Category Archives: Materialism

Authentic Living: The Ego’s Ruin

I recently had a sweet, very dear friend tell me she couldn’t believe we moved from 2500 square feet, down to just 900. We didn’t have to do it, but I explained that I really liked it because of the peace of mind- fewer expenses, smaller ecological footprint, lower bills, less to clean and maintain, etc (the list is endless). ‘Less to clean’ has been a huge plus for me as a busy mom. My friend seemed amazed, and said she wouldn’t be able to do it because of her ego. Ego? For some reason that never entered the picture for us. We’d honestly never even thought of it. Of course, we have egos. I’m closely acquainted with mine, her name is Edna, and I keep her in check regarding other matters. But Daniel and I have never been about appearances, or what others think of us, and we don’t need a large, fluffed-up or fancy home to feel like valuable, important human beings. Granted, we do believe a home should be reasonably clean, arranged well, and that natural beauty is of great importance to our overall well-being. Those aren’t rooted in the ego so much as a general sense of self respect and a need for nature, order, and balance.

The little conversation sparked some thoughts because I’m sure she isn’t the only one reading our blog who thinks what we’ve done is probably difficult, strange, or an ego-blow. I recall sitting across the table with another friend last year and informing her of our recent move. She wanted to know all about the house, our amenities, and what part of town we’re in. She’s very into ‘prosperity consciousness’ which teaches we can have anything and everything we desire if we just set our intentions properly, and trust in the flow of the universe. Amen to the power of our minds, especially when aligned with our true calling. I strongly believe in that philosophy since I’ve experienced many results first-hand. However, the majority of people in  that movement (at least the people I’ve met) make lists of all the material things they want to acquire. That’s fine if it’s what you want, and if it’s where you’re at in your personal process, but it’s so far from my galaxy of thinking and desires that I tend to confuse that crowd. After explaining our scale-down move to my friend last year, she looked at me with the most puzzled and disgusted look (lip curling) and said, “Why on earth did you do that??!” To her, we should be striving for more, not less. After all, we are entitled to all of God’s riches and glory… right? Well, to me, God’s riches and glory do not lie in this world. Not one iota. My only response to that question is “Why the heck not??!” My other friend had it right– the ego just doesn’t get it.

For those who would walk into our cozy, little house, lip curled, unimpressed and puzzled, let me just say we live in a way that is in complete alignment with our beliefs. In doing so, we’ve experienced a level of happiness that far exceeds anything we’d experience with granite countertops, jacuzzis, a tiled foyer, finished basement, 3-car garage, or mammoth master suite. I spend very little time having to clean up the house, and every square inch gets the love and attention it deserves because there’s less of it. Oh yeah! I love the ‘less’ part. Every corner is valuable and sacred. Our family is 110% closer and more intimate; we talk to one another constantly, and I can monitor what my kids are doing easily. We have the huge, tree-lined 3/4 care yard we’ve always wanted instead of a massive and cumbersome home to maintain on an average, limiting lot. The regenerative, therapeutic value of being outdoors far outweighs any desires to materially impress myself or anyone else. My yard impresses me. The earth with her intensity, beauty, cycles and seasons impresses me from our sun room windows. The grandeur is in  the natural world for us, which isn’t easily noticed and doesn’t always impress people. That’s perfectly okay with me, considering I love the feeling of having a secret oasis. We like it simple.

I’d like to add that we have no problems with those who choose to live differently. We don’t think we’re holier than thou, or better than anyone else. We just wanted to simplify our lives drastically in order to experience more peace, happiness, and freedom, and it worked. We’re not selling anything at all, and don’t make a dime from our blog… we’re just passing along what’s worked for us, and why. There have been more than a few folks who have gotten rather defensive with me about their lifestyles, even when we’re not even on the topic. Seriously, they just blurt out, out of the blue, that they don’t like clothes lines, gardening or the smell of chickens, and need way more living space due to company. Okay, I mean it– that’s okay. The ranting can go on forever while I just listen. Reminds me a great deal of what happens when I inform people I’m vegetarian… ugh! I’m not even going there. Again, we make no personal judgments about anything, except what feels right for ourselves.. that’s what we believe everyone should do– live in complete authenticity with yourself and your surroundings, however that looks to you. So, please don’t take any of what we do or believe as an attack. In my experience, when people take what I’m doing in my own life personally, they’ve probably got some self-examination to do.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Clean Planet, Home, Materialism, Order & Balance, Peace, River Living, Simplicity, Small House Living, Thoughts & Insights, Wabi Sabi

A Peek Inside our Small House: Living Room

For a while I’ve been meaning to post some pictures of the inside of our little home. I love it when other blogger families post pictures like these. We’ve been here since last July, and it was a major downsize for us. For those who don’t know, we went from over 2500 square feet to just 900. This meant we had to simplify a lot. I love that we had to do that because we’re down to the basics now, and there is far less cleaning to do. It’s not just our house we clean and maintain, but all the stuff in it.

