Surround yourself with good people

16 February 2015
After we changed how we lived, going from crass consumerism to a more mindful way of living, I looked around and thought that Hanno and I might as well be living on an island because we'd isolated ourselves so much from our friends and neighbours. All that mindless buying was still happening in the general community and in the rare instance of telling someone what we were doing, I was always asked the most pointed of disheartening questions: why!?!

 Rye loaf with carraway seeds, made in a cake tin.

I knew I had to connect with like-minded people and the only way I knew how to do that was to volunteer to work in my community. I started working as a volunteer in a local neighbourhood centre and very soon after that, was appointed manager. We helped people with food parcels, warm blankets, clothes, budgeting, we offered a place to be during the day to connect and have coffee. I taught bread baking, soap making, and cooking from scratch. We set up a Centrelink office with a visiting worker one morning a week, we offered free workshops, a sewing circle, community garden, counselling and we had a variety of free services such as parenting support and playgroup, a free legal service, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. There was a Flexischool attached, with 25 students.  Although I was tired at the end of every day, I was happy that I was surrounded by good people who shared many of my values.  During the time I was there we moved twice, from one old house to another, and then to a magnificent two million dollar purpose-built facility. I stayed there for seven years and only left when Hanno nearly cut off his hand with a chain saw and he needed me at home.

Delicious butter cake.

Quite a few things changed while I was there. I stopped judging others, made myself available to help whoever came along and I began encouraging and supporting those around me. I'm still proud of those personal changes because I believe they made me a better person, but I'm far from ideal and still have a lot of improvements to make. The biggest change was in 2008 when the global financial crisis hit. Many jobs were lost and although Australia faired better than most countries, many people were in dire straits here. The community relied on the neighbourhood centre more and after I left there a couple of years ago, it continued to grow to be a significant part of a caring community. 
Last year's flowering kohl rabi.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can happen in many different ways. Often there aren't the people in the community that you want to befriend but you can find them online. There are many people who comment here and the mutual feeling of friendship and support that has built up is amazing. I don't reply to as many comments as I'd like but I build up an idea of people just by reading their comments.

Volunteering in your community can place you in the middle of a group of people you'd never have met otherwise. It can be challenging but you can make it less threatening by joining a group whose values you support, such as the CWA, WI, a local craft group or church.

Support and encouragement can also be found in books and blogs. There are many others like me who write about the lifestyle changes we can all make. You might never meet the people who write what your read but just knowing you share similar tasks and seeing how others work can be incredibly motivating.

I'm heartened by seeing the changes that have happened in recent years. There are more people thinking about the consequences of consumerism and climate change and making positives changes to move towards simpler lives and sustainability. Farmers markets, local food and micro businesses have slowly moved into the mainstream making some food and lifestyle changes easier and cheaper.

Luffas waiting to be skinned.

There is no reason to feel isolated any more. Of course you have to make the move to connect with those around you, and it will take some effort on your part. If you're buying all, or some, of your weekly food and groceries at small businesses who make good soap and green cleaners, local producers of milk, vegetables, eggs and honey, the farmers of free range meat and chickens, then I'd be surprised if you remain isolated. The people who run those community business, and those you meet when you're shopping, will be able to tell you about community gardens, free workshops and activities you can get involved in. And when you do that, there will be no turning back.

How have you connected online and in your real life? What have you done that made a difference.


  1. Blogs and books are my only sources of support and encouragement in the pursuit of the simple life. Everyone I know in person are busy ‘getting and spending’, and are not interested in pursuits that build up one’s home. I say in person rather than “real life” because I think a social aspect of real life is spending time with people who share your values and interests. And for me that happens through blogs.

    For those interested in helping the elderly and younger people with disabilities, day respite centres are usually looking for volunteers.

  2. I needed to read this post. I was at the pool yesterday with the kids, and was sitting next to a large group of mothers with children, I felt so disconnected from them, from the conversations I could over hear to the piles of packaged food they were consuming. I just felt so different. I've never needed many friends, but as I'm getting older I seem to yearn for like minded company, I do get a lot of that from bloggers, but I need to find it for real as well. Another great post. Thank you.

  3. Rhonda, this is a wonderfully encouraging post, thank you. We've been nomads for more than two decades and that sense of belonging to a community has eluded me (20 moves across Australia in 23 years) but just last month we decided to stop, stay, and put down roots in Townsville. Connecting locally and investigating an avenue to do some volunteer work alongside my home business is now going to happen. I didn't know how much I needed roots until we made that January decision.

