Never ending small steps

19 November 2012
Coralie Allmin, a faithful Down to Earth reader, died after a short illness on 6 November, 2012. 
Rest in peace, Coralie.


Sara asked a question last week in her comment on the truth in advertising post. My answer was much too long for the comments, so here it is now. Sara wrote:

I began questioning the "norm" a few years ago and I haven't looked back. I make as much as I can from scratch now. While I haven't tried your laundry liquid yet I buy a locally made environmentally friendly powder. It costs about the same as the commercial stuff but no nasty ingredients. I will try to make my own soon.

Based on my own experience with those older than me (my parents, their friends, relatives) I think you are amazing for choosing to make these changes. I cannot get through to my parents no matter how I approach it. My Mum thinks I'm mad that I don't douse my house in every product on the market and she can't understand why I'd pay an extra $1 per kg for apples from our local organic supplier rather than just buy ones from Coles.

However, as much as this irritates me, I also understand it. There are things I would love to try but I'm hesitant on taking the next steps. I would love to learn how to sew past a basic level, knit and crochet but sometimes I feel like I'm almost too old now to learn to do these so I can get to a point where I'm making clothes, knitting booties and jumpers etc. I anticipate it will take me years and years to get past a basic level. As it is, I just can't see I will be able to even start to learn within the next two years simply because of the ages of my two children. I don't have the energy in the evenings and being home full time with them the focus I need just isn't there. That may sound like an excuse however I know within myself it is genuine, I have gone to huge effort the past year to change the way we live and we have made huge progress.

Did you find making these changes daunting? Did you ever feel that it wasn't "worth your while" to learn to make your own clothes and it would just be easier to op-shop? I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself well...hopefully you understand what I mean!

Hello Sara. I understand it too. Most people do what is familiar and comfortable. My guess is that the older people you know have not yet found a good reason to change. I know, from personal experience, that no amount of talking will convince anyone to change along with you. It's like teaching children - you can tell them to be respectful or courageous or gentle until the cows come home but they are much more likely to do it if they see you do it. Role models are such a powerful force. If you want your parents to change, stop telling them what to do and just get on with your simple life. If they see the difference it makes in your life, and that you are happy, they're much more likely to try a few small changes themselves.

Yes, I found some changes daunting, I still do; I will keep changing. But I also realised that while some changes simply slip into our lives easily, others require their own time. I'm much more patient and I know now that this life is a series of never ending small steps. The changes I've completed so far have taken ten years. I haven't regretted learning anything and although I didn't use all my new skills straight away, there always came a time when I needed what I had learned. Many things must wait while you raise your children - that is your main focus for now, and should be. As they grow, the amount of time you have and your energy level will increase. So don't worry about not doing everything you want to do, that time will come. It's not necessary to do it all at once.

So instead of pushing yourself to grow vegetables in the backyard, find a good local market to buy your fresh fruit and vegies. Use simple living tactics for the things you're doing in your daily life instead of opting for convenience - use a menu plan, stockpile, stick to your budget, pay off debt and be a good role model. The time will come later on for soap making, compost and vegetable gardens.

I would encourage you to learn to knit at this time. Unlike sewing, knitting is a small thing - you don't need a large space to cut out fabric, you don't need a sewing machine. Knitting is just you, two needles and some yarn. Also, if you make a mistake while knitting, you can just unravel it and start that row again. It's portable, so you can take it with you when you take the children out, or you can do a few rows while you sit with them as they play. Start with dishcloths/facecloths. They are just a knitted square but they're an excellent way of replacing Chux and sponges, and all those squares will help you practise your knitting skills. You can buy knitting needles and, sometimes, yarn or old woollen jumpers to unravel at the op shop. For dishcloths you'll need 100 percent pure cotton and you can get that from Bendigo Mills (a 200 gram ball is four normal sized balls) and sometimes on special at Spotlight. It doesn't really matter what size needles you use on dishcloths. There are excellent instructions on how to start knitting on Youtube.

The next step I would like to see you make is to make your own washing powder. Grate up some yellow laundry soap, add borax and washing powder, mix it together and that's it. It will take you less than five minutes to make enough for a couple of months. Laundry liquid will take about 15 minutes. There are more detailed instructions on the blog. It will save you some money and with that money, maybe you can buy organic yarn when you learn to knit. : - )

There is not a set in cement way of living simply. We all do it in the way it suits us and that will change all the time, depending on your season of life and the circumstances you find yourself in. A good example of this was when Hanno had his recent accident. We use my homemade soap in the shower and to wash our hands. When Hanno was able to use only one hand, it was easier for him to use liquid hand wash and body wash in the shower. I had absolutely no problem using those products because it made it easier for him. Now things are almost back to normal, as soon as the containers are empty, we'll go back to soap. I feel no guilt for making that change and if I had to do it again, I would. If it were going to be a permanent thing, I'd make liquid soap.

