Sometimes, the desire to live a simpler life leads to the pathway less traveled, and it may require stepping away from the herd a little bit or completely. Sometimes, it means a change in lifestyle, leaving things behind or relationships that might not understand your vision. Stepping away from it might not be the most popular or celebrated decision, but it might be the smart thing to do. It might seem like swimming against the current, and not only will you have to deal with your feelings, but the feelings of other people that are in your close circle. In the end, stepping away will mean doing what’s best for you/family.
Stepping away from a lifetime is never easy, no matter how strong a conviction or how eager for change one might be. Sometimes, the ties that bind you are the ones that must be loosen up, not necessarily broken. Whether the barn is too big or the stall too tight, it is not the right fit anymore.
When we bought the old farmhouse, we decided to coat the roof because it was the original tin roof, and it was not leaking or damaged underneath, but needed protection since it was 100 years old at that time, and by now, 112 years old. Tin was the metal used back then, sturdy and durable, less pliable as well. Modern metal roofs are easier to bend and work with, and they come in a variety of styles, colors, and grades. They are more expensive than regular asphalt shingles, and they last a bit longer. We decided that when it was time to replace the roof, we would select a metal roof because the house was originally built for a metal roof. Shingles weigh about four times more, and being that the house is 112 years old, it makes sense not to add more weight to the top. However, that would mean for us to save the money for a new roof because it is a cash project, as it has been the rest of the house renovation, hence why it has taken longer to do. In the meantime, we decided to paint the porch roof because it was showing signs of deterioration and rust. It has been 6 years since the coating.
This project presented an opportunity to play with a favorite color and see if that color would work when it is time to purchase a new roof. I discarded the color black although it is the one that will make more sense if we decide to change the siding color in the future. Black looks more traditional, elegant, and put together, but it also attracts a lot of heat, and the upstairs ceilings are very low, so that would make the upstairs unbearably hot in the summer and not energy efficient. I also like copper or light brown, much lighter than black, and also neutrals, which would go very well with my favorite blue accents and the white siding. In the end, we decided to paint the porch roof the color that we liked more but were not sure how it would look in the long run or if we would become tired of looking at it. It is a test. After all, you cannot change a pricey roof once it is installed. We chose Glidden Premium French Country Blue for exterior applications and metal. We are happy with the results, and the porch looks a lot cleaner now, until it is time for a new roof. We decided to paint the side entrance awning and the steps as well, for continuity and balance. Here are some pictures of the project.
We estimate the total cost of this project, including the entire roof of the house to be around $400.00. It presents a simple solution to protect the existing roof until it is replaced. After all, it is about simple living and simple solutions. It’s been a long way home.
The work continues in trying to bring back the garden. When we bought the old farmhouse, it was covered in weeds, grass, and a morass of trees growing intertwined altogether. The driveway was covered in tall grass up to our knees and bushes. The house had been abandoned for many years and in disrepair, hidden by the same overgrown trees and bushes. We knew it would be a ton of work, but we were up for it. One by one, we started to remove bushes, weeds, grass, garbage … and we cleaned up the garden. Next, we tried to save any plant we could and revive others. The next step was to create new garden areas. This is a process that will take longer, and some simple planning. We try to add a new area every year. Adding areas one at a time seems a bit more manageable for us. This year, we added two areas. One was created using recycled plants and materials. It is located at the front entrance to the property, close to the year-round lighted pine tree which we have ended up calling The Hope Tree.
The next area was my husband’s pet project. It is next to the small patio area and the faerie garden. This area has been covered by overgrown mixed bushes and tons of weeds. Last December, he took them all out and decided to do a small garden. Most of the area is in the shade with only a few hours of sun, so we had to select plants that required minimal sun exposure. He made the borders out of recycled pallets, and we still have to find and dig a few stones around the property to place them. This area needed a ground cover, after we took out all the weeds. These plants will grow and expand, so we had to leave enough space in between them. We planted bulbs inside the stone circle. Two garden sculptures and a potted plant were recycled from the garden and won’t be missed in the previous area. We added two new solar lights and red mulch. The small cedar tree in the back was already there and will be trimmed so it does not fully grow. This area resulted in a mix of new and recycled materials. It is a very low-cost improvement to this area.
The veggie garden was spruced up a bit, and we decided to use two recycled large containers cut in half for the new plantings instead of building a new box. Eventually, we will change these to a more permanent material like cinderblocks or metal boxes. We started the veggie garden a couple of years after we fixed the interior of the farmhouse. All the materials used on building and setting up the veggie garden are recycled, except for mulch, but sometimes, we use red pine needles from the property when these are available.