  4. Morning Rhonda, when I moved here 8 years ago I didn't know anyone. Slowly I found out what was around, and joined groups that I felt had similar interests and values to mine. I joined the management committee of the local women's service first and put my "old" skills from social work days to good use. I joined a couple of quilting groups, a group knitting squares for blankets, and an art co-op. I volunteered with the local animal rescue group, and although I'm not with all of those groups today, I still maintain good friendships. I'm more active now in the local anti-coal seam gas movement, and am part of the Knitting Nanas against Gas, I belong to the Tweed Guardians and the Lock the Gate Movement, all environmental groups. I live in an older part of town, where there're a lot of older people who moved here as newlyweds and I know nearly all of them. I do informal home visiting, checking on them, taking a homemade cake or bread and veggies from my garden and now consider them friends. I don't get very much done if I'm in the garden, as people going past stop to that! I helped set up the Community Garden a couple of years ago, and play an administrative role there now. There's a lot of homeless people here in town, and I knit for them, offering them a beanie or mittens when I come across them when I'm walking my dog....they all love her, and enjoy having a cuddle and throwing a ball for her...some have sad stories to tell of the days they had a home and a dog. And I belong to an online charity group, that I knit and sew for, as well as my connections with other bloggers. I agree with you, you have to find what interests you and that you're passionate about and get out there, I think the "doing" comes before the friendships, these can take a little longer but are worth working towards. Sometimes you just have to put your hand up, and say "I can help with that" and you'll be surprised where it leads. And talk to people, I'm now good friends with a young Vietnamese woman who lives in a village about half an hour away, she sells her home grown veggies at the Saturday farmer's market, and we discovered through chatting that we're both interested in plant dyeing, her just learning, so I visit her now and we share our interest...she was a little isolated before that, having just her husband here and a market garden to take care of.

  5. We moved cross country for my husband to return to school at 50 for a bachelor, then master's degree. We met most of our neighbors in the new neighborhood because of our garden. No one here gardened much, so our project with 8 long raised beds, rain barrels, herbs, and flowers has become a draw. We are a "tourist"stop, folks bring friends to see what we have done. I love being known as "the lady with the great garden. I share plants with the neighbors who have started gardens now too.

    Both my husband and I are chefs, so we share our love with cooking by teaching classes in knife skills, cooking with herbs, etc. Met many people in the community that way, and have a great time sharing.

    Love your blog Rhonda, thanks for sharing your life, it reinforces our decision to lead simple, meaningful lives the best we can.

    Sarah in Kansas

  6. Rhonda, I love your outlook on life. I've just retired, and I feel like you have given me 'permission' to be the person I've always wanted to be. As a young, married, mother of two in the seventies, I was persuaded away from my ideals by popular culture here in Australia at the time. Upon finding your blog just before retiring I found that your ideals still resonated with me. Baby steps ahead, it's not easy to change forty years of habits, although some things were easy to change. I appreciate the concept that simple living is flexible and done size doesn't fit all......I can now truly be the best me I can be. Thanx again.

  7. How very true! I'm at the very beginning of my journey, but I am volunteering with a local charity who support families with young children who need a little extra support and I have discovered the joy of blogging - such a wonderful support of likeminded people and a wealth of knowledge out there. And of course I read your books and blog!

  8. I agree that it's important to join in the community. Although in the US, it is much the same. I volunteer at a Recycle Reuse shop a couple of days a week. It totally amazes me what people will just throw away. From what I see everyday, you would have hardly any reason to buy things new, especially household items if you have the patience to wait. I also make most food from scratch, shop in bulk, garden and sew. I hope that my granddaughters that live with me will learn to appreciate these skills.

  9. Rhonda, such an interesting post. And so true.
    I was lucky when I retired to find Beelarong Community Farm in Brisbane (growing organic fruit and veggies) where I was quickly accepted into a friendly and caring community. Once I started volunteering there in the community garden a whole new interest opened up and new friendships formed. I now eat so much better as I pick herbs and vegetables from my own small allotment there and an hour later can be cooking and eating them.

  10. Good morning, Rhonda, and fellow members! Rhonda, what a great post. Thank you so much for the encouragement you give to all of us!

  11. I am fortunate as we have our Simple Living Toowoomba group holding workshops most months of the year and it is great to learn new skills with like minded people. Making our own soap, cleaning products and cooking from scratch is just the norm for most of us and we are always learning something new. You were the inpiration for the group starting up in the first place so a big thanks Rhonda.