Forget the idea you have of the perfect way to live and just do the best you can do each day. Some days that will be 10 out of 10, some days it will be 1 out of 10. As long as the 1 out of 10 is the best you can manage on that day, then you're still living true to your values. I will not walk in and ask you to account, there are no simple living police to tell you you're not doing it right.  Do the best you can every day and let that be enough.


  1. I am so sorry to hear about fellow reader Coralie my sincere sympathies go out to her family. B

  2. Sara, don't be too hard on yourself, you have a busy life with little ones, they grow so fast & in a blink (or two) you're a grandma, the skills you learn -- just a bit at a time, will teach your children, giving them life skills, & as they grow you will learn together, kids love to do 'big people stuff', but right now the best thing you can give them is yourself, the rest will follow as time permits, Deb M

  3. such a beautiful post, you are kind and gentle teacher,

  4. I totally agree with this! Don't stress trying to do everything at once. However for some, crochet is an option to knitting as picking up stitches is easier sometimes. It's a personal thing :) I use a homestead binder to hold lots of ideas and everyday stuff in. Hugs, Sharm

  5. Rhonda said exactly what I thought re: kniting. Give it a try!! You Tube videos are excellent for learning on your own. Start with a small project such kitchen dishies. There is such joy and satisfaction when you open the drawer and pull out a clean hand made dishie. Cotton yarn and a good pair of knitting needles are not very expensive. :)

    Erin @ dutch girl diary.

  6. What a lovely, thoughtful response to Sara. I'm sure it will provide her with the guidance she seeks. Likewise, many folk in similar situations will gain from that response.

    For me, someone who is now home pretty much full time...I just launched into it all when I found the motivation or inclination. It must be frustrating for those with little ones, wondering where to start.

  7. Good morning Rhonda,
    Very sound advise. Hang in there Sara. Remember you're a mother and that takes so much energy and you are doing a great job raising your children. Don't be hard on yourself, as Rhonda has said it will happen in time. I am still learning daily how to live more simply and I'm enjoying every little discovery. Give yourself time to learn each new skill, it's not a race but a new way of living. Teach your children about simple living. Let them hand you the pegs while you hang your washing on the line instead of putting the in the dryer. Let them help you fold the washing straight off the line to save having to iron everything. They'll have fun helping you and you'll be teaching them life skills that will be very normal to them when they grow. You're doing well Sara so keep up the good work. It doesn't matter what others do or think. As Rhonda says, lead be example. Let us all know how you're going Sara as we are all in this together whether a young mother or an older person, we can all offer support to each other.
    Blessings Gail

  8. Hi Rhonda, happy Monday :)
    I'd like to say to Sara, when you look at the big picture you have in mind, it can feel unattainable. Especially when you have children who need your time.
    But, one step at a time, one thing at a time, eventually, it comes together, things change, your journey progresses.
    I think anything is worth your while if it will make you happy. At the ripe old age of 40, this year I picked up a crochet hook for the first time since I was teenager, and now have a new rug on the bed (although if I wash it, I'm sure it will fall apart). And I knitted a scarf! And my mum bought me a new (very cheap) sewing machine for my birthday.
    Enjoy this time with your children Sara, as you will have more time for other things soon, as the children become more independent. Then you'll have lots of lovely memories of these days to enjoy while you sit knitting them jumpers :)

  9. Thank you for this post Rhonda! I am in the same boat as Sara, as far as having small children, and struggle to work out what I 'should' be able to manage and what I actually can manage. I have to remember I have a 9 month old and 3 year old and I am not superwoman by any stretch of the imagination! Your advice here has let me breathe a sigh of relief and I will stop beating myself up as you have pointed out, it is all a never ending series of small steps, and I will get there in the end,(wherever and whenever that may be!)

    Thanks again!

  10. What Sara days rings true to me too and it's nice to hear reassurance, that not only am I not alone in being too tired and too busy with miss2 but that it's ok to not do it all at once (no matter how much I want to). Now to teach the irrational impatient part of me that it's ok!

  11. Some arguments in life cannot be explained through words but must be lived to show their worth. I've learnt this lesson recently with regards to my art career and it's been so rewarding to stop trying to validate my decisions to others and simply live and enjoy them instead. For us this ties in with simple living as we have been forced (really chosen to) downshift in order to have a baby and for me to focus on art as my primary income source rather than a sideline. We still get people asking why we don't just buy 'x' instead but we just answer honestly and if they are really interested they will ask more, sometimes those extra questions don't come for months but the seed has been planted. :)

    I believe it important to acknowledge what you have been able to achieve thus far. It's very easy to focus on how far you have to go but the changes you have made already will compound in the future, like interest on your mortgage. We are human and imperfect and it's divine :)

  12. I am at home full time with all 5 of my children (my oldest is 7 and we home school). I am also due to have my 6th c-section at the end of next month.