If you would like to read more on the process of fixing this old place, please visit a series of posts under Restoring an Old Farmhouse or Restoring an Old Garden. I hope you enjoyed this post.
“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
Hans Christian Andersen
I love the above quote. It is the opposite to “own nothing, be happier.” However, sometimes we flutter more around the pursuit of too many flowers and forget about the freedom we have to enjoy the sunshine.
In the pursuit of a simple life, I’ve realized that the accumulation of flowers is not the most important aspect for me anymore. There was a time it took center placement. Losing a lifetime’s lush garden all at once taught me that my focus was off centered and gave me the freedom to pursue a life full of sunshine. The sunshine after the storm is usually the most beautiful. With countless sunny days ahead, the heart can only rejoice about the simple abundance that surrounds me. I have learned to count my blessings, and there are oh so many. Prosperity takes the form of more than the material, those blessings that were missed when the “little flower” was ignored, in pursuit of an entire field. Like the caterpillar, I was transformed, and like the butterfly, I find delight in the offerings of every new day. Sometimes, sprouting wings is painful, but without them one cannot appreciate the beauty of that single flower up close.
Prosperity comes in many forms, an integral part of simple abundance. We tend to think of prosperity from the material/financial point of view only, but there is so much more to it than money or things. These two are important, but not most important. Simple living involves the realization that there is much more abundance around us that what we perceive in the material/monetary realms. These riches are unlimited, countless, and continuous. The true meaning of prosperity can be found in a single flower.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Sometimes, living simply requires certain balance, and the simple acknowledgement that too much of something wrecks equilibrium. Dealing with the sense that what’s on the right does not equal what’s on the left, in whatever circumstance or area in our life, puts us off, and it reflects in everything we do. The past two years left me off balance, and I have been trying to find that golden nugget that will get the scale back in equilibrium, and it hasn’t been easy. It has reflected in my writing, especially on the current novel that I am still trying to write but have put aside. Faith has been my comfort blanket, and counting blessings always seem to put things into perspective. Simple living has been a source of joy and contentment. Gardening an escape that offers many delights, especially when everything around seems to be screaming silently – new beginnings. I have found refuge in such things, meaningless to many, therapeutic for others. Sometimes, balance can be pursued in the simplest of things, and found in the least expected places. For me, I have found it in God’s word, in the garden, and even in the mundane chores of daily living. Where there’s a constant, there’s peace of mind, and peace of mind is the closest thing to that golden nugget.
I have been working in the garden and setting up new areas, planning other areas, and just enjoying the good weather, but in the back of my mind there is always that untouched novel, like a ghostly thought that lingers in the crevices of the brain and the depths of the soul. When? Who knows? One day I will wake up with a little golden nugget on my hand.
The past couple of posts under The Simple Life series have been about my experience in learning to live a much simpler life. Today, I want to write about learning and discovery. These posts are not in any particular order; it just relates to what I have experienced and the many changes I have made in my lifestyle, along with my husband.
Moving from the Jersey shore area to live in the country in Southern Virginia certainly feels very different. It is a different lifestyle but also a different culture and ways to approach and do things. People interact different with each other. There are degrees/rules of politeness in comparison to the open and fast friendly approach of the Jersey shore. Things around here move much relaxed, and also formal in certain circumstances. Overall, people are friendly, welcoming, and very polite. It is not uncommon for people to show up at your home to introduce themselves and know who you are, followed by friendly conversation. Learning to read people and customs has become part of our simple living.
In our effort to fix up the old farmhouse, we’ve had to learn many skills, although my husband has always been very handy with tools and fixing things. I have become his sidekick thus having to learn in order to assist. We fixed up 95% of the place ourselves. If you are interested in reading about it, those posts are under Restoring an Old Farmhouse. We have learned about gardening here, and plants respond very different to the weather and soil here than the sandy soil and cooler temperatures of the Jersey Shore. I had a lovely garden which did not require much upkeep, and I think that gardening is a bit more challenging in this area. There are quick temperature changes as well as weather changes. Spring is bouts of hot and cold with gusts of wind. In general, I have to be more weather alert here. Summer is very humid and hot or humid and wet, and it takes a toll on the garden. Frequent watering becomes a chore sometimes. Surprisingly, I find winters here wet and cold.
Learning about some of the wildlife was a necessity that I honestly did not think about until we had move here. Poisonous spiders, snakes, critters … all of that and more. Right now, I am having to deal with a moth caterpillar invasion; they are just everywhere as if they would fall from the sky, and although I found them cute, I don’t do well with cuteness in numbers. This week I learned that the hair in these caterpillars contain histamine which might give people a rash when in contact with the skin. The falling from the sky part is that they actually fall from trees and the wind carries them via their silk thread. Who knew? Down the shore I only had to worry about the occasional wasps and tons of mosquitoes. We had a mosquito man who drove a truck fumigating the area every year.
