Simplifying the Not-So-Simple Life

When my husband and I decided to leave congested Washington, DC behind and pursue the “simple life” in the country, we really didn’t know what we were getting into.

fields in summer

Our property consisted of fields and woods – no road, no water, no electricity, no house. But – no problem – we had a road built, a well drilled, underground electric cables and telephone lines installed. We built our house while we were living in a 30-foot travel trailer. Living in a trailer is conducive to the simple life: there is so little space that you can’t add anything beyond the essentials. You make do with a small kitchen space and a small shower stall.

many uses for a tractor

Developing a property and building a house is anything but simple. And in the process, you acquire things, lots of things. For starters, you need a tractor and all its necessary attachments. Then you need a garage to house all of the tools, and a shed for the garden tools.

inside the garden

You may think that at least the garden is a simple thing? Well, in deer and groundhog country, a garden is pretty much a waste of effort unless you protect your precious seedlings from the marauders. So we built an 8-foot fence around the garden. That means, hole digging for fence posts, attaching metal fencing to the posts with the help of a special tool and the tractor to pull it all into alignment.

splitting wood

Once you finally move into your house with that lovely wood stove, there’s wood to be cut and stored for winter time. Chainsaw and tractor to the rescue, along with a wood splitter. If you think you can split a winter’s worth of wood with an ax and muscle power alone, you are probably in your 20s and have more energy than is good for you… and, you are hopelessly in love with the idea of the simple life without actually having put it to the test.

haymaking

The “simple” life, the self-sufficent life, the make-everything-from-scratch life is a life filled with back-breaking labor. And forget about a 9 to 5 timeframe.

But don’t get me wrong – I love my life out here. The mountains and streams and wildlife all around; the small communities that are fiercely self-reliant with people who know everything from the best marinade for deer jerky, to growing the best grasses for the most nutritious hay, to knitting a sweater, to fixing anything imaginable, to making apple cider and pear butter. I enjoy the arts and crafts of basket and broom making, fine furniture making, the traditional food ways, the writers, painters, and photographers who capture the stunning landscapes and quirky nature of people, animals, and elemental forces.

first light

But – it isn’t a simple life out here, far from it.

There is a highly complex social network of oldtimers and newcomers that only begins to reveal itself after years of living here. Ancestral lines, sense of place, and family ties run deep. The government and strangers are not to be trusted.

As far as material things are concerned, you learn to source specialty items from various people and locations (horse manure for the garden, yellow spring butter, deer sausage, freshly dug ramps or just-picked raspberries).
Going to a medical specialist requires anywhere between an hour to a two-hour drive. A life-threatening injury will necessitate an airlift by helicopter.
If you are a highly educated professional, you have few if any colleagues in easy driving distance. For any professional, it is impossible to not have multiple roles and relationships with clients and patients. Your children may go to school with your clients’ children. If you are an elected official, you may still have a business and relate to your constituents in a client-consumer relationship; as a lawyer or medical professional, you may find yourself in the same aerobics group with a client or patient or end up at the same parties or community events. As a police officer, you may have to give a speeding ticket to a family member.
To get to the nearest commercial airport requires a 2 to 3-hour drive, the same holds for major bus lines like Greyhound or trains. There is NO public transportation.

Some things, however, are fairly simple: getting into our little town, dropping by the bank, the post office, and a store, may take all of half an hour before I head back home. It would take me that long to just stand in line at the post office in suburban Maryland where I used to live; then another line at the bank and at the super-market. That could easily take two or three hours not including driving time.
When there is a problem to be solved here, you talk to the person in charge (whether that’s the bank president or postmaster or telephone technician) instead of having to work your way through long bureaucratic channels and paperwork. If you ran head first into a low-hanging rafter or stepped into a rusty nail, you receive medical attention quickly without having to wait for hours in a city emergency room.

Gossip gets around really fast, a simple matter of exchanging information (never mind a little distortion or elaboration) at the local breakfast joint, the “liars” nook at the gas station convenience store, or neighbors in town talking over the fence.
If someone’s house burns down or someone sustains an injury that prevents them from working for a while, the community gathers for creative fundraisers to help ease the financial burden…simple and effective community spirit that really works.
If a dog or cat gets lost, the radio announces it until the pet is found.

In our personal life, we have deliberately begun to simplify, starting with material possessions and clutter. We were able to sell a small trailer and donate a truck, give away some tools and left-over building materials, declutter closets and some of our paper files. Also, saying “no” to workshops and events, no matter how interesting, helped to create space in our busy schedule.
To leave large empty spaces in my calendar is a luxury that I am enjoying for the first time in my life. I call it “breathing space.”

ruby throat approaching feeder

Having breathing space may look like doing a mundane task at leisure, taking time to watch the cats play-wrestle or the hummingbirds chase each other at the feeder. The longer I look at a flower, the more I discover its hidden lines and textures, the insects it attracts, the function it plays in its eco-system, its deeper beauty and purpose.

ironweed

I feel more grounded when I have breathing space. And more content. I laugh more easily, feel more deeply, think more creatively, and feel more inspired about the things I choose to do in my life. Enjoying simple things at a leisurely pace seems to create a rich and complex tapestry of life experiences.

hammock

So simple….and yet so complicated in this modern life we have constructed for ourselves.