  12. I very much enjoyed reading today's post from you Rhonda, and also all the replies. I'm not much of a cook, gardener or seamstress but am great with a budget and have started to develop other skills. I'm still working at the moment, but want to find a niche for myself in the community, that I can develop when I retire. For now, I just love my own home and relish each step I take to become more productive here.

    Mary L

    I have a lovely Thai lady up the road who has made the most wonderful productive garden. I know she will enjoy sharing her knowledge with me. Maybe we can convert the neighbourhood :)

    I truly value the blogs by people who share my love of home and garden. Thank you.

    This month's new vegie (for me) is the cucumber. I have never grown them before, but they seem to be fine. I even gave a plant away to a neighbour this week. She had never grown anything much at all, but I was thrilled to see she had planted a basil. I think I can encourage her to grow more and chat about developing our gardens to be more productive.

    Feeling excited here.....

    1. Mary, I love growing cucumbers. Home grown and straight off the vine are nothing like the bland cucumbers you buy. Most of the time we grow the small Lebanese cucs. They're great in salads and pickles. But I have grown the delicious heirloom Richmond Green Apple cucumber as well. If you can find it - I think Diggers have it, it's worthwhile adding to your garden. Good luck with your gardening.

  13. So true, we have met so many like minded folk and it is so nice not to have to listen to things we are simply no longer interested in! They also have lots of experience and we have some experience and all together we know quite a bit!! Thanks for reminding me to be grateful for these friends!

  14. I really loved this post Rhonda. All of it. It just resonated with me.


  15. I want to say if I could only read one blog it would be yours....thank you.

  16. Rhonda that was a lovely post to read and how you got satisfaction from helping people at the Community Centre and your interests at home. On the cucumber post above...last year was the first time we grew cucumbers and they were delicious. My daughter pulled the first one off (she was 8 then) and she said "Mum, can I do the honours"..... in other words can I cut it up instead of was so sweet. She cuts cucumbers and has two extra ones which she puts on her eyes (hiliarious). We are growing them now and should have our first in about a week. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

  17. Since I retired a couple of years ago I have enjoyed being much more self sufficient, and also connecting with our neighbors who share similar interests . That can take a while but is so worthwhile I also feel less pressure to spend and support consumerism now that I am out of the workforce. Nice post Rhonda.

  18. I don't usually read the paper but I just read a very heart-warming story about a family who cycled along the Australian East Coast living on whatever they could forage for their food and they certainly had a lot of connection with community along the way. What an experience. I do apologies if it's not ok to post here.

  19. Indeed, we have gotten a lot of snide remarks from family, friends and strangers alike since we tried to live this path. I used to be bothered by it but slowly I am learning to let it just pass. I see no point in justifying myself anymore (not even to myself, if that makes any sense!). I just have to remember that we choose to live this way, and we are happier for it.

    Today I have submitted my application to volunteer at my daughter's primary school. Itisnot much, I know, but a few hours here and there is all I may be able to manage with a new baby on the way

  20. Hi Rhonda,

    I have joined my local sustainable living group. It's a wonderful group of like-minded people and many connections and friendships are forged within the group. I certainly feel less isolated since becoming a part of it.

    My son gardens at the local community garden, and finds the sense of community wonderful. He's only 12, and I think it's great he discovered on his own that 'it takes a village to raise a child'. It's an activity that he does without me that really gives him something special.


  21. I really admire how you always seem to act first and talk about it later - very motivational. I know lots of people that are yackers and not doers - boring much. I aspire to emulate your approach instead.

  22. Great post, as always, and very relevant in this day and age. We all need to make more connections! Thank you for letting us know about Tina as I was wondering what had happened there. Hope she makes it back soon xx

  23. I have learnt so much from reading books and blogs on the subject of mindful living. I like the way they make you stop and consider your own actions. I'm also passionate about local businesses and local projects and I try to do the majority of my shopping with the independent retailers on the high street, not the chain stores. Thank you for such an interesting post.

  24. Yes, it really helps to join in with other people and if you can help them in the process then so much the better. Of course, by helping other people we also find that they are helping us too.

  25. A lovely inspirational post. It has taken me a while to find like minded families but since we have started to home educate we have met quite a few. I still keep in touch with a few of the adults from my pre children days but it is good to spend time with parents too.

  26. I know exactly what you mean.. The more we life self sufficient, the less friends we seem to keep. Shame!
    But I know we are doing the right thing for our family, so we're going strong!. One day we will look around and say; yes.. we've lost a couple of friends back than, but look at all those people who are around us now and think the same way as we do. And Rhonda, I truly have to say.. It is already starting; we do have made new 'eco-friends'. Thanks for sharing this post!

