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Issue #39 Live Simply: The Complicated Truth
On the perils, pitfalls and joys of choosing a life lived close to Nature
In my drawer upstairs, I have a t-shirt. I have several t-shirts in fact, but one in particular gives rise to complex feelings. It bears an illustration of a mountain and the words “LIVE SIMPLY” in a plain sans serif font. It is made by Patagonia.
It’s a nice t-shirt, and it’s a sentiment I strongly agree with, but living simply is paradoxically complicated. Sometimes when I wear it, I catch myself in the mirror and shout at my t-shirt. “I am fucking trying, Patagonia”.
We have been on a quest to live simply, slower, for over 12 years. Moving to the woods and accidentally finding meaning in a life lived closer to Nature taught us that so much of what society teaches us to strive for is superfluous. But thinking about it, I have probably been on this quest my whole adult life.
"Simplify your life. Don't waste the years struggling for things that are unimportant. Don't burden yourself with possessions. Keep your needs and wants simple and enjoy what you have. Don't destroy your peace of mind by looking back, worrying about the past. Live in the present. Simplify!" ~ Henry David Thoreau
Many aspects of our lives are intentionally slow. We have rejected the traditional path, the daily grind, the rat-race and instead opted to try and make a living doing things we love. We do not strive for material wealth, we strive for time in Nature. We live in a world of beauty and wonder, shaped by forces of unfathomable magnitude and we refuse to let society blind us to that fact.
Yet, as a result our lives are often chaotic, noisy, messy, unpredictable and our financial situation worryingly precarious.
Social media is awash with stories of Slow Living that look very different from ours.
Where did we go wrong?
Sometimes I wonder if I’m seeing the whole story - how much prior fast living has there had to be to enable this slow, tranquil life?
In case anybody is wondering, here is an account of our own experiences seeking a simple life with some uncomfortable truths about the realities of what that looks like for us.
Ever since me and Emma have been together, we have struggled financially. Some of this is because of our life choices, some of it inherited, and some of it just plain bad luck. It doesn’t matter how hard we work, how hard we try, we simply cannot pull ourselves out of financial difficulty. Even when we have had some success, we have been unable to capitalise on it, unable to grow, because we lack access to funds. We are unable to get loans, we have no savings, no pensions, no way of getting help.
I have been self-employed for most of my working life, first as an illustrator before moving into the world of woodlands and conservation. We have grown used to living hand to mouth, never knowing when or where the next chunk of cash will come from. Spending money when we had it and living frugally when we didn’t. We have got used to disappointment, of the promise of big projects, opportunities suddenly falling through. Working speculatively. Being let down by people. We have got used to failure.
Yet, we still always believed that we were worth something. We believed in our creativity and our integrity and that we should be able to make something of ourselves despite our situation. We loathe the idea that people with money should be valued more than those with none.
Our situation is precarious. We have at times been unable to pay the rent. Unable to afford to put petrol in the car. Unable to buy food. The system is rigged such that once you get into difficulty it is practically impossible to get out. Our credit rating so poor, that even though we can afford monthly payments, we do not qualify for any loans. Our car has an exhaust that is falling off, cracked front and rear bumpers, the clutch is on its way out, it has a wheel alignment issue, a tyre needs replacing, the engine management light is on and it is not big enough to accommodate my work tools. We cannot get a loan to buy a better one or afford to get it fixed. This weekend we put £11 of petrol in the car, the absolute max we could afford until someone pays us. Sometimes I think of my car fondly; this is what living simply is all about. Patagonia would be proud. I’m glad I don’t have a shiny truck. Other times I just want a break. To be able to afford a vehicle that is reliable enough to get me to work. And yet, we keep going. We know of no other way.
This sounds bleak, but we know there are those much worse off than we are. Our self-belief and creativity has enabled us to stay afloat. We have always been able to think laterally to find opportunities. We are good at working with what we have, at begging and borrowing. At making and mending. Others are not so lucky.
In a way learning to obtain pleasure from the simple things in life has been forced upon us - yet we are thankful for the journey we have been on, even though there are times when it would have been nice if it hadn’t been so hard. We have learnt to avoid the trappings of modern society; the never ending hustle for bigger and better. We have found true joy in our relationship with Nature and wealth far beyond that afforded to the rich. Living this way, working on things we believe in, spending time together as a family and nurturing a deep connection to the natural world bestows peace upon us. We are, dare we say it, somewhat enlightened. Now we just need to figure out a way to pay the rent with inner peace.
I don’t know why I’m sharing this. Perhaps somebody out there needs to know it’s not just them struggling to create a life on their terms. That it is still possible to reject the daily grind even if you are on a low income. That it doesn’t matter if your attempts to live a simple life don’t match with those you see on social media. Or that you don’t need to let your overly idealistic Patagonia t-shirt upset you. As long as you are trying to live the life you want, that’s good enough.
Well, that’s all from us this week. This was quite a tough one for us to write - if you get a chance to leave a comment, we’d love to hear your thoughts, stories and experiences.
We’ll be back next week with tales of wild, windy adventures in the mountains…
With warmest wishes,
Andrew, Emma and Benji