The first two years felt like I was in learning mode 24/7 – people, customs, places, wildlife, housework … a bit overwhelming at times but exciting too. The most important point about all this is disposition, our attitude for learning and working together at a different pace and environment. There is much to learn and discover yet but knowing where we stand and having survived the first year of change, gives way to balance, and that is always good.
Simple living is about balance but also, the openness and readiness to welcome life’s lessons, and discover simple, good, and lovely things.
Part of living a simple life is making room for the things that are truly important. By simplifying one’s surroundings, stuff, schedule … and focusing on the basics of living, one learns to appreciate what truly matters in everyday life. In general, life becomes simpler but more enjoyable. Energy as well as resources are freed to serve us and others better. By adapting my lifestyle to embrace only the basic needs and free myself of all the unnecessary, a sense of freedom and control emerged slowly. That change started reflecting on everything else – finances, material possessions, social commitments, health, fitness, nutrition, household management … (each a topic on its own).
In learning to live a simpler life, I have made changes in all these areas. I will give a few examples. I keep my finances as simple as I can. In two words, spending and saving. It works for me and my husband, and it eliminates the need to worry or keeping track of the “extras.” I operate from the belief that all we have has been given as a blessing by God, and he owns it all, so we just take care of it, enjoy it, and use it well. He is the provider of it all and we are the caretakers. If I was to give you an example of how I have simplified every aspect of my life this post would be too long, instead, I will give a few examples of how I simplified some areas. My point is that once you start simplifying in the more material and less important areas, it continues to areas of more significance.
Another example is how I have reduced my possessions considerably, to only what I love and use, and in the case of clothing, what fits well now, according to my lifestyle. I dress and live for the person I am now, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any dreams, plans, or aspirations (not to be confused). Another area is nutrition. I keep it as simple as I can. I take vitamins, cook 95 percent of my meals, which are basic, and not premade or prepackaged. On the health and fitness area, I don’t like exercise (never have) so my exercise is limited to chores, walks, and a stationary bike that I should use more often. I go to the doctor once a year, even if they want to see me more often. I don’t have any major health issues that might require constant monitoring.
As far as keeping a home, my routines have been simplified to everyday 1/2-hour cleaning, early in the morning (around 6:30), which maintains the house always clean. I keep a household management system that I tailored to my needs (and husband), which covers all areas of home, personal, work, and includes sections for all the important areas – calendar, notes, to do lists, shopping lists and other lists, planning area, goal area, finances …. you get the idea. It is all in one place, I operate from it, and we can refer to it as needed. It is very easy to refer to each simplified area as I need to. As an example, a simple change I made in the area of cleaning was to realize that I don’t need all the products that are advertised to clean a home. I dumped that idea and only use white vinegar, baking soda, ivory soap (or Castille, pure soap) and laundry detergent. For wood polishing I use butcher block conditioner, made of food grade mineral oil and waxes, which I also use to preserve the wood countertops in the kitchen. I realized that a bar of Ivory soap washes dishes better than dish liquid detergent, so I only buy pure soap for many uses. I keep a mason jar with water next to the kitchen sink and every time a bar of soap is almost finished, I dump it in the jar; when it melts, it makes liquid soap. I don’t own a dishwasher and do not need one; I like doing dishes. My husband likes to use Simple Green for outdoor cleaning. My point to all this rambling is that you don’t need most of the things they sell you, unless you love them in your life. Most areas of our lives can be simplified to just the basics. I don’t miss any of the things or systems, services that I discarded. In the process, I found more time and money, and a sense of relief and peace, less things to manage buy or worry about. “Just the basics” work for me and my husband.
As a writer, I have simplified routines as well. Mostly, in the areas of freelancing, and the way I approach a new story. I still write the first draft on paper, and I don’t belong to social media platforms anymore. I have a simple green metal box for ideas, and an old rolodex. I don’t lose sleep over the latest best-sellers, or the latest software for organizing my work, tech gadgets …. I hate to use this overused phrase, but in my case, I keep it simple stupid.
It is a process that I am still working on. It doesn’t happen in a week or months. In a way, it is a journey of knowing and finding oneself better, and of knowing to compromise when more than one person lives under the same roof. Generations are conditioned to do things a certain way, to use certain products for certain things, and all this is passed along from generation to generation. There is nothing wrong with that, it keeps continuity and a sense of belonging, ancestry, culture … Breaking with some of those patterns and routines that we learned takes time, but most important, it is voluntary and meaningful to the person who wants the change. By keeping only those things and systems that are meaningful, important, make sense, and fit into one’s lifestyle, our existence becomes more productive, enjoyable, happier, simpler … and it feels good.
