Being a staying-at-home mother, who works as a teacher for her children, as a maid for her house, and as a farmer for her homestead, I can tell you… is not for the faint of heart. The often called “simple life” can be rather intense and demanding. However, for me, it has all the necessary ingredients to make the best career possible. Who knows, it may for you, as well.
Is it really the “simple life”? Well, yes and no. It can be emotionally simple, but pretty challenging in many other aspects, as well. Of course, this is compared to what most women my age choose to do or have to live like in our culture. It all depends on what you like, what your needs are, and what fulfills you.
Immediately after pondering this idea, reality steps back in and financial, logistical, and personal issues arise. Here comes an exercise that is inescapable if we are to make some life adjustments and potential changes. Some questions must be answered. What are those things I am willing to give up? What do I need or want to gain? What things must not be changed? Why am I considering this?
Answers to those questions will have unique characteristics. The more unique, probably the more customized to our own reality. This is not a copy/paste exercise and it is good to know it beforehand. If anything can describe changing to a simpler (back-to-basics) lifestyle in any degree, it is that it’s a work in progress.
I guess I’d like to share my experience in hopes many of you who have been contemplating this change in direction might be encouraged to try a lifestyle that has the potential to be of great gain and benefit to your family.
It is funny how when kids are three or four years old they are so prematurely asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There are so many assumptions and implications to this question. It is undoubtedly a heavy question. It presents a formula embedded in our psyche from such a young age that is just very hard to question, even as adults. It shows how a job or career is given the power to define who someone is. It forces an answer to be given without the necessary information or evaluation skills. It rushes a commitment to the unknown.
That is a really unnatural question coming from an idea that is backward. An idea that works mainly for economic power-related interests that can potentially work against us for our entire lives. In our culture, there is so little time allotted to get to know yourself, your skills, and inclinations. There is so little time for trying, for role-playing in real scenarios. There is so little space where you really get to know your environment and community, their needs and resources. Time seems scarce and agendas, even at four years old, seem to be overflowing with activities, due dates, goals, and events. “Simple” is just not celebrated, it’s rather avoided in our society.
I am the second of three daughters of a hard-working middle-class couple born and raised in Puerto Rico. I remember as a child always wanting to be with my grandma in the kitchen, watching how she prepared her meals. It was so exciting when that meal was confected with ingredients she had gotten from her little backyard. Chickens, mangoes, guava, limes, ripened plantains… she made all sorts of stews, rice, juices, jams, and sweets with those in such an effortless way. I also recall bringing home stray animals from school or around the neighborhood to take care of them. In addition to the expected dogs and cats, there was a rabbit, a crab, and a couple of chicks. I was at my happiest outside, close to nature.
I was also educated in a private school and taught to be the best and excel (which I was thankfully able to do) because I would need that for my future, for my career. I was asked to choose a good career. In that process, my tendencies and inclinations towards those early years “likes” were never taken into consideration by teachers, counselors, and family members. After all, I had decent grades and could choose to be pretty much whatever I wanted to be. I have to admit at the point in my life where a career decision was to be made, those first inclinations had disappeared from my mind. A set of pre-cut, combo-like packages was in front of me to choose from.
Then I chose. I completed a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a master’s in Organizational Development. I loved working and was blessed with doing it in many great organizations. It felt great being productive and getting some cash for it. Now married, I brought money home as well as my husband, and, besides paying for the basics, always found ways to spend that extra money. That part was not hard. However, no time for animals, fresh air, cooking, growing food, or any of those things that made me happy as a child.
My two sons were born, and after a few years, I had already reached my professional goal. I was an organization’s CEO. That was when it struck me and it was the real turning point for me. How could I have that position and feel so unsatisfied? I hardly saw my kids (well, never as much as I wanted). I just could not enjoy my family. I did not want to buy things for my kids; I did not want to take them places. I wanted to be with them, watch them grow, and… that was it! I wanted to grow some food in the backyard and bring it in to cook some goodies for my family just as my grandma did. I wanted to have some animals around the house and be outside. I wanted to provide for my family in a different way. I wanted a simpler life.
Taking the time to evaluate if living in a simpler way is an option for you, may not be part of your to-do list. It may not be a decision modern society will force you to make either. However, the option is there.
We have been trained at school and through our mediatized world to choose out of a pre-fixed set of choices for the “thing” that we like to do the most. Something we would like to do for the rest of our lives. Then choose a job that does that and “voilà” we have got our future figured out. Happiness will be ours.
But, then of course… life happens. You have children, a husband, an extended family, probably other (many other) things you also like and can do (because we are not monochromatic in nature) and either those don’t fit your job description or your job is not a fit for them. Happiness seems so far away all of a sudden. It feels so complicated, right?
If this is you, maybe, you can still consider changing careers or your outlook on life. Maybe you were not meant for the working-outside-of-home life. Maybe your happy place is so much closer than you think. Maybe you were meant for the “simple life”.
This eureka moment is like entering Narnia. M’hm, Narnia. A place where characters and rules are very different from what you have known so far… a place of liberation.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no childish fairy-tale view of what it is to live this way. This is just an easy analogy I use to explain to people how drastic this change is, precisely because it should not be taken lightly. Changing to the “simple life” takes great commitment and of course many changes.
In my experience, it meant selling our more expensive house and moving to a much smaller one. It meant living with only my husband’s income, taking our kids out of a private school and starting homeschooling, starting to look for “SALE” signs in stores, reusing everything I could as often as I could, to do many things I previously paid for, and selling the goodies and products our little farm produces wherever I could. This is custards, jams, doughnuts, breads, and empanadas with whatever fruits and veggies are in season. I do that among family members and my husband’s coworkers and is just enough to pay for my kid’s music lessons and an annual family trip.
