Living simply in a complex world…

Just in case you did not see this on TSK the other day, I thought to repost it here. It is long- but I have faith in you all to go beyond the 10 second blog cut off point and enjoy it!

Very apposite for us at the moment- we spent all day emptying cupboards and making piles- one to sell, one to recycle via charity shops and one to take to the tip. The latter was the largest by far which seemed all wrong.

So here is Susan Pitchford,  a senior lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington, and a member of the Third Order, Society of Saint Francis. This is a religious community for people who wish to follow the Franciscan way “in the world,” that is, within the families and occupations where they find themselves.

A little self-review of the downshifting process…

As I climbed a ladder to paint a patch of re-rendered pebble dash on the outside of our old house, my thoughts were strangely on my former employment- all those years of social work. It has been just about two months since I took redundancy from my post as Mental Health Area Manager- which is something of a surprise- where did all the time go?

Time is a precious commodity- this is the longest period of my adult life without some kind of paid employment- even as a student I was so skint that I always had to find some work in between terms. I am acutely conscious of not wanting to squander these weeks of rest and recovery before the next chapter of my life can begin.

My hope was that the redundancy payment will give me some time to do the following;

  • Recover from what has been an exhausting, stressful and even damaging job.
  • Go on holiday somewhere.
  • Transform two large en suite rooms in our house to offer bed and breakfast accommodation.
  • Plan retreats, activity/craft breaks at the house, using our B and B as well as a holiday cottage.
  • WRITE.
  • Hope that the recharging of the batteries might result in me finding some part time work within the social work field that will allow me to continue to do the above things but have enough money to live.

How has it gone then?

Well, it took quite a few weeks (with hindsight) to ‘stop’ after all the madness preceding. I found myself, weeks after I left work, driving back towards Dunoon thinking about all the stuff I had yet to sort out in work. There came a point however, about four weeks after I left when I realised I no longer felt ill. I should add that I had not previously realised that I did feel ill. It was as if some pressure had been released out of my system and everything was working a little better. Long term exposure to high levels of stress is a terrible thing.

We managed a few days away, down in Northumberland- a place we had not been to before. I have also played a lot of cricket for both Innellan and Greenock clubs, and the chance to run around a field for a while playing a game I love has been like a holiday too.

The work on the house is now well under way as can be seen above. The biggest single task has been to fit an en suite shower room, and it is now finished;


My perfectionist friends will point out the rather irregular tiling in places but nothing in this old house is straight, so perfect finishes are simply not an option. I think it looks great though and is very usable.

The planning of retreats- well we are not there yet, but Michaela and Pauline’s craft workshop business is going great guns and already people are asking about the possibility of staying over in the B and B, which is just what we were hoping for.

Finally- writing.

If I were to pick one thing that I wanted to find time to spend doing, it is this. However, as yet, it has not happened really. I think this is partly about discipline, making a slot each day- but this kind of way of being creative has never really worked for me. Inspiration may be 70% perspiration but it still requires the nurturing of an idea. I have a project in fragments at the moment, waiting for the glue that brings them together.

Better boil up some horses hooves…


After the frenetic activity of the last few weeks and months comes the inevitable energy dip. I am in my second day of unemployment, with a contradictory long list of things that need to be done (and which I am not doing.) Partly I suppose this is OK as I kind of need a rest, but equally I know myself well enough to be careful of such uncertainty- inactivity can become a trough which takes some climbing out of.

It all feels a bit surreal- as if I can’t decide whether nothing has changed, or that everything has changed when I was looking the other way. I say this as some kind of record of what happens when you decide to re invent yourself by jumping out of the rat race into the unknown.

The one thing that will bring you up sharp against the new reality is this word- money. Michaela and I sat wondering how best to husband our resources in this time of transition last night, and I felt the old childhood anxieties rise.

And today I went to the Job Centre to sign on as unemployed, and to claim my Jobseekers Allowance. Despite years of advising and supporting others who claimed benefit, I have never claimed as an adult. However, I am a child of a single mother surviving on state benefits so this forced an examination of role and status which was understandably challenging!

I was told that my first ‘signing on’ date (where I report to describe my activities in relation to seeking employment) is next Tuesday- when we are away on holiday for a week. Cue kerfuffel as a form was produced for me to describe how I was going to continue to seek work, and to be available for work on my holiday. Is that not an oxymoron?

The staff in the job centre, it has to be said, were polite and friendly- perhaps even a little intimidated by my qualifications and background. However, the atmosphere of the place, shiny and clean as it is, was quite energy sapping. I think it is the general feeling of state censure and disapproval. The security guard who greets you at the door, and the clear cross-desk dividing line of us/them.

