Simple Living Series - Never stop learning

8 February 2010
I grew up in a completely different time.  I was born into a time when even though we were fairly modern, we still did most things in a similar way to how they'd been done for hundreds of years.  We grew a few vegetables, we made most of what we ate, we made our own clothes and knitted warm woollies to keep us warm in Winter.  We soaked our grains before eating them, drank non-homogensied milk,  spread our bread with butter and ate what today is seen as an unhealthy diet.  We made a lot of what we used at home, we even cobbled our own shoes and I have memories of my father mending our shoes on a last.  Not only do you not see lasts in homes now, I guess most people don't know what one is.  See one here.
To answer the most asked question on my blog, the upturned pots are to stop us poking our eyes out on the stick - and I love the way they look.

In those days there was no such thing as "low fat" foods.  We all ate every part of the animal and it was common for women to make brawn/headcheese using up all those trotters and bits that could not be used in another way, but could definitely not be wasted either.

I don't want to go back to those days, I found the 1950s particularly repressive, and I think those women who romanticise the 50s housewife were probably not there to experience what it was like.  However, I do use many of the skills I grew up with and find they now come in handy when running my home in a simple way.  We live now in a way that shields us from a lot of the work we commonly did back then.  We have been deskilled and dumbed down because now we buy much of what was made at home; now we hope to save time by buying convenience rather than do it ourselves.  Modern living has made us dependent.
I have no doubt that there are many readers who cannot get by without convenience foods and though they'd love to eat good home made food they have to buy convenience because they have no time for anything else.  But I also know that many buy convenience foods because it's easier or because they don't know how to make what they would like to have.
One of the things that has been at the forefront of my life since I changed the way I live is to learn everything that would help me live more simply.  I had to reskill, remember, practise, read and learn what I needed to know.  It took time and effort but it has paid off in all sorts of splendid ways.  I have rediscovered the independence and self reliance I grew up with. I feel confident that I can look after myself and others and that I am caring for all of us in the best way possible. 
I doubt learning ever stops.  I hope  it doesn't because I find it very liberating and it has given me a kind of life that is uncommon these days.  If you're new to this way of living, if you're trying to simplify, I want to encourage you to learn all you can.  Identify what it is you need to know - if you're anything like me, the list will be long, and slowly embark of your journey of discovery.  Be careful where you get your information from, the internet is full of misinformation.  I have found a few blogs that I've been inspired by over the years, and many books, just make sure your information is from a creditable source.  Once you feel sure of your source, or sources, learn something new every day.
You can learn how to make pasta sauce instead of buying it by the jar, and you can make your own pasta - you don't need a pasta machine.  There are many delicious summer drinks to make instead of relying on soda and soft drink.  Homemade bread, cakes and biscuits/cookies are all better that their store bought cousins and if you can teach yourself how to make sauces, jams, relish, gravy and dressings, not only will you be better off financially, you'll be eating far fewer preservatives, flavour enhancers and colourings.  Soap and laundry powder made with your own hands is  better on your skin than anything you can buy.  You will be wearing unique clothing if you learn dressmaking, crocheting and knitting. Learning how to grow some of your own food, harvesting water and knowing how to preserve your harvests will give you a confidence unlike any other. There are so many more things to suggest but I'm sure you understand what I'm aiming at.
We all want to live a long life and feel healthy enough to enjoy every single day of it.  I think we short change ourselves by buying low fat foods, margarine, flavour enhanced food that can sit on a shelf for days, weeks, or sometimes months before you buy it.  I hope to encourage you towards the more traditional ways of cooking and homemaking where we were taught by our mothers and grandmothers and passed that knowledge on to our daughters and sons.  You may be too old now to learn at your mother's side but there are plenty of books and a few good blogs to guide you.  I think if you make that choice, not only will you be healthier, you'll also discover contentment through self reliance.  And there is a lot to be said for a contented life.


  1. Rhonda, it's so seldom that I get to visit your lovely blog, but each time, I am inspired, and find that I have a lot to catch up on!