    I have been spending a lot of years being pregnant, recovering from surgery and breastfeeding on the couch.

    We also don't have tons of money to do a big veggie garden. The list of 'house jobs' is always long BUT in the meantime to combat my "waiting till the children are older" thoughts I came up with an idea...

    I read a lot of books about the things I would like to be doing (namely gardens, making things from scratch). I often get a paragraph or 2 in before I fall asleep but I still inch towards that goal. Along with that U have a dreams/ideas notebook that I write all sorts of things in. These two things mean I am still heading towards my goal but in my time, my family's time. Doing it all together is the most fun part of the journey.

    So for now my rosemary plant looks beautiful. That's all we have right now but we are all proud of ourselves anyhow.

  13. It is not always the older generations who don't 'get it'. My 16 year old daughter gives me an incredible amount of grief at times over our more sustainable choices. We both had a major argument recently because I refused to buy cling wrap, when we have perfectly good, bpa free containers with lids that will do the same, if not better job!!

    She doesn't like the home made laundry detergent, so I have compromised, as she is happy to try and do her own washing (though it seems I still end up doing most of it :/) and I buy laundry detergent from Aldi for her use.

    As for implementing the changes - I agree with Rhonda - just do what fits with your lifestyle at that time - I have accepted that I am not going to be able to become as rubbish free as I would like to be until the kids have grown and left home - in the mea time I do what I can.

    I am not remotely crafty, but I still knit wash clothes, make little cloth dolls for gifts, make wheat bags, shopping bags, soap, laundry liquid (it really is very easy when you do it - I always ask myself why I put it off for so long!) - just dabble in a few things until you find what works for you at this moment.

    It could be as simple as just buying sustainable, good quality, locally made toys for your kids at gift giving times, taking them to a park instead of to an expensive theme park, having day holidays in your own town, exploring the sights etc.

    I've been on this road for several years and I am faaar from perfect - but I'v decided my 40's are going to be my years of success, one child will be completely independent and the other one will be almost there, I'll have finished my studies and will be working part time, and if we are really lucky, we may even have a deposit for our first block of land!! - so I still have a few years up my sleeve to keep working and perfecting before I find my own groove in this sustainable life :)

  14. Firstly, my sympathies to Coralie's family. I'm sorry to hear it.

    Secondly, I would agree with everything Rhonda has said here. I am not sure what age your children are, but I have a four year old and six month old and have found growing veggies nearly impossible. Dear daughter excited pulls out any seedlings, thinking she is weeding! So I have given up on that one.

    Just another perspective on sewing. I have very basic sewing skills, but a friend of mine can sew. Once or twice a month we get together and she teaches me how to sew and read patterns. I now make all of my daughters leggings, and made my son some cloth nappies and a wizard costume. My daughter gets a real kick out of me making something for her, and she helps in various ways. I only manage do to half an hour at a time. Anyway, Rhonda is right in that sewing machines are expensive and take up so much space but it is my "me" time and doubles as a way of simplifying too.

    Good luck Sara. You are doing a great job, and it's wonderful you have started now! That's the hardest part.

  15. And P.S. I often feel as though I'm getting nowhere too. I sat down to write my weekly to do list this morning, and found my project list (i.e. bigger jobs). To my delight I found I'd completed half of them! So even if you feel you aren't getting anywhere, I bet you you are!

  16. I am lucky to have a choice of charity shops, so that is where I have found all my cotton yarn for making facewashers and dishcloths,often they are only part balls, but enough to use, most don't have labels, but you get to know by look and feel which are pure cotton.
    You can make an op shop trip an outing, by helping the little ones choose a toy,(give it a good wipe with a wet wipe) or book, they will then be occupied for long enough for you to have a look around.You can redonate the toy next time, unless they become a favourite, then just donate something no longer needed, this gives them an idea of not getting "stuff" all the time, but moving things on for someone else to use.
    The local library will have knitting books with basic instructions, that you can keep for a few weeks and learn at your own pace.

  17. I knew there was a reason I opened this post today. I, too, have incorporated so many of Rhonda's wonderful routines and lifestyle choices into my life over the last two years and after only a short time it is the new normal. Sara, there is a time and season for all. My advise is pick one thing to learn/change and do that one thing until it is your new normal. Don't worry about your pace. A new skill can always be learned but your children won't wait to grow up until you've mastered them all! Some of the new routines I have were easy to incorporate, others took more time and effort. And don't feel you have to convince anyone else what you are doing is best. Just share and then let it go.

    I would totally support taking the time taken to learn knitting. I started with simple dishclothes, made many of them, tried different sizes and patterns, gave them as gifts with soap, etc. until I had mastered many basic knitting skills. Now I am making scarves and cabled stocking hats for myself, hubby and kids. Knitting has changed from something to learn and work through to an anticipated pleasurable time, a reward for me at the end of the day! Small steps, one at a time......

