Jun 242008

I often write about the pleasures of the simple life. However, my life has not always been simple. In fact, there was a time when it was so complicated that I was constantly frazzled and totally miserable. What was the cause of this misery?


I have always been a person who likes neatness and order. Ever since I was a teenager, I have regularly purged unwanted items, because I’m just happier with less. Then, I married a pack rat.

When I met my husband, he owned his own business, as well as 4 rental houses and 3 apartment buildings. He had storage garages filled to bursting with stuff…cars, collectibles, a motorcycle, a boat, a snowmobile. He was $500,000 in debt, and completely miserable. How ironic—he purchased all of the stuff because he thought it would make him happy. Sometimes it did, but the happiness was always fleeting. When the high of owning something new faded, he felt exactly the same as he did before. So, he would buy something else to get the feeling back. It was a vicious, neverending cycle.

My husband had so much stuff that he couldn’t even face trying to sell any of it. He didn’t know where to start! The very idea was so daunting and overwhelming that he preferred to just shut everything in a storage garage and pretend it wasn’t there, but the burden still weighed heavily on his mind. After Bee was born, we quickly realized that storing, cleaning, insuring, managing, and working to pay for all that stuff was robbing us of precious time we could be spending together. We had to make some serious changes.

We began by making a plan. Our ultimate goal was to have a comfortable home on a small acreage, in a good school district for our children, with absolutely NO DEBT. I taught myself to use eBay, and little by little we began to pare down. We sold the collectibles and other small stuff first, and worked our way up to the big stuff, like cars and real estate. All of the money we made went to pay off debt. It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but it was definitely worth it. In November, 2004, we purchased our acreage. On July 4th, 2007, we realized our goal of 100% debt freedom–no more mortgages, no more car or credit card payments, nothing! It was truly Independence Day for us!

We still have one rental house left. We had a long-term tenant who just recently moved, so the house is on the market now. We’re very close to being completely free of that burden, so we can devote ALL of our free time to God and our family.

As it turns out, there’s now a word for what we’ve done. Downshifting. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Susan Donohoe, co-founder of the non-profit Conscious Consuming, which is sponsoring a voluntary simplicity awareness campaign called U.S. National Downshifting Week. This campaign builds on the work of Tracey Smith, the founder of National Downshifting Week in the UK.

U.S. National Downshifting Week is scheduled for July 7-13, and is designed to help participants “Slow Down and Green Up.” The dates were chosen to coincide with the birthday of America’s most famous downshifter, Henry David Thoreau (born July 12, 1817). “Modern downshifters don’t have to move into a cabin in the woods to simplify their lives. Happiness depends on knowing when you have enough, and finding ways to do the things you love to do without spending a ton of money,” says Donohoe. “Downshifters can live deliberately, leave a lighter footprint on the earth, and have even more time with their families and friends.”

Downshifting means cutting out unnecessary expenditures, cultivating a simpler lifestyle (thus leaving a lighter environmental footprint), and making more time for the things you want to do. Many Americans are cutting back consumption this year due to higher food, health care, and fuel prices. The freefall in the housing market has also been a factor in reducing consumption, as home equity credit tightens and people feel a loss in their net wealth. Instead of feeling down about buying less stuff, many Americans celebrate their decision to downshift.

We definitely celebrate our decision to downshift! Some people, even a few of our family members, think we were crazy to part with all of that “precious” stuff. They have not yet realized that stuff is not the key to happiness. We’ve found peace and contentment in our simple life and our faith. We are no longer running to achieve success as society defines it. We are free.

If you want to be free, but don’t know how to start, visit Tracey Smith’s blog¬† to download a copy of the Downshifting Manifesto. If you believe in this mission wholeheartedly, as I do, please do your part to spread the word.

Slow Down and Green Up during U.S. National Downshifting Week–July 7-13th, 2008!