10 December 2008

Minister for Simplicity

I didn't think I'd be frightened by our economic crisis. Initially I saw it as a way of slowing everything down, putting the brakes on indiscriminate spending, and forcing many people to rethink the way they live their lives. Now it has gone beyond a simple lesson and is hitting hard. At the Centre I volunteer at, many more people are needing help and some of them are losing hope in the future. The crisis has a long way to go yet, some say life will be very difficult for at least another 18 months. My fear is that our governments have no idea how to handle what is happening and if they continue to throw money at the problem, the chance to grow through this, and eventually prosper, will be lost.

Simple living is the answer but politicians and those in power refuse to acknowledge that reducing what we spend on 'stuff' will help us and our planet. They are choosing to support 'the economy', and here in Australia, sections of our community - pensioners, carers, some people on a low income and families with children are being given one-off payments of over a thousand dollars ($1000 per child) and being encouraged to go out and spend it. It's a great pre-Christmas boost for those people but it's not a long term solution and it totally fails to address the problems associated with always having an economy reliant on non-stop spending, shoddy products and debt.

Simplifying our lives is not just a decision for tough times, although it makes the most sense then. I am not naive enough to believe that moving to a more simple way of life would be easy. I know it would be tough. But would it be tougher than what we are faced with now? Continuing to spend like drunken sailors is not sustainable, there must be a point at which the economy can't "grow" any more. Is climate change telling us we have reached that point?

I think our political agenda needs to change. If we had a Minister for Simplicity, she would be overseeing the development of factories to produce good quality, repairable, electrical appliances and cars that run on hydrogen; she would be encouraging us to attend the sewing or gardening classes in our neighbourhood; she would support the use of renewable energy, give rebates for solar panels and make water tanks compulsory on all homes.

Isn't that alternative an enticing idea. It would be wonderful if we had governments that really meant it when they said "it's time for change". Imagine if our factories reopened to produce sustainable, good quality products we all needed. Imagine if children grew up learning about vegetable gardening instead of sitting in front of an Xbox for hour upon hour. Imagine if credit cards were banned and we went back to thinking carefully about what we need, and then saving for it. The reduction in our landfill dumps alone would be astounding!

Don't worry, I don't believe that is going to happen, at least not in my lifetime. I am an optimist but I'm not stupid. I know handing out money is far more popular than being the instrument of change. I know band-aid measures are popular.

But in the meantime, we can all work towards further reductions in our lives. We can teach ourselves lost skills and be energised by producing some of our own food. We can slow down our spending and pay off debt. Big business hates that - it takes away their control of us. We can sew and knit, keep chooks; teach our children; talk to our neighbours; make do with what we have; be aware of our local natural environment and care for it; cook from scratch, and become healthier because of it; and live smaller instead of bigger.

And while you're doing that, show your friends and neighbours what you're doing; they might be interested. Talk to your children about your family's changes and show them ways they might change too. Explain what you're doing to your extended family and work mates. If we can help others find a way of living that will help them survive this financial crisis, that helps us all. Be open with what you're doing and show others the benefits of your changes. And if you get the chance to talk to your local politicians, tell them how you've changed, what you've done and what you've planned for your future, and then ask them when we will have our first Minister for Simplicity.



  1. Once again you hit the nail right on the head.

    Do we really need all the throw away junk we have?

    I too agree the Stimulus checks are bad for us all no matter where we live.

    The best thing we can do is pass on a frugal, use it up, reuse it or recycle it life style to our children and future grandchildren.

  2. what a lovely idea. A cabinet position on simplicity, conservation, recycling.....

    I wish people would Think about where those stimulus payments are coming from. From their social security (in the US)? from their taxes that they complain are killing them?

    you are incredibly on target.