This post has been simmering in my mind for a while but was finally encouraged by Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Simplify.

Another post on simplicity that has caught my attention: http://letsreachsuccess.com/2014/08/24/simplicity-the-key-to-brilliance/

About Beauty Along the Road

My name is Annette. I am passionate about nature, health, simplicity, self-reliance, truth, and life-long learning. Originally from Germany, I now live in Virginia, USA. I am a therapist, health coach, writer, photographer, and organic gardener.
This entry was posted in Appalachia, Sustainability, Travel Theme Challenge and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Simplifying the Not-So-Simple Life

  1. Hi Annette, thank you for sharing your simplifying life style. It sounds like lots of challenges to get adjusted to, yet I sense there a lot of peace and much needed leisure time being able to “hear the grass grow”. I guess this is more of a German expression, “das Gras wachsen zu hoeren”. Wish you a very happy and inspiring life, where you are.

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  2. Aggie says:

    I don’t have an intelligent comment to make, but you touched me with your clarity, and, of course, your photos.

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  3. Even though I am not as “in the country” as you are, I can so relate to much of what you describe here. It’s not easy being a country girl! The romance of it all can easily be dispelled by the sheer amount of hard labor it takes to keep the place running. We know that as we get older, we’re going to have to find reliable help. Still…..we love it here and are happy to make the trade-offs. Annette, your photographs are absolutely stunning.

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  4. Nancy Spahr says:

    The simple life … beautifully written! Welcome to Highland Co. – I enjoy reading your posts.

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  5. Barneysday says:

    We moved from the city to the country in the mountains about 5 years ago. We did it the easy way, though, by buying a “Fixer-Upper” instead of all the hard work of building, roads, etc that you pursued. But the life experience change is what has sold us on it being the right thing to do. Neighbors mind their own business, but I can call any of them at 3 in the morning with an emergency, and they’d be at my door in an instant. We see the plants grow, the seasons change, the delicate balance of animals and humans. Someday, we’ll be old and have to give it all up, but for now, there’s nothing like sitting on the deck in the early morning, steaming cup of tea in hand, and looking across the mountains and valley, below.

    Great post, thanks for the inspiration.

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  6. Lana says:

    Even with all of the challenges, this looks lovely! In my heart, I think I’m meant to be a country girl. Your pictures are beautiful!

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  7. Hi Annette! Congratulations on finding the many benefits of a more simple and sustainable life. But as you pointed out so well, it is a life of choice and trade-offs. Lots of people romanticize the life out in the country or a small time but the trade offs must be realistically considered before doing that. I discovered a long time ago that my version of a more simple life (which I call right-sizing) is finding a smaller, more environmentally friendly, urban home to live in in medium size town with awesome weather and lots of nature and outdoor activities near by. The important thing I have discovered is finding a place that is special to each of us–and it sounds like yours is exactly that to you! ~Kathy

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    • I like your term “rightsizing” and know you have written about that on your blog. Not all of us can (or want to) live in the countryside, so most people choose or are forced to live in urban and suburban settings. With an ecological consciousness, it can be fun to experiment. I love the new trend of “Food, not Lawns” where people convert their lawns into food growing spaces. I think that people who thought they needed a McMansion are beginning to reconsider; midlifers are downsizing when the kids are out of the house…a lot is going on. Thanks for your input, Kathy.

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  8. I like living somewhat away from it all, but I also love the big city, so I shall skip the “simple” life and stay where neighbors help as needed, but the airport is near.

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  9. Great post, Annette. I know it’s a lot of back-breaking labor to create the life you want for yourselves, and to live off the grid to some degree. But in the end, I like the simplicity of it, and I like what you describe as “breathing space to do a mundane task at leisure.” Since I live in just the place you escaped, I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s a rat race here, and even if you’re not working, you still have to deal with a lot of bureaucracy and traffic and stresses. If I’m “doing a mundane task at leisure,” I feel like it’s something I shouldn’t be doing because I have to do this and that and drive here and there and blah, blah, blah. I can’t wait to escape and even though China will probably present a whole load of stresses I can’t even imagine, at least they will be different ones, and interesting!

    I’m envious of the “simple life” you’ve created.🙂

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    • I am hoping that you’ll find more of what you are looking for in China. Very curious to see what kind of a life you’ll create for yourself there.

