys and tag are in that bowl. It is very unsimple (I know that's not a word) to go searching for lost keys, a phone or a purse. Searching for anything lost in your home is a complete waste of time. Establish stations - like bowls, folders and racks - for the various things you travel with and get into the habit of using those places every time you come home.

Mail is another big problem. Set up a files or folders to hold newsletters, flyers, letters from school and all those things you can't deal with when you receive them but are important to read when you have time. Have another folder for bills to be paid and go through the folder every week to make sure you pay your bills on time. We've cut down on this type of bill paying because we have internet banking now but I know many who do have bills sent in the mail and post cheques for payment. When you set up your folders, give them a permanent place so that when you want to look through your folders, they're easily accessible.

Get the children in the habit of leaving their school bags or backpacks near the door they come in, or in their bedroom. It's never too early to start your children on the road to an organised life. Give them their own space for their things - a hook for their backpack, coats and hat, near the front door and encourage them everyday to use that space. It's difficult at first, but they'll get the idea of it, then it will become a habit that will fall into place everyday for them.

It's really frustrating when you need something you can't find. If you work out what you need to have a special space for - be that keys, phones, bags, or whatever - and provide a container, hooks or a rack to hold those things that might be lost, you'll eliminate the frustration and stress of searching, and you'll save time. It's just a little thing but if you're constantly losing what you need, it will be a big change in your life and another small step towards your simple life.

21 April 2008

Simple Family Life - Part Four

A lot of people say to me, “You must be so organised!” And it’s true, I am quite organised. I have lists, menus, folders, files, a diary and a place for (almost) everything. At least once a week I spend time updating my diary and to-do list, writing a weekly menu, checking the pantry and fridge for items I need to buy and otherwise getting organised. And every day I check my to-do list and diary so that I can keep up. Otherwise, all tasks are pushed to the end of the week and beyond, and eventually I’m snowed under and confused. This is when we resort to take-away, buying things at the corner shop or supermarket and generally wasting our time and money.

Recently I’ve let a few routines go by – I swapped housework for a social day last week and therefore my entrance and dining room floors are less clean than I prefer. I’m a little behind in some of my magazine columns because I’ve been blogging (the columns are written months before publication, and it never seems pressing until I see the word ‘deadline’ in my diary!) So this week I’m tackling a lot of tasks I postponed last week and the week before.

I’m nowhere near as talented at or patient with homemaking as Rhonda. I’d love to be, but with six children, homeschooling, the farm, a home-based business and my freelance work – I just can’t do it. And I’m not giving any of those other things up! The things I’m particular about are:

* a clean bathroom, especially the vanity (sink) and toilet once a day
* a clean kitchen including the fridge and pantry, wiped benches and clean dishes all day, every day
* empty bins as required, rubbish sorted, scraps to animals once a day
* clean clothes, no build-up of laundry as I have enough loads to do without a backlog, every day
* enough food for us all, and no wastage of that food, checked daily at lunch time
* clear floors so no one trips over or breaks anything, every morning and evening
* menu plans and shopping lists, weekly
* bills paid on time, noted and filed as they arrive
* reduced clutter, at least at each change-of-season
* do something in the garden each day – harvest, water, plant, feed, weed or planning

My downfalls are:

* major cleaning like ceilings and walls, even a complete vacuum and mop is sometimes a challenge
* folding and hanging clean clothes in wardrobes (I am responsible for myself, my husband and the younger two children only)
* wiping over cupboard-fronts, whitegoods, light switches, doors etc
* windows, washing curtains
* tidying the linen cupboard (who messes it up anyway?)
* tidying and cleaning the shed – only when I can’t stand the mess do I tackle this one

Knowing where my weaknesses lie is important. These are the things I schedule into my diary or to-do list or I’d never get to them. I prefer play to work, and life’s too short when the children are young to let some cobwebs stand in the way of a picnic at the creek!

My recommendation for anyone wanting to live more simply is to get organised and stay there. You’ll save time and money, tread more gently on the planet and still have time for play…

Here are a few of my favourite tools for an organised life:
* Organizing JunkieMenu Plan Monday and other tools for bloggers – I find that joining in keeps me accountable

* Simple Savings – using the tips and especially the forum is fantastic for keeping me in the right mindset but challenged as well as for obtaining new ideas.

* Blogging – keeping lists of what’s in my garden and orchard, writing seasonal notes and monthly updates also keeps me accountable and is fantastic to look back upon.