  3. We got stimulus packages here in the US last year with the idea that we would all go out and spend it to stimulate the economy. We put ours right into the bank and I know quite a few people that used it to pay off debt but I doubt we were the majority and I know that wasn't what the government intended us to do with their "free money"

  4. Good morning Rhonda,

    I couldn't agree with you more. A Minister for Simplicity; now thats what we need. Now for any of the dear folk who will receive a little bonus from the Government, may I suggest you try and do what Rhonda does with her seeds; plant it in the bank and watch it grow. I realize that it won't be possible for some to do this but if you can you'll be surprised at how it grows. Its a good feeling to have a little set aside in case of emergencies.

    Blessings Gail

  5. Genius! A minister of simplicity is what every single nation in this world needs!!! We need simple people with simple ideas to work together!


  6. You are dead on about this. The real crisis isn't financial...it's people not willing to go back to their roots to live a simpler lifestyle. I have taught my kids how to compost and garden and use our natural resources wisely. I hope they hang onto that into their adult lives. "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it."

  7. The thought of cash hand-outs scares me. Don´t get me wrong - if it puts needed food on someones table or helps someone keep the roof over their head, who would want to deny them help in an emergency?
    But to me this large-scale, indiscriminate hand-out is so cynical. The powerful elite knows so well that a huge majority of the population is more or less addicted to shopping. They have been well groomed from early childhood via all kinds of media. Usch, I sound like a rabid socialist which I am not. Maybe the very tough times we have ahead will help many more realise that less is more and that there are better aims in life than being super-consumers.
    Bring on a Minister for Simplicity. Great idea Rhonda
    Ramona K

  8. Rhonda the Rudd government's handout has me completely astounded. I applauded their election win and now seriously wonder if they can lead us out of this miasma.

  9. Hear hear, I totally agree, a Minister of Simplicity, good idea. The 'economy' needs funds so we get to work, no problem with the basic concept but I do wonder where all the 'growth' is going (or as is at the moment, where did it go?). We need to encourage local manufacturing to produce better made products but too many people are like lemmings and want a 'bargain' so buy loads of cheap crap and don't connect the dots when they throw stuff away again and again and then complain about the 'quality' not being what it used to be!Education, of course but our teachers will tell you that they already have their hands full with all the other expectations parents now expect from them. Each of us who has down sized, started to cook from scratch, taken up sewing and knitting, growing our own vegetables or buying only locally, all of these things we do we need to start telling people, at work, our families (who for some reason are the first to roll their eyes) but we need to plug away. From these small steps, big things will happen, We need to have faith and community (even online community) to encourage others and let our politicians know that although we need an economy we also need a planet to live on, clean water and housing. Plus if anyone else tells me that any change 'will cost jobs' I will clip their ears! Lots of 'jobs' have vanished over the years (how many gas lighters do you know?) but we humans are resourceful and other jobs not yet known will appear.
    Ok I'm off my soap box.
    Virginia K, Blacktown, Australia.

  10. interesting post
    it was only yesterday i was discussing with my husband what we were going to do with our bonus money.
    and thanks to u and your words of wisdom and this change we have made
    we will actually be paying out ge credit line card and closing the account down seeing as we no longer use it. im thankful for the money and proud of us for putting it towards our debt and actually achieving part of our reduce debt goal.
    i do hope that alot of people chose to take the opportunity to pay of debt with in some cases the large bonus set to come this week
    i know we will be better off, with now more money in our monthly budget to attack our second last card
    i was disappointed to see our gov throw money at the problem and then instruct us to go out and spend it

  11. Rhonda,
    Maybe I am missing something but I don't really understand how the cash bonuses are going to actually help. It would be different if I kept my money just in my local community- i.e. if I bought something from the fruit shop and they used their profit to get their car fixed at the small local mechanic and then he used some if his profit for his wife to get her hair done at the hairdressers, but if I go and 'spend spend spend' as my PM is telling me, doesn't it just go in to company profits? I don't think the giant near by stores are going to 'pass it around' in the community. Am I missing something? or does the spend spend spend theory only support big business ?
    I truly don't understand !

