Back to basics – Saving money or saving our souls?

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Not that long ago the world was a simpler place, although it may have been more work than we have currently grown accustomed to; we only need to talk to our parents or our grandparents for a glimpse into what life was like before all of the conveniences came along to make every moment of our day easier. Some of us are old enough to remember a lot of it ourselves; my wife, for example, recalls when running water was put into her grandma’s house for the first time. (Age joke removed so that I may continue to live). It’s easy to take for granted the things that were considered luxuries not very far back in history.

As our kids were growing up my wife and I followed the “normal” life path, working hard on career building, upgrading skills, fighting for promotions and salary increases while balancing a busy schedule brought about by endless evenings of sports, dance and other extracurricular activities. We ran non-stop to afford our kids every opportunity we could give them. We upgraded to a very large brand new house with enough bedrooms for everyone to have their own. We bought vehicles that could haul everyone. We were, by all accounts, living the so-called “Canadian dream”. To be fair I wouldn’t change a bit of it either, that’s not what this is about. We loved every minute of it.

As our kids started moving out of the house to spread their wings and leave their own mark on this world, we found that the big beautiful house we built was a little bit excessive for just the two of us. We joked that we only needed to clean three rooms as we never ventured in to most of the others anymore. We started to look at the mortgage as a burden, not a point of pride. We started to discuss the prospect of “downsizing” – but how could we? We had built our dream house ourselves, raised the kids there, buried pets there, held proms, graduations, birthday parties and endless Christmas parties there – we couldn’t possibly leave could we?

Recently my wife and I had a large change in lifestyle and it has given us new perspectives on some things, some appreciation of other things and a change in priority on a lot of things: In the middle of our downsize decision process my wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and went off work on permanent disability – see her story here. This series of unfortunate events gave us the push we needed, it was time to find a smaller house – preferably one with less stairs for her to bounce down. Now if we had simply moved to a small house then that would be the end of this, and frankly it would be a rather boring story, but here is where we get back to the “modern conveniences” topic I originally mentioned.

A wise friend once said to me “you can live in your career and commute to your lifestyle or live in your lifestyle and commute to your career – I choose lifestyle”. These words nailed the thought process in our decision to move out of town to a humble little house (which we fondly call “our ugly little box”) in the country. While I now have a longer commute to work, we have access to sledding, hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, berry picking and canoeing all within literal seconds of our front door. A pretty decent trade off in my book.

Part of this downsizing out to the country also brought a return to a simpler style of living. While our house does have a natural gas furnace, we do much of our heating with wood. The warmth and light of a crackling fire in the living room on a cold and snowy day is something we both love. Of course this also gives me an excuse to use my chainsaw as much as possible during the summer to be sure the woodshed is full before winter hits. A lot of people I talk to turn up their nose at the thought of cutting, splitting and hauling firewood but truth be told, I enjoy it. I have to apologize to my dad for the grief I gave him when it was time to help with firewood when I was a kid: I had no idea how much work he was actually doing, or how little work I was probably doing. I can only hope that he enjoyed it then as I do now.

Our new house also does not have a clothes dryer. With only the two of us to get clothes dirty we now have a drying rack to hang our clothes by the fire during the winter months and we simply hang them outside during the summer. Again, a little more work perhaps but the energy (and financial) savings are huge and putting on clothes crisp and fresh off the line is fantastic. I’ve been told that clothes last longer without the beating and abuse that a dryer puts them through as well, not a big deal but a bonus if it’s true.

We have no dishwasher. Yes you read that correctly. When dinner is done we actually fill a sink with hot water and (GASP!) get our hands wet! It honestly takes about the same amount of time as loading and unloading the dishwasher and again, big energy savings. A drying rack on the counter and its done. Unless of course it’s a day where Carla did some baking, in which case it may take two weeks to even find the kitchen sink, let alone get them all washed. That gal can go through dishes when she gets on a tear in the kitchen let me tell you.

Are you sitting down for this next one? If you are ready I shall continue… We have NO MICROWAVE OVEN. There. I said it. If we want to thaw something out we have to plan ahead and pull it out of the freezer the day before. If we want to reheat something it goes back on the stove. Or eat it cold. Either way is usually fine. It is hard to believe that just 30 short years ago only one in four houses even had a microwave oven. That number didn’t break 50% until the mid 90’s. If you ask around today, the common belief is that before the microwave age people lived like savages. We are surviving just fine, I assure you.

There is another peculiarity about our little house that you may notice were you to venture through the humble abode, and that is we have only one television. (Peculiar if you go by the accepted average of three per house anyway). And it’s small. And there is no cable hooked to it. We watch a little bit of online monthly subscription television but the days of having a TV running 24/7 are long gone. It’s nicer to be outside to be honest.

There is a reason I am sharing these little things with you – I am hoping to inspire some of you to think about a simpler life. Take pride in doing the easy things yourself. Hang up a load of laundry. Handwash some dishes. Turn off the TV, grab a book and head outside. We all like to save on our power bill by changing a few light bulbs over but for us this downsize has gone a lot further: Our current power bill is hovering around 1/5 of what it was in our old house. That’s an 80% decrease! Beyond the health and mental benefits we have found, these savings alone makes a little extra effort worthwhile. We dove into this “new” lifestyle with both feet and we couldn’t be happier. You don’t always have to “keep up with the Joneses”, just do what you love and perhaps you will find that the “Joneses” will start trying to keep up with you.

 

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