Today was the prefect opportunity to reclaim the living room. Four kids were away all day, and we all know how easy it is to clean when kids are gone. It’s completely futile to clean when they’re all home! There were papers, toys, and books strewn about, with pet hair in every corner, and everything in the wrong place. Despite that, it took me less than ten minutes to clean up this little room. We’re talking dusting, vacuuming, organizing, and straightening. The boring ivory walls will be a warm, earthy butterscotch yellow soon, considering I love it with the reds, and it will flow into the butterscotch yellow kitchen. In smaller homes it’s best to keep colors uniform to avoid chopping up the space. Remember, this living room serves 7 people. It’s small (11′ x 15′), but we have seating enough all of us, and it helps that we spend a lot of time on the floor. We also have room to dance (a big requirement for us), so we did away with trunks and coffee tables. Instead, we purchased a rustic 1930’s Drexel desk with lots of drawers for storage. Daniel uses it when he works at home:

The desk is a focal point, and the first thing people see when they walk into our front door

We prefer that everything in our house 1) serves a purpose, or 2) makes us happy. If they don’t meet those two requirements, we give it away. The large mirror above the desk reflects the front window. The strange wirey thing to the left is an antique rug beater, and we all know how practical they are in this day & age… haha. No, I just have a thing for very old stuff, so the rug beater makes me smile. The wall hanging at the right was purchased at a spiritual retreat, and it reads: “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. -Chief Seattle, 1854.”

 

a little river nook next to the front door

We’re hoping to collect and store all our finds from river walks on this little wooden boat shelf. For now, it holds a few books and some potpourri. Daniel found this discarded item when we lived at our last home (in perfect condition), and a talented artist had painted a beautiful river scene on the side. This was an item I was stubborn about keeping, but it took me a long time to find the perfect location for it, so it almost didn’t make the cut. Above it is a picture of our guru on a boat in Mexico.

 

Storage

This old hutch/shelf is a work in progress, just like the rest of the house. I’ve never been happy with the shelf set-up. The lower cabinet stores photo albums, DVD’s, and CD’s. We don’t hang onto our books any more unless they’re extreme favorites, or ones we need access to for a while. Our larger book shelf is in the sunroom, and we like to keep this one pretty cleared off. If you haven’t noticed, when a shelf is overstuffed, the mind begins to feel weighed down. According to Feng Shui, we should always have the sense that there is room for more. Again, this shelf needs work… maybe a focal point, a plant, I’m not sure. It sits near the sofa, and makes a great end table while sipping tea.

closet door and decorative chair

The little cane seat chair is one of my favorite, very old pieces. I love old wood. It’s not just decorative, but practical, too. Amelie loves getting on and off of it. In front of the chair is the old, original iron floor vent cover. The masks above are from Africa, and the red one is from our trip to Ethiopia. And of course, the hooks serve as hat hangers in the Summer, and coat hooks in the Winter. The small wooden barrel hides our recycling items, which comes in quite handy. Final Note: I cannot stand the hollow closet door (hollow doors, yuck). We’ll be replacing it with a solid wood door, and stain it to match the wood trim. The whole room still feels incomplete- i.e. in need of family photos and paint.

Minimal. That’s what we go for, both natural and minimal to keep housekeeping simple, yet warm. It’s not easy to keep things simple because I enjoy browsing antique shops, and could easily fill up the space too much. If I do buy extra things, I almost always cycle something else out of the house, and it keeps things fresh.

Until we paint the walls, that’s the end of our teeny living room tour. Thanks for coming!

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Filed under Materialism, River Living, Simplicity, Wabi Sabi

WASTE LESS in July!