  12. Bang on again! Am really having a go with this in our family. We have 4 children and really want to work together to get things, rather than handing them out at Christmas and birthdays. So thats what we are doing... working together. At the moment we are all saving for a skiing holiday. Children put in spare pennies, grow veg to sell and have garage sales. We have collected £100 and bought some Premium Bonds to see if they come up with anything. We can buy them back at the end. And we are putting a steady amount in per month, and not going out as much as family. All children are up for it and helping. Its wonderful.
    They can all see the benefit of working as a team.
    So agree with your every word. we need to pass this message on.
    Thank you once more!

  13. We got that stimulus check here in the US also, this past spring, I believe. We immediately spent it...on our flood insurance! I wish we could have put it in the bank, but flood insurance is costly where we live, so off it went. I wouldn't have spent it on more stuff anyways. I've got boxes of that now already. Minister for Simplicity indeed!

  14. AMEN and AMEN from Renee in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA, Who has learned from you and my husband about being simple....hang your clothes on a line...get a couple of laying hens and have your own eggs....buy from farmers markets....stock pile a little at a time....buy used furniture, old homes (mine is from 1950 and was creamed by a huricane...my husband put it back together)...pay cash for things...pay off your debt even if it is one credit card at a time (in the spirit of Dave Ramsey, who care what your FICA score is)..when you do buy new things insist on quality.

  15. Spot on Rhonda. The problem with Government handouts is that the money was really ours in the first place in the form of tax payers contributions.

    I can't stand the way that our governments are encouraging us to spend wantonly and to worship "the economy". In reality, the simple life is the only way that will get us out of this current mess.

    During the WW2, the allied governments had Ministries that helped people reduce consumption, grow food at home, and do more with less. It helped win the war against fascism.

    Your proposed Ministry of Simplicity would bring back those valuable lessons in these troubled times because this type of mindset will help move us forward to a sustainable future, and not into the abyss that we are now teetering on the edge of.

  16. Amen Sister!! While we may never have a minister of simplicity in government (is that an oxymoron?) we can all be the minister of simplicity in our own homes. Perhaps we will convince others by our own example and fruitfulness to appoint a minister of simplicity in their own homes as well. I am feeling quite important now as the newly appointed Minister of Simplicity of Runamuck Ranch.

  17. Fantastic!! My husband was telling me that on the news there are 75,000 jobs lost in Canada, 65,000 in Ontario alone, (where we live). My husband has been out of work for 3 months (the 11th of this month). During this very difficult time in our lives, I have found more blessings, more self control, and a simplier life. I thank God that I am learning to be wise with my spending. I told my husband once he starts back to work, I'm hoping we continue being wise and stop spending just because. Buy when we need too, not when we want too!!

  18. What a wonderful post, Rhonda!
    I've been reading your blog for a few months and LOVE it. It has helped us make so many changes for the better!
    Recently, we've started budgeting, and it's made a HUGE difference. We don't spend on anything but necessities anymore, and it's wonderful! :)
    I can't thank you enough for encouraging me to take those first steps, and helping to keep me on track when I start to slip!!

  19. This post is very eye opening. I knew what was coming down, and that it was going to come down harder on us in the future. I don't don't have the answers for the whole picture, but I sure like your suggestions. And I do know what I can do to help myself and some of my closer friends and neighbors.
    I just took another step toward that simpler life...I had needed a washing machine because mine was beyond repair. I found a used set (washer and dryer) that I purchased, and after having them for a few weeks my friend gifted me with a washer that her grandmother had owned. Since I didn't need the other set, I just resold it to someone who can use them. I would much rather buy used then to buy brand new! The money from the sale of this set will go to paying for an unexpected medical expense...it all works out in the long run, doesn't it???

  20. What an amazing idea!

    I vote for one here in America, too.

    Better yet, I say anyone holding national office has to be a grandmother who has raised a family on a limited budget.