Simplicity is at the core of living a simple life, along with frugality (not to be confused with poverty or lack), best use, gratefulness, and beauty, among many other things that I will write about on this blog, according to my experience. When pondering about this topic, it occurred to me that many people do not want to live a simple life; simplicity does not entice them, and that is fine too. Other people may have a misunderstanding of simplicity and may think that by embracing simplicity, or overall, a simpler existence, they will be lowering their expectations, standard of living and even quality of life. That is a misconception that may scare them away from simple living.
Simple living is about appreciating every aspect of one’s life, environment, and possessions. It is about only allowing what serves us now in our spaces and enrich our lives. It is about enjoying those aspects/things that will best fit our lives and also, making room for those things, dreams, aspirations … that will enrich more our life and the lives of others by default.
When we live a simpler, balanced life (not perfect) in turn, we can give more to others, whether that is materially, in time, or by giving of ourselves. For me, that is the opposite to lowering one’s expectations; on the contrary, it is about raising the bar because I am operating from a place and disposition, of generosity and gratefulness, and not of lack or disillusion. To put it in terms of the material as an example, when we live simply, we will bring into our environment that which we value (not necessarily monetary value). If I value durability in a product (clothes for example), I might forgo cheaply/fast made items which will cost less and will be easily affordable in quantity, and instead, bring one piece that will last for many years but will cost a bit more. This can be applied to every aspect because I am operating from a value system, what is important to me. This is far from lowering one’s expectations in life. Living simply opens space, time, and energy (mental, physical, even emotional) to welcome new opportunities and enrich our existence. This is far from lowering expectations.
As I have slowly learned to embrace a much simpler life, I have also learned to find simplicity and beauty in the everyday flow. Easier said than done at times. When we are presented with good and rosy days, a lot easier, but more challenging when what we perceive is the not so nice or the ugly. Embracing a simple life taught me to find beauty and simplicity even in those circumstances. Never easy at the start, but willing, the focus and vision became clear, and I realized that even in less than perfect or idyllic circumstances, one can find something good, even beauty, and learn appreciation for what truly is. It is through challenges that we grow the most, although I believe that one can experience growth looking at a beautiful sunset or watching a fire, more so when in the midst of it. In both circumstances there is beauty and simplicity, that is, if we care to see in humility. I have experienced both extremes and can honestly say that from both there is much to learn and appreciate. I’ve found that simplicity and beauty are always present, inviting us to learn a life’s lesson. Maybe not so easy to recognize when we are in the midst of a challenge, when things don’t seem too pretty, when anger and bitterness dominate our thoughts and hearts, but much later on, when we have surrendered our will to God, and experienced a shift in disposition, acceptance, the beginning of clarity.
A clouded vision cannot see beauty, even when in front of it. A heavy heart cannot experience simplicity because it is burdened at the moment, in a complicated state, far away from simplicity. Only when we let go and open our mind and heart to receive a new beginning can we see the new dawn. In learning to live a simple life, I had to let go, but I received so much more.
Sometimes, we forget the meaning of simple words. When living simply we go beyond ridding ourselves of unnecessary material and non-material items, and as a natural next step, we end up practicing frugality. It has been my experience. We start appreciating everything in our lives, develop a thankful heart, and start expressing our gratitude in many ways.
In embracing simplicity, I started appreciating my environment and the things that comprised it, material and unmaterial. I view the things that I had learn to appreciate during the process in a different light. These are not only things that serve a purpose and function, but also enrich my life. I am grateful for what we have, and for each day that I am given. I started operating in gratefulness, in gladness, and respect of the gifts I had been entrusted. In the process, I learned to become a steward of these blessings. In mind and heart, I went from ownership of things to stewardship. Owning became less important, and generosity towards myself and others went along with feeling grateful for what God had given me. My focus slowly switched from accumulating to a more giving/generous disposition because despite crazy challenging circumstances, I felt blessed and not lacking; I started operating from a place of abundance. I switched my attention to gratefulness and now I focus on what’s important – experiences, people, values … Things are enjoyed and shared because they take second place. I feel blessed and grateful for it. I have given new meaning to our possessions – these do not control my attention anymore; instead, these serve us, our lifestyle, because while embracing a simple life, I am operating under gratefulness and generosity with myself and others.
Every person takes as long as needed to embrace simple living; after all, it is an individual process that develops in many layers, steps, and what fits me doesn’t necessarily will fit another person. In the writing of these series, I come from a place of understanding my own journey, with the hope of inspiring.
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you – Matthew 6:33