Can you take on the challenge of producing just one paper bag full of waste per week? If you live in a large household, can you challenge each person to generate only one bag a week this month? Watch the video and see others who are taking on the challenge:

Our family of 7 cut our waste in half this year. We went from two full trash bins by the curb on trash day, to just one. How did we do it? For starters, we recycle a lot more and pay attention to the packaging of things we purchase (minimal or no packaging is very cool). We also have a large compost pile, and next-to-none of our food goes to waste due to the chickens. We use cloth diapers whenever possible, and shop way less than we ever have. What are some ways you can cut down your waste footprint? We hope this gets people thinking.

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Downsized Car Loan = Joy

It’s official. I’m a truck girl! We also feel like real urban farmers now. Compared to the cars we’re used to having it’s a clunker, but we LOVE it. In the car’s defense, it’s been very well cared for and maintained (by another farmer) and has extremely low mileage for the old age- it’s an ’01 w/ 70k. Older car-dom is a world I wasn’t raised in, and not one I’ve experienced in my adult life. Like a lot of suburban upper middle-class kids, I was spoiled rotten from the start, and I can hear my inner-parent voices questioning this move. No doubt we’ll have our share of tune-ups and problems down the road, but nothing outweighs the freedom we feel at dumping the large, long-term ball & chain loan. It’s a way of life we’re letting go of;  living beyond our means, in debt like so many Americans. The newer Toyota Sienna was a luxury, not a necessity, and I don’t even miss it.

For a long time we’ve needed an older truck for picking up loads of mulch, topsoil, shrubs, tools, animal feed, and lumber. Utilitarian is the way to go. I mean, what’s a little farmstead without its own little truck?

surprisingly, it feels a lot more like 'me'

Note: The post its titled “Downsized” and not “Dumped” or “Paid Off” because we still owe. We only owe 1/3 of what we did on the shiny van, and this little pepper will be paid off within a year! We’re on our way.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Family Happenings, Materialism, River Living, Simplicity, Urban Farmsteading

The Debt-Free Pipe Dream

A long, dry but pertinent post we hope will help others

Wouldn’t it be smart if the “American Dream” were more about financial freedom and becoming debt-free, than acquiring a lot of possessions we don’t need for an amount of money most of us don’t have? Instead of being the ‘land of the free’, most of us are enslaved to banks. We weren’t always this way as a country. My maternal grandfather owned everything he had, and didn’t carry debt on anything. He was proud of it, and never understood why anyone would want to be beholden to a financial institution. He lived simply, had everything he needed, and was always a good provider for his family. He wasn’t a carpenter, but built an entire addition onto his house with his own hands that included a bedroom, bathroom and enlarged kitchen. He had no help, except for the electrician. When the addition was completed, he had no debts to pay off… how many people can say that today? I think of his independent spirit a lot, especially when it comes to finances.

The world we live in today doesn’t support how my grandfather chose to live. If you live within city limits, we probably have so many zoning requirements, permit fees, time limits, and very specific codes about how things have to be built. It’s intimidating, so one might easily decide against building anything themselves and leave it up to an expensive remodeling company. It’s daunting, but at the very least I’d look into doing part of the work myself. Today’s world teaches people that if they can pay someone to do something, even if you could manage it yourself, pay them because it will save time and trouble. What they don’t say is that the time you take would be well spent because you’d have more pride in your independence & self-reliance, and far more money in your pocket. That last one is big, and should be a huge consideration in our Drowning in Debt society. I’m not saying everyone should take on monumental home improvements, but there are so many things we don’t know how to do any more, resulting in a very dependent population.

Comparatively speaking, we’ve never considered ourselves to be drowning in debts as a family. But we don’t like comparing ourselves to the general population. If we did that, we’d probably say were were doing fine and just stay in debt. We used credit cards for big things, like adoption travel expenses and unexpected repairs. We even had a 2nd mortgage on our last home due to our finished basement project. Due to our move, that debt is gone, and we had a major reduction in the mortgage payment  (shaved off by 2/3). As a result, this last year we paid all our credit cards off. We cancelled them all, except one that Daniel keeps for business/court purposes. That one is paid off monthly, and never carries a balance. If we want something, but can’t afford it at the time, we wait and save for it. That’s the old-fashioned way, and the smartest most common sense way. Strangely, it’s been an adjustment to our “want it now, therefore should have it now” mentality– that thinking is ingrained in every American’s mind since birth; instant gratification. Even the less materially minded of us have that type of mindset. It’s important to become aware of it, and keep it in check.

