How simple is simple?

2 July 2010
I have been thinking a lot about my life recently, particularly about why I am happy to live as I do while to others it seems like hardship and sacrifice.  I thought that by deconstructing the elements that make up the bulk of what I do, I might get a handle on what IT is but separating the inside from the outside work, the baking from the cooking, the mending from the sewing, the knitting from the gardening, just gave me a handful of actions that didn't seem to make sense out of their normal context.

When you think about it, working at home and the pottering around that goes along with it, should be the one thing we all, women and men, want.  We work at our own pace, we have no one telling us what needs to be done next, it gives us a meaningful way to fill our daylight hours, it rewards us with the comfort of a safe and warm home and if we have children, we see them growing within the safe confines of a loving family.  But there have been times in my past that when my ambition could not be contained within the walls of my home, it needed a wider range.  Maybe that ambition of the past has manifested itself in this blog; maybe this is my wider range now.  I have no doubt that many of you reading this would be nurturing ambitions of success, either at paid employment or in growing a small business, at home or in a small store. And of course, there is always the money aspect.  How much is enough?  Am I living my life well?  Am I living to my full potential?

Another element of this life of mine is the satisfaction I get, and I'm sure many of us feel this, from knowing that each and every day I am living outside the mainstream. I do not go to the shops much, I have removed that need within me to spend and I see a lot of the products eagerly sought by my peers as irrelevant.  Instead of wanting the shiny and new, I prefer old things with history, I want to recycle, an old jar suits my life now more than any fine glass.

And what about the name of it - simple living. Is it really simple?.  I get so many emails about this with readers pointing out to me that my life is far from simple.  Really? All I know is that compared to the corporatisation of bread, the plastic bag containers, the preseravtives that allow it to sit on shelves, the artificial flavourings, the oil and transport chains that have it delivered to supermarkets so I can drive there to buy it every day, the bread I bake at home is simple.  I buy my flour in bulk bags made of paper, and the yeast in large aluminium bags that last me six months.  Is it simple?  I don't know but it is simpler than the alternative. Is making cotton tote bags to take shopping simple?  Maybe not, but it's simpler than plastic bags that kill marine life and clog up our oceans like the dumps we've created onland. Is knitting a jumper simple?  It's a simple process of repetition that after buying the wool feels simple, although it is compromised if the wool is from China.  But compared to the alternative of buying a ready made jumper it is simpler. A pure wool jumper would cost a lot more than I paid for my balls of wool, and a cheaper acrylic jumper, or even a wool blend, would come from a factory in China and would clock up more miles in the delivery than anything I'd care to own.   Simple? maybe not, but simpler.

"Simple" tends to describe the processes of this kind of life, not that there will be less work.  It's generally more work and I firmly believe that is a good thing.  Yes, sometimes I curse and carry on about things I don't want to do but most of the time this work is enriching and satisfying and it makes my life what it is.  I am sure Hanno feels the same way. How else are we to spend our time if not working?  I don't want to be off travelling indefinitely like many of my contemporaries.  It is the dream of many people my age in Australia to retire, buy a campervan and take off on a long trip around our great land.  I did that in my 20s, travelled right around the perimeter of Australia, taking over a year to do it.  I can't imagine living to my 60s without knowing what my own country is really like; and I can't imagine living away from my home now.  Home is where I want to be now. I want to spend my time living quietly, giving to my community when I feel I have something to offer, and working in my home so I can live in the fine style I have come to know.  It may not suit everyone, it may seem like a lot of hard work and sacrifice to some, but I love it, even if I don't understand that love at times or why it resonates so deeply within me.

Thank you for your visits and comments this week.  It's been another busy and interesting week with far too many things to spend time on and have fun with.  I was interviewed by Radio National again yesterday for a program on Future Tense.  It should be aired in August but I'll let you know in time for you to listen.  I'm about to go to the forum now to see what's happening there.  There is always something on the go, some new project or interesting posts to read.  If you want to join us, simply click here.  It's free to join.