  18. Its nice to know there are lots of us busy mums of little people here a great community. I am in the same position as Sara and too feel frustrated so all advice is greatly appreciated. Thankyou to everyone xx Emma

  19. Sara,

    Picking up new skills shouldn't feel like a duty or a burden - do them if you want to, and if you don't, then look for alternatives. If you don't feel called to sewing at the moment, then finding treasures in op shops is just as good a path and has similar outcomes for saving money and the earth. (Possibly saving more money than developing a yarn or fabric habit!)

    I was taught knitting by my grandmother as a child, but forgot and only took it up again in my late twenties. Dishclothes or scarves or cushion covers as good starting projects are well enough, but I find now with a little one and work that there is no way I will be able to produce everything I want. So I pick knitting projects that excite me and slooowwwlly work through them. Even if I don't know all the stitches, I just take it one instruction at time and check youtube if I have no idea what I am supposed to do!

    Acknowledge what you have achieved, set small goals, and be gentle with youself. Good luck!


  20. I, too, have two small children (3 months and 2 years) and often feel I'm not doing enough. This post was perfect timing for me. When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought being a stay at home mum to young children would enable a simple life. I envisaged daily bakedbread, a large veggie patch, Mother Earth incarnated! The reality of the daily rhythm (I nearly wrote grind! It feels like it some days) of life with small children is at times quite different. We bake bread, but I also buy bread as I don't always get round to it. The veggie garden is there, but as basic as it was while I was working. The house is a constant mess. But this post reminded me to celebrate what I do get around to - making yoghurt, cooking from scratch most days, living a simple life in a consumer sense so we can afford for me to stay home while my children are young. Thanks Rhonda and Sara.


  21. Rhonda I'm very sorry to hear about our fellow DTE reader Coralie. If you are in touch with her family please pass on my sympathy.

  22. The warm fireplaceNovember 19, 2012 10:30 am

    My thoughts are with your readers Coralies family.
    Very wise words and knitting is a great thing to start off with, i have been knitting since i was 5, all through having 3 children, is very relaxing.

  23. Learning is a lifelong joy!

    I learned to crochet as a child, however I have taught many people over the years to crochet since then. One lady was over 50 years old and recovering from a brain aneurysm! I myself learned how to knit after I was 40, with arthritis in both hands. Challenges can be overcome with patience and time. YouTube and other sites are invaluable if you aren't fortunate to have someone in your life that is proficient in a particular craft. Learning new things makes life richer, don't you think?

    I'm going to plug crochet here since there are so many others rooting for knitting ;-) Crochet is very portable- esp with small projects like dishcloths or blanket squares, you only have ONE crochet hook to keep up with LOL, and it is a heck of a lot easier to stop when you need to (kids needing something, you are called in to your appointment, etc) as you can stop wherever you are.

    In knitting you really should finish each row unless you want your knitting to look messy. If you are as slow a knitter as I am, knitting across even a relatively small row can take a while... LOL

    I'm not against knitting. I still enjoy it, having at least one project on the go all the time. I just have to work on my knitting when I know I have time to concentrate and finish each row.

    Another small, portable craft is cross stitch. You can get the tiny, simple kits very cheaply that have everything except the scissors included, and even if you only get to put a few stitches in a day, they still grow quickly.

    And you can hand sew without a machine. Hand stitch small things like hairbows, bean bags and other small projects; do some mending of your household's clothes; and/or learn to do a patchwork and quilted pillow. Sewing machines aren't essential, you know, just convenient. Think about the multitudes of women over the centuries that hand sewed their family's clothes!

    As for being over-whelmed with life to the point where you don't seem to have the energy to begin new things... just small changes can reap large rewards. Add small changes one at a time. You don't have to do it all in one go. Write them down in a journal as you do them. You'll be surprised to look back in a month or year's time to see what you've accomplished and all the positive differences you've made. Realise some things won't be right for you and your household. Do what works best for you at this point and time. Patience is a virtue. (My mantra! ;-)

  24. There is a time and season in life. Your children won't always be small, time-consuming and energy-sapping bundles of love. (Scarier- they become teenagers! :-P) Use little amounts of peace and quiet to focus on something that is important to you or relaxes you.

    I personally rarely watch TV, therefore giving myself time for my crafts. Many people often do not realise how much time is spent in front of the television (or at appointments or waiting in cars, offices, etc) with empty hands. At least one of my portable crafts comes with me wherever I go. But that is just me and what makes me happy and relaxed.

    Note- a lot of crafters work on their crafts while watching TV and do the crafts very well. I can't, I'm afraid, so can't have the telly on unless I want to make a lot of mistakes! To each their own.