What’s next? Credit cards weren’t the only ball & chain. We still have a mortgage and two car debts. Fortunately, one auto loan (Daniel’s commuter car) was financed at 0% interest, and we’ll have it paid off in a couple of years. After that, we plan to pay cash for our cars. With far fewer expenses, we’re setting money aside now in order to be able to buy a car later, and when the time comes we’ll buy only what we can afford. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Our second car (the mini-van) is used around town only, so has very low mileage. The loan payment is high, so we’re considering our options at this time- selling and using the cash to buy a less expensive car that we actually own, trading down, etc. The thought of zero car debt is tantalizing and liberating. With each debt we cut out of our lives, we don’t only free up our finances for savings and other endeavors, we liberate our psyche from the imprisonment we’ve created for ourselves. We truly are enslaved when we have debts of any kind. What’s worth more, that inner sense of peace and freedom, or stuff?

As for the mortgage, our largest debt, we moved into a much less expensive house last year, so we’re dealing with a more surmountable mountain now. By moving, we owe less than half of what we did last year.. imagine cutting your present mortgage by almost 60%! We’re shaving off the debt fast by paying hundreds more on the mortgage every month, and should have it paid off well before the term ends. There is a bright light at the end of the mortgage tunnel when you make even small principal-only payments, but people are rarely told about what a difference it makes (it shaves off years, even decades). My mother owns her own home, free and clear. She always tells me home ownership is the greatest gift I can give myself, especially when I’m older. We don’t want to be in our sixties making mortgage payments, but ours should be paid off well before then.

So, for those considering shaving off debt, expenses, simplifying financially, or getting out of the debt cycle completely, here’s our Annual breakdown of the Peebles 2010-2011 journey:

  • Moved and lowered mortgage by 66%
  • Reduced utility bills (and our footprint) by 35%-40% because of much smaller house. Living happily without a dishwasher, microwave or blow dryer, reducing showers, hanging laundry outdoors, and being more responsible with electrical usage
  • Maintained same income first six months and used that to pay off debts in that time frame
  • Food savings: Making lists, menus, and better planning saves a lot of money for a big family. Having chicken eggs from home, plus we’re on our way to having a lot of our own food from the garden. It’s a huge help (both financially and ecologically) being vegetarian, too.
  • Fuel savings: Communing less to work by staying home 2-3 days/week. We have this option now that we have fewer financial obligations. We also drive less as a family, use our bikes, and make fewer trips to the store
  • We stopped what we call hobby shopping- wandering through stores just to buy something, even when we don’t need anything. Impulse buys have come to a halt. Hobby Shopping should be classified as an official disease in our country!
  • Cash only: It wasn’t intentional, but somehow we both ended up carrying cash around this year instead of using debit cards. We highly recommend doing this if you want to curb spending. Seeing bills in your wallet keeps you from spending them as frivolously, and gives you a more tangible sense of what you have to spend
  • DIY savings: Saved money by repairing lawnmower and toilet ourselves, building three fences, landscaping, creating a new gravel driveway, planting our own trees, interior painting, and old kitchen floor removal.
  • Sold a lot of unwanted items on Craigslist
  • Paid for our bathroom renovation and new kitchen floor with cash we saved, not with credit.
  • Purchased new, gently used/recycled items often. Shopped antique, consignment and second-hand stores a lot for kids clothing and discovered how many chain stores donate and sell brand new goods to those shops. We saved at least 50% this year on extraneous expenses all because of recycled goods.
  • Hardly working: With far less to worry about, and significantly fewer work hours (Daniel is down to working about 20-25 hours/week as a self-employed attorney). He still makes more money than we need, and live a very comfortable lifestyle. We both have more time together, and are in better mental and physical health

There is probably far more to add to our list, but this sums it up well. Most people believe that getting out of debt and having more financial freedom means they need more income. It can feel like an impossible pipe dream. We used to wrack our brains for years thinking up solutions. Of course each household varies, depending upon individual circumstances, the level of debt, etc. It usually doesn’t occur to people that it would help considerably if we just changed our lifestyle, habits, thoughts and beliefs about what our needs are and what we can do for ourselves. Or maybe people just don’t want to change anything, and avoid this very liberating philosophy: We do not need more debts, more stuff, more jobs or income to solve the problem. This type of thinking feels almost upside down at first, but we’ve discovered first-hand how true it is. Being in debt isn’t really about money at all, it’s about the attachment our psyche has to the material world, and the importance we place upon it. When we can start asking ourselves what we need, and what truly makes us happy, all the extraneous things we don’t need (that enslave and tie us down) can fall away and we become free.