  1. I'm with you!

    Simple is not always what others think it is...but, more how we enjoy our own little lives ... and our lives truly are more simple than most of the busy-ness I see moving past me at warp speed. Give me simple beautiful bread made in my own kitchen any day! Give me blueberry muffins that taste like wonderful blueberry muffins (probably with too many blueberries) instead of tasting like baking powder and preserved cardboard...ick....

    I hate travelling now's not all it's cracked up to be anyway... one usually needs a holiday when gets home...just to recoup from the agonies. Rooms not being ready ... service being non existent.... food being mediocre... theft creating havoc.....

    I love being at home in my own house ... sleeping in my own lovely clean bed. My home that I have worked on for years to get it just how I love it. Why would I want to be elsewhere? Having been a few places... I much prefer my home sweet home... with home baked bread. Let's hear it again for SIMPLE!!! Yaaaaayyyyyyy

  2. I think people confuse simple and easy. My life on this little farm is not easy but it is very simple.

  3. So well put. Most people I speak to can't believe I have time to do all the things I do that contribute towards my "simple" life. I'm often wondering why they don't have the time :o)

    Simple can be very hard but nothing worthwhile ever came easy as the saying goes.

  4. Dear Rhonda,

    How ironic that you would write today about simplicity. I just re-read a poem by William Henry Channing that pretty much sums it up for me - this business of simple living. Here it is:

    My Symphony

    "To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony."

    These words remind me of you and the way you and Hanno live. You are an inspiration to your readers. Thank you kindly and sincerely.

    Diane in North Carolina

  5. Thanks for the link over! What a great space you have here - it's always heartwarming to join forces, even online. And I *love* your stitching pattern! Blessings, Adrie

  6. I think the term "simple living" is quite misleading. I think to many people "simple living" implies that the things you do everyday in your life are very easy and without effort, take one or two steps to produce. I think that those of us who say we are living a simple life should probably use a different term. A sustainable life or eco-friendly life could be terms used although I personally dislike using these hip words, sounds too trendy and likely to go out of style to me. The life I am now living is not necessarily simple, but it is as old as mankind. Building and tending a vegetable garden to feed my family can be back breaking work and truthfully requires some knowledge to be successful. Preserving that garden food, making meals from scratch, sewing our clothes, tending a compost pile, buying locally made items if we can't make it ourself, etc. These things are not necessarily simple but they do create the sustainable, earth-friendly, peaceful life we are working towards and in my opinion give us great rewards! But I wouldn't call it simple at all.

  7. Rhonda, this was a really nice post. For myself and my dad it's just as much an attitude as it is about the actual stuff needed to live more simply :) :) We are grateful for what we have...and that helps!!! I hope you have a lovely weekend. Hugs from Oregon, Heather :) :) :)

  8. I think the keywords here are "enriching", "satisfying", and "interesting" and if that describes your way of life, you've got it cracked. I've packed in a worklife of budgets and forecasts for something simpler and more satisfying - I don't have a TV and don't miss it - I work at my own pace and only want the things that I need. I'm not nearly as self-sufficient as I would like to be, but I'm working towards it :-)

  9. Hi Rhonda, I really relate to this post.I think if it is younger people mainly making the comments it is because they have not experienced the "home made"as much as we did. Our children have grown up with home made from pies, sausage rolls ,pickles ,chutney's clothes and when they were little bread. Then we got caught on the convienience highway and bought the bread,and vegies etc.Now in our September years our kids think we have gone "ferral" making all we can and our garden is starting to look like one, also the bread and soap etc being made at home,one childs family say "it will last a week",couldn't be bothered,however my daughter who is in a high pressure city job is calculating her small yard ready for a garden,desperately wants to do what we are now doing and I have told her go slowly,one thing at a time as we have done.I am knitting dishcloths now and will when finished them get my shopping bags done. I have to say each small change brings huge satisfaction and it is becoming something my hubby and I do together we love soap making and he has taken over the breadmaker!I am hoping it is our grandchildren that see the difference we are making and it will become their way in the future.Your posts as always are thought inspiring.

