Guest Post: How I found meaning and happiness through simple living
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I realised that things needed to change for my family when I watched my eldest son, who was just five at the time, ripping wrapping of his ridiculously large pile of Christmas presents.
As he finished tearing away the paper, he would take a quick glance at the gift, toss it aside and then look for the next present. I had worked so hard for weeks picking and choosing gifts, wrapping them carefully for my children and watching this just felt so wrong.
“What are we doing?” I asked my partner. Because in that moment I realised that my son was overwhelmed with the number of gifts and had lost any sense of gratitude in the actual presents themselves. I just knew it had to stop.
We had probably spent hundreds, if not thousands for just one day of the year … Christmas. All that pressure to give our children … EVERYTHING! But what was I really giving my boys? A meaningless life filled with more ‘stuff’ to make you happy for just a moment
After almost 14 years of parenting we have very few items left in the house that we have purchased over all those years. All that hard work to make money for shit that we don’t even own anymore. The prams, the change tables, the ludicrous amounts of toys and the list goes on.
My husband and I owned our own business and he was probably working 80+ hours a week. At the same time, I was working from home part-time managing all the accounts as well as looking after the children. Why did we have to work SO HARD? So, we could keep up appearances and have all the latest ‘stuff’ only to give it away or throw it away later.
Society has primed us to consume. This big wheel that keeps turning … never ending. You go to work to make money, to spend that money on ‘stuff’ to give you a hit of that feel good dopamine, only for that to quickly fade and you need to get back to work so you can buy more ‘stuff’. It’s a meaningless existence when you really step back and no wonder so many of us are suffering with mental health issues.
Does it really need to be this way? Do we really need to buy into this way of life? Well, the answer is yes and NO! To a certain extent we can’t escape the system, believe me I have dreamed of doing it. Unfortunately, we all need money to pay things like rates and items we can’t do without. But the good news is that there is a HEAP of stuff we can do without!
I started changing the way we lived and was really surprised at how little we could survive on and how beautiful our lives were.
We started by stopping consuming so much. We basically cancelled Christmas! Now before you call me the Grinch and feel sorry for my children, I can assure you they love our new way of celebrating Christmas. Following on from the Christmas of regret, I decided we were never again going to waste all that money and create all that waste for the Earth EVER AGAIN!
So instead, we now take the kids out to the supermarket on Christmas Eve. They get given a $100 gift card and look for someone with not a lot in their trolley. I can’t tell you how much the boys have loved doing this and in my eldest son’s words, “This is better than any present you can get me!” Yes, the response he gets when GIVING has been enough for him to know that is what Christmas is really all about. That giving feels a whole lot better than receiving AND it gives us meaning and connection. Now Christmas Day is all about sharing a meal together with people we love. NO GIFTS! It saves everyone a HUGE amount of stress, money, and time!
Even birthdays have changed. We sometimes buy them a gift, but we have instead made the star of the show the cake! My boys look forward to seeing what cake they will get. Sometimes I attempt to make it and you can find images on the cake fails section of pinterest (LOL) and sometimes I spend and get a cake made. That is the gift. I take photos of the cake and make little albums for the boys to look back on all the different cakes we have enjoyed. Because really, how many birthday presents do you remember …. like actually, how many? Maybe one? Or maybe it was the birthday that everyone forgot … that actually happened to me on my 16th!
We sold up our business, and our house and relocated to a smaller town with cheaper housing. Bought ourselves the most stunning place, and in the process eliminated our mortgage. We took a big risk because neither of us had work. Things worked out and my husband got a nine-to-five job whilst I started a children’s publishing business called Wildling Books. We have been able to live off probably a quarter of what we used to make, but the benefits have been worth it. We get to see each other and have more family time. So much stress has melted away.
I started gardening. I never knew anything about gardening or growing my own food. Now I LOVE IT! Nearly everything I plant in my garden is food, apart from flowers for the bees. In our small property we have four varieties of heritage apples, feijoa, orange, lime, two lemons, nectarine, two peaches and a plum. My husband has built me the first of hopefully many Healthy Patch vegetable gardens where I have an abundant amount of vegetables.
We grow berries and chillies in the summer and have herbs everywhere. It’s really satisfying walking outside and grabbing items for your dinner. I am learning more about collecting seeds and growing everything from scratch. So much cheaper and WAY MORE delicious than anything from the shops. I even made homemade tomato sauce from all the tomatoes I grew in the garden. I’m turning all hippie and loving it. It’s delicious and so satisfying!
Plus, the happiness levels are super HIGH when I have been in the garden. It’s all the soil. It boosts your happiness when you inhale it or have it against your skin. And all that sunshine makes for a happy lady.
We also homeschool our children. I KNOW … it’s really out there for many of you, but hear me out. My middle son is autistic and so homeschooling was sort of forced upon us. He was never going to be safe at school. I totally freaked out about it all. How was I going to teach them? Would they grow up weird and be unsocial? It has been over five years of homeschooling three sons and the more I do it the more I LOVE IT.
Having time with my children is so precious. Not having to race around five days a week getting lunches prepared, making sure we haven’t forgotten about bike day or gala day or made sure we got all the homework completed. It was a constant stress and a constant sense of rushing and worrying we had everything sorted. Then it was after school activities, swimming lessons, dance classes. There just never seemed to be much time at home.
Now our days are getting up when we want (apart from hubby who still has a day job) we eat when we want, there is NO rushing. There is a real sense of calm and peace at home and I get a lot of comments about my boys with regards to just how chilled they are (my youngest still has his moments however).
We invited some friends to come and live with us. Yes, you heard right … an urbane commune. We have a big house with separate levels, and they were looking for a rental. They homeschooled their two kids as well, and we all just got on. We took another risk! They moved in.
That was more than two years ago and all nine of us have shared one home since. We share dinner time which means that I maybe cook 2-3 times a week … Yes, how awesome is that! Adults can go out on their own without leaving the kids alone or having to take them along. We share the costs of living. We get to share our stresses and worries, and we LAUGH … a lot! Life in a small community is amazing! We all play to our strengths and it is amazing how good life can be.
We have also set up some rituals, or celebrations of our own. Instead of the commercial holidays thrust upon us to sell more products, we instead have gone back to some of the old ways. Celebrating the changing of the seasons.
We have winter solstice where we eat so much cheese fondue that we may explode and sip mulled wine.
We do the same for summer but have a chocolate fondue to celebrate with all the delicious berries that nature provides us. We have pizzas every Friday and after dinner every night the adults play a board game together with a glass of wine. Simple pleasures with routines and rituals we look forward to.
With so many of us experiencing the craziness of lockdowns around the world, maybe it will give us some time to reflect on the way we are living our lives. Is the current system working for us? Should we be thinking about slowing down the pace of life?
Living a more community-based lifestyle with more connection with each other and the Earth. More time baking and cooking with the aim to share that food TOGETHER … to talk and to laugh more together. What is really important to us?
For me, it is my family, and so spending time with them is more important than working to buy them more ‘stuff’. Let’s SLOW DOWN! Get back to basics. Find meaning again through simple living.
Bex Lipp is the co-creator of Arohas way, an incredible book designed to help kids work through anxiety and stress. She’s a publisher at Wildling Books, an author, a conscious parent, homeschooler and simple living enthusiast.