Living on less: life is good

Jumping in with Adrie to talk about living more simply that the planet may simply live. Seems money is on both our minds this week. Her post is here.

A good friend and I often have lively debates about the role of money in living a more environmentally friendly life. Oh how we love to disagree on this! I’m grateful we can have these frank conversations without feeling threatened. And we do influence each other in positive ways. Productive, indeed.

I hold the position that by choosing to live on less money, one has the ability to live far more environmentally. Less money means less buying, especially of new, energy intensive goods (even so-called green products require use of resources). It means less traveling, which is undoubtedly better for the planet. To me, those are the two biggest things we can do to change our carbon footprint.

It also means, generally, more time. When I had a baby three years ago and we shifted to living on one income, I was amazed at how much time I had to live more responsibly. There were the small things, like hanging out the laundry, taking more walks, spending more time at the library. If I had been working, our plastic fast would have been much less successful impossible. I’ve had the time to develop my old time kitchen skills, and to break my dependency on processed, packaged fare. I make most of our body care items, have a bigger garden, preserve food. I’ve had time to learn to sew and to repurpose old clothes into new. Most recently, I’ve joined our community time bank, using time and these new skills to exchange knowledge and labor with others.

Fortunately, I love living simply. This is not a challenging life for me, it is a blessed one I give thanks for every day.

It’s actually painful to me to get new goods. Almost everything in our home is secondhand–given to us, thrifted, scored at a yard sale. We don’t feel deprived! We feel enlivened. The most comfortable chair in the house was picked up on the side of the road. I’ve learned that when I get to longing for something new and wonderful, by de-cluttering and re-ordering my space I actually feel much more fulfilled, satisfied in a soulful way. These days, I seldom even go thrifting.

To be sure, new purchases are occasionally necessary, like the new carseat we just ordered. Most of the time, it isn’t. I want a “new” sewing machine so badly! (Edited 9/14 to add: I had to do it. Brand new and beautiful–green points for local dealer and all metal? Sometimes, one needs the right tools to change the world…) But I know that with patience, something will come along that meets my needs. Or maybe I’ll just learn that I actually don’t need an item, after all. Sometimes, though, I have to make compromises. Just today I went to a really horrible, horrible place to buy Cora some socks. I would love to have a budget for lovely, organic socks, but I don’t. And that is where my friend’s argument begins.

She says, with money, one can buy all local food, all organic clothes. Beautiful, handmade shoes from hippies in Oregon.  A spinning wheel. Eco-cashmere yarn. A hybrid car. All-glass canning jars! An eco-vacation in Costa Rica. One can afford solar panels, one can have a state of the art garden, chickens, a carbon neutral home. Yadda yadda.

I confess that I would love some of these things. Minus the vacation and the car. But I also love the challenge of making my own clothes, of having to grow as much food as I can, of making what I have be enough. Of just…going without sometimes. Yet I can sometimes slip into a deprivation mindset, and it’s good to remember that sometimes buying a really high quality, natural lipstick is…good for the earth!

In the end, it all comes down to consciousness. One can be wealthy in every way, but impoverished in an envronmental ethic that leads one to use money irresponsibly. I’m so grateful to those whose resources allow them to live that good green life! Yet, I’ve learned that one can also be “poor” and living in a very simple, very conscious way (rather than an all big-box all the time way, which is often the stereotype).

What’s your experience with the old “your money or your life” debate? How much IS enough? What have you learned to live without? to provide for your family? to scrimp and save till it’s yours? What is truly necessary?

15 Replies to “Living on less: life is good”

  1. Awesome Kyce, how great to have written these both at once! My next post is about what we do without, lol. I think my answer is both, actually, that my first line of action is to abstain from greed and excess, and my second choice is to use what resources I do have to make purchases from real people, and invest in goods that make a difference (i.e. solar panels, composting toilets). So fun to put our heads together, and I can’t wait to hear what everyone else has to say!

  2. I too love this post- I think it is high time we talked about what CAN’T we buy rather than which thing to buy. BUY LESS BE MORE!!
    Since becoming a mom, I realize how much power we mamas truly have on the consumer front. 85% of all purchases are made by women (I can’t source that data, but it sounds about right) but, I know my consumerism has definetly Decreased since becoming a mother, mainly because I have more time to make, fix, craft and reuse things.
    Also I am not in town, rushing around buying quick meals and a thing or 5 at Target simply because I happen to be near there. My son also seems to not like the car seat or stores much, so we simply stay away, bless him!!

