24 January 2012

Simple, hands-on living

I live a charmed life. We live here, on this fertile land with a creek running by it, at the end of a one-lane street, surrounded by a few neighbours and bushland. We use our land; it is one of our assets and to not use it productively would shame us. We grow food and keep chickens and that allows us to eat fresh organic produce that we would not be able to afford if we had to buy it all the time. But I'm aware that this kind of living is not within everyone's reach. It wasn't within our reach for a long time either, but both Hanno and I worked hard, made sacrifices and eventually bought and paid for our home for about a quarter the price of what we'd pay for it now. I know a fair amount of luck helped us along the way - we had no major illnesses, we had great kids, we both had good jobs, but work was the main contributor; we knuckled down and made the most of our opportunities. We've been here 15 years now and I'm pretty sure this is where we'll die.

Twilight in the hen house. Broody hen Kylie is still on the nest and joining her are friends Nora, Lillian, Flora and Annie. Soon they'll be too big to share a room.

Today I thought I'd write about building a wonderful lifestyle from nothing, or turning plain life into something exceptional, because that is what I think we have done. When we arrived at this doorstep all those years ago we had a very basic brick slab house in a historic town that very few people found attractive enough to put down roots in. Most of the new people moving to this area went further down to the more fashionable part of the coast where there is a lot of traffic, the houses are built right up to the fence line and were more likely to have a swimming pool in the backyard than a vegetable garden and chooks. We chose here because the house blocks were big, the houses were old and on our patch, our house was surrounded by virgin land and a permanent creek made up the back boundary. When we bought this place, there were no fences, no gardens, no water tanks, no out buildings, no verandahs, no solar panels. 

It was a big leap to get here but we made what we have now in small steps. The first thing we did was put in a water tank and then Hanno built a chook house. While he was doing that, Shane and I started work on the gardens, enriching the clay in the back yard with homemade compost, lawn clippings, old paper, manures and just about anything else we could lay our hands on. I knew we could grow vegetables here but I also knew they wouldn't thrive in the soil as it was then. For successful and abundant harvests we needed to put work into the soil. We needed to add life. We did that and with work and time, we turned clay into dark, rich soil.

And that is what we've tried to do with everything along the line. The main ingredient was work, and when we did that, it brought in new life. From those very humble beginnings, slowly,  when we worked enough to afford it, we added skylights to dark rooms, whirly birds to extract hot air from the roof space, we added a bedroom, put up fences, put in an organic vegetable garden and many fruit trees. We bought a large shed to house our straw and for Hanno to use as a workshop. Almost ten years after we added that first water tank, we added another. We invested in solar energy - in the first few years we bought a solar hot water unit, last year we bought solar panels. It's the smallest unit but it's a huge help to us in managing our electricity bills. We don't use much electricity but even with this tiny unit, we are now in credit. Hanno built our chook house and the bush house from mostly recycled materials. It's been a lot of work, and it's been slow, but now we have a productive and comfortable little homestead here that suits us perfectly.

There is no doubt that a simple life is hands-on living. There is no standing back from this. There is no buying into it, you can't pay someone else to do the daily work. If you want to live this way, you dive in head first and expect that work will be part of it. Never be afraid of work, it can be a great teacher over time and I know for sure, that I would be a different person now if I had not done the work. But how do you decide what work needs to be done when you find yourself at your own front door for the first time, or if you want to stay where you are, but change how you live? Decide what you want - is it to work for a living and pay off your mortgage as fast as possible? If so, add few things to your home, concentrate on saving money and cutting back as much as you can. Recycle, make a budget, and when time allows cook from scratch, bake and make green cleaners. All those things will save you money. When you've paid off your debt you can work with a different focus. What if you want to live like Hanno and I? Well, identify what you can do in your own backyard, what livestock you can realistically keep, put up fences, water tanks and out buildings when you can afford them, and start off ordering heirloom seeds and keeping pure breed chooks and go from there. And what if you're aiming for a mix of both those options? If you're part of a couple, each take the part you would do best. Talk to each other - this way of living can be tough, you need to have a faithful shoulder to lean on. If you're alone, or with children, it will be slower and tougher but still doable. As the children grow, teach them what you need them to do that is appropriate for their age. Learn new skills so you can do the tasks you want to do. You might want to make cheese or soap, or sew. Learn how. It's all part of it. Try to find people in your community who live this way and befriend them. If you can't find anyone, join an online forum that will support and encourage you - they are out there. Be part of your commuunity. You will get more from that than you expect to.