  2. This is a particularly inspiring and motivating post today, Rhonda. I am extremely eager to learn many traditional skills, and this is timely, given I have just joined the local CWA, and am also starting to learn and reuse other skills.
    I would love to sift through that rather enticing pile of books in one of your photographs, by the way. ;-)
    I am wondering if you could at some point put together another post outlining credible sources of information - eg, books, and other websites (but particularly books).
    Enjoy your day.
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  3. Rhonda, you are so inspiring. I feel like I learn something new everytime I read your blog.

    I'm now really curious how to make pasta without a pasta machine. I'm aiming to make gnochci from scratch soon and I know you dont need a pasta machine for that :-)

  4. Rhonda, I am new to your blog and I absolutely love it! Your last post got me thinking a lot about different ways people live in different countries. I grew up in Russia, and we used to prepare most of the food ourselves, we grew it ourselves, we made our own clothes, we knitted and even fixed our own shoes! In summer we made tons of preserves from fruits and vegetables to keep us going through long winters. It was in the 80s, not that long ago. Life is a little different there now, but people still remember how to do things. However when I moved to the US I was shocked by how different things are there, almost nobody makes anything, and people are lead to believe that they NEED to BUY so much stuff when they really can do without (like do you really NEED to buy a kitchen rag? can't you just make it from an old t-shirt?). I hope that people will not completely abandon the skills of making things and will keep on learning.

  5. Rhonda ~ I agree, it's never too late to learn. There is something new to explore, to learn to do, to be inspired by, out there just waiting for us to find.

    Your blog is such a delight. Thank you again for sharing your insight and your life's experiences with us.


  6. Rhonda,
    Thank you for your blog! A friend suggested you to me, and I have found myself enjoying my time at home much more. It's so true, that some of us (I am included) don't realize how many different things can be made from scratch, rather than buying them prepared. There is a lot to learn, but thankfully the little steps I have been taking are helping me become more content with my life.
    Enjoy your week!

  7. I just want to tell you that I actually made butter for my self today!
    I have not yet tried it, but it was easy, fun and I've learned a new skill today! I think I will be doing it often acctually.
    The question is- will it really be cheeper to make it my self or bying the stuff..

  8. Hello ladies! Thank you for your kind words.

    Hana, good question. There are some things that are not cheaper to make at home, some are equal in price to bought items and some are cheaper. The quality is usually better at home though. Butter is one of those foods that is cheaper to buy. If I buy butter at Aldi it's cheaper than the jersey cream butter I make at home. But my butter is always better. I don't make butter much except when we're having a special morning tea with scones and jam and I want good butter to go with it. It's a treat more than anything. You are wise to always check your pricing.

  9. I'm here everyday, but seldom comment. I have made a couple of posts at the Forum, but usually go quietly away. But I wanted to thank you for the care you have put into this series. It is very meaningful.

  10. One of the few advantages of being older is that, as you pointed out, we grew up watching our parents and grandparents do all manner of (so-called) chores every day.

    As a consequence, I can comfortably look after myself without resorting to the latest technology if the need arises.

    Your comment on pasta reminded me of watching my grandmother make pasta and hanging it on the back of the kitchen chair!

    In the course of my work, I come into contact with those that have no or few skills and it is quite a concern just how reliant they are on others for their most basic needs.

    Your post expresses so well the huge need out there for inspirational articles and demonstrations. And a lot of fun can be had by all along the way.


  11. Hi Rhonda,

    ""Modern living has made us dependent""

    This is so true, and I can see the attitude of dependence creeping into just about every area of modern life.

    Learning all the wonderful new things that I am learning now, has really made adulthood very interesting - and loads of fun. I finally tackled knitting last year, and have made a reasonable scarf for myself....I feel so good when I wear it, because I made it myself.

  12. Hi Rhonda - Thank you for today's post. I have not commented before this but have enjoyed your blog for quite a while now, ever since I heard you speak on ABC radio about simple living. Since then I have been learning a few extra skills. This summer I returned to growing my own vegies & started slowly as you suggested. In the last 2 months, I harvested over $600 worth of organic fruit & veg.
    I have also purchased a Fowlers Vacola kit & made bottled preserves for the first time.
    Last week I made organic wholewheat bread. Thank you for your inspiring blog & please keep it up! There is not a lot of support out there yet for this kind of life.
    Have a great day.

