The magic element

4 April 2008
I’ve been wondering lately about the differences between a house and a home. What turns a house, flat, caravan, farmhouse or apartment, into a home? What is the magic element that turns a mere building into a haven for all who live there? For me, that element is focusing on the work I do to run my home – all that work I used to ignore or find irritating. I came to it slowly. It started with me knowing I had to do a lot of things that I used to think were unimportant and trivial; now those things are part of my day-to-day world. To be happy here I had to accept the old ways of homemaking; I had to make do, try to get by on less, cook from scratch and keep a natural home. I know now that what I do in my home every day defines the sort of person I have come to be. When I let go of the modern spray and wipe ways of cleaning and all those convenience foods and started to do more with less, it made me over, it made me into a different kind of woman.

Housework, who knew! Who knew that something so private and ordinary would be so significant. Nevertheless, the work I do each day makes me focus on how I live, it slows down my very fast brain to a calmer level and it makes me happy I am able to live as I do and proud of how I fill my days. It was only when I took time with my tasks and did them with a sense of respect and diligence that I realised that the work, time and effort I put into my home is a gift to myself and my family. I didn’t know that before.

There is no simple formula for living like this. I’ve thought about it a lot and because we’re all so diverse and different in our goals and what satisfies us, the elements of simple living must be different for us all. We are all at different stages of life - some with children, some without, some working outside the home, some discovering themselves within the home. I would like to give you a magic formula that would help you start on the road to a simpler life, or keep you motivated and inspired enough to continue with it, even when your child is crying for the doll her best friend has, when a teenager says he won’t wear second-hand clothes or when you come home from work, tired, to do the laundry and make a nutritious meal for the family. But the truth is, the path we all take to this life and what it takes to satisfy us while we live it, is different for everyone of us, and it is something private that must be discovered in the living of it.

With the benefit of hindsight I can tell you that while you’re developing your new way of living you’ll probably go through a series of changes. Not only in the physical day-to-day aspects of living but also in what your priorities are and what you believe you want. I found that when I discovered new skills it opened doors for me that I didn’t know were even there. When I look back now though, it was those unexpected doors that revealed the best treasures.

One of the seasonal treasures I deal with each year is our rosella harvest. I picked the first of them yesterday and dried them to make rosella tea. It was a very simple process of separating the red sepals and discarding the seed pods, washing the dust and insects from the sepals and drying them in a very slow oven. It takes one teaspoon of redness to make a cup of rosella tea – if you’ve ever had a cup of Red Zinger tea, you’ll have tasted rosellas. There was a time when making something like rosella tea would have been the lowest of my ambitions, but now I know that every single one of these small steps has lead me away from the mass marketed culture I used to wallow in. I’m so glad I changed.


  1. Hi Rhonda, yet more wise words. I have recently tried to simplify things at home and have been amazed at what previously mundane tasks have taken on a more interesting glow. On a completely different note, we had an Australian themed lunch at work today for all the staff. Vegemite,Anzac biscuits and even a pic of the president. Plus lots of interesting info and facts and Oz folk music. enjoyed by everyone.

  2. I grew up in a violent dangerous home. My parents did not provide the basics of life, and as a kid all I ever wanted was a warm safe haven where someone cared enough to do those loving caring things for me.
    My love of the simple life, of traditional ways and caring for family, comes straight from that time. I read little house on the prairie when I was little and it showed me what a real loving family and home was.
    With my own husband and family I comitted to be that warm caring wife and mother and over the years, have come to apprecitate and value housework and the simple pleasures of life.
    They provide more reality and fulfilment and love than any quick thrill or buzz or high ever could.

  3. Great post! For me all it takes to make a home is having the people I love around me. The rest is just trappings.

    I agree too, when I do something properly, simply, honestly I feel enormous satisfaction in the task, no matter how mundane.

  4. I hope you are well. Lovely post as always.

    What a beautiful rich color rosella produces!

    I was wondering if you think that all simple living tasks are cost-efficient? I ask because everyone may have different reasons for living simply, but some may have to be more concerned about expenses (ex., making soap). I've not done it, so I don't know if it would be frugal to do. I know that the end product would be better for me, but I sometimes don't attempt something like that because I'm not sure it will also save me money.

    You do so many wonderful simple-living tasks. I would love to see you do a post on simple AND frugal things one can do in the home.

  5. ‘… the work, time and effort I put into my home is a gift to myself and my family. I didn’t know that before ...’

    I am late in my fifties and only recently realised the simple truth above and reading your words has brought it home to me even more.

    A difficult childhood left me with such low self esteem that I considered it a waste of time to make any effort to do nice things for myself. Now I’m practising making a 'haven' for ME and I’m amazed at how good this makes me feel and how much satisfaction I’ve found in it. I’m still a work in progress, still inclined to skip things on occasion because ‘no one will see it but me’, but I’m getting better. :)

    Thank you for yet another thought-provoking post.

  6. I'm glad you changed too, Rhonda! You didn't only make your own life better, you are enriching the lives of your readers too. Thanks!

  7. You always amaze me with what you have to say. A fellow homeschooler pointed out a particular post to our group a while back and I was just blown away...and you have blown me away continually since then. I love your lifestyle. It truly is an encouragement to many. We are a military family so we pick up and move every few years but there are many things I have easily adopted from your lifestyle. It really nice to hear that ANYONE can still do ANYTHING ANYMORE too! hahaha
    Thanks for all you do.

  8. Hi Rhonda, Thanks for the sage words . . . I had to laugh as I read them, because I actually had to stop and remind myself several times during the day today that housework is insignificant - not really, of course, but I was feeling so grumpy and impatient with the children (I have 4 of them, ages 5-12) because every time something got cleaned, it got messed again. And the laundry was piling up. And the puppy ate up one of the girls' toys and there were bits of it everywhere on the rug. And my 5 year old wanted me to read her a book, but I kept telling her, "No, No, later, Mommy is busy, etc." I'm sure you get the idea! So for my stage of life, the housekeeping is one area I am trying to let go of a bit - because I know in the end my children will remember more about when I stopped to play than when my house looked perfect (not that it ever does!) Reading your blog is always so interesting to me, even though you are at a different stage - it reminds me that the time will come when I can find the keeping of my house a meditative, almost spiritual act - but right now, I have to take those moments in bits, because they sure don't come that often!

    Kate in NY

  9. Looking forward to more on this subject from you, Rhonda!

    The sight of the rosellas took me back to a late family friend's rosella jam. Oh, I LOVE rosella jam! (Looks frantically around garden for place to grow rosellas...)

  10. Beautiful post...thank you for the encouragement. So often, people who are used to doing everything from scratch and who're GOOD at doing them are very intimidating to those (like myself) who are trying things one at a time and trying to adopt them as a lifestyle. I've seen so many great homemakers with so many different emphases and styles of how they go about caring for their families. CARING seems to be the defining common-ground. When that's in place, the mundane becomes important, or at least that's how I'm beginning to feel about it. Thank you for the wisdom of your example and sharing your skills, Rhonda

  11. Oh Rhonda, I love learning all the wonderful things you share so freely on this blog. And now, one of my all-time favs for teatime, "Red Zinger" secrets revealed!
    I am familiar with rosehips but the rosellas are so intriguing. I wish I could grow my you know if there are sources in North America?
    Thank you for sharing how contentment is a learned process. I appreciate your gracious spirit.

  12. This is so fascinating! I am really enjoying your blog. I'm also getting away from the "mass marketed culture" and all that goes with it. What a beautiful journey it is.


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