Friday, January 2, 2009

Simple Lving/Escaping Affluenza

So, as you may recall, about a year and a half ago, Summe/fall of 07, I was heavily into the downsizing, simple living thing. small house society, all of it. and then I got pregnant, and everything stopped on that front. We did move into a smaller house, but WITHOUT a real switch in our mentality at all, we kind of just crowded about 80% of our STUFF into a littler place. I was 9 months pregnant when we moved, and semi-paralyzed with a separated pelvis and numb hands from water retention induced carpal tunnel syndrome... I was a useless whale who was grateful to watch my hubby and a couple of our friends hauling in all of the STUFF and furniture into the new littler place. but like I said, we didnt change our selves, we didnt change our mentality.

right now I am looking at a house that is across the street from a glorious park, one that has mjor significance to our family. but it is little. Way too little for your average persons' taste for a family of 7. But I cant get it out of my mind. it has 3 beds/1bath just like we have had for years...but it is small. and cheerful. and across the street from a foresty park. and one mile from the hip downtown of our favorite town. So its all realistic and stuff.....

So I got back on the old websites. the simple living and the frugal livin and the google searches have alot more hits than they used to--people are embracing this 'lifestyle' more than they were 1 year ago, if the amount of google hits is any indicator--and I like it.

What is this really about? Well, for one thing, on our modest income, our kids are still acting and seeming very--shall I say it--SPOILED. Maybe it was Christmas. Maybe it is cable tv. Maybe it is busy nursing Mama letting them have entertainment as their main life's activity for far too long. But all I know is that "things have to change" is still true. I see the people with their big big houses and their Mall and S.U.V. lifestyles and their credit card debt and their solve-it-with-shopping attitudes and I know that I do not like that--but we arent doing that much different than them. and I KNOW I do not like that. So its time to change. For me, moving (again) IS important, IS necessary, IF a special house came up and it has. If we dont get that one we will keep looking while we simplify while we are still here. I know I ranted on and on about how FAB this place was and how GREAT the neighbors were but well reality has set in and--just trust me-- there is another side to this coin.

Steve and I know what we want, we just have not done a whole lot to get there. Little new babies can stop life in its tracks and we get that, understand that, embrace it. But talks have resumed. Priorities are being re-discussed. What do we WANT for our kids? What kind of people do we aspire to be, to become, what do we want to model for our children, how do we want to live, and why, and where, and how?

I would love to have little, want less, and have activities and outings and reading and writing and visiting with friends and traveling be what we do. I want my kids to help others and to feel pride in their work, have a thirst for knowledge, and great social skills. I want them to be responsible and polite, humble and honest, free thinking and unique. and I feel pretty sure that if we don't peel them away from the situation they are in, those goals might never be attained. Right now there is FAR too much time spent on these activities:
Griping about the house is a mess
Griping about being bored
"Cleaning" in the form of shuffling and reshuffling our crap all day
Desires to buy more stuff (often cleverly designed as "solutions")
Eating junky food
"I cant find_____xyz___" you name it, its "lost"
Feeling like we are sucky humans because the house is "messy"

I'm done with it all. We have too much stuff, nobody asked for all this, it all came from good intentions, creative toys, fun games, but it is all too much again. And there seems to be no time for:
Playing in the leaves
Reading for hours on end
Farmers Market
Long Talks
even the board games that are my husbands huge hobby, we dont seem to "have time for" which is insane!

When we went on a trip last October to a friends' tiny cottage/mobile home in Ludington, MI, I was all abuzz with the simple living kick. Every moment of that vacation I was obsessed with we could do this we could totally do this this is what I want for my life this is perfection --it was 4 adults and 4 kids in a 2 bedroom mobile home with a little washer dryer combo in the bathroom and I was in heaven. Here are a few things I LOVED about that little place:
When you did a load of laundry, you had to take it right into the front room and fold it and PUT IT AWAY right then and there. With no space for procrastination, you just dont.

With one TV, you had to really cooperate and share and decide to watch A PROGRAM. It was unbearable to have it on all day so we watched Iron Chef (cool cooking show) before bed and all 8 of us enjoyed it and then it was over and we turned it off.