  13. Your writing today certainly hit a nerve with me. Growing up in the 60's and having parents that were much older than all of my friends' parents gave me a different perspective than most of the young people I grew up with.

    It was difficult to find friends with the same ideals as myself or my family, if at all possible at times. My mother and father grew up on farms and lived through the Depression They valued the simple thlngs in life and the rewards that came from hard work, which wasn't always measured in dollars. It was measured in self-worth and self-respect. Friendships and acquaintances were based on qualities that did not include the size of one's wallet or bank account.

    Society as a whole seems to think that once you have what you really need, you need even more because that makes you an even better person and your living a better more fulfilling life.

    It has been my experience that those who don't subscribe to this type of thinking, myself being one, are looked at in a negative way, much of the time. I know that one's value really is equal to what one has in his heart, society just makes it so very difficult at times.

  14. I just want to say how much I like your blog and find it inspiring. It makes me wish that when I was younger I spent more time with my parents and grandparents learning life skills such as the ones you write about. But I am learning now. What I find most challenging is balance, I have a young family and I must work and I enjoy what I do and I want to provide experiences and a future for my children that requires some money. But everytime I am working, all I want to be doing is baking and sewing and being at home in the garden with my children. I try to split my life between all my responsibilities and all I feel is like I am torn in so many different directions, what is your advice for me?

  15. A very good post, one that speaks to all of the issues of learning. It is easier to romanticize those past years, but it was not all "Happy Days" as TV would have us believe. I believe folks are wanting to return to a simpler life, and only some of the change is due to the current financial crisis that some are faced with.

  16. This is simply fantastic. You've said exactly what I have been trying to articulate for a while now. It isn't just a drive to be "independent;" that's really never possible. It's a drive to be self-reliant. Thanks!

  17. a beautiful post, rhonda. thanks

  18. Thanks Rhonda for this inspirational post.
    I gave up soft drinks some time ago (even then, it was only from a sodastream)and only drink water, but I do like to make lemonade for guests.
    I would love to learn dressmaking but it seems like a huge undertaking and it is a little daunting. I know I will get there one day, and I am pleased with the progress I am making, slowly but surely.
    I wish it were possible to one day be 100% self-reliant, rather than having to depend on others (shops) to survive.

  19. What a great post. I love this series! Thank you so much. I really appreciate all the information. I am learning most of these skills for the first time. Your blog is such an inspiration.

  20. Hi Rhonda, I've been reading your blog for about a year now. You've inspired me in so many ways. This post reminded me that there are still several things that I want to learn how to do :) Thank you for sharing your ways of living simply.


  21. I have to say that I think a diet in unprocessed foods such as milk and butter that is as close to the source as possible, is so much more healthful than a diet in lowfat processed foods. I eat a "clean" food list -- everything is as close to the original content as possible -- if there are more than a few ingredients in the package, I pass it by. I think that is the key to healthful eating. I lost 80 lbs. three years ago and have kept it off following this eating plan. I think it is a misconception that "higher fat" foods are bad for you. I think it is the processed foods that will do you in.

  22. Hi Rhonda,
    Can you tell us what books on self reliance are on your bookshelf? Like the ones in your picture. If you've done this already, can you direct me to that post?

  23. Hi Rhonda,
    Thankyou for your inspiring post today. I was wondering if you could tell me about the book you have called Simple Living (in the picture)- Who wrote it please.

  24. Thanks for a lovely reminder of why I work so hard to give my family the best. It is worth it!

  25. Hi Rhonda, I enjoyed today's post, and I also enjoyed the comments! I'm keen on a list of credible sources as suggested by Anonymous. As you've said, there's lots of bogus sources available, and when you're new to the simple living idea it can be really difficult to know which ones are dodgy.

    Our tomatoes are finally producing an excess, so I'm off to find a good tomato chutney recipe :-)

  26. In Germany they would stuff some straw in your upside down pots on the stick. It's done to attract earwigs to nest because they eat harmful insects. Don't know if that would work in Austalia...I find your posts really fascinating....I have two lasts for shoes, but have never seen anyone use them. I mostly have them as curiosities (they were given to me) and possibly useful things in dire circumstances!