    You won't become an 'expert' at your crafts or the simple living changes you want to make overnight, but the joy in making handmade items for family, friends and home is inmeasurable for you and the recipients, and simple living brings satifaction and contentment all on its own.

    For your relatives, my grandmother used to say, "Someone convinced against their will, will be of the same opinion still!" No matter how much you press the point, some people will have to come to the realisation on their own, and some will never come to that point. But you are only responsible for you and yours. Teach your children, be a good example to those around you and patiently explain to those who ask. "You get more bees to honey than vinegar." was another savvy statement of my beloved grandmother whom seemed to have an insightful comment to make on most of life's happenings. Remember, getting grumpy, stressed or insistent won't make people more inclined to your beliefs.

    Blessings to you and your family in your home-enriching endeavors.

    Holly xxx

  25. My thoughts are with Coralie's family. I think we each do our bit that works, I live in a very hot climate so knitting is rather superfluous. I do love to sew though, but find fabric is so expensive. Often garage sales and op shops have new fabric and patterns and I quickly snatch those up. there are so many things we do in and around the home that can give us such pleasure and satisfaction, and that is the real value.

  26. Sympanthys.
    Sarah do what you can, and want to do! Pick one thing that excites you. It may be a couple of tomato plants in a pot a bit of water and thats it.
    Kids love this. I make the washing powder and cleaner. I cook from scatch most days, but sometimes not. I have an extensive veg garden now, but my children are 11 and 15. I work part time, hubby full time keep a tight budget most of the time. Now we are throwing every extra cent to the mortgage, no other debt. Next step debt free. Di

  27. I'm really sorry to hear that one of your regular readers has passed away.

    As for Sara, I think that her change of mindset is the first and most important step that anyone can take in their journey to simplify. Once you can see through the marketing spin, you start thinking more about your spending habits and from there, step by step you begin to walk down the path to a simple life. It sounds to me like you are already on your way :) As for the crafting, I get the feeling that you feel as though it will be a chore, or something unpleasant that you must learn in order to consider yourself truly living a simple and frugal life. I don't think that you should feel that you must learn these things if you don't want to, although that said I personally gain a lot of satisfaction from sewing. I am not great with anything yarn related though - perhaps I need a few lessons! Don't consider it a chore. Sewing and knitting/crochet should be a pleasure. If you give it a go and find you really don't like it just don't do it! In all honesty I think that it is actually more expensive to make clothing yourself although I must admit that handmade items are of infinitely better quality. Not to mention how nice it feels to cuddle up under a quilt you made yourself or see how happy your daughter is to wear the twirly skirt you made one afternoon.

  28. I have little children too and with each child I have experience a huge welling of frustration because I am too drained to learn and do all the things I want to do. But then, sometime after 12months, things free up and I am less tired and I feel mentally able to take on new stuff. I think we need to be gentle on ourselves and also acknowledge the progress we have made.

    I am someone who thrives on learning new things so I've always got a new crafty project on the go. I am currently learning how to weave! Knitting or crochet is great - I have sewn a lot but I find it incredibly frustrating with little kids. My advice is to do something that excites you, the learning will be a joy because you are super enthusiastic.

  29. My mom knit in the evenings.. I still recall the calming sound of the needles clicking, and the joy of receiving a square knit to cover a baby doll ! Could I tell if it was knit perfectly? My dollies received many items over the years ! And how warm the knitting felt when I would reach up and touch the knitting warm from her hands. I saw her cast on so many times over the years that when I picked up her needles after she died decades later I simpley closed my eyes and held the yarn and needles and my hands moved quickly the way hers did and I opened my eyes to find I had perfectly cast on!!

  30. One is NEVER to old to learn something new particularly if one thinks one might enjoy it. I was always a cook and gardener, but the last two years I have really got into sewing, and received a very economical basic sewing machine for Christmas last year. All I can say is that I have enjoyed it no end and have taken classes at the local sewing shop twice now. One was in basic and beginning sewing (a refresher course for me), the other was for a simple tote bag. There was fabric galore as you would expect at all levels of pricing: the newest and latest material lines brought in and the bargain fabrics on their way out; all of it worthy of attention and in fine shape. By the by, I just turned 60 last October.

    Pick something you think you would like and go for it! You just never know whether it is for you unless you try.

  31. Hmmm... I have to say that this post leaves me with very mixed feelings.

    When I first started down the road of voluntary simplicity 20 years ago, one of the first things I decided to do was to make a hand made quilt from scraps of old clothing. It just seemed like the quintessential "simple" project. But soon I had blisters on my fingers, lots of frustration, and a big project hanging over my head making me stressed out. I then realized that if I wanted a quilt I could buy a used one at the thrift shop for less money than I had spent buying thread for my project! But even that was pointless because the truth was I didn't need a quilt at all!