* Lists – find a method to suit and use it. I currently use one of those 1-cent 64 page exercise books which can be found at the start of a school year (we keep a small supply for various uses, not just homeschool!) I divide each page into six, which is the right size for about 6-7 tasks/reminders a day. What I don’t do is transferred to another day.

* Menu Plans – we all must eat, and it’s getting more expensive each week. Menu Planning has saved my sanity and our budget. There are numerous online tools to help you, or just wing it using your usual fare fitted into your usual weekly schedule, with at least one back-up option in mind (a frozen or ‘quick’ meal to avoid the take-away trap!) Part Two of this series explains more about how I handle food for eight-plus people.

* Folders are my friend! I keep some paperwork I regularly refer to in those spiral-bound A4 refill books – one for recipes, one for the farm, one for general papers – lists, forms, catalogues and so on. No loose papers! I also keep larger 3-ring binder folders for financial matters – one for our home budgeting and bills, and one for my business paperwork.

* A place for everything. I try to think of the house as having ‘zones’. So the children’s stuff stays in their space, entertainment in the living area (games, TV, DVDs, music), anything to do with food in the kitchen, cleaning in the laundry, personal care in the bathroom, and we have a room for anything to do with homeschool, though it does tend to spread out to other rooms and bookcases of course. Home education is a lifestyle! I never go anywhere in the house empty-handed and teach the children to do the same. If something has strayed from its zone, we take it home on our way around the house during the day. This eliminates the need for too many big clean-ups, so is a good tool for us!

* Simply staying a step ahead – extra food in the cupboard, extra meals in the freezer, clothes washed before the hamper overflows, outings planned, money budgeted and everyone informed of what to expect, when (by way of a family calendar in the kitchen) – this preparation is my advantage.

I hope some of these ideas help. Maybe you have an organisation tool, website or idea to share in the Comment section of this post?

* Fourth in a series of five guest posts by Belinda Moore. Here are part one, part two and part three of this series.

A lazy Sunday

One of the readers here needs a little bit of friendly support and encouragement. Lacy and her husband Josh, at razor family farms, are hoping to adopt a baby. Here is part of a comment she left yesterday: "We've been attending adoption meetings. We're so excited, Rhonda! Originally, I had gone through all the classes by myself (while the husband was in Iraq). Now my husband can go too. We can't wait!" Please send Lacy and Mr Razor your prayers, best wishes, good thoughts or whatever is in your heart to help them through this period. I'm thinking of you both, Lacy.

We had a very quiet day yesterday. Hanno's blood pressure was elevated and he had bad headaches, so he was assigned to the couch with a newspaper and the TV while I did some cooking and knitting. It makes me a bit nervous when he's like this as he had a small stroke a couple of years ago. After that we bought a digital BP monitor so now, when it's necessary, we keep a check on hourly BP recordings and if he has to go to the doctor, we go armed with a record of his blood pressure readings. Yesterday he assured me he didn't need to go to the doctor so we just laid low and did the monitoring.

It was raining on and off most of the day so I really enjoyed fiddling around in the kitchen listening to the rain on
the roof. I made a banana and walnut cake with brown bananas from the freezer and followed that with rosella cordial. There is some research being done at our local university that indicates rosellas might help reduce high blood pressure. I'm hoping it does and I'm making enough cordial and tea to last until the next rosella harvest.

I often sprout seeds in the kitchen. Yesterday was the final day of growing for some alfalfa sprouts that we had on salad sandwiches for lunch. Sprouting seeds is the easiest of all growing. You just wash the seeds of your choice and leave them soaking in water for an hour, then completely drain off all the water. I do this in a large glass mason jar with a clean piece of cotton secured around the jar rim with a rubber band. The seeds are washed twice a day and drained completely. About one week later, you have your sprouts - as fresh as they can be.

With Hanno on the couch, I had outside duties yesterday, so I had to keep an eye on the baby chickens as they've just graduated into the chicken coop with the older girls. We've had no problems at all with them, they seem happy in their new home and they're a joy to watch. I took the photo below a couple of days ago when Hanno made them a kinder gym. LOL! Chooks love to climb and they've all had a sit on the gym as well as a walk along to ladder from one end to the other. Chooks! how could you live without them.

Welcome to all the new readers who found their way here recently. I hope this is a good week for everyone. Today is the first of my three days at the Centre. So I had better start getting ready; I swear each week it takes a little bit longer to make myself presentable.
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