  10. Hi Rhonda, this is my first time at leaving a comment but I had to as what you have written today really resonates with me. I am a 33 year old mother of a toddler who spent most of my 20s travelling the world and living out of a backpack. I now live with my husband on our acre block in the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne where we are slowly working step by step to become as self sustainable as possible. I love my home, we have worked hard to renovate it and make it exactly the way we want it to be. My friends still travel and spend vast amounts of money on luxury holidays that they feel they need. When they tell me about their plans for the next big holiday I find myself feeling sorry for them and not envious that they feel they need to escape their lives so badly. I love my life now and especially love my home. I hate having to leave it and not be around to watch that my vegies are ok and that the chickens get their daily treats. When I do have to go away the destination is never as nice as where we live and the accommodation never as comfortable. I think that when you feel like this you are living the life that is meant for you and you are on the right track. I think so much of my travel in my 20s was about deciding on the life that I wanted and trying to find my place.
    Thankyou for your blog and for writing early in the morning! My son doesn't ever sleep in so your words are there waiting for me to give motivation and drive for the day!

  11. I used to think about what I'm doing with my life in terms of simplicity, but I've changed to refer to it more as "sustainable" (and sometimes as "homemade"). Now there are issues with these terms too - I don't know that there's a perfect word for what it is we do, especially when the options are so varied and so personal. But whatever you terms it, for me it largely comes down to living a life that is good for my health and happiness as well as the health of my community and the planet.

  12. As usual so much rings true in your blog. I have a mum who is part gypsy in that travel is her favourite thing.
    Hubbie and I like to plan small trips but we both crave home and why shouldn't we it has been our haven in good and hard times for 25 years and we have got it just about to our version of perfect.

    As a by the way does anyone know where you can buy soap cages these days? We have all gone very keen on using the homemade soap from this site for everything including hairwashing. Hubbie has short hair, I have medium length and visiting daughter has shoulder/long length. All heads look lovely and shiny. It must be the oils. I have bee instructed t make another batch as daughter wants to take some bars back out west with her. We will find out how it works with bore water I suppose.

  13. Niceley said-- To myself most things in life are not always easy, but if simple to me means working harder than I will do so! Keep your courage up and never let anyone talk you away from what you feel inside your heart is right.
    In this world someone always wants to question why this or why that? I think they are afraid that they would not suceed if they had to make the changes you speak of many times in your blog. Your blog helps me realize that I am not crazy for wanting a slower simple life. Hats off to you and Hanno.

  14. You're right Rhonda - "simple" is a word that doesn't do justice to the lifestyle. It's actually not simple at all, but, like any kind of resilient ecosystem, an incredibly complex system of lovely little intermeshing aspects, all connected and supporting each other. Maybe that's why, when you list them separately, it doesn't add up. Like trying to define a flower by listing its parts! I try words like "real" and "integity" and "authentic", but none of them quite hit the mark either. It has a spiritual aspect to it too, this choice of values.

  15. I really enjoyed reading today's post Rhonda, thank you. I too think of these matters all the time, especially since I started a blog of my own about moving towards a simpler life. It's true that the simple life does not usually look simple to "outsiders," because it does take a lot of effort. But the more I learn to do things for myself, the more I love this life. It might not always be easy, but it is REAL. I love making my choices deliberately, and spending my time in worthwhile, genuine human activities that people have always done, like tend a garden, bake bread, or hang my baby's diapers in the yard to dry.

    I wouldn't trade this new life for anything, and I can't wait for the day when we get our permanent home and can really settle in. I traveled the world when I was young and I have a limited desire to do so again in the future.

  16. I think that perhaps 'simple' for you contains a sense of 'deliberate' - it's about choosing the kind of life that you want to be leading. I feel so overwhelmed sometimes trying to juggle life in the workday world with the way I want to live - I'd love to have the time to make my own bread rather than pay for even a good loaf that someone else has made, but a simple life is one that has to be worked for, and if I want a simple home of my own with a garden to grow things in, then there needs to be a way of paying for it - with my time and my energy. I'm working towards the tipping point when it changes, but it's a long way off yet.