    I guess I just think that it's easy to get caught up in the picture of simplicity rather than the reality. I wanted to make a quilt because it conjured up images of Laura Ingalls Wilder passing hours in quiet contemplation - but the reality of MY quilt, wasn't "simple" at all!

    The truth is that we live in a world that is literally drowning in "goods," so while crafting might be a fun and enjoyable hobby, it often doesn't really further the goal of simplifying our lives.

    I personally found that I got MUCH more mileage out of things like tracking my expenses, paying down the mortgage, insulating the house, learning to do home repairs instead of paying to have them done, cutting out needless commitments & activities, and learning to live WAY beneath my means - both in terms of money and time.

    I personally don't make my own washing detergent because I can buy a year's supply of environmentally friendly detergent for under $5 - it's just not a good investment of my time and energy. Same for making clothes etc... I can get everything I need for under $20/year at the thrift shop - I'd spend WAY more than that on yarn & fabric, not to mention the time and energy drain.

    Maybe it all depends on your definition of "simple."

    1. It all depends on what you need and what you have access to. I could never buy one year's worth of detergent for $5. Do you mean detergent or liquid soap? Most detergents sold here are based on petro-chemcials. I love creating soft furnishing and gifts from fabric scraps I have at home.

      The point of the post was to highlight that we all live differently. We change as we age, we all change in different ways and but that difference is always there. And that's fine.

    2. I know many people enjoy crafting, and I think that's great if you want a hobby. I also think it's great that people want to use more environmentally safe products such as soap rather than detergent (and yes, I'm using Planet brand laundry detergent which I'm sure has petro-chemicals in it.) I only do about one load of laundry per month and it takes a LOOOONNNGG time to use up one of those bottles!

      I guess I just see a lot of people like Sara running themselves ragged trying to live up to some 19th century image of "simplicity" all the while ignoring some very real 21st century issues like massive mortgages, long commutes, families that require two large incomes to function, and houses filled with the latest greatest techno-gadgets - all of which are arguably doing much more harm to their sanity and the environment than a bit of laundry detergent or a lack of knitting.

      As a person who tends to beat herself up for not being "good enough" I'm probably overly sensitive to the "I'm overwhelmed" message that I read in Sara's email. I guess I think we do ourselves a disservice by looking at "simplicity" as something that's daunting or difficult, and which requires a big commitment of time and energy. I prefer to look at it as a process of getting free from the expectations of our consumer culture - letting go of projects, activities, needless expenses, superfluous possessions, the keeping up of appearances, etc.

      I didn't mean to be overly critical. Doing things by hand is admirable, and I applaud any and all steps to live in a more environmentally friendly manner. I guess I'm just trying to look at the bigger picture.

    3. Hi there. I know that crafting can indeed be expensive, but to me learning to sew has meant I can be even more thrifty. I get fabric from a very cheap shop (just ends of rolls) for $1 - $2 per metre. I also can alter op shop finds, make kids tee shirts from my husbands old tee shirts, make curtains, sheets etc. I also make other things around the house such as storage boxes (which can easily cost hundreds of dollars) by covering Australian Post boxes with pretty (and cheap) fabric. When I first started I went to Spotlight, thinking it was the cheap alternative but realised that yes it was more expensive than buying it.

      Also, I think you are very lucky to get by on one wash a month. I'm not sure if you have small children, but laundry is a battle with them around. If you do, would be great to hear how you manage that.


    4. Hi Eliza,

      I think the answer here is that I'm just cheaper than your average bear, and I have very low standards! :-)

      I never do anything "just for pretty" so for storage I just use cardboard boxes that I get for free. I also get most of my clothing, sheets etc for free from FreeCycle. But other than special clothing for specific purposes (like my cycling habit) I'm not very particular about what I wear - I pick up maybe an item or two per year - all used, of course. It seems that clothes & housewares are very easy to come by in this society... FreeCycle, clothing exchanges, thrift shops, hand-me-downs etc. My problem is keeping them down to manageable numbers, not acquiring them in the first place!

      In terms of laundry, it's just me and 4 cats. I work from home so I wear things until they are really dirty. I also have a HUGE capacity washer which I bought because I was tired of hauling the king sized comforter to the laundr-o-mat every time one of the cats barfed on it - and unless it's hairball season, it takes me a month to dirty enough stuff to fill it up!

      I really didn't mean to come across as snarky... we all have different needs, skills, affinities and priorities - and there's nothing wrong with crafts... they're just not my cup of tea.

      I guess I just think that in general we make things harder than they need to be because we're trying to live up to some sort of idealized picture - for most people that picture involves things like status, money and possessions, but the same syndrome can apply to "simplicity" or "green living" as well. And if all we're doing is substituting one picture for another, we're really not accomplishing much.