On a final note, after reflecting upon our last year, we realized if we wish to be free inwardly, our outer reality must reflect that. We can’t expect spiritual upliftment when things in this world weigh upon us and tie us down. We also noticed how getting out of debt and simplifying our lifestyle automatically goes hand-in-hand with becoming more ecologically responsible. Both goals complement and supports one other. I find that intriguing and beautiful! I’m guessing my grandfather is smiling upon us, helping us every step of the way. For all he did, he’s always been such an inspiration to me.

Posted by: Jill

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Filed under Do-It-Yourself, Family Happenings, Materialism, Order & Balance, Peace, Recycle, Reduce, Reuse, Shopping, Simplicity, Thoughts & Insights, Urban Farmsteading

Shopping With New Eyes

Amelie's first trip to Target, 9/2009

Since moving into a little house last Summer, I have an ever growing disdain for shopping. I don’t mind the usual grocery trip or two every week. That’s a utilitarian act that fulfills a need we all have as a family. I actually enjoy picking and choosing the produce, and making organic choices or “votes” as I call them. It’s when I start noticing all the packaging and extra stuff I know will be tossed out in a matter of days, weeks, or months. Since childhood, I have always been in disbelief over how much we throw away as a society. While I’m walking through stores, it’s a depressing reality to me. Not only will the packaging end up in landfills, but the actual items people think they need will, too. Plastic cups and dishes, even ceramic dishes eventually end up in landfills. Hair spray bottles, car seats, blenders, spatulas, vacuum cleaners, CD cases, pillows, comforters, and even those giant Rubbermaid tubs people are so addicted to. Once they get a tear in the lids, people kick them to the curb for pick-up. There are so many things that seem essential, but end up buried in a giant hole of garbage within a very short time.

So what am I doing about this? When I have these depressed feelings they’re trying to tell me something. I don’t want to wallow in them and complain. They’re coming from a very deep and wise part of myself; part of me that wants to leave a better mark on the world. My grandfather said something that always stuck with me: “Just make sure you leave this world a better place than it was before you got here.” He’s since passed away, but his words have echoed in my heart for decades. I pay close attention to my personal impact on people and the earth we all love and share. If we love someone, and have a positive relationship with them, they’re the last thing we’d want to exploit or abuse. As our living, breathing home, the earth deserves our reverence and respect.

Lately, I’ve felt a small amount of empowerment through my choices. Instead of the old wandering style of shopping I used to engage in, I shop purposefully. I make lists, and decide before I leave the house exactly what I’m planning to buy, and why. Americans love to shop for entertainment, and I just don’t do that any more. No need to fill up inner holes where we’re lacking in happiness, and no need to fill up a large house. I watch my impulses like a hawk at the stores because it’s easy to fall prey to ‘things’. What prompted this change initially was the fact that we just don’t have room for much of anything else. Gone are the days when I said to myself  “Oooh, I love this. I’ll buy it and think about where we can put it later.” Our tiny house isn’t designed for that type of life, which is a huge blessing. I’m noticing if I do overindulge in sensory pleasures or material items, it’s of a food nature- pies at the co-op, organic fruits, local bakery bread, and things that enhance my kitchen or cooking experience. This is something new for me, but it’s been a wonderful transition to make.

Then there is the peace I feel after buying things that are recycled. For some reason, this used to be sneered at during my child and teen years, but nowadays it’s a new “green” trend. Thankfully, it’s cool. Freecycle and Craigslist help people swap goods for free or very reasonable prices, which means no goods are purchased new from retailers. They keep things from going into landfills, or at least delays their demise. We recently got rid of our microwave that way, and the couple who took it didn’t buy a new one at Target or Wal-Mart. That feels great. Used goods, either from a Goodwill, Salvation Army store, garage sale, or even a fancy antique store do the earth good. To sneer at it is sheer ignorance in this materialistic, throw-away society. This weekend I purchased an old rolling pin, vintage apron, several size 4T clothes for Amelie, and an old metal pencil box which are all second-hand.

I’m beginning to see very little value in the very American ideal of ‘in with the new, out with the old’ and feel a deep sense of peace, especially after spending only 1/5 of what I would have spent on all these items had they been new. The savings is definitely a plus, but mostly it alleviates some of my angst and depression about all this stuff we’re buried in as a culture. When I go to these stores, filled with 97% throw-away materials, I can rest a little knowing I’m not as much a part of the problem as I was before. If we each took little steps toward lessening our impact, I believe we’d make a tremendous difference.

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