We've just spent a couple of very relaxed weeks when we didn't do anything much outside except to care for the chooks. We read, watched the cricket, I knitted, Hanno spent time on the computer and we had a fine time recuperating from the past year. But you know, even though I loved those two weeks, if I lived like that all the time I would grow to hate it. I think we set our value by the work we do and for me, the work we do not only gives us some of what we need here, it also gives me my sense of worth. During our time off I had trouble sleeping and have only the past week got back into my normal sleeping pattern. That tells me that our work makes us tired enough to trigger our bodies to sleep. Work is part of our natural 24 cycle and without it, our patterns are out of sync.

There is a lot to be said for a good days work, carried along with a certain rhythm, and dotted with restful periods.  It allows you to notice what's happening around you, it helps you get through tasks without being stressed, and as you tick off items from your list, you develop an appreciation for your ability to carry out the work needed in your home and the satisfaction of doing it. Self reliance is a wonderful thing.

If you're at the very beginning of this beautiful journey we call simple life, don't be impatient for everything to be there right now. Building most things from scratch, and using what you already have, is part of it. The slow steps of work tasks will help you develop an understanding for the life you're building and it will allow you to really live each day and not wish it all away. There was a time when instead of slowing piecing together my daily tasks I avoided housework; now I know it was the work that made me what I am today. So if you are at the beginning of your own journey, or stuck along the way somewhere unsure of what your next move is, just decide on something, then work slowly towards it. There are no prizes for speed here and it doesn't matter if you can't afford everything you want or even need to have. Slow down, disengage from the rat race and work slowly towards the life you want. There will be no end point, there is always something to do next, but you will get to a stage when you can see your own progress and the real difference it makes to your life, and that, my friends, is a fine prize.


  1. Hi Rhonda, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, it is inspiring and encouraging. Reminds me of that saying " The longest journey begins with just one step"- How true. Sandy. :)

  2. Oh, I love this post so very much! There really is much value in hands-on work, in ltrying, in learning. So beautifully said, Rhonda, and truly encouraging. Thank you for reminding us that this way of life is not a race, and that goals will be accomplished in due time.

  3. Although I live in the middle of a city, I think that what you are saying is not only relevant to urban & rural alike but makes lots of sense too!

    We have a tiny garden so don't have the space for chickens. We do try to grow as much of our herbs & veggies as possible, make cleaning products, beauty products, clothes, etc...On the bright side, being in town gives us instant access to lots of possibilities- free museums, free libraries, less need to travel by car, wide range of community projects, bartering possibilities, the list goes on & on...
    I really enjoy reading your posts & the creative possibilities that they inspire.
    Good Luck with the book!

  4. Oh well said. I agree with everything you said.Our starting point was similar in many ways, only we are on a small farm. But there was nothing but a very simple house and a stable and fences. We have added solar hot water, solar panels, and water tanks, all over time as we could afford them. We planted 1000s of trees and built gardens and like you we started with very deep clay and have had to build up the soil. It is a slow and lengthy process but very worthwhile and gives our lives purpose and we wouldn't have it any other way. And I find it very comforting to know that there are many others out there doing what we do and others that see what we are doing and find it rewarding enough to turn their lives around. Keep up the good work everyone!

  5. This is a lovely post. As someone trying to live a simple life I know it can be tough sometimes, but I wouldn't want to change it.

  6. I remember hearing Jeff Kennett (former Vic premier) who is the chairman of the BeyondBlue:National Depression Initiative speaking about depression in folk of retirement age.
    He said one of the greatest contributors was not doing enough physical work which in turn didn't allow them to sleep well during the night - seems your holiday would support that theory!

  7. Hi Rhonda, I have only recently discovered your blog after looking for a tomato sauce recipe on the net. I had never looked at any blogs before or posted on any before but now I am hooked. I can't wait to read your latest post each day. Sooooo wish I had found it ages ago.
    I feel I have found a new "family". Everyone is so loving and encouraging
    Can't wait to see your book. The first day I read your post I started looking online for it - couldn't find it then went it to the local library - couldn't find it. Then I realized it wasn't even out yet.
    Thank you for a loving and inspiring blog. I love all your thoughts and tips.

  8. I heard an Amish expression once that really stuck with me. "Work makes life sweet." I'd have never believed it just a few years ago, but I now know it to be true. Thanks for the uplifting and motivating post. Have a wonderful day, Rhonda.

  9. Good morning Rhonda,

    "a simple life is hands-on living"

    I loved the thought expressed here. It is so very true. The work we do in our homes, for and with our families is valuable, and worth working towards. A simple life is not boring or slow - it is in fact very busy, for there is always something to do.