  32. Sara, I can remember the total exhaustion from having little children, but believe me, that time passes, and you will have the energy to tackle new tasks and skills.
    I started sewing my own clothes about 4 years ago, at 42. I love my sewing, I love making clothes to my taste, from natural fibres that fit me! (This combination is not easy to find off the rack in my experience).It's also a great creative outlet. When you feel ready, I'd encourage you to give it a crack - it's great fun!

  33. Please forgive if what I am about to ask has been covered elsewhere or previously, but reading your and a couple of other blogs are my quick escapes while still being able to keep an eye on my children. For the homemade powder soap, I am not sure what type of bar soap to grate up into it as I am in the US. I know the local stores sell a bar of very strong smelling pink soap for pre-treating and occasionally there is another type at another store, but I am hesitant to use either with how sensitive we are to soaps (we can not use Tide or Dreft or Gain which are big name brands here).

    1. Jenn, I think the US ladies often use Fels Naptha but you can use any laundry soap.

    2. Jenn - I live in the US, too. I have made my own laundry "detergent" for years, using Rhonda's basic recipe. I have had great results using almost any kind of soap at all...not just a soap made specifically for laundry. I don't personally care for Fels Naptha, though many people use it. My daughter has sensitive, easily irritated skin, and Fels Naptha seems to irritate her skin as much as commercial laundry products.

      I have great results with Dr. Bronner's soaps, but they are rather expensive. Kirk's Castille Soap (which I find at my local grocery store or any health foods store or Whole Foods) works well and is much less expensive. I know people who use Ivory soap with good results,too, but I prefer a castille soap myself.

      Also - I have a front loading machine, which some people claim will be ruined by homemade products. I have not had any such problems and have had my machine for 9 years so far. The trick is not to use too much detergent! Also, when I make laundry powder, I usually run it through the food processor, which grinds it to a very fine powder. I find that it dissolves better in cold water - or any temperature water - this way.

      Hope this helps.

  34. Hi Rhonda,

    I'm very sorry to hear about Coralie. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to me, and also to your wonderful readers for their advice too. Something that I thought of while reading this is that my Mum knows how to knit. She's coming on holidays with us in January so asking her to teach me could be a great way for us to connect by just being together.

    My children are 16 months and almost 4. Today, as I hung out a load of nappies, it occurred to me that I won't always be doing so much washing and housework (they'll have their own chores as soon as they 4 year old already has some). My youngest won't always be in nappies. My eldest is starting pre-school next year so already there'll be some extra time. I can't imagine it! Not without crying :-)

    And I realise that I probably do more than what I think. While I don't knit dishcloths, I was given a huge amount of face washers when I had each child. I split them into three: for the face/body, for dishes and for wiping bottoms (thankfully it was easy to colour code!) I will make a list tonight of what I've achieved and what I hope to still do.

    We always need to strive for the next goal, don't we? Otherwise, what's left?

    So thank you so much for your post today. You have really helped me gain clarity and motivation. I wonder if you know how inspirational you are, not just to me!


    PS. My sister just told me that I can sew above a beginners level, reminding me I sewed myself a skirt with zip relatively recently. I must stop being so hard on myself!

  35. As always, such lovely gentle encouragement from Rhonda. Sara, it sounds that you are beating yourself up, but you seem to have achieved so much with the major changes to your life in the last year, which you say have given you huge benefits. Maybe you are done for the time being and perhaps you can start sewing, knitting, etc., when you have more time and energy as the children grow! As someone else mentioned, maybe just a few bought-in tomato plants will give you and the children the pleasure of growing your own food and therefore another achievement. Small baby steps!

    Jak x

  36. Sorry to hear about your reader Coralie, my sympathy to her family and friends. Great advice as usual.

  37. Everyone has posted such helpful posts, so I am not sure that I can add very much. It is important that we remember that baby steps will get us further than rushing in to try everything and become frustrated at the process. While your children are young, the emphasis has to be on feeding them nutritious, simple fare and guiding them to become gentle, thoughtful children. When my son was young, I taught myself to make bread and had him help me knead the dough. We had a small garden and I set aside a corner for him so that he could plant flowers. We made yogurt, gathered food for baskets for the needy and went for walks in nature. I taught myself to knit (youtube is amazing) but still mostly stick to making dishcloths. They're wonderful and make good gifts. Be easy on yourself. It is hard to overcome the feeling that we are not good enough if we don't do it all - this is no better than being sucked into the rat race that careers can sometimes wreck on us. One step at a time - and never forget that raising thoughtful, kind children who are keen on learning is the most important gift that we can give to the world.

  38. I'm posting this comment for Jo-Anne who had problems commenting today.

    Please tell Sara from me that she isn't too old to learn any skill as long as her memory is good. For an example, my Mom who at the age of 81 got a second-hand computer, still not convinced if she could learn and thinking that she'd probably just return it. But in a few weeks of me snail mailing her, phoning and showing her how to work the computer on our annual visit, she was regularly emailling my brothers and me. She soon learned how to surf the net and read whatever interested her there too. That's the limit of her computer skills but it keeps her happy and feeling good about herself. Today at 87 years of age, Mom emails me daily. She's so happy to save on long-distance charges as the members of my family live great distances from each other. So please tell Sara this story.