    It also has to do with having one less income in our family, but we too love the satisfaction of rescuing perfectly good things and making them work with a little love and the joy of not spending money is better than that which I think is called the “buyers high” attained from spending.

    Like you said, just moving things around reveals tons of treasures, or trade opportunities, and cool stuff to play with. We do still buy stuff, but mainly form Craigslist, the Restore and off Double take trade. There is so much stuff around us and available there is no need to buy brand new things.

    Obviously I have a lot to say about all this, but all I really need to say is thanks for bringing light to the new Paradigm of simply having and wanting less and the profound wealth that soon follows from living in such a way.

    I was raised Quaker and the saying

    “Live simply that others may simply live”

    hung in our house, now it has built the foundation for my life…. this was one of the best gifts my parents could have given me and I can give to my kids

    1. Motherhood is such an interesting time to explore these things more fully. While before kids we might have our ideals and justifications and righteousness, life with children changes the landscape of our lives so that we are much more fully in alignment with “right livelihood.” We don’t have a choice–we simply have to be holistic about things. You remind me of the importance of our actions and choices as we model true abundance for the next generation.

  3. Another thoughtful sincere post.
    I’d like to point out what I think is the pivotal flaw in your friends argument– who are these people wealthy enough to afford all that and how did they make their money? Of course there are exceptions, but generally the “good” work in this world is low paying, and conversely, to make the big bucks you’ve gotta do something wicked…
    I’ll stick with you on your side 😉 do good work, buy less stuff, compromise when you have to.
    As always, loved your post.

    1. Yes, I was totally thinking about the fact that so most money comes from industries that are essentially based on consumerism and further exploitation of resources–building and buying come to mind. There is so much more to say about this. Fortunately, YES magazine just had an amazing issue on the subject of real wealth. Check it out, everybody!
      Calamity–so great to hear from you again.

  4. I can relate to both your points of view – as i’ve lived both. At the moment i’m working full-time (because i’m passionate about my job in conservation) so we’re using the extra money to buy local organic food rather than grow it ourselves. I’m also buying alot of things I would usually make – like yoghurt and bread. But there’s no way i could live like this forever. i much prefer to do without and have more time. I’ll be reducing my hours again in less than two months and am yearning for the simple life so much. Great post.

  5. This is a wonderful conversation and one I have posted about before which i did have to edit because of some not so kind replies….
    Our family has chosen to live on less…. purposefully. It keeps our values in check so much easier than if we had high incomes. It keeps us grounded to our faith, that by relying on God, rather than man, we live to serve instead of serving ourselves. It makes it so much easier to care for the earth – to take the time, like you said, to cook from scratch, have gardens, milk goats, etc…

    I have to confess, and perhaps I will write a blog post about this, our business has been growing too much (in retrospect but not by worldly standards) and we had money coming in we hadn’t had in a long time and it started to get too easy to say “yes” to this event, “yes” to that new clothing item, etc…

    We have such a long list of more expensive things we need to do – such as find a vehicle to fit all “nine” of us (baby 7 coming any day/hour), a more efficient woodstove, new roof, build a barn, etc…. How one balances these needs and saves up for them, and how much to earn, etc… a work in progress for us.

    Thank you for sharing and if I write another post about money I will be sure to link up with you and Audrie.

    Warm wishes, Tonya

    1. Tonya, I so appreciate your words on the spiritual importance of simple living, the way choosing to live on less demands a level of groundedness and presence. I love your words on living to serve God rather than ourselves. Also, I trust that abundance can be a wonderful thing, especially when it grows out of our integrity. I understand the gift and challenges of this, and trust you will find your way. I have been much inspired by your family’s journey in this, and appreciate your courage in speaking about it.