    We recently moved into a very run down property, and have had much work to do just to get it livable again. It is slow, and we will not be finished for many years yet, but we are putting down roots here, and hope to live here for the rest of our lives. This changes how we tackle things, and what we end up working on, because there is no deadline. This is our home life, and it is wonderful. Hard work, and full, but wonderful.

    Have a lovely day.

  10. Wholesome, grounding advice Rhonda, thank you. You help me keep focused and real.

  11. A brilliant post.

    We are on the start of our journey, we atarted our experiment with this simple lifestyle three years ago,with a three year lease on a 10.5 acre farm in southern England. We now know we love it and are moving to a smaller place for the next three years while we save to buy our very own place.

    People tell us how 'lucky' we are to have this farm with it's chooks, raised veggie beds and cultivated land, but we tell them right back that it was sheer hard work and determination that gave us that luck.

    You work for your own luck and it's so worth it, being tired at the end of a long and productive day is a good, good feeling.

    Sue xx

  12. HI Rhonda,
    thanks for your lovely post ;) :) I"m taking my goal of simplifying my life in steps :) :) It's work, for sure, but it's oh so worth it, because I'm seeing results :) :) Plus, I'm really enjoying life more, because I'm taking a hand in creating it ;) :) Now I"m going to enjoy the afternoon and take my dog, Rosie, for a walk :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  13. A lovely post and such encouragement! Thank you for sharing your wisdom in simple living, Rhonda. We can all benefit from your words, whether new to the lifestyle or well experienced in it.

    Thank you,

  14. That, my dear Rhonda Jean was a lovely essay! Thank so much for your practical encouragement. What are the water tanks you speak of? Is that your water source instead of digging wells as we do in the northeast of the USA?

  15. The warm fireplaceJanuary 24, 2012 10:51 am

    Have been reading your blog for quite a while. You have inspired me we have brought 3 1/2 acres here in the uk and hope to grow on an acre, we want to live a much simpler life thank you for all your wise words.

  16. Thank you - this is perfect timing Rhonda. My daughter-in-law is getting serious about living more simply and has actually started a bit of a veggie garden. I must get her to subscribed to your newsletter, I'm sure she'll love it as much as I do.

  17. i really enjoyed this post... we are just embarking on this journey... buying a small property that we are hoping to get the best use out of... and the temptation is always there to want it ALL to happen immediately... but it is hard work and a gradual thing and we must learn to enjoy the process... especially when you have small children like we do!

    tell me rhonda, do you have to worry about flooding where you are being so close to the creek? do you have to worry about it taking out your garden at all? we are a few hours south of you and living anywhere near a creek one must always consider floods (it's on my mind as i drove through floodwaters to get to our new place this morning, and am currently watching the rain raise the creek levels even more)... and i'm wondering what i can plant and where so that i don't lose things because of flooding!

  18. Hi Rhonda,

    So loved reading this post- so muchso,Im going to go back and read it again!
    Your message about taking it slowly and enjoying the journey is so important. We do tend to want to get to where we are heading in a big hurry.
    Hard work IS good for a person, Im absolutely convinced of that, and it does add so much to our self worth.
    Thanks again for lovely words of wisdom

  19. What a nice encouraging post!! Thanks for sharing your journey!!
    Elizabeth in NC

  20. Some posts just sit so well with me and inspire me - push me to keep going.

    I work full time but cutting back in 2 weeks to 75% so I can spend more time with my daughter, garden, craft and cook. It's blogs like this that have encouraged me and shown me I am not the only person who wants to live like this.

    I work in the corporate world where I always feel like the odd one out. But now I hold my odd head high as I am getting ahead faster then the others with budgeting and all the small changes I have made to my life.

    By 50 (in 9 yrs) I hope to leave the corporate world behind and only work for the want of it. If I keep going the way I have been and learning from valuable blog posts like this, one where real people tell their real stories, then I think it's possible.

    You once said a dollar not spent is worth more then a dollar made. That always had a huge impact on my lifestyle. Thank you Rhonda.

  21. Amy, we've never been worried by our creek although it has risen up to the second top step in our backyard. On the other side of the creek there is a flood plain, so before it flooded on our side, it would spill out on the other side. It's something you must consider when you're looking for a place to live, just like climate and neighbours. When you move in it's a bit difficult to do something about them.

    Barbara, the water tanks are water storage tanks that hold thousands of litres of water we harvest from our roof. We use that water for our garden.

  22. Rhonda do you have a newsletter? Someone mentioned it here so if so how do I subscribe to it?
    Love, love love your blog. Keep up the great work!!!!


  23. Thank you Laurie. I don't have a newsletter. The blog is emailed out to readers who subscribe that way. You can sign up for that at the bottom of the side bar.

