19 February 2024

What I used to do and what I do now

When I simplified my life I thought not much would change in the future. Looking back on it now, things didn't change for many years but when the changes came, they were terrifying, challenging and, eventually, wonderful. I’d never thought about living alone until it happened and then I thought I’d just carry on as before. But it didn’t turn out that way - many of my changes were big and difficult and now my life is very different to what it used to be. So I thought it might be a good thing to write about here - to help others as they age and because I want my blog to be a journal of my life and it wouldn’t be a true and genuine account without these final chapters.

The catalyst for my life change was Hanno becoming sick and eventually dying of brain cancer and Parkinson's disease. Long term readers might notice I left out the diagnosis of dementia which I now believe was false. It wasn't the only false diagnosis he was given but let's just leave it at that. When Hanno died, I fell in a heap and sat on the front verandah staring into space and I stayed there until I realised that I had to do something to get myself moving again. Afterall, I didn't have Hanno there to ask our mutual question: "What are you doing? There's work to be done." The only thing I could think of was to restart my decades-old housework routine and see where that took me. I wasn't sure what would happen, maybe I'd come up with a great idea on how to live well, maybe I'd sell the house, maybe I'd go back to the seat on the verandah. I just didn't know. But what did happen was subtle and reassuring - my housework nurtured me by providing a familiar way to spend my hours and that in turn removed my anxiety and sadness. I felt my life taking shape again, I started with making my bed in the morning, taking Gracie outside and sitting to watch the sunrise, making breakfast, thinking about lunch, cleaning the kitchen, then moving on to whatever needed to be done that particular day. I also included a lot of downtime when I'd read, paint and write because I wanted my creativity to thrive again.

I was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumour in 2019. It makes me dizzy and unable to bend over or look up to do things but mainly it's made me think in a different way! It's made me more organised and patient, two things that weren't a big part of my intellectual or emotional makeup before. Now I do what has to be done, not find reasons not to do it and that has made life much easier, especially as I haven't had Hanno asking the "What are you doing? ..." question. I can easily motivate myself to do almost anything now and I'm more inclined to forgive mistakes, in myself and others.

I met Hanno when I was 28, he died when I was 74, so it took a while to work out what made sense at this stage of my life. In the old days, I'd stockpile, bake bread every day, make almost everything from scratch, preserve food, make soap and simple cleaning products, I'd grow food, cook and store it, shop mindfully, I gave up recreational shopping (including thrift shopping), I decluttered, recycled and composted. But that all changed when I was alone. Initially I stopped baking but started again when I didn't want to drive to the bakery to buy bread, and I missed my daily piece of toast. Instead of baking a loaf every day, I now bake about once every two weeks and wait until the loaf is cold, slice it, bag it in a reusable plastic bag and store it in the freezer. When I make biscuits/cookies, I make a full batch but divide that and freeze half the dough. It tastes just as good when it's baked and if someone comes over I usually have something in the freezer I can defrost and bake for them. Instead of growing or buying a large amount of tomatoes for relish or strawberries for jam, I buy those things in season when they're at their best and cheapest and preserve smaller amounts.  Around Christmas time, I bought four punnets of perfect local strawberries and made two jars of strawberry jam - that will probably last me most of the year. Instead of buying fresh tomatoes, I bought tinned tomatoes and made the relish I usually make for Christmas lunch. I still have six jars of that which I'm using as pizza sauce, sandwich relish and as a base for curry and pasta sauces.

I've cut my food waste by about 90%. I did that by using the Zwilling vacuum seal glass containers and plastic bags. I wrote about that twice last year, here are those links:  Zwilling vacuum seals one,  Zwilling vacuum seals two.

Now I eat when I'm hungry and go to bed when I'm tired - even if it's 4pm. The time of day and day of the week don't matter because the daily decisions I make usually only relate to me.  I can do whatever I like, whenever I like. If you were to walk past my place at 2am and hear the gentle whir of a machine, it would probably be me sewing. Having no timetable or deadlines eases stress, especially after a writing career that is based on deadlines. I feel happy and lucky that this is what my life is now. Of course, I miss Hanno and think of him everyday, but I talk to the photo of him in the kitchen and I'm pretty sure he'd like the way I've rebuilt my life.  

Another one of my changes is to have my groceries delivered once a week. For me, it's cheaper than going to the supermarket and roadside stalls. With my pensioner's discount, it costs about $2 per delivery. So I don't have to struggle getting the grocery bags in and out of my car, I'm not tempted to buy things I don't need and I save on petrol because I don't drive the 20 minute journey there and back.

One thing I've always been mindful of is eating fruit and vegetables every day, mainly for the fibre but also for the vitamins and minerals they contain. When I was cooking for two, Hanno liked having a cooked breakfast and lunch and he'd often have a toasted sandwich for dinner, so there were always a variety of vegetables cooked twice a day. Now that I eat one meal a day and that might be soup, homemade sausage rolls, eggs, steak, chicken or a casserole, I make sure I get enough vegetables by making up a bowl of coleslaw every week. I store it in a Zwilling vacuum glass container and have a coleslaw side dish with whatever I eat as my mail meal. I have at least two pieces of fruit a day and drink tea, water and milk.

