A future with less debt and waste

10 July 2008

I met Hanno on my 28th birthday, we married when I was 31 and our first baby, Shane, was born a year later. Shane turns 28 next Tuesday. He has never brought any of his girlfriends home to meet us but a couple of weeks ago, we met his girl. She admired my dishcloth knitting that was beside my chair, she's fond of vegetable gardening and chooks and she's a really lovely girl. Next week she's leaving her job and part time university to move in with Shane. They will both work at the resort and live in a house on the property. There isn't a smiley face big enough to insert here so let's just say I'm a very happy mother.

That hasn't got much to do with today's post, I just had to tell my good news. We'll be driving over there to have lunch with them next week. I'll try to slip in this subject.

The Story of Stuff

If I was setting up a home today with the same sensibilities and knowledge I have in my head now, I'd reject much of the new made in China products and go for either second hand, hand made or good quality items that would last many years and be repaired when needed. I wish I could say I did that the first time around, or even the second, but you know my story and I was caught up in the conspicuous wealth syndrome back then and I bought things that looked good. I should have known better because I am a working class woman and I feel ashamed that I fell for the advertising hook, line and sinker.

I'm glad I changed.

One of my grandmothers was Swedish, so buried deep in my genes is a love of the Swedish style of painted furniture. This style of decorating a home relies on plain and simple old wooden furniture that is painted in beautiful tones of milky blue or green with bright splashes of red. Much of this furniture could be picked up on road side throw outs, bought at garage sales or in op shops, and repainted. Often chairs and couches are covered with homemade cotton covers that have been sewn to fit the shape. Not only is this a very frugal way of furnishing a home, it's also environmentally sound and it cuts out the Chinese middleman.

When it comes to appliances, I think it's better to buy new energy efficient, good quality items that are built to last and can be repaired. Curtains and soft furnishings can be home made and bit by bit you build your new home into something unique, and not the carbon copy of a thousand other houses nearby. When I look around my home now, I love my red and white curtains the most - they were made for me in my own home by my sister, Tricia. I like and value the curtains I hand made in my kitchen much more than the custom made ones I have in the loungeroom. Those kitchen curtains are "me", they symbolise my life now, the others are just a reflection of the money I used to earn. pffffffffffft!

The same applies to clothes. I used to buy all my clothes, now I make as much of it as I can. I still buy some things, but I plan on teaching myself how to make everything I need in the coming years. I really dislike all the cheap clothes that flood in from China. It's a false economy to think it's a bargain when what it is doing is harming our own manufacturing industries, and giving us more of everything, when what we need is less. I would like to see the manufacturers in Australia regain the strength they had in former years, when they produced good quality local products and even though they were more expensive, they lasted and built our local economy. We had less waste then because we didn't have the option to go to a department store and buy a cheap replacement that we would need to replace again a couple of years down the track.

I think the current economic climate will require more prudent consumption of almost everything, and that is a good thing. It's wiser now to pay off debt than to take it on. That is what I'll try to slip into our birthday conversation with Shane. It won't be a lecture, it will be gentle and linked to lifestyle instead of economics, but the result, I hope will be the same. When they embark on a new life together, I hope they won't fall for the McMansion-I have to have everything I want syndrome, and instead be mindful of a future with less debt and less waste.

Graphics from the Carl Larsen gallery.


  1. I hope Shane and his girlfriend are very happy together! I also agree with you about the products from China, which makes it very very important to check where products come from-including checking where all the individual pieces of a product come from.

  2. Hi everyone
    I have a son that turned 28 a couple of weeks back and I also have a son that turns 20 next week. I totally agree about not buying the goods from China I have been campaigning amoungst members of my family to keep away from buying anything out of China(have a son that is allergic to the clothing that is coming from there he comes out in big welts)Also I haven't set foot in The warehouse chain of stores in over a year as they have taken away from the local manufactures business. An excellent book that I have read just recently is called "I see Red" and it is about The Warehouse and buying cheaper goods from overseas.

  3. Oh Rhonda it was a similar story with our 'big girl' but a few months ago she annonced she had met someone. They moved in together and are now in the process of buying a small house. It is strange to hear my 'live for today girl' talking about budgets and savings. Shopping at Aldi, using up all her leftovers and wonder of wonders, starting a veg garden. We must have done something right along the way.

    I have promised myself a sewing course at the adult education centre, this autumn. I enjoy dabbling on the sewing machine but would love to know what I was doing.

    Have a happy day


  4. She sounds like a girl after your own heart maybe:-) I met my hubby on my 28th birthday too! The USA is flooded with products from China, try to find one that
    isn't:-((( I try to buy most American made if possible but it is getting harder and harder.

  5. Oh Rhonda I am very tickled for you and know where you are - my eldest son is 29 on 15 July and has still not brought a girl home. We wait in hope - he says he is too busy and jokingly wonders why we bother to grow food when there is a supermarket down the road! Hope you have a lovely lunch with Shane and his new girl.