  24. This is a good reminder for my husband and I to just keep plodding along. As a young couple, it can sometimes seem that everything we want is so far into the future that we need not even try to get there. However, I know that if we just keep working, working toward our goals and what we want, eventually we'll begin to achieve the lifestyle we want.

    I like this quote from your post, "If you're part of a couple, each take the part you would do best. Talk to each other - this way of living can be tough, you need to have a faithful shoulder to lean on." Learning to successfully communicate (lovingly and without sarcasm) with one another is one of the most rewarding things we learned to do, early on in our marriage. I think it's such an important thing when you want to learn to live simply together. Because simple living is simply more work a lot of the time!

    Anyway, sorry for the ranting comment. Your post gave me a lot to think about and I thank you for the thoughtful, easy way you tell your's and Hanno's stories. It's very inspiring.

    - Catie

  25. Hi Rhonda, I am only new to your blog, however I really enjoyed reading this post about simple living. I remember when I was a kid my mother did most of the work and relied very little on outside help.We only ate Chinese take away on very special occasions,other than that my mother cooked, sewed,knitted and looked after neighbours kids, in return our neighbours would take of my brother and I when mum and dad wanted free time. We didn't live extravagantly and yet we always had plenty.

  26. Well said Rhonda. There was one part that especially resonated with me:

    "I think we set our value by the work we do and for me, the work we do not only gives us some of what we need here, it also gives me my sense of worth."

    I could not sit down and do nothing. My parents do nothing in their retirement but watch the TV, and they are the bored, argumentative and (I hate to say it) whiny. Even worse, they call into question what we do and catigate us for working too hard.

    "Why bother growing your own - buy it from the shops." "Why bother keeping chickens, buy the eggs from someone else and save the bother." "Jam making? Waste of time." "Cooking from scratch? How boring, that's what supermarket ready meals are for." "Cider making? Pffftttt...you'll end up poisening yourselves." "Pay off the mortgage early? Why bother...you should go have a holiday somewhere expensive and buy some new furniture because you've had yours for a while now."

    Hubby jokes I must have been left on their doorstep as I couldn't possibly have come from them ;-)))

  27. always inspiring. i long for that kind of rootedness, to really make a house and land my own. plans for the future! for now we do as much as we can, if temporarily. community, good food, making things, satisfying work, that's all so important. owning a place of our own will happen, yes? x elisa

  28. What a wonderful post. I've read it over twice, & twice tears came to my eyes. I'll be reading it each day for a while to come. I too, had wondered about the purpose of the water tanks, I now have it quite clear in my head the purpose for them.


  29. hello rhonda,
    thank you for this lovely post. it really touches me.
    thank you so much.

  30. I'm new here and we're about to move to a 1/2 acre rural property where we plan to have abundant vege patches and keep chooks. :) Your blog has been both helpful and inspirational and I look forward to finding more great info!

  31. Thank you Rhonda! This was beautifully written and exactly what I needed to be reminded of this morning.


  32. Not watching TV gives one soo much more TIME.
    I'm hooked on audio books and in our summer evenings I'm out working in the garden listening away to audio books. I don't find the time to sit and read any more - so having someone read to me while I put sheep wee tea on the garden last night was bliss.

  33. The simple life could not be better stated. It does take work but the results are worth it. When we began with our garden space 33 years ago it was nothing but thick heavy clay. The local farmers said that there was only one day in the year when it could be worked. One day after it was too wet or one day before it was too dry. After much composting and feeding the earth for years the ground is now like potting soil. We can grow anything that we want and do grow anything that we want. I don't respond in writing to your daily posts but felt compelled to do so today. Keep up the good work.

  34. What a wonderful post. Thanks

  35. Thankyou for your inspirational writing. My husband and I are in our fifties, he is disabled and I've had major health problems over the past few years. This means that we can't do any heavy physical work. Also, our garden is not very big and is made up of mine waste (we live in Cornwall,UK). It is very likely that our garden contains arsenic, so we can't grow any food in the soil. But, your blog has inspired me to get some tomato plants this year and put them into grow-bags.
    And thanks to 'freefalling' for the comment about depression and inactivity. I sometimes suffer from depression and it can cause a vicious circle - being depressed means I don't want to do anything, and from your comment that would seem to make the depression worse.
    Thanks again Rhonda for posts like these.

  36. Thank you Rhonda for another encouraging post. I love reading them every chance I get and going through older ones as well, I'm always finding new things to try as I go through the archives ( going to try the dog treat recipe, my Beagles will love them).

    Thanks for inspiring me,

  37. I take pleasure in, result in I found exactly what I used to be looking for.
    You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have
    a nice day. Bye

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