    Thanks to you, Rhonda, and the other readers of your blog, Sara has received lots of great advice. Thank you again for this wonderful forum. Jo-Anne

  39. Wow what a wealth of information! Thanks to all who have contributed. I'm learning to do what you can, when you can. I had knee reconstruction recently and we chose to go back to a certain amount of convience foods just so we could cope better. My leg is healing well so I'm back to cooking and baking (the kids are over shapes biscuits but it filled a need) The house isn't clean but it never was. I've also learnt during my recovery time to sit (a near impossibility for me) and its given me wonderful time with my kids (13,12,9)just to talk/giggle/cuddle. So even while I would have rather not gotten injured I'm going to take some positives out of this and as I get back to my old routines there will be some new ones on board as well.

  40. I have been through this over the last three years. I found Rhonda's blog around the time I gave up work to be at home following my third child's birth. We happened to come across an allotment at this time also. So we embraced the change and pushed ourselves very hard working towards the simple life. Too hard I think in hindsight. It was an exhilerating challenge and was wonderful for the kids. However, I think it is so important to allow yourself off the hook a little at this point in your life. My house was a mess for years but we achieved so much, and learned so many skills. Now, just three years later things are so much easier. My husbands hours have increased hugely so it really largely falls on my now but my house is starting to look reasonable, and I have a nice routine which means I have time to concentrate on kids after school. Everything just seems so much more manageable now. It really is such a short period of time they need you so intensely. And the main advantage to making this change while they are young is they will take simple living as 'normal' as they grow, not the accepted consumerism most kids take as normal. Rachel, Ireland

  41. Bravo Rhonda and good luck Sara, I know when my son was small I was exhausted all the time and had little energy for the things I wanted to do. But they grow up so quick and your energy will return and you'll be off and racing.

  42. Sara, I totally sympathise with you. I have a 4yo, 3yo and 16 month old and I too am a SAHM. It gets crazy here and when evening comes there are some nights the idea of cooking something healthy and nutritious with organic ingredients is all to much and my husband will get the call to pick up a pizza. Do what you can, look back 6 months ago and see the changes you HAVE made and be very proud. I also get the same response from my parents. I make sourdough bread, partly because I am developing an intolerance to normal bread (sourdough rises for 7 or more hours which helps process enzymes found in normal wheat/flour. Sprouting grain does the same thing but it's a time consuming pain) and because it's just so much nicer to eat, not to mention I don't need to buy yeast. My dad, who is also gluten intolerant, tried some of my sourdough the other week with positive results but when I suggested that mum make it she told me she was at the stage of life where she just wants it easy. I can respect that and if that is her choice but it saddens and frustrates me when she makes out that the extra effort I make is worthless and silly. I mean, why go to all the effort and expense when you can buy it. She doesn't understand the joy I feel when I serve homemade organic food to my family and when I can harvest my own fruits and veggies, my joy will be complete.
    We op-shop for most of our clothes as keeping things out of landfill is a valuable thing although when I get the time I do like to sew too, mainly for items I simply can't buy or not cheaply (I love 1940's/50's fashion) and washing powder really is simple. I use Priya soap which is a lovely natural soap and just grate it in my Thermomix although my food processor before would grate it perfectly too.
    Don't be hard on yourself and remember that each of our journeys are individual and our own. Do what you can now and maybe set a list of things you'd like to try for next year. As my kids get older I find they're less time intensive (if only that they sleep better or help dress themselves).

  43. If you cant find cotton knitting yarn use two balls of cotton string (unwaxed from supermarket or in the stationary section in places like Big W)in order to make washcloths. They work really well in the shower. I have made Two washcloths and plan on making more for gifts along with bars of soap.

  44. Dear Sara,
    I hope you can take one minute to take a look at my place. I am a mother of two and a couple of years ago I didn't know a thing about frugal living. Know I am making my own blanket and hope to finish another handknit item. Not that I have so much time with two kids (6 and 1), and not because of my fantastic creativity, but due to my little steps at the time. I have learned from Rhonda and other bloggers (just like you: not from my parents or other relatives) to do just one little tiny step each day and yes.. you will come to a point where I am now. Not out of learning, sometimes still running out of time, but with the knowledge of doing the right thing. For yourself, your family and the earth with his future.

    Hope to hear from you in the future! God bless

  45. Sorry to hear of the passing of one of our community! It is such a wonderful community, indeed.

    Thanks for this post, Rhonda. It is such a good reminder. And it made me laugh when you mention the simple living police! Ha!



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