Even though it was in the low 40's, we went outside ALOT. "On a walk". "to the park". "On another walk". "To town". you had one coat/mittens/boots set and you knew where it was.

Like my Grandma's house, when you made a meal, you immediately cleaned it up afterwards, down to the last crumb. Or else where would you sit? At Grandma, around the dining room table WAS where you hung out. (Even though she had a large living room and a basement, you sat around that dining room table and there was scarcely room to scoot your chair back but thats where you hung out and discussed things. I love it.) I like having to deal with messes because you HAVE to.

I guess what I am really after are some physical constraints. I have seen that for me and my little kids and maybe my personality tendencies, a big old place is not for me. Its just more housework, more places to have undone piles of stuff, and more to worry about when we are out. I really have a curse and a gift of constantly analyzing lifestyles and social commentary goes through my mind on overdrive, I devour TV shows that highlights "lifestyles"-- from the Duggars and their 18 kids, to the family that lives in the RV, to reading about homesteaders and apartment dwellers and houseboats and people who live in caves and water silos and have dreamed and fantasized about how this would and could pertain to me and my family. some ideas have turned out differently than I had expected. (Some dreams are just dreams--some are just daring until/unless I am sick, pregnant, incapacitated and then wow "go play in the west wing you filthy brats" can seem really tempting!)

I watch these shows with my kids, and we are very fond of Extreme Home Makeover. this is one where they help families who have a a special needs child or situation usually and they make them these amazing state of the art facilities. and they are always ENORMOUS, like 4000 square feet sometimes. and we ooh and ahh over the stylish color palates and the elevators and the jetted tubs....but we only "get jealous" when we watch the show about the people who live in a camper, or have a couple of chickens, or have a million children, or a Daddy who works from home. So that shows me that me and the kids are on the same page. Very cool to know.

Well, we will look further into the house across from the park. And we will re-start the decluttering process and cease all purchases for a long time. We have enough stuff to last a million lifetimes. Now I want to put all that aside and have walks and reading and cooking and laughter and fun and adventure. And I dont want to be worryin all the way home from the museum about "the mess" awaiting me back home.

try a google search of the various things and see what you find:
Simple Living with kids
Small house large family
Small house style
Frugal living large family

Its very exciting and inspirational to me! More soon....


Michelle said...

That. Every word of it.

Rixa said...

I think that getting rid of cable (and keeping the TV for family movie nights together) would be a great help. I never grew up watching much TV--we had a set and got one or two stations, and were only allowed to watch cartoons on Sat mornings and nature shows after church on Sundays. I find TV to be really distracting, for the most part, and really easy to get sucked into mindlessly (somewhat like spending too much time on the internet, of which I am definitely guilty!) It also is a huge factor in teaching all of us, adults and children, to want more, to care about stuff, to think that things and more of them all of the time will make us happier.

Thinking out loud you think some of your desire to move again is a bit of the "grass is greener on the other side of the fence" thing? At what point do you make do with what you have rather than always looking for something new/different? I'm thinking of the hassle that moving is...definitely a lot of work and, in the short time, not really something that simplifies your life.

Of course, it is important to live in a house that suits you and makes you happy and content. But perhaps try to live the way you want to live in the house you have first. If you can accomplish that in a set amount of time--maybe talk about this as a family and agree on what changes you want to make--then give yourself permission to move to a new house. Then you'll know you can live simply, frugally, and creatively in any space--that you really have made the lifestyle change and not just a change of scenery. Anyway you can ignore any or all of what I said because, after all, I haven't seen your house!

Kelley said...

I just had Jon read your post with me, and I agree with most of it. I love the idea of down-sizing stuff, not just reorganizing. I don't like the prevalence of affluenza and the effect it has on my mind, my life, and my family.

However, I am also very well aware of the fact that we CANNOT live in a place this small much longer. Though I don't think we need 1000 square feet per person, I do think we all need a space to call our own so we can unwind and chill out a little. My kids have gotten progressively wilder as they've become more and more confined by the 4 walls around them. As much as I would love to say that we could just go outside to get our quiet time, I know that isn't always possible, especially in the cold, wet, icky winter.