  17. Thanks Rhonda! This is exactly well put and what I think most people are really craving for right now in this crazy world. We are learning slowly but are always working toward this! Have a great day! Peace and Blessings!

  18. Amen!

    The society we live in today is more dependent than ever, but this didnt happen by chance.

    With money being everyone's motive, no wonder the world is the place it is today.

    I have changed my mindset and I have changed. I now grow my own food (hydroponically - my blog:, compost, dont buy "toxic" crap that is all around us, and think about the environment before acting. It's a start.

    Your article was a very good read :) Thanks for sharing!

  19. Simple is not always easy, but it is a blessing in so many ways. Being tired at the end of a good day is rewarding.

    Today we are baking for our farmers market tomorrow. We are expecting big crowds.

    Lisa Q

  20. Funnily enough,we are thinking about chucking it all in and living in a bus for a few years. We love our home and we have many simple living skills but the town we are in is killing our spirits. Everyone thinks we are mad, (what, sell your house and buy a bus?) and that's why we have to do it! Someone mentioned that she travelled to find the right place, and here is not the right place for us. Thanks for your blog Rhonda, always appreciated and thought provoking.

  21. A friend who came to visit us at the cabin called our life a "complicated simple life." For me it works, but as you say, it isn't for everyone. - Margy

  22. Simple living should be referred to as mindful living as there is nothing 'simple' about this type of living.

    It would be 10 times easier to throw my clothes in the dryer instead of line drying. Grabbing a package from the freezer and 'nuking' it for 5 mins would sure free up an evening or two. Driving my car for errands would get me there much faster than walking...and it goes on and on...

    But at the end of the day I feel good about my choices, I don't really care what others think or don't think about me and the life that I choose to live.

  23. thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I often write that our family has chosen a simpler way of life and although there is much more toil, hands on labor, to me it is still simpler than the alternatives, as you have written so well.
    ALso, not letting a television in our home is one way to live more simply without the materialistic influences.

  24. I can relate so to what you are saying. I wonder if it is wisdom that comes with growing older. I have had the career myself and then following my husband's career.

    He had to take early retirement and I long ago gave up a career to stay at home with kids (later homeschooling my son who had significant learning disabilities... is now an honors student at the University).

    It is not simple to have to plant and weed a garden when one has bronchitis and feels like death warmed over... but the rewards are huge.

    I love having basic ingredients in the pantry to cook and bake at home. I find my life is much simpler now and it is good.

    We have much to learn from those who have gone before.

  25. Hi Rhonda~

    I try to live simply....I am a stay at home momma of 6 kiddos so far. I homeschool a few of them.
    I am almost 42 and hubby is 46.
    Our boys are 16,13,11 and 8 and the girls are 5 and 2yrs. We are praying to have a few more before its over!

    Many of my peers don't understand the way I/we live.
    Gardening,raising chickens for eggs,preserving,canning,baking my own bread and making my own laundry soap ect..
    It does seem like more work....yet we call it living simply.

    I always say....I live simply...not just simply live!

    I live deliberately with a plan!
    It takes thought and planing to live the way we do.
    I love teaching my children the ways of the past and to be good stewards of what God has given us!
    Focusing on our children as bleesings and living dept. free!
    Living a life of that is real.
    Not one lived on credit...a life we "think we deserve". (lived on credit we can't pay back) Who deserves that?

    Great post~

    Peace and LOve,
    Georgiann in the USA

  26. I love this post, Rhonda, and totally agree. I was laying in bed last night thinking about all this... how we get so caught up in the busyness of modern life that we forget what's important, and our children suffer for it.

    I'm from a long line of Mothers who raised their kids to bake their own bread and cook things from scratch, and grow our own food as much as possible, making do with what they had. We never had a TV growing up (which all my friends thought was really odd), and my childhood memories are full of wonderful family times around the table, reading and playing games together, drawing and creating things, cooking and playing... precious memories. And that's what I want for my kids, but sometimes I get distracted by less important things. Thank you so much for this reminder that what's important in life may not be 'easy', but it is the simplest and best way to live!

    (And I love the poem sent in by Diane - I'll have to write it up and put it on my wall!)



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