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      • Yes, I’m curious to know how my life will be there too, Annette. I know I have no more than a 5-15 minute walk to work, we get bicycles, and there’s a pool on campus. Should make for a bit of healthy living. I’m always nervous about the teaching expectations, but I’ll just have to figure it out when I get there.🙂

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  10. asqfish says:

    Annette such a beautiful rendition of simplicity, and its actual ramifications. You are a brave woman. The scenes are breathtaking, I hope you have made time to soak them in:)

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  11. A great post, Annette. Very well written and thought provoking as always.

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  12. Annette, I can definitely relate. Sometimes, I feel like I’m in an episode right out of “Green Acres”. What hit home with me the most is the lack of professional colleagues with whom you can socialize and network. Sometimes I miss an intellectually stimulating conversations with people who are well traveled and well educated. I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but I live in the campo…where the locals have never traveled abroad. Most of them have less than a 6th grade education. Plus, the language barrier keeps me from getting beyond a level one conversation. “How did the dawn greet you? ” or “I wish it would rain.” are among the many less than stimulating conversations I have with my neighbors daily. Thanks for your insight into simplifying your lives. This was a powerful piece. I have lots to think about. I am so grateful for my blogging friends because it is one way I can keep my old brain intellectually stimulated. lol

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    • Hi Debbie, I totally understand the situation you are in. I, too, have enjoyed the exchanges and stimulation from my blogging friends. Once or twice a year, I travel outside the country, just to get another perspective and satisfy my wanderlust. We also enjoy visitors here much more than we did when living in the city. They are always a welcome distraction from the day-to-day routines; needless to say, we really “spoil” our visitors🙂

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  13. Elizabeth says:

    I love all of it! Beautiful photos and story.

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  14. lolaWi says:

    What an inspiring blog Annette! I also embrace simplicity finding beauty, purpose and joy in the most simplest things. Your photos are beautiful along with your story. Thank you for sharing!

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  15. A really fascinating post, Annette. I love the idea of creating “breathing space.” I know that we got rid of so much ‘stuff’ before our recent move. I’m sure we’ve still got far too much though, and when it finally arrives in Florida, we may look at all, and ask ourselves,”What were we thinking?” Reading through your post again, I’m realising that there’s a real art to living ‘the simple life’, and I so admire your fortitude. Good luck.🙂

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    • Hi Sylvia – stuff has a way of weighing us down, even unconsciously. It takes up a lot of time and energy. I call it “stuff management.” I have never really cared for possessions much beyond the basics (I don’t collect anything except perhaps my writings and pictures🙂 ). And, still, a lot of time is spent on these things (cars need inspection, oil change, repair; appliances need cleaning and fiddling with; house needs cleaning and upkeep as does the landscape and garden, and on and on). If you add a full-time job (for most people), there is precious little time left for anything else. So, I’ll go for minimalism whenever it’s realistic…

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  16. tree girl says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautifully difficult simple life. It’s true. I often wonder how humans have made it so far. They must have been tough in the old days. A ‘simple’ camping trip makes us realise how much ‘stuff’ we ‘need’ to live simply.

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    • Hello Tree Girl: I love your expression “beautifully difficult simple life.” I will adopt that phrase🙂 Some (male) writer once wrote that our ancestors only had 4 hours of work each day and then had all the leisure time in the world. I thought, what hogwash. He has no idea how long it takes to forage for food, then prepare it and preserve leftovers for winter. And if they were lucky to hunt a large animal – it took days to process it and make use of EVERYTHING about the animal. Of course, a lot of that was woman’s work…

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  17. bythebriny says:

    Your story resonates with me.

    My parents have been living “the simple life” in northern British Columbia for the past 40 or so years. My dad built our house and all the outbuildings. For the first few years electricity came from a small generator which was turned on only when necessary. Dad chopped all the wood for winter heating and it was my brother’s and my job to stack it. We hauled water in buckets from the river. We kids were home-schooled by necessity – between us and the highway (and nearest neighbours) was a 12-mile stretch of dirt road that was impassable much of the time due to snow or mud. There was no phone.

    Things have gotten easier over the years. My parents now have electricity via solar panels, and although there is still no plumbing, they have a well and a pump. They even have a satellite phone and internet. The highway department maintains the road, so getting to town is easier, although Mom and Dad still usually make the trip only once a month.

    Whenever I go back to visit, I’m amazed at how fast I get back into the rhythm of that lifestyle – but oh how I miss the luxury of hot water from a tap!

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  18. Neha Jain says:

    Hello, thank you for your honest and sincere account of simplifying your life. You are probably the modern equivalent of Thoreau and his “back to basics” lifestyle. The pictures are absolutely amazing. I would love to have the opportunity to live in the heart of such natural beauty. Thanks for the post and pictures.

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  19. Interesting post! The simple life is anything but simple, ha ha. You are definitely living in a more remote area than we are, although we do have to drive for four hours to see most of our family and an hour and a half for major shopping centres and the airport.
    We didn’t have to build our house either; my husband renovated his grandfather’s house. The only thing that we were truly waiting on to move here was internet access. Once that was installed, we were good to go.🙂

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