Thursday, August 9, 2007

You Cannot Steer a Stationary Ship

This is part 4 in a series sharing my journey from mindless consumerism to a more simpler way of life. If you haven't already, you may like to read the first 3 parts before reading this one.

Part 1 : A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
Part 2: Joe Dominguez
Part 3: Tracking Spending

I mentioned in my last post that we haven't followed all of the "Your Money or Your Life" ideas and principles. What the author did was set aside as much of his income as he could into investments and cut his expenses right back. When the income from his investments was high enough to cover his low expenses, he quit working and continued to live for a number of years on that investment income. His theory is that even if you continue to work voluntarily - there is so much more enjoyment and freedom from not being paid for that work, that quality of life really improves dramatically. He also advocates taking on extra hours or jobs in the short term, to speed up the process.

While this all sounds good in theory, there were a few issues we had with putting it into practise. The biggest one being our children. With 1 at school, 1 preschooler and a baby, the last thing we needed was to take on more work in order to make our future more secure. Our kids weren't going to stay young long. We needed to have time to spend with them NOW.

As far as I can determine, Joe was a single man who was on a highish level of income to begin with. He also invested his money into long term government bonds which at the time promised a high set return. Returns on the same type of bonds are nowhere near as high now. He also spent at least part of his life living in a communal style living arrangement, making his living expenses cheaper. Kind of tricky to manage if you have a spouse and 3 children. :-)

With all these obstacles, is financial independence still a viable goal today? Yes, I think it can be. I know many people on the Simple Living Network have achieved it or are well on their way to achieving it. I don't believe it's the only way to go though. Like many things, we decided to take some of what we had learnt and apply that while pretty much discarding the rest.

To be honest, as I was reading through some of the posts on the Simple Living Network, trying to get my head around what Simple Living really meant, I was feeling more than a little overwhelmed. So much of what people were saying gave me such a sense of peace and yearning from within. I knew I was starting to scratch the surface of what I wanted in life. But getting from where I was to where I wanted to be became the more frustrating and overwhelming question!!!

At about this time I had what you might call another "ah ha" moment when the thought occurred to me that "you cannot steer a stationary ship". We had become almost paralysed by the conflict between how our life currently *was* and how we thought we wanted it to *be*. Being constantly swayed by the pull of others around us to continue to focus on building wealth and stuff didn't make it any easier. It was tempting to just give up at this point. But the yearnings for something other than what we had so far experienced in life wouldn't go away.

DH and I talked and decided that all we really needed to do was to take a single step away from the lifestyle that no longer seemed to suit us and toward where we thought we wanted to head. I guess in way I've returned again to where I started from - a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Rather than getting overwhelmed and frustrated by focusing on an unknown "end point", we instead needed to take it 1 step at a time and see how that went.

When you learn something new or different or decide to change direction in life somewhat, it's easy to want to jump into a fast car and zoom straight to the destination. In reality, life takes lots of twists and turns as it meanders along. The sad thing is that if we rush too quickly to where we think we want to go, we miss so much along the journey. What I'm slowly learning is that each and every step along the pathway of life is precious in and of itself. Each new day is a blessing. If we go too quickly we miss things that MATTER. :-)

So as we began to move, we started to find it became easier to move in the direction we wanted to head. In fact, as we took teeny tiny baby-steps toward a more simpler life, we found doors opened up that we'd never come across before. We believe that this was confirmation for us that we were heading in the direction God wanted us to go (at least for now anyway).

Our dream to get bigger and bigger in our farming enterprise and then retire at around 50 was replaced by the desire to have more time NOW. At this point in our life, DH was farming a reasonable amount of acres and working together with his father and his brother. On top of that he was working 2 off-farm enterprises with his brother. So there was always a HUGE list of things that needed doing and time was of a premium. With working 2 other blocks away from where we were living, as well as the contracting business, it felt like DH was rarely close to home.

The new dream was to live on the 1 farm that was ours (well we're still paying if off but it's in our name) and maybe even 1 day be able to just farm that 1 farm. It would be an incredibly small number of acres to live off as a family but it would be an AWESOME lifestyle. :-) Instead of getting bigger and bigger, what we really wanted to do was get smaller.

So, what is simple living really all about? How do you define it? Guess what - I'm still not sure I really know. Here's a quote from the homepage of that for me sums it up reasonably well:

"Simple living -- aka voluntary simplicity -- has just about as many definitions as there are individuals who practice it. Simple living is not about living in poverty or self-inflicted deprivation. Rather, it is about living an examined life -- one in which you have determined what is important, or "enough," for you, discarding the rest. "

I guess for us it's about being good stewards of what is in our care. Not just money but possessions, time, the environment, family and friends. It's about recognising that people are more important than THINGS. It's about enjoying plenty of stress free time with our children while they are in our care. It's about recognising how truly blessed we are in the country we live in and wanting to pass some of that blessing on to others who often struggle to have even their basic needs met. It's about having TIME to enjoy life rather than over-programming our timetable. It's about finding contentment with what we have rather than always wanting what we don't have. I'm sure it's about all those things and more but these are the things that come to mind as I'm typing this post.

Are we there yet? Not even close! :-) Has the story come to an end? Not yet......

Next Instalment: Dream number 1 fulfilled - the new house arrives!!!


Ali said...

I am thoroughly enjoying reading your instalments ~ thanks for sharing your journey with us :)

lightening said...

Glad you're enjoying it Ali. :-) To be honest, I'm really enjoying reviewing the process as well. It's really making me think about how we've gotten to where we are right now. :-)

Lisa said...

I too am really enjoying reading about your Journey :D looking forward to the next instalment too!

crunchy mama said...

I am also enjoying reading about your journey! I think you make a great point about simple living - its about what really matters to YOU and discarding the rest. I choose to stay at home with our 3 month old daughter. Our income isn't great and we have little room for extras but it is truly enough and I wouldn't trade the time with our children for anything - to me that is simple living at its best! Yes we could get a plasma screen TV or a new car or invest more if I had a job...but then I would miss my daughter rolling over, laughing, and smiling for the first time.

Lisa said...

Good idea to have these posts listed at the side.

I'm working my way through them this morning before the boys wake up, and I had to comment on how beautifully you've articulated what living simply is all about.

My sister thinks i'm slightly insane to make powdered milk, make my own yoghurt (until she tasted it!) and wash out ziplock bags and reuse them; but gee she wishes she could take her family overseas like I've now done twice! She hasn't seemed to twig how I've managed to do that on one wage while paying a mortgage.

Good set of posts. I'm diving back in for the next one. Whoopee!
(Lisa G)