Editor’s Note: This is a post in the new series, Simplicity in Action. If you’d like to submit your story of how simplicity has worked in your life, please read more here. You can write about anything from decluttering a junk drawer to simplifying your diet. Let your small and big changes inspire others.
I would never have thought that I could be more with less. If you’d have seen me in 2005, you’d have seen someone working three jobs, taking regular trips to London to advise the government, working a 90-hour work. I managed a 7-7 day and then added a couple of hours of high-intensity training either before or after, just to keep myself fit. I had an expensive gym membership, a very expensive shoe habit, and my life was all about appearance. If you’d have said that seven years later, I’d be living on a sixth of my income (about $12,000) and that I’d be working a 30-hour week, I’d have thought you were crazy. I think I thought I’d rule the world by now, dressed in Gucci and Prada, driving a Mercedes and taking holidays in Mauritius.
No. I don’t rule the world.
Well, if the truth be told, I rule a very small piece of land, big enough to feed me and my nearest and dearest. Downsizing was more than just a pay cut, it was a completely different way of life. It was about growing up. Now I spend my 30 hours working to live, not living to work. I enjoy my work and it leaves me a life, which I love. Now I have the time for dogs, for cats, for chickens, for friends and for family. Instead of indulging myself with expensive meals out or take-out meals, I cook.
It just wasn’t possible for me to do that in England. I’d never have been able to afford to live as I do there. I needed to go somewhere where I could sell my house in England and buy a good-sized piece of land and a house, as well as benefiting from a climate where I could grow my own vegetables. That meant a change of country.
So, seven years on, I find myself living in rural France. It’s a different life altogether. The rat race seems a million miles away. For a start, rural France works on a very strict timetable. If it’s not Tuesday-Friday, between 9-12 or 2-6, it’s not open. The supermarket is shut on Sunday. The only thing to do on a Sunday is go to church, see family and friends or indulge in some gardening. Most of my friends take two-hour lunch breaks and have small evening meals. I do the same now. No more rush. I sit down and enjoy what I eat. Before, it barely used to touch the sides on the way down, if I stopped to eat at all.
It also helps that I don’t have a television, although the internet is a big distraction! I also needed to get all my worldly possessions over here in a 7.5 ton truck, so I sold most of my suits and shoes on eBay, had lots of yard sales, gave most of my furniture away and I arrived with my precious book collection, a laptop, some clothes and my photograph albums. In fact, were I to come these days with a Kindle e-reader and digital photographs on a memory stick, I’d probably have been able to move here with a truck a quarter of the size. It really made me prioritize what was important.
I think the most important things I’ve learned is that the simple life is the happiest. Watching seeds germinate, seeing a deer run across the fields, taking the dogs for a walk, paddling in the river… they’re all free. I don’t need the expensive IMAX 3-D cinema tickets or an expensive satellite television system with 900 channels. Eating sweetcorn or peas straight from the garden, making my own wine and grape juice, making an apple pie with home-grown fruit, collecting the eggs and making a huge omelette… very low-cost activities that not only distract me but enhance my diet and quality of life. And I realised I didn’t need the pizza take-out menu or the daily latte and muffin.
I smile much more these days. I take days out when I do nothing but go on epic walks or bike rides, or go canoeing with friends. I left my friends behind, yet the trips they’ve made and the new friends I’ve made here make up most of my life. I might not see my sister as much, but the week we’ve just had together more than makes up for the snatched half-hour phone-calls. We make memories now, rather than just cruising the shops over and over again.
It really is a dream life, and yet I quit my job to get here. That was a momentous decision, but one I’ve yet to live to regret. I never thought that being more with less was at all possible, yet here I am.