I still cook all Gracie's food and alternate between red meat and chicken. About once a month she has a couple of days eating raw meat. I used to give her chicken necks too but she had trouble chewing them so I stopped giving them to her. She has a cup of Black Hawk high quality dog biscuits in the morning and drinks only water.

Overall, I cook and bake from scratch and although I eat the food I like, usually it's the simple food I grew up eating. I eat very few processed foods or drinks, I know the food requirements for my age group and I generally eat between 6am and about 2pm. I eat less than I did when I cooked three meals a day and I feel better for it. I still keep a small stockpile of tea, small tins of red salmon, baked beans, jam, relish, pickles, rolled oats, grains, pasta, rice, sugar, vinegar, honey, various flours and spices. I usually have frozen butter, bread and a small amount of meat and chicken in the freezer. The pandemic proved to me that anything can happen at any time so I stockpile foods that will store well and keep me going until the food deliveries start again.

Today I’m making a new version of choc chip biscuits/cookies. If I like them I’ll include the recipe in my eCookbook. I’ve started work on it, made changes already and now I think I’m happy with what I’m creating. Originally I was going to write one document but then realised it would be too big and didn’t want the bother of handling and emailing such a large file. I decided then that I’d break it into several sections, then decided against that because that would be a bother too. LOL Now I'm writing a savoury book and a sweet book. I’ve lived with that decision for a couple of weeks now and it still makes sense to me, so I’m guessing that’s what I’ll end up with. I hope to release the savoury book in June.

In my next post, I'll carry on with the same theme of what I used to do and what I do now. Those topics will be Gardening, Organising money and paying bills, Grooming and feeding Gracie and a third post on this subject on Spending time alone and with Gracie, Organising my time, Doing what I want, Maintaining relationships - family and friends, neighbours, My health.  

I hope there will be a few things in these posts that will help you as you grow older. It's an interesting and significant journey that not everyone is fortunate enough to make.

8 February 2024

Starting a simpler life

When I started living a simpler life over 20 years ago, I saw it more as a collection of skills rather than a way of life. It took me a few months before I connected the dots and that showed me that when each skill was seen as part of something bigger it made more sense, and all these things made life easier.

For example, we’d kept chooks, grown vegetables in the backyard and eaten organic food for many years. I’d baked bread on and off for that time too and when we lived in the bush, we stockpiled. But all these things seemed to be disjointed and random. They were things we did when we had the time for them but never part of a particular lifestyle.

I wanted to live in a way that made sense environmentally, made a better family life and that challenged and rewarded me. So I looked at what we were doing. It helped to have a name to call it so we could focus on"simple living" and not all the single elements like chooks, stockpiling, organic vegetables, slowing down, budgeting, cooking from scratch etc. When I had the name for it, I discovered I wasn't alone in my thoughts. I found people writing about living how I wanted to live and that motivated me like nothing else. I knew I didn't have to move to the country to live the way I wanted, I knew I would have to learn how to do a lot of the things I wanted to do and I would have to budget and save as much as I could.

I'd already realised that shopping was a wolf in sheep’s clothing that would give me all I needed and wanted. It had to stop and when it did, I suppose that was the first conscious step I took on the road to my simple life. I stopped handing my money over to large corporations to buy the latest fashions so I could look like everyone else, buy convenience rather than do my own work and buy services I could do without. That made the biggest difference.

I created a plan to stop shopping for what I wanted and buy only what I needed instead. I changed the way I shopped for groceries, I cooked from scratch and made as much as I could myself. Another aim was to rethink how I viewed housework and to make what I did in my home meaningful and rewarding. I did it by realising that every single thing I did at home, I did for my family or myself. Knowing that, and really understanding it, made that change possible. It was like a light turned on inside my head; one of those classic cartoon moments when the light globe comes on and you can almost see new ideas forming and old ways melting away. If what I was doing at home was for us then what greater incentive could I have? However, the work wasn’t all mine, I think housework should be shared. My kids grew up keeping their own rooms tidy, making their beds and doing easy household chores. When they left home, I usually worked in the house and Hanno worked outside, but there are many times we crossed over and I'd do one of "his" jobs and he did one of "mine". I then realised that the work we do in our homes contributes significantly towards how we feel and that flows into other parts in our lives.

I am proof that change is possible. If you were to ask my advice on moving towards simplicity, I'd tell you to focus on yourself first and to understand that you may already be doing a lot of the things that make up this way of living. If it still feels disjointed to you, try to connect the dots in YOUR life. Work out for yourself how not shopping for convenience and things you don’t need, saving on your grocery bills, cutting back on your use of water and electricity helps to pay off your debt. Work it out on paper if you have to. Convince yourself. Develop a plan and new values that will facilitate and support your simple life. When you focus on a simpler future, when you do the work, it will change how you think abut housework, and the satisfaction you feel will help you to keep going. The rewards you gain are massive and you’ll discover the feeling of living debt-free, spending more time with your family and living in a calm and stress-free home. And I that, my friends, is the glittering prize.

Nicole Lutze is advertising her new natural cleaners workshops in March. They’re being held in several locations on the Sunshine Coast, cost $5 and are being sponsored by the Sunshine Coast Council. Click here for more information. 

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