It has been clear to me in the past from my previous working life that people are changed by encounter with this kind of bureaucracy. It is not just that they are beaten down by the sense of loss of role and identity- it is also something more subtle- we are in danger of losing our sense of freedom, choice and adventure.

This, my friends, we can not allow to happen…

Songs for the downshifter…

My tongue is slightly in my cheek with the title above, but a song has been rattling round my brain today.

Do you have that thing when you are walking sometimes, where you find yourself pacing along to a soundtrack, John Travolta style? No one else can hear it, but it is in your head like a bumble bee in a bottle…

So I walked home from work on a lovely almost-spring day, with the sun on still water. I have a few days off, and all feels open and possible.

I see my light come shining

From the west down to the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released


A day of possibilities…

They don’t come along often. Sure there are always choices that we can make but most of the time the road leads in one direction. But I am approaching a junction though.

Three ways diverge. One is promotion in my current work, the other demotion. I can choose either of these versions of ‘more of the same’.

The other road is far less certain. Once again, there is a more than even chance of being offered voluntary redundancy. I should be getting a letter by the end of the week asking me to put my cards on the table.

Take the blue pill.

Make the jump into the unknown.

Burn my bridges.

If I take this option there are no guarantees that it will not go badly wrong. We have talked about a variety of other ways of making a living- B and B, art, retreats, writing, crafts and pottery, but these are fairly untested.

The penalty for failure in terms of impact on myself and my family would be catastrophic.

But despite all of this the possibilities of the uncertain road are calling me…



So friends- you may have noticed a wee sub plot on this blog over the past few years- all the veg growing and the chickens pecking and the desire to live more simply…


There is a lot around on the old t’internet about downshifting. Everyone is doing it, it seems- or rather everyone is talking about doing it.

And to be fair- not everyone is able to downshift really- because even being able to consider the possibility of downshifting rather depends on a degree of consumption and employment that is already a position of privilege- another of those middle class fantasies ever since the glorious Felicity Kendal in The Good Life-

Downshifting is an idea that has perhaps never been so relevant in the shadow of the Credit Crunch, and in an increasing awareness that our way of life in the rich west is not sustainable, equitable or morally justifiable. It is dependent on greed for ever more pointless gadgets.

Talking of gadgets, William is sat next to me watching ‘The Gadget Show‘ and it is making me feel slightly ill. A review of the latest i-phone- which is a bit like gadget porn. A totally pointless test to see whether the i-phone could post something on twitter faster than some less sexy piece of plastic.

To be honest, even though we do not live a profligate lifestyle, I too like stuff. I notice that Oliver James is speaking at Greenbelt this year- author of the book Affluenza, defined like this-

affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debtanxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf [1])
affluenza, n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic ofstressoverwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. (PBS [1])

But for all my talk- I have been a wage slave for all my adult life. 20 years working for local governments as a social worker- climbing up the slimy pole into management- which comes with scant extra financial reward as the difference between a main grade social worker and my current post as area manager.

Making a decision to move away and do something different has been a subject of conversation in our house for years. But then there is a mortgage, growing children, security, role and purpose… all sorts of reasons for inertia.

However- it could well be that the decision will be made for me- or at very least an opportunity will be given to me for me to make some radical decisions… because of the regular scourge of all people who work for local authorities- euphemistically called ‘reorganisation’- or this time round, I heard a new phrase which still makes my eyebrows go sky wards- delayering.

(I kid you not- delayering. Who makes this stuff up?)

I had an exchange of e-mails with an old friend yesterday. He has made some brave decisions over recent years- moving from a high flying career in business through to working as a dog trainer, and now a bicycle engineer. He and his wife have now bought some land with a view to growing their own food and keeping- you’ve guessed it- chickens!

He sent me a great list of things that he thought were important for any of us aiming to live a simpler, more sustainable life-

“I think there are practical steps to take in ‘disconnecting from the matrix’.

First I would get rid of all debt if at all possible. Could you carry on work, reduce your spending and overpay your mortgage and clear it or reduce it drastically? This might take 5 years or so?

Second, make your house as energy efficient as possible. No draughts and insulate, insulate, insulate – heating bills WILL go up and STAY up!

Third, grow more of your own food. Food prices will go up as the cost of oil rises. The added benefit is you will eat healthier.

Fourth, only buy things you really need or will give you great LASTING pleasure. No point wasting money on things that won’t get used.

Fifth, be part of a vibrant LOCAL community that can care for each other, barter and trade goods and services with each other. I’ll give you 5 eggs for 2 lettuce for example.

Also, stay fit and healthy as the NHS won’t be around in its present form!

Here endeth the lesson for today!”

Not sure I fully agree with him in relation to the NHS, but the rest makes good sense.

Watch this space friends- I have decided to let go, and let things unfold- being prepared to make some risky leaps as and when it feels right.

It is time to follow the Spirit into some more adventures…