  6. Oh goodness, this is awesome.
    I am always thinking of this- because there is the thought that only people with money can “live green”~ they are thinking of buying organic pre-packaged foods and organic hanna andersson clothing.
    We live on one income, and not a big one at that- with four children- and we do fine. Better than fine- our life feels so full, enriched, peaceful- and we keep it simple. Many would consider us doing without so much- but we feel like our life is fuller. And it is. We’re always using our hands to provide for ourselves, and sometimes it does feel like “toiling” but really it is rewarding.
    We don’t buy much new either. Things we generally buy new/spend money on:
    art supplies
    handwork supplies
    underwear or socks
    shoes- but we do not have many pairs, the children usually have one or two.
    anything we cannot make or get used.
    music lessons, musical instruments and supplies (our children play violin and cello)

    Things we do which are “simple living” and not costly~
    use mason jars for everything. I mean it.
    make the children’s toys
    buy at thrift stores (dishes, etc)
    raise chickens for eggs and meat
    raise a large garden, preserve food
    do all our own baking
    eat whole foods- this alone saves money, even if you don’t grow it yourself!
    sew many of our clothing
    knit (though this can be costly, I admit).
    dry clothing on the line
    build a lot of our own furniture (I am blessed DH is a woodworker)
    barter with others

    Also, we “made do” where others might buy new. Our towels are all frayed, for instance. . . I actually like them thin and frayed. 😉

    It makes me sad to see where we have gone as human beings- when hurricane Irene came through this was so apparant, as people rushed off to the store to buy things, unable to imagine being stranded at home with no electricity. Something is truly lost when we lose the ability to provide for ourselves, to use our hands.

    I have so much to say on this subject but my mind is racing and I have to make dinner. . .

  7. If someone in this day and age has such an abundance of money that they can go on eco-vacations- in my opinion, they might consider giving up that second income or consider working part time (or not at all!) to make more room in the workplace for those people who are so desperate for jobs. We’ve moved so far away from community building and sharing- into our little bubbles, that living an indulgent lifestyle doesn’t even seem wrong anymore. What a sad state of affairs!

    If you haven’t read “Radical Homemakers” – where you’ll read tons about this, plus all that statistical stuff- please pick it up…at the library, of course!

    1. You bring up a great point about all of us collectively choosing to work/earn less in order to give others an opportunity to work more. Again, this is something that YES magazine talks a lot about in the recent issue. I love Radical Homemakers…I read it after making a lot of these realizations from my own experience, but having someone lay it out on the collective level was a huge boost to my sense of purpose.

      I don’t think my friend can afford trips to Costa Rica–she’d just like to!
      Thanks for saying hello!

  8. Thanks for your post. Reading your blog reminds me of my own thoughts as I tackle motherhood. My life in the last two years and nine months has changed to such a great extent. Motherhood has indeed been amazing!

  9. I enjoyed your article very much. I can see your point about living simple and your friends point. I can’t say I agree with some of the things you are not affording yourself and I can’t say that I agree with some of things she thinks you should have.

    Money certainly is the root of all evil but we do need it to live in this world.
    I believe that if your living a the lifestyle that makes you happy and content then you have all the riches you need but at the same time I ask you are you able to put any money away for a rainy day with only one income and two children?

    I live a rather simple life, I am low maintenance, I spend my days educating about eating whole foods, biochemistry of the human body and so forth. I also love to travel and have learn so many things from others that I share with those I educate so I like the fact that I have money to travel and see the world. When I travel I spend as little money as possible. I also save for that rainy day. This year my daughter 25 yr old daughter was dxed with breast cancer (she passed away 6 weeks ago) she thought she would live the simple life with no health insurance, no savings, no car etc….and thank god my husband and I were able to take care of her both physically and financially.

    We also buy all of our food from farms which isn’t cheap and we purchase organic produce because we cannot grow our own because we never live in one place long enough to have a garden. My husband is a disaster worker so when Katrina, Hurricanes etc…..happen we pack up and head to were people need help…………

    so again we are grateful to afford to eat a wholesome clean diet and that we were able to afford caring for our sick child.

    You don’t need lipstick or some of the other things you mentioned but you do need saving and it would be great if you could travel and meets others, even volunteer your time teaching less privileged women how to quilt. I agree it is wonderful to stay home with your children, I mean you should be raising them yourself but it also would not hurt if you found a way to make some extra money to put into savings for that rainy day.


    1. Hi, thanks for sharing here. I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter and am so glad you were able to be there for her. We are blessed to have health insurance–after our mortgage, that is the biggest chunk of our income, followed by whole foods. I am a huge believer in saving money, and we do out best with that. Right now, we have enough. As our family grows, as my children need me less, as I feel called to return to the larger world either to return to work as a nurse, to go into business as a craftswoman, or to pursue something wholly new, I pray we will find the right way to be with that. To have always enough, and to be careful of the responsibility that brings. Thank you for your words!

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