That said, though, I KNOW that we need to seriously down-size our stuff. When the kids start school next Monday, I intend to pull out all the stops and get this place decluttered. I'm sick of the CONSTANT mess. I'm sick of always having to clean up the house. I'm sick of yelling at my kids to clean up their room.

I also love the idea of spending more time doing things together as a family, but I'm finding that the more closed-in we feel, the more we are all desperately trying to do things by ourselves. I think that when we have places to go to be quiet, we will want to be together and doing things together more frequently. And we'll all be happier being together since we won't be on top of each other constantly.

There are some things about this apartment, though, that I have really enjoyed. I LOVE that the washer and dryer are in the hallway behind a curtain. I love being able to stay on top of my laundry without having to constantly trek down to the basement. I love that I only have 1 bathroom to clean, though I don't like the fact that privacy is impossible since the bathroom is in constant use. I like that all my boys are in one room, and that all their stuff lives in there, too. I actually really like the set-up of their room, but I know that Josh NEEDS his own space. Even putting him with Rachel would be preferable to keeping him with his brothers.

I, too, would like to quit turning to entertainment to babysit my kids. We don't have cable TV, but even the movies and computer games are getting out of hand. I want to simplify my life so we can be a family instead of moving towards the seeming societal norm of people just living in the same house together.

And yet, I know that some things will stay the same. As much as I would love sometimes to retreat to the country and live on a farm growing my own food, raising my own animals, and living off the land, I know that isn't possible at this stage in my life. As much as I fantasize about living like Laura and Almanzo Wilder did in "Little House in the Big Woods" and "Farmer Boy," I know that isn't going to happen right now.

Okay, this is turning into a post in and of itself. Maybe I'll just take myself over to my own blog to continue this self-exploration. Thanks for bringing up this wonderful idea. :)

You rock, Joy, and I'm sure that you'll figure out exactly what will work for your family. I think what Rixa said about down-sizing now and trying it out before you move is a fabulous idea.

On to fully open this can of worms on my own blog. :)

Kneelingwoman said...'ve been to our place. Small. Old, Not too much stuff. We've been "urban homesteaders" since the get go. We "get by" on a very small "High School Teachers" salary and we don't even have my even more marginal and unreliable midwifery money coming in anymore but, the great thing is, it's working....

We've gone a step further this year and maybe you guys would like to join us ( it's going to be part of my next blog post too ) in "Buy Nothing New Year". We made a plan to simply refuse to buy anything that isn't "used" "bartered" "borrowed" or "second hand" except obvious (to us, anyway) things like food, soap, underwear, socks and anything else that lands too high on the "squeamish" meter. We've been pretty close to this most of our two decades together but we decided to really up the ante this year, for a number of reasons. We want to truly embrace urban homesteading, for starters, which means expanding the "Bee" colony and making a larger garden space. We want to build a stone patio behind the garage and next to the pond and I want to start some kind of "from home" business around herbs, soap, postpartum care combo something or other after my internship is completed to go along with doing spiritual direction/companionship, in short, I want to turn our home into a mini "Retreat space" for women and families and the community at large. I'm looking for partners--you "in"? I'm thinking about using the blog as a space for talking about our experiments, successes and failures in "simple" living, urban homesteading, gardening, soapcrafting etc. and see what good conversation comes from it. You are, as always, on the right track and I can promise you that this is "path with a heart" that won't ever let you down, challenges and all. Where's the house? Keep me posted. Love, M.

Kneelingwoman said...

I forgot to add this: If any of you have read "The Last American Man" ( and if you haven't; you should ) about Eustace Conway ( google him; you'll be fascinated and heart-warmed ) you know that he has a wonderful saying that goes a step beyond the one we all know and try to love:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and RECONSIDER! A good motto for us all don't you think? ( I feel a blog title coming LOL! )

Anonymous said...

I liked your post Joy.
We have done some serious downsizing the last year as well, although we do live in a 'larger' home of about 2500 square feet with 4 kids.