    Love from Holland

  27. A great post Rhonda. I really admire you and empathise with much you write. Take care, J9 x

  28. Loved this post. Your community centre sounds awesome! Blogs and articles online is where I go to now for support and knowing I'm not alone in how I think and want to live. Having a busy family life and raising my young kids doesn't provide a lot of time to volunteer. I am looking forward to when they are older and I have a bit more time for just me so I can volunteer. I am part of my kids school council and it is great to talk with other parents who want to cut down packaging, encouraging composting at the school and supporting a school garden so that the students can learn about gardening. Small steps.

  29. Hello, Granny Rhonda! :D

    I'm an avid reader & fan of your blog for 3 years now. I learn so much from your posts! Been following a handful of them. Been dreaming of having my own herb garden. Will work on it once baby is a lot bigger. He is 9 months old. Hubby and I share the same values of simple living. We're a young family with 'olden time' values in this modern age.

    Thank you for your generosity & inspiration! I continue to pray for your & Opa Hanno's good health. May God continue to bless your beautiful & loving family. ♥

  30. I made a conscious effort to change to a more simple life and I love the journey. Interestingly it is within my family that I am considered a bit kooky. Not by all but a few. I do have friends who respect the life I have chosen even if they do not entirely understand why. But it is the online community that I love and where I get most of my strength to be true to myself.

  31. This is a wonderful post. Our journeys have been similar in many ways.

    We too have experienced the loss in community that can come from changing the way we live and we too have rebuilt community in the ways you suggest. By volunteering with organizations of like-minded people, by doing community outreach through free classes, etc Most recently we started hosting monthly gatherings of people interested in sustainable living and that has been a success. Now every month a group of us (sometimes as few as six people, sometimes more than 20) will gather for a potluck supper and to share ideas, skills, tips, recipes and generally just to enjoy the company of people who don't think we're crazy.
    I think the kinds of things you suggest are essential. Not only does it spread the message of sustainability but it helps folks like us avoid isolation and loneliness.
    And of course the internet helps too. :) Thanks for taking the time to create and share this awesome blog.

  32. Great post Rhonda. I think it's wonderful that you felt you changed for the better yourself, as a result of your voluntary work. Spending time with the younger generation has helped me a lot over the years to not judge people so much. A few years ago I did the stitching sampler pattern you shared on your blog, and whenever I pass by it, the wording reminds me to try and be as kind a person as I can be. :)

    Connecting with like-minded people online has been a true blessing to me over the years.

    Many thanks for your note at the foot of this post, and for your encouragement and kind words by email. Sending you hugs, love, Tina xx

  33. When we started living our simple life 37 years ago it was in the middle of the back to the land movement of the 1970s. It is funny how things go in cycles. But this was very helpful to us as there were so many like minded people to talk with and learn from. Self sustaining and self sufficiency was the goal but most of us lived in the city so we did what we could - all gardened, cooked and baked from scratch, preserved our harvest, and learned different skills such as sewing, carpentry and animal husbandry. We took a lot of courses and also volunteered our time on farms, orchards and vineyards.

    Then there was a big gap from the middle 1980s and all through the 1990s, Many people abandoned the simple life and got caught up in the rat race. The reality was that as soon as our friends and neighbours started having children they realized that they needed a lot more money to provide healthcare, dentistry and education so they had to go back to steady and profitable employment. Going where the jobs were.

    The difference that I see in those working towards a simple life today as compared to the 1970s is that they see this as something that they will have to sustain forever because of the environmental impact that humans are having on the planet. They want their children and grandchildren to be happy, healthy and safe. The 1970s movement was more moving away from something (dropping out) as opposed to today which is moving towards something.

    I do enjoy talking to like minded people but also to those who are very different. You can always learn something new and take the opportunity to plant some seeds of your own.

  34. Enjoying your blog, and being with like minded helps me a lot also, difficult to find us but we are out here. Finding my voice. I'm always amused when someone is surprised or cannot fathom that someone would want to make homemade bread, or crochet. My husband gets those comments, " Your wife makes bread?" That butter cake looks delicious, like what we call here pound cake.

  35. Wonderful post Rhonda :) I am so grateful for such a wonderful online community of like minded people even if I can't physically find too many!! I'm gradually becoming more confident in our families choices and am even finding people thrilled with things we are doing - especially since having the chooks.
    Warm regards, Jan x
    p.s. that butter cake looks fabulous!!


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