  21. Dearest,


    Yours kindredly,
    Honey Hill Farm

  22. I was appalled when Rudd announced his 'spend spend spend' stimulus package, but - thankfully! - everyone I have talked to since then that will be receiving the bonus is going to either use it to pay off debts or are putting it away for 'just in case'. Finally, the average person seems to be seeing that we aren't over the worst of this and are preparing a little!

    Cheers, Julie

  23. BusyWoman, absolutely yes, its the corporations they want us to prop up!
    Ours will probably be spent on essentials like school book lists, fees and uniforms for my son who is starting secondary school. Whatever is left is paying off debt.
    I live in Victoria's largest regional city and in one suburb alone two new supermarkets have been completed recently. That makes four in a couple of km's radius. A Safeway, a Woolworths (yep, two of them), a Coles and an IGA. And Aldi wants in. In the city, Westfield have recently doubled the available shopping area. I don't think my town has grown enough to support all of those stores. You can fire a cannon down the new Woolies' sparkling aisles most days.
    I'd trade them all for a decent farmer's market.
    Sorry, I digress, but it all relates to these decisions being made to prolong the life of a very sick economy that has been built on speculation, greed and extreme consumerism.
    'Keeping a simple eye' has never been more important.

  24. I love how you said we should have a mininster for Simplicity and she would do the job. I think females understand this problem and talk about it more than men. So you go girl!! I hereby nominate you Rhonda for this job. Oh sorry you are doing it already. Now we just need the politicians to read your blog and then maybe they will understand the situation a lot more.
    Happy thrifting gardening and recycling.

  25. Once again Rhonda, you have hit the nail on the head. Wonderful post. Interested to read in Joanne's comment about Woolies. Here in the UK they have gone bankrupt. Sad to see a long term firm go under with the loss of so many jobs. Everyone is supporting them with their closing down sales. I suppose it will help those who want to buy 'stuff' just because it's cheap.

  26. This is why I love your blog!! I think you are in my mind.

    I have a family member out of work and she keeps saying when she gets a job she can't wait to buy stuff again. Yikes, and they are in debt up to their eyeballs. This period of unemployment has not taught them/her anything!! I am doing my best to educate her on my simple ways. She has begun to use the library so all is not lost!!

    Thanks again for the great post.

  27. The economy isn't real. People are real. Food is real. Shelter is real. The shirt on my back is real. But the economy is just an abstract concept based on the idea that we all need to have more food, shelter, shirts and who knows what else than we actually need.

  28. Rhonda, you put in words exactly what my husband and I have been talking about. We're in the U.S and I'm sure you've heard of the many bailouts. The amount of $$$ is unbelievable. It makes NO sense to us how throwing more money at a money problem will help. We can't spend more to get out of debt. We had stimulus checks the beginning of the year here in the U.S. It didn't help.
    We must, absolutely must, learn to live with less. Live within our means, not beyond. We must do for ourselves. Mend clothing, not worry about having name brand, garden, become happy being at home.

  29. Living here in the States, I've been watching this mess unfold thinking as well that the gov't solutions do no more than perpetuate the problems that started us in this mess.
    We received a check. We spent part on bulk grains to stock up and saved the rest. (I know, not what they wanted us to do!)
    We consider ourselves blessed that God spoke to our hearts this time last year about living a more simple life. It's made a huge difference in our home.
    Blessings to you.
    Just think, really, each of us is a Minister of Simplicity. We are changing and teaching others what we've learned. In the end, won't that be more productive than just one more gov't program anyway? Besides, here in the States at least, they'd find a way to screw up simplicity. :)

  30. Rhonda, I can't add anymore as I think everyone else here has said it all so well, but I do want to say how much I have enjoyed reading your post and all the comments so far today. Fantastic! Thanks again.