    My generation (close to yours) was influenced by all the back to the earth ideas and nuclear fears, and we still saw (most of us) glimpses of other ways of life and were fascinated (in the US, and I think in other places) with pioneer life and skills.

  27. Hi Rhonda Jean, Another lovely post. I was born in the 70's and grew up on a small crops farm. Just Mum and Dad and some family members to help out. I remember the days spent with Dad talking about milking the cow and then churning the butter, for his Nan. Dad always saved his own seeds from year to year, and grew alot of the older varieties of vegetables. Now I have 'recruited' him to be my adviser and teacher, to pass some of his knowledge onto us. And hopefully one day our boys can tell stories about, when Grandad once taught them how to grow vegetables. I think this kind of quality time spent together and learning from our elders is lost and hopefully little by little it can be returned.

    Hope you have a wonderful day. Cheers, Deb (North Queensland)

  28. I grew up with self-reliant parents. However, there is a line between time and some cases it can be cheaper NOT to do some things yourself. My husband who is an engineer, is always trying to figure out which is better to or make in some way. The knowledge of HOW to do things (even in unconventional ways) however, needs to be known, just in case we at some point will HAVE TO do everything again as it was in the past. I have a few of the same books you do...some I have read all of, others just here and there...but plan on keeping for a time when I might need more information.

    My parents had a rule about my clothing. ANYTIME I wanted to sew my own, they would buy me the materials. If I wanted a store bought dress, then it was another matter. I LIKED sewing. However, some better tools and a better sewing maching would have helped. I still have never had some tools that other women feel are a must. But my older sewing machine is a work horse, even if it won't do EVERYTHING the newer ones will do. It has no computer in it. And I even have a tredle machine bought some years ago new...some communities still live without electricity...and have sewn on it enough to know how...and will keep it. ONE NEVER KNOWS when it might be a necessity in the future.

    One drawer in my mom's kitchen was called the "rag bag drawer"...and we were free to use any of the worn out stuff in there for any use we chose. Funny today, we are taught we need 59 kinds of different paper products to do tasks. I keep a space on a shelf and call it "dog towels"...meaning if is fair game to use for dog jobs or any other!!

    Thanks for ALL your shared knowledge!! You really could write lots of books!!

  29. Hi Rhonda! Thanks again for a lovely and inspiring post. I thought I would just pop in here to say that I hope you never feel like these skills are going to 'die out'. I am 33, and just inherited a wealth of sewing and knitting equipment and stores and I started my first pattern-following course this saturday just gone. After just a few hours I could just feel how much better my clothes were going to fit, how much more fun my children were going to have, because they have a mum who can make things for and with them. We also made a family change last week- no more caged chicken meat or products ever. We've been free-range egging for a long, long time, but I never jumped to the meat side until last week. At just an extra few dollars a kg, we can make that leap to ensure that humane treatment has been given to the animals we eat.
    Thanks for such an awesome post, as usual, and I hope you have a lovely week.

  30. I love to learn. I do try to learn something new each day. I just wish I had the time to learn more.

    Luckily I have learned how to make bread (I sold bread to my neighbors as a teenager), how to grow a fantastic garden, how to make my own laundry soap, how to design a website, how to sew, and much much more.


    I want to learn how to oil paint, how to scuba dive, how to better manage my house...etc. etc. etc.

    It really does amaze me how few people have learned how to prepare food from scratch.

    I used to sell spices and I was so surprised when people would say things like, "I don't know what basil is or what to do with it." It was then that I came to the conclusion that many many people's idea of fixing dinner is opening a box of hamburger helper, or some other type of convenience food. I feel bad for the flavors they miss out on.

  31. Rhona, Your mention of the cobblers last brought back many memories!I grew up in the sixties,in the East end of London the other side of the river from the Houses of Parliament.Our family of five and my Grandma lived in a 3 bedroom, one living room flat (apartment). My Dad frequently mended our shoes with bits of rubber or leather he could find. He had two jobs, days in a warehouse and a night shift on the newspapers.I don't know when he slept! My Mum worked part time and my Grandma cleaned offices well into her seventies and we were still hard up! Not such good times.

    Thanks for reminding me of this as we are apt to romanticise the past.

