Who ever thought of the term “simple living” to describe our way of life? Simple living is all about living consciously, aiming for self-sufficiency, re-discovering the “old ways”, taking responsibility for your own happiness, and making more time for what’s really important in life. Well, I can tell you simple living is not simple - it’s hard, and complicated, and never straightforward.
Most people aiming for a “simple life” started out living a “normal life”: living in the city or suburbs, working or going to school (or probably both, at different points in life), shopping at supermarkets, often struggling to combine a social life with work, family and a hobby - and often worrying about money, whether it’s about how to make ends meet or how to avoid paying taxes.
Choosing to quit that life is not simple. Not many people will tell you to go for it; they might tell you they admire your courage, that it’s wonderful that you follow your dreams, that they would love to do the same… but at the same time, they will most probably think you’re not right in the head. Leaving that well-paid job for a life in the middle of nowhere? Moving your children from an abundance of extra school activities to the tiny village school? Leaving the comforts of your home town for the chance to do everything yourself? Nuts.
We chose to go live off the grid. At the same time, we wanted to be comfortable - we want fast internet, the ability to vacuum or use the dishwasher, to take a nice hot shower after a morning’s work, we prefer not to freeze to death in winter. On a sunny day, our solar panels charge our batteries, the pump fills our water tank, we're outside all day and life is good. Earlier this winter though, we had some troubles with the system - we didn’t have water for a bit when the pump decided it was too cold; we didn’t have heating at first as the last components for the radiators seemed impossible to find around here; and our boiler came from a faulty batch which made for quite a lot of half-cold showers. If we want to go away, we have to explain everything to whoever is house sitting - how to change a gas bottle, how to check on the batteries and the generator, what to do when things are just not working. Living off the grid is not simple.
Becoming more self-sufficient was an important reason for the both of us to go and move to farawayland (Spain, but it could just as well have been Croatia or Canada). We’re not there yet though; our olive & almond harvests (which should help towards having a basic income) have not been consistent, our garden is not very keen on growing and our chickens keep dying - sometimes on their own accord, mostly by the hand (rather teeth) of predators. We keep experimenting with new techniques, keep thinking of solutions to make it all go better and get that abundance that permaculture promises… We’ll get there, I’m sure. But aiming for self-sufficiency is not simple.
One thing I love to do is re-discovering “the old ways”: trying out old techniques (that require manual labour instead of electricity, usual), using old recipes for cooking and baking, talking to older people around here about how things are done traditionally. It means getting dozens of ingredients and making a mess of your kitchen to cook a good meal; a few days ago I was reminded by some guests of how simple it is to just get a pack of cake dough and pour it into a baking tray instead of spending hours getting everything exactly right. But where’s the fun in that? When I share a cake with friends, I’m often so proud to tell them it has eggs from our chickens, almond flour from our own almonds, figs from our trees and (not in the cake, but in bread) olives that I harvested myself. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot healthier as well. It’s not only about cooking; we enjoy harvesting by hand (what do we need a tractor for?), making things ourselves instead of buying them (usually it’s Axel making stuff - although I’m pretty proud of my part in building the chick’s coop and my very own herb pyramid). Few things are as fullfilling as making things with your bare hands. Using old techniques and traditions is fascinating and a lot of fun - but going back to the old ways really isn’t simple.
The one thing that is very simple about our way of life, is making time for what matters. The choices we made up until now have allowed us to become really flexible with our time - and I hope we keep making the right choices. The ability to jump in the car whenever a friend in need calls us, to stay inside and write and cook on a rainy day, to enjoy each other’s company whenever we feel like it, to fill our days with (mostly) things we really want to do in the company of (mostly) people we want to spend time with.
Even on a busy day, it's so simple to make time for what matters to us. And that's what it's all about. That, and watching the sun rise over the mountains every morning, promising us a new day full of adventures.
Agree, disagree? Are you living "a simple life" as well, and do you have a similar or different experience? I'd love to hear from you, dear reader!