  31. How's this for crazy...we owe the US gov for back taxes and they took the amount of the stimulus check and deducted from amount owed. It was nice for us but didn't help the economy anyway as we didn't go out & spend that amount. It seems crazy if a couple owe taxes to get a stimulus check..would think we wouldn't have qualified.

    I like reminders in your post. We usually are frugal, but to be reminded on a regular basis is always a good thing!

    Maria M

  32. You are so right! Our German chancellor Merkel has been laughed at because she talked about the virtues of a good housewife who does not spend more than she has. And now she has problems because she refuses to give out stimulus checks. But aside from the negative effects of more spending, whose money would it be? The tax-payers´, of course, and it would result in even more debts we leave our children and grandchildren.

  33. How wonderful that would be? Why are governments always afraid to ask people to live within their means, to seek a meaningful existence? Instead of a flat screen TV.

    You are right, though. The governments will not grow this movement but we ca.

  34. Excellent post again, thank you.

    Here in the UK the government is planning something similar to stimulus cheques for certain parts of the population. They have also cut VAT (tax on goods) by 2.5 per cent to stimulate spending (it's not working), and are offering to bail out people who are having problems with their mortgages to try and keep the housing market afloat. All this would, possibly, be well and good but the government are having to borrow to pay for all these 'fiscal stimuli' and yet we, as a nation, are already in horrendous debt. Surely, as it was our over reliance on debt that has got us into this mess we shouldn't be relying on our governments digging us ever deeper into debt to try and 'buy' our way out again. If only we could all have a Minister for Simplicity.

  35. Well, I can't say I mind pensioners and carers getting a bit extra, especially carers, whose financial burdens have been getting heavier and heavier. I *don't* understand the urging people to spend it -- it's in the economy if it's in a bank account instead of spent.

  36. I just found your blog and have really enjoyed reading through the more recent entries. Sometime I hope to have time to read through more of your archives, as I think I could learn a lot from you.

    I was also hoping that the current economic crisis would mean we would begin to return to a more sustainable way of life (hopefully by buying less of better quality things and actually paying the producers enough to live - even in England many farmers are unable to make a living from doing their job - we spend masses of marketing power on fairtrade products to allow third world farmers to make a living wage, and yet forget those in our own country). However, it doesn't look like that is what's going to happen, and that saddens me.

  37. Rhonda, I was wondering whether you know the book Explorations by Wilma Dykeman. It doesn't have anything particular in common what you write now, but I believe she did have something in common with you. I found there, for example, the thought that we are buying appliances and products to save us time, but the time they're supposed to save us isn't used for any good. I really think you'd like the book.

  38. Rhonda, we're in the lucky category of receiving this timely govt money. But unlike just about every person I know, it's in the bank and it's staying there.

    We've got what we need and all the calls to go and spend the economy into revival seem pointless and crude.

    If there were a proviso that the money had to be spent on products made in Oz...perhaps I'd rethink my attitude, but that's just a pipe dream. It wasn't household economics that got us into this stinking mess, and upping household consumption isn't the answer.

    Lisa x

  39. I had so many plans for this money that I was not expecting. We have had a difficult year and I was going to eliminate more than one debt. There would have been some money to squirrel away. But life has other plans.

    Our home's previous owners fought with every neighbour about the fencing. We have struggled and juggled and tried to do our best to maintain some harmony. We have managed to replace and repair about 70%. The other day some of the fence fell down! I guess we will use some of the money to keep the peace. I just can't make things worse.

    Hopefully this will still buy us a little breathing room to add some other peace to our lives.

  40. If you haven't seen "The Story of Stuff" I highly recommend it.
    It explains how and why we've gotten in this spending mess and very motivational. I think you'd enjoy it.

  41. I totally agree with this post - commercial and Western ethics that thrive on Consumerism and capitalism are what we are used to and we have not learned the ways to fight them. As we can all see now, our *not* spending right now is having a massive impact on economies and businesses.

