Several books over the past several years have talked about going back to “the simple life”. Several years ago, with a busy career in the banking world while trying to take care of my widowed Mother, my husband and a teenage son while commuting 2 hours a day found me dreaming of a simpler lifestyle.
A book that I happened to read, The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn was the catalyst for me to start making changes that would completely turn my life upside down. Amy’s book was a compilation