I recently got to experience one family’s interpretation of the simple life. I spent ten days with them, working five hours a day on their farm in return for meals and a bed.
The parents had left the city and bought a house nestled in the hills, with views of the sea and no neighbours in sight. Sheep roamed their fields, chickens laid eggs, and vegetables grew in the garden. Their own personal fresh water ran down from a spring into the water system. The young girl and boy spent their mornings ‘painting’ a Wendy house with two German Shepherds affectionately standing guard. It was idyllic to an outsider like me.
After a few days it became clear how hard the mother and father worked, juggling self-employment with childcare and farm work. They’d been living there for less than a year and everything vied for attention. The house needed repairs, the garden and farm required hard graft to be made productive, and the children, well, children are hard work.
I spent my first day with the father (an experienced builder), erecting the wooden frame of their new tunnel house. It went up without a problem and I remarked how quick our progress had been. He sighed and patiently explained the laborious process of calculating, measuring, and digging the foundations. And how builders find it irritating when this process is overlooked. After a month of laying the foundations and a day erecting the frame, clients will whimsically ask, “What have you been doing for the last month?!”
The rest of my week was spent shovelling soil into the tunnel house.
If I were to return in a few years, the tunnel house would be long finished and producing vegetables. The farm and house would be running smoothly. They would be enjoying a self-sustaining, simple life on their idyllic patch of land. And they would fully deserve it.
By then, all the initial back-breaking work would be a memory and unbeknown to visitors. The alluring simplicity of the finished product would hide complex foundations.
You may not picture a simple life as having a farm in the middle of nowhere with children, vegetable patches, and tunnel houses. I certainly don’t for now. Whatever form it takes though, simplicity requires dedication. It’s not easy to reject the excess of our consumerist society and focus on what’s truly important. But it’s worth it.