That is why you may want to consider these aspects before you take the leap. These are some pros and cons, for me, about living the so-called “simple life” and maybe changing careers:
Simple Life Pros
No boredom. As I mentioned, people are forced to choose one thing they like to, or can, do and stick doing that in a job for the rest of their lives. Even when some careers can have some range of variety, most of them will force you into a field from which you will not be able to escape unless you abandon it and start over. Working from, and for, your household will allow you to try yourself in a variety of areas which can fulfill your sense of achievement immensely. So far I am in charge of house cleaning and maintenance, our family’s nutrition and wellness, kid’s fashion (including cutting hairstyles that I have been able to learn), farming, entertainment, cooking (which I absolutely love), and teaching, among many others. Don’t be scared. This may make you think it is too much variety. A great thing about the “simple life” is that you will become a lifelong student. Unlike other careers where you are expected to know it all before you get the job, in this field, you learn as you go.
Your family is… well, finally, yours. I’m not saying if you don’t work directly for your family, your family is not yours. I am saying if you work with, and for, your family it is yours. This is just an accountability point of view. In this arrangement, there is no middleman (or woman). It is you and them. You are the teacher, cook, nurse, cleaning lady, counselor, etc. You are to be blamed, you are to be praised. Just as in any company, results are a reflection of your work, in this case, your family is a reflection of you and what you do or don’t do. It is yours. Obviously, and preferably, always enhanced with each member’s personalities, tastes, contributions, and approaches. Which is great!
You have a say! I think many parents would agree that they are not satisfied with the level of influence they have in their kids’ lives, whether it be the approach certain topics are taught in school, the way they relate to others, their manners, what they eat, the time spent in certain activities, or any of a dozen other aspects. Organizing and coordinating the events that happen in your household will give you a say in the way things are done, mostly to fit the values of your family. This, in response, will decrease tensions and stresses that usually arise in households due to discrepancies in values and lack of synchronization in everyone’s points of view. In this career, you don’t have to wait for a meeting or have to align your ideas with your organization’s Strategic Plan. Now you get to develop one, hopefully, with your family’s input.
No isolation. Contrary to what many people think, the “simple life” will force you out of your house and into the real world. For some reason I still can’t quite explain, some people think this career puts people into isolation. I have worked for mainstream companies and for my family. I felt way more isolated when I was in my office at 8:00 a.m. (or earlier), saw the same people every day, discussed exactly the same issues for years, and left at 5:00 p.m. (or later) to catch up on whatever happened outside those walls (i.e., The Real World) during that time because I had missed it. I simply could not participate in community activities the way I really wanted to. It was very hard to think about, or analyze, life outside the events and activities that happened within those jobs. That definitely affected life at home. We all came from isolated worlds (kids from their schools, husband from his job, and me from mine) to share a common space with a diversity of mindsets. That is a recipe for disaster. However, addressing that disconnection might be enough for another article. The thing is that, to live the “simple life”, you will need to be in touch with your community and the world. You need the world for learning those skills necessary to fit the job description. Remember you will not be expected to perform one task. Your family depends on your multitasking and being a lifelong student, your contact with everything outside your home will enrich your family immensely.
Simple Life Cons
You don’t have a paycheck. As you can imagine there are countless rewards to this career. Money is not one of them. However, I can sit and count those other rewards every day as if I was counting money. That always gets a smile on my face and a deep, warm feeling in my chest. This scenario demands specific actions from you. In my case, it changed my consumeristic mindset to a more frugal one. You will be amazed by how little you really need to rely on money to live well. Of course, you can always take the advantage of self-sufficiency to get some profit, but even if you did, you would probably wouldn’t be packing the bucks.
You will be very, very busy. This career is intense and you will really have to schedule times to rest and be off-duty. You may also find yourself working on “special projects” on your supposed resting time. But, don’t you already do that in your present career?
It is weird stepping out of Narnia. It’s
important to learn how to live in, and with, The Real World without contending with it. You and your family live a unique way of life. As with everything else, is easier to find people that have your same values to share things with. However, being those such few, you may feel weird when participating in activities and social scenarios where your career is not valued. Take that as part of your learning process, remember you have just stepped out of your world and is always a great experience to see how others get by. There are always new things to be learned and to share with others. I confess this is hard for me. Since changing to this lifestyle, I have discovered what it’s like to feel awkward and sometimes out of place. Sometimes I even feel pressured, and then, I realize I don’t have to conform to those things I just don’t agree with. As in any other company, I find myself revisiting our family’s Strategic Plan to improve or refresh our life’s project. I don’t have to embrace things just because they are presented to me or work for others. We take every experience to reinforce family values not necessarily contending, but distinguishing ourselves from the rest in hopefully very positive ways.
Still, why do people keep calling it the “simple life”? I think that deep inside, we all feel less stressed and relieved when we can account for what is going on in our family’s life. Whether we like this career choice or not, we are not configured to disregard our families. Sadly many careers push us to do that even when that isn’t something we want to do. A paying career outside the home may bring us many rewards, nevertheless, for each step we take, farther from our family, toward those rewards, the level of complexity rises in our heads. I’d even say it’s a proportionally direct relationship. It is more “complicated” to live that way because it’s really not in our DNA to experience less of our family in exchange for money, personal success, self-fulfillment, or recognition. The “simple life” can be harder work, but it’s simpler in our minds and hearts.