My wonderful cousin Justine has asked me back to share a bit more about my ‘simple life’ here on our small farm in Portugal. You may remember me as the surly, androgynous seven year old who talked about living for a year without a refrigerator. Well, that’s part of it; we also don’t have an oven, freezer, television, washing machine, dryer, heating or air conditioning. We do, on the other hand, have twelve beautiful acres consisting of a mix of pasture and forest on which we keep seven beehives, a few geese, some chickens, a small heard of heritage breed cattle which will be arriving to the new property in a few weeks and a wonderful vegetable garden that provides about half our food needs in the summer.
The most remarkable part about living with less is how easy it really is. I don’t feel that I have made any real sacrifices in the name of economy or ecology. I find I prefer working with my hands, even if it means forgoing the career life I was raised for and always believed I would have. I find that by doing more for myself, I don’t have to spend money and depend on other people, or worse, machines to get things done. Most importantly, I’m able to keep my expenses very low, which for me is really the ultimate freedom.
I have also noticed a change physically. I’m the thinnest I’ve been in my entire life, and it’s not something I find I have to think very much about. My body is doing the work of the car, the washing machine, and the lawnmower--and it shows. I have noticed also that I gain a little bit of weight in the winter when there is less to do outside and fewer fresh fruits an veggies available and then quickly lose it when the days get long and the physical work more demanding. I feel much more connected to the natural life cycles, and this connectedness in turn allows me to spend less time worrying about my health. I let my body do what it is meant to do without having to intervene with forced exercise, pills or special diets.
|Wild cherry tree|
My days are relaxed but structured, which is perfect for me. Four mornings a week I stand on my balcony with a big bucket of hot water and wash our clothes and sheets by hand. I change the water to rinse and then work my muscles wringing out as much excess water as possible before hanging them on the line. The whole process takes about an hour but I get to look out at the beautiful countryside and listen to my podcasts while I work.
I also spend significantly more time on food preparation than I did when I was a ‘working’ girl. Mostly this is because so much of what I use comes directly from the source which means a lot of shells and pods to remove, pits to take out, and extras to preserve for later. The activities of the farm require most of my time: right now it’s weeding, mulching, transplanting trays and trays of delicate little seedlings (not my specialty), and fixing things that are broken (fences, tools etc.).
I also have to look after the animals, but we have specifically chosen breeds that are suited for the area and more or less take care of themselves and require little feeding and intervention. We have ten cherry trees on the property which are coming into fruit quickly right now as well as fava beans, green peas and lots of greens. I also take care of my landlord’s garden and property in return for living rent free. She also has quite a few chickens, and we’re hoping that any day now one of the hens will get broody and we can put her aside with a few eggs and just maybe get some chicks!
|Collecting a swarm of honeybees|
It has been a wonderful experience to learn that I really don’t need very much in order thrive; in fact, the reduced stress of not having to worry about bills and the general costs of a higher standard of living has actually made this the most liberating and peaceful period of my life so far. By choosing to go so far outside of what is normal and expected in my community (living abroad with no luxuries and starting a farm with an foreigner is rather unusual), I have learned just where I stand with myself because I have no standard of comparison.
One of the most important lessons has been that other people's opinions are more a reflection of their lifestyle, values, and their feelings about their own choices than about anything that I am doing. I’ve learned this truth mostly by observing the varied and surprising reactions folks have to my lifestyle choice. Some examples include, ‘How magical, all that fresh air, sunshine and good food… What are you trying to prove living like that, like a peasant?… What you’re doing is so important…Don’t you think this whole ‘homesteading’ thing is a little self-centered?...Man, that sounds like such a hard life…What a simple and easy existence you have…When are you going to give it up and come back to the real world?... When can I come visit you?’ I know they can’t all be right, so I’ll just have stick to my own opinions about my life. Of course, since some of them are my family members I suppose I still have to listen.
It never ceases to amaze me, though, how so many people can be offended by those who chose to live simply. I wonder if it is because they wish their lives had less stress. I also wonder if it could be because they don’t like the idea that those items costing them so much money and that they see as necessities are being shown to be not so necessary after all, and at times wasteful. I suppose the more extreme examples like my own inevitably spark more extreme reactions, but I think we will all have to learn to live with a little less. So, I hope my story shows a few folks that it’s possible and perhaps even fun to live simply and simply live!
Editor's note: This post is part of Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, Seasonal Celebration Sunday, and The Homestead Barn Hop.