    I wish Shane and his Girlfriend a life time of Happiness!:o)
    Hope ya'll have a great lunch!:o)

  7. I'm so pleased to hear about Shane and his partner, and hope they're very happy; my son (37) and his partner have just bought their first home together. she's interested in gardening and has asked my help in choosing plants which is so nice; we're taking a trip to a garden centre soon and whilst we're there I hope to buy some plants for my new herb garden. :)

  8. I like painted furniture too, but hadn't thought to blame it on my great-grandfather. He was a Swede and a ship's carpenter.

    Our home is mainly furnished with other people's cast-offs. I think my favourite is the 10-seater dining table that I had to carefully disassemble to get in the dining room and then reassemble. As it wasn't a flatpack table and was properly built with glued, dowelled and morticed joints, it took quite a lot of work to get it in pride of place.

    Still, it looks grand sitting there with its French polished top and, yes, pale blue painted legs!

  9. I have been married 4 years, and we are in the proccess of getting rid of excess. I have a lot of beautiful things that were wedding gifts. I truly love these things, but I wish I had known 4 years ago that life was taking me down this simplifing path. I would have asked "In lieu of wedding presents, please donate to the send [DH] and [myself] to college debt-free fund." Ah well, I can't go back, but I can move forward in a better way.

  10. Hi Rhonda,

    Congratulations to Hanno and yourself, in reguards to your son. My grandmother, bless her, always said "your success as a parent is not judged by what they have, but how they turn out". If your son can bring home a lovely girl, that he's set on, then all I have is happiness for you.

    A quick question, When you started reskilling yourself, (I'm trying to knit) where did you find the information to get you started?
    I have tried our local library, and although they have books on knitting, I am yet to find one that goes really indepth for beginners. For someone like me who needs it, as I'm trully hopeless at it for the moment. I just can't find anything....

    Have a great day today & stay out of this chilly wind.

    Chrissie & Co.

  11. Isn't it interesting that our generation is once again focussing on wasting less and fossil fuel consumption. In the 70s we knew this and we were going to live less wasteful lives. It's good that more and more of us are coming back on board.

  12. Like Suzanne said, the USA is dreadfully flooded with products made in China. I look at all labels. It's near impossible to find any shoes not made in China. :-( I would love to see more things made in the USA, but they're quite difficult to find as well.

  13. Chrissie
    My daughter is learning to knit and she found the pearl stitch on Utube and is teaching herself from it. I hope this helps.

  14. I agree that the cheap, ubiquitous, low-quality products from China (and other places overseas) are becoming a problem here in the US. I do try to buy American, fair-trade, etc. when possible - but I also think about the working and living conditions of those international workers. We recently saw a documentary on the Wal-Mart corporation and its factories in China and other places like India and Honduras. The wages are pathetic, conditions dangerous, workdays are often 7 days a week, over 12 hours long . . . truly, utterly appalling - and these are American companies, not Chinese. I would like to know what will happen to these workers when we stop buying products from China to the extent that CEO's actually notice. Will they benefit from changes in policy and conditions, or will "simply" become completely impoverished instead of just very poor? I don't know the answer here, and I'm just mulling it over, but this worries me even more than the cheapo plastic crap that accumulates in so many houses across the USA and, apparently, the rest of the world.
    Kate in NY

  15. What exciting news about your son and his soon to be live in girlfriend... I've tried to set my home up with secondhand furniture that I've purchased at farm clearing sales over the last 10 years (I'm 27) but several times have given into the temptation of the 'made in china' product... My mum and her mum were and are still great sewers so I have a lot of homemade furnishings scattered around my home. I still have the very first roman style kitchen curtains that my mum made me 8 years ago out of recycled fabric hanging in my latest kitchen window, they are without a doubt my favourites!!! This house is the 6th that they have hung in and hopefully it will be the last... I'm slowly making all of the other curtains myself and must agree with you that they will be a reflection of my life and everytime I look at them I'll remember making them with my very own hands, very rewarding... :)
    Once again, thanks for being so inspiration and sharing your story with us all..


  16. In a few weeks my husband and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Our home is still furnished with a mixture of second hand furniture and some we have bought ourselves. I love the old furniture it is built to last. My daughter's room in particular is full of wooden furniture others didn't want. We have painted it to suit her teenage sense of fashion (green and purple) and it looks great. When she grows out of her green and purple we will paint it again.

    Any furniture we have bought ourselves is good quality. We waited until we could afford something that would last. Good quality furniture is cheaper in the long run as you are not replacing it when it falls to bits as cheaper furniture does.


