Making your life your job

21 May 2010
In with a lot of other emails I had one from Ceri through the week.  I asked her if it was okay to answer in a post because I think this is something many people struggle with.  To summarise, Ceri wrote that she and her husband have just moved from Dubai to Cyprus in the hope of living a simpler life.  She writes:  "What I would like to have some ideas on are  how to adjust and not feel guilty about being a stay at home wife.  We have no children and I have worked long and hard most of my adult life. My husband’s salary covers the bills and we can put aside a little for the future and the life insurance but there is very little spare outside of that.  ( I used to be a 3 overseas  holidays a year Radley handbag girl,)  Now  I have chosen to stay at home as this was part of the plan to drastically change our way of living, but I feel really guilty about not bringing in the bread even though I am learning to bake it.  I feel ashamed to tell friends that we cannot afford things and don’t want to make new friends for fear of them laughing at my simple ideas.   How do I overcome this?

 Also  how do I go about starting my own veggie garden in rented accommodation.  How would you suggest I do this so that I don’t upset the garden but still begin my dream of growing my own produce and know I can take it with me when the time comes to move on."

Dear Ceri, all changes take time to feel right and natural and this is a very big change so it doesn't surprise me that you feel uneasy.  One thing you should do is to think of what you're doing at home now as your real job.  It will be as time consuming as any paid job, maybe even more so, and thinking of it as your job might help you with your adjustment.  That is what I did when I left work. I wasn't earning money but I felt it was my job to save money in the home to make up for what I wasn't earning.  That lead me to everything I currently do in my home.  It is my job to shop for bargains and get value for every cent we spend; I must grow or buy good quality food for our table; it's my responsibility to look after our assets so they last as long as possible - that covers everything from bed sheets and clothing, to everything in our house and the house itself.  If I do my job properly, we'll spend less, conserve more and live well in the process.

With your husband going out to earn money and you saving your money at home, you'll make an excellent team.  Remember, you'll be leading the way here.  This is new territory for both of you.  Check through blogs you can relate to and see how others are living, then cherry pick what you think will work for you. Your job then is to customise that to really suit your lives, and add more of your own original ideas.  When I first left work, I wanted to live a simpler life, I wanted to built a life that would suit both Hanno and myself, I wanted to work hard but to really enjoy every minute of the day.  I knew there would be days of toilet cleaning and vacuuming carpets, but I also knew there would be many times I'd be out in the sunshine talking to the chickens and gardening, and times spent cozying up inside in the winter with my knitting.  I wanted all of it.

When you live like this you feel you're really in control and if that's the first time your own life has made you feel like that, it's very liberating.  You feel like you can take on the world!  Everyone's life is a series of stages - you've been through your three annual holidays and Radley handbags stage, now you've progressed to something beyond that.  (BTW, I have no idea what a Radley handbag looks like.)  What this stage is like is all up to you and your husband.  There should be no shame in what you're doing now and being open and honest with your friends is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.  Anyone who shuns you for not being able to buy what they buy is not worthy of being your friend.  But you'll have to develop pride  and satisfaction in the way you live before others will see it in that light too.  I hope you can just forget about what others are thinking - just live as you wish, develop your skills, become more self reliant, and I think that will bring you self confidence too.

There are a number of things you can do in rented accommodation.  
  1. First, ask the owner if you can put in a garden and show them drawn up plans for what you would like to do.  You may be surprised.  
  2. Go to the local recycle shop and buy some containers in which to grow lettuce, tomatoes, chard and herbs. Plant small varieties of the vegetables you like to eat in these containers.  If you plant against a wall, you'll be able to grow beans, peas and cucumbers too.  
  3. See if you can find a good market where you can shop weekly and accept the fact that while you can't garden now, it is waiting for you in the future. 
  4. Grow sprouts in your kitchen and learn how to make sour dough and yoghurt, gardening can wait.
There is a lot to take pride in when you build a life that makes you happy.  Money alone cannot buy that, it takes time, effort, skill and the ability to let go of what we've been programmed to believe.  Turning your back on conspicuous consumption, giving yourself time to hand-make a life and living with less is the opposite of what we are brought up to believe will make us happy.  When you live that way, it may be uncomfortable for some people but soldier on nonetheless; they'll get used to it or move on.  As you are settling into your new lives you should be focused on each other and your home, other things and people can wait.  But I believe that when you build the life you want; when you develop a rhythm to your days that helps you accomplish all you want and need to do; when you slow down and concentrate on building your new life, the people who mean something will be there.  And they will be people who will not make you feel shame in the way you live or how much you can afford to do.  It's a brand new way of life for you, Ceri, many things will seem strange and unusual, but you should also feel excited and optimistic.  You are on the verge or reinventing your lives and yourselves and you are very fortunate to be able to do that.  I wish you well in your new lives.