    My blog started for that reason - to help anyone living in cities in the UK to realise that despite being in the city we *can* do something and start living simpler and more fulfilling lives.

    Thank you Rhonda for your inspiration and for yet another great comment - I am now trying each month to learn a new habit that will reduce our costs further. My next challenge will be washing up liquid! x

  42. Oh we had stimulus checks too last year but everyone basically saved there's so it didn't have the affect they wanted it to! They're talking about a 2nd stimulus package but I don't think they'll be sending out checks this time! A simplicity czar - that's what we need!


  43. As with so many things, it seems that the "battle" for simplicity and against over-consumption has to do with winning over the "hearts and minds" of people.

    For a century now people have been told by every possible media that happiness can be bought, if you just buy the "right thing." Of course, it can't be, but how can we teach people that when everything else tells them it's so?

    I think it is really important for those of us who know to be ready to speak up and speak against the forces of ... well, at the risk of sounding too religious...evil.. that have brainwashed people into believing that they are only as valuable as what they own.

    In these tough times the message of simplicity can bring strength and comfort -- just as you do in this wonderful blog.

  44. Hi Rhonda, I've not commented for a while but this post has really hit the nail on the head. Frankly, the politicians haven't got a clue what to do so they're listening to the WRONG KIND OF PEOPLE who tell them we need to spend more money to save the economy. Poppycock! They should be listening to people like us. People who woke up and smelled the coffee long before an economic meltdown was predicted. People who are living within their means and living well. Living on credit is the root of this mess. Encouraging people to spend more is downright criminal.

    Like all good ideas the simple ones are the best. A Minister for Simplicity? Absolutely!

  45. Quote from my 17 year old son: "She's right. Someone should put her in charge."!!

  46. I cannot agree more - it is unbelievable that we are being encouraged to spend as thoughtlessly as before. We keep repeating the same mistakes - it just feels ludicrous - we're partying whilst the Titanic is sinking. I too sense that this is a real opportunity for mobilising change but am worried that our governments are letting it slip through our fingers. I don't really know anyone who is changing - just people who were already verging on "simple" and becoming more so. I do so hope this changes...


  47. A timely thought.

  48. Rhonda,

    I've been following your blog for a while, but this is the first time I've commented.

    As usual you've got it right! If only governments had a minister of simplicity! I've been saying for a while that they should send out seed packages instead of cheques.

    I so agree with your statement; "Imagine if children grew up learning about vegetable gardening instead of sitting in front of an Xbox for hour upon hour". I'm trying to do my part with this - I'm a teacher and next year I'll be teaching my class all about living simply and the way they impact their environment. We'll be baking bread and learning to knit,sew and mend as well as grow vegies and cook with our "home" grown produce.

    Thanks for your continuing inspiration.


  49. and you know the bit that rubs salt into the wounds Rhonda? The fact that all the money spent making business more sustainable would probably do similar to the economy anyway? Would definately create more jobs and more money movement anyway.

    Instead - no, go buy a plasma.

  50. This is a wonderful, wonderful post. When you talk about a Minister of Simplicity, I think of Eleanor Roosevelt here in the US during WWII. And I'm sure there are others who have done similar things in the past, and the not-too-distant past really. We Westerners haven't always been consumers like we are today. I hope that we really COULD have someone in our various countries doing what you envision. But, if we don't have leaders like that, at least people like you and others of us blogging about simpler living could do that. This may just take a completely grassroots effort this time!

  51. Hi Rhonda

    I've just found you through the Aussies Living Simply forum and usually just lurk around peoples' blogs without commenting. There is such a wealth of information and good sense on your blog that strikes a chord with me that I have been flushed fropm the shadows by the need to say thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences!

    I'll definitely be trying out your soap and homemade cleaner recipes as I have been wanting to make my own for a while. I'm slowly but surely simplifying my life, but have a long way to go yet. I can see your blog being a very helpful resource in this journey though!

    With love & respect, Kath


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