  32. i think education should be as follows: the younger the child, the more basic the skills they learn. stuff such as crocheting is nice, but it's not necessary to sustain us. first, learn wilderness survival and foraging, finding water, shelter etc., then learn basic farming skills, then learn the crafts that are more cultural and in the end, learn fine arts. only reading and calculus should be taught to make it easier to learn anything at all.
    even if some things are cheaper to buy, you should always ask yourself: do you want to spend this time in a regular job, or do you prefer the variety of jobs that ends in homemade products?

  33. Your bookshelf looks very much like mine! I enjoy your blog and read it daily.

    Many Blessings

  34. Rhonda, I love how you break it down. We want a simpler, homemade life, but there is so much to learn. I love that you encourage to take one step at a time, to learn one skill at a time. Thank you for your blog.

  35. Even though my mother was a skilled homemaker (as well as worked outside of the home), she did not have the patience to teach those skills to me. So I've had to do a lot of "on the job training" so to speak. Even though it would be easier for me as a working home keeper to feed my family convenience foods, I prefer to serve simple, nourishing meals made from scratch. I'm so proud of myself and how my knowledge in the kitchen has grown! But still, so much to learn - and to teach my daughter :)

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  36. Ms. Rhonda,

    Thank you for this post. I'm an avid blog reader of yours and wanted to thank you for investing in the next generation. I'm a 28 yr old farmer's wife who has much to learn. We desire a simpler life and are striving to learn every aspect of sustainability....although we all know "simple" does not always mean sitting on your porch watching the clouds go by. There is much satisfying work to be done!

    We have a farm in Texas in which we raise grass-fed beef, pastured pork, pastured chicken & eggs.

    I find it overwhelming at times at the information that I have yet to learn. I was raised in the city. My parents were very much "career" people who leaned towards a convenience diet and lifestyle. They still think we are nuts! Ha!

    I find blogs and women like you inspiring and filled with a wealth of knowledge. Blogs like yours keep me going and eager to learn the next thing.

    I would LOVE a post of resources. There are a lot of time wasters out there online and within books.

    Thanks again!
    (Brenham, TX- USA)

  37. Great post. You should consider hosting a "blog carnival" where you and your readers contribute their favorite simple living type blogs for all of us to see and explore. I love your blog and I'm sure there are more great ones out there I would enjoy.

  38. The other day, my husband said "this is crazy, I want to live more simplier"! I couldn't believe it! He is done with things, etc and wants to live with more meaning. Working for others and not doing things with the family is no longer working for him.
    So I got some books from the library, told him about some blogs to read, especially yours, and heres hoping we can really get to a more simplier life!
    It won't come overnight, but it sure is a start.
    So at dinner tonite we are going to talk about your blog instead of whats happening at work! Yipeeee

  39. I don't have a problem with dependency, myself. Hands up who self-hosts and blogs in straight HTML? And how is that different from making your own clothes, given that our need to communicate is just as important as our need to wear clothes?

    Not sure what the issue is with low-fat food. My grandfather and his 9 siblings grew up on a similar diet to Rhonda's parents, and all but one dropped dead around the 60 mark -- they ate too much fat for the work they were doing. If they'd eaten more vegetables and pulses, I might have had a chance to meet them :-(

    That said, I firmly believe that a good understanding of our interdependencies, and deliberately choosing what we depend on, is what makes a simple lifestyle.

  40. Really enjoyed this post. I wonder if this is also why stay-at-home mothers have become somewhat looked down apon in our society.

    Once apon a time, a stay at home mother was almost revered, because she needed so many skills, to care for the children, and run the house smoothly.

    Today, a stay-at-home mother doesnt necessarily need any skills in growing or preparing food, making and mending clothing, etc. Perhaps this is why staying at home with your children, is almost seen to be boring, by many these days. Something to pass the time, until you go out and find a "real" job.

    I am proud to be a stay at home mother, and feel that I have never learnt so much in all my life, since I have chosen to be at home, and tried to learn to be as self-reliant as possible. It's all in the attitude...!!

  41. I love the picture of your reference books. My list of go to books is very similar. ~Colleen~

  42. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I am seeking a simpler lifestyle and recently read a book called "Carrying Water" and now your blog has further inspired me. Cheers!


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