I know we can live in something smaller because we do well when we are on holidays in a small cottage, but the extra space in our daily living is crucial to us, especially in a mixed climate where it can get -30 and we need space! Uprooting us to a smaller house is just not worth the effort and stress for at this time.

What has helped us though, is having extremely limited storage, and I took off all the closet doors. We can't just pack more stuff in and shut the door.

As soon as an item doesn't fit the kids it gets freecycled. As soon as we go one season without using something, the same.

One movie family night and no other tv (and the tv is in the smallest room of the house, so not especially comfortable) no computer/tv games.

We made a pact to not have birthday parties this year for the kids, but instead we have one big bash - a sleigh ride for family/friends with potluck, and no gifts, no loot bags, no junk to add to our home. Just time with friends.

We scrimp and save on groceries, and don't buy anything new, but all the kids have (used)x-country skis, skates and bikes. It encourages us to get out there and do things together.

I'm always looking for more ways to get life a bit more simple.

I look forward to hearing what else you plan on doing in your next post!

Jennifer said...

I really like this link:

(I hope it works; I'm completely "link" challenged.)

I feel like I've been leading up to this way of living for the past ten years. Until a couple of days ago, I never knew there was a name for it. There is an article in this month's edition of Oprah magazine as well.

I do a lot of the stuff just because I like a simple life. My husband likes the frugal part. And I just have this thing about accumulating too much stuff. I just don't like a lot of "foof"--I like things plain and simple and I like the idea of one of this and one of that--not a ton of things.

I did floral design for a short time and I would always try talk brides into a Japanese floral design called, Ikabana (sp?) where there is not a lot of filler and mostly one flower is used as the main focal point. Needless to say, I didn't get much business.

I'm very impressed with Kneelingwoman's (Hi!) not buying anything new this year. I'm pretty far from that, but have made a lot of changes in the last few years.

It would be great to have some discussions and tips to share.

Take care!

Jennifer said... more thing!

Five years ago we got the opportunity to visit NYC and we ate dinner at a distant relatives house in Manhattan. So, we were all stuffed into the tiny kitchen, around a tiny table without much room and Aunt Millie pulled out a tiny little Mayonaise jar and a tiny little salad dressing out of the tiny little fridge! They are in their 80's and have rent control and have been living there for eons. They don't have a car and they go to the market once a day for food supplies. That really appeals to me, but I don't like the chaos that city life brings.

We live in a semi-rural area on 1/2 an acre with a 1900 square foot house for 4 people and a dog. I like it here and plan to stay for a long time. If you have had your eye on that house for awhile, I'd say go for it. Sometimes a house just has a certain energy about it that becons you.

Housefairy said...

I never got around to thanking any of you for any of these thoughtful comments! I feel like we did do some more shopping for the new place so maybe I was a hypocrite, but all in all, I feel good about all of this---who am i kidding I am ecstatic!

I like that everyone has their own idea of what is small, simple, do-able. It has to work for you, bottom line! We once had an 1800 sq foot house and it was way way way too much! If you wanted a glass of water you went on this big walk....and so much to clean! I never knew where the toddlers were, we were alwasy shouting "WHAT?!?! COME HERE?!?!?" and I didnt like it. everyone is different.

Rixa, we definitly thought long and hard about trying to not move away, but things here got so weird (landlord out of job and couldnt afford to fix any of our rapidly breaking appliances...)and just getting really really into this park-woods lifestyle dream, that we all wanted to go for it. With renting, it is all so easy compared to owning/selling. We will own someday when we are 100% sure that we want to stay for a long long time somewhere. We dont even know what state that might mean, sometimes. I love my friends and family but each year these winters are getting harder to deal with, to be completely honest. and I know there are really progressive family friendly awesome towns out there that are calling to me (Austin Tx, Madison, WI, Vancouver BC, Portland OR, Seattle WA, Chicago, etc etc etc)

Even though we have gone on quite a litrle binge with the van and the laptop and the furnishings/decor....but
we are going to stop and stop quickly. I say sometimes "New Years" dont alwasy start on January 1st and so a buy-nothing thing could still be in the works.