  17. Best wishes to you and your family. I don't like made in China items because they all seem to have that chemical smell to them. If we all chose not to buy items made in China it would be interesting to see how much less pollution there will be there. I am waiting for the Olympics to happen it will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

  18. I had the same experience last Easter. They had moved in together earlier subletting and I am happy they now have their own place. This week they got their car.

  19. Hello Rhonda! It's been a while as I've sort of stepped away from the blog world for a bit, but I wanted to thank you for all of your postings and insights as usual. Coming back to your blog today I read through the last 20 or so of them and felt the words and answers to many of the questions that I just posted about. You always seem to know just what to say right when I need to hear it the most. I always appreciate it. And thanks for giving me something to come back to and adhere to again. Congrats about Shane and the girlfriend! How exciting! Enjoy the rest of this week!

  20. Thank you all for your good wishes for Shane and his girl. I smiled when I read that so many of the mums here are in the same position, or waiting for THE girl/boyfriend to be introduced to the family. It surprised me how moved I was by the occasion. It went very quickly from something I had thought about infrequently to a really big deal. And of course, I was pleased and grateful that she is SO lovely.

    YAY Stoneyhead! another swede, nice.

    Chrissie, I looked on the net and read books - the readers digest one for all sorts of needlework, but if you look there are a lot of videos on the web that show various techniques step by step.

    It's good to see you again, Simply Authentic. :- )

  21. Morning Rhonda,
    You have really given me food for thought today. I had become to think recently "there's no point trying to make my clothes cause they are so cheap in the shops". But I never thought about the fact that, that £2 T-Shirt is mass produce by children in China and that the sounder way is to either make my own or to buy local better quality clothes that are built to last. We have some local boutique shops where I live but I guess I will have to ask them where their clothes are produced just to be sure. I am definately going to try making dresses for my daughter as I am sure they are very easy and as she is so young she won't be too critical of my skills :-)

    Its great news that Shane is settling down with a nice girl. I do hope he heeds your advice about debt. I also hope that as I have started this journey while my children are young that they may manage to avoid tonnes of credit card debt, but I am not too optomitic. I almost see it as a right of passage.

    Hope you have a great day Rhonda, I have been feeling quite down lately. Bogged down with day to day hassles and chores, I think you are the only thing that keeps me sane lately.
    Love you loads
    Steph xx

  22. Congratulations on having a daughter-in-law! I hope you will all get along great and that you won't be the "dreaded mother-in-law" to her. :-) She can sure learn a lot from you if she's open to it!
    I know what you mean about the furniture. As a student I had all secondhand stuff I found by the curb and repainted myself. I got rid of most of it when we bought this house, because it all had to be new and clean. What a waste!
    Our table is over 70 yrs old though, we bought it at an antique shop and although it's a bit big for our room, we all love it. It's made of solid very good quality wood and can slide out on both sides so it can seat 10 people. It's so true that things that are made with the heart by yourself or a craftsman have much more of a soul and are therefore more precious. They last longer too!

    Christine from the NL

  23. Rhonda Jean....when are you buying your wedding hat? :D

    I can so relate to this post. I am trying hard to beat the consumerist in me, but boy is it a battle sometimes. It really is.
    I am surrounded by consumerism....my family are all very material (I'm kinda the black sheep - always have been) and I'm having to retrain my mind to think differently - sure, you can go through the motions, but I think real happiness lies in being content with your lot, rather than seeing it all as a big sacrifice for the good of whomever.
    The only thing from china I really relish? Chinese food. We have a wonderful takeaway. I swear, they put something in it to make it addictive. I am having the hardest time staying away from that!

  24. Beth from Upstate NYJuly 10, 2008 11:06 pm

    I agree that you should look for energy efficiency in major appliances. Here in the US the "energy star" designation points you to the most efficient designs. But for small appliances you can get good deals at garage sales. I have a Sunbeam toaster from the 50's that is wonderful. And it's "retro" style is even in again.

  25. I lived for 18 years in Norway (had my family out there but moved back eventually to be closer to my mother) and have been hugely influenced by their way of life in many, many ways.

    My kitchen is now being completely redesigned and the colours I've chosen are... green, cream and red. The spare bedroom will eventually be offwhite and blue. There's definitely a theme going :)

  26. Just found your blog. I too wish I had gone for secondhand when setting up house. At least I was able to recognize when I had enough, and then stop rather than accumulating more. By the time I got married several years after that, I was quite happy to have a non-stuff-centric celebration, and encouraged guests to give to good causes rather than requesting the typical gifts.

  27. How inspiring to see Carl Larsen pictures in your blog to illustrate simple and sustainable furnishing. I am really benefiting from your reflections. I am trying to slow my consumption down and enjoy each moment.
    Thank you. Suzanne

  28. Hello Rhonda, what a wonderful, inspiring blog do you have!
    And I can tell you I am a great Carl Larsson admirer, having several books on him and his drawings and paintings.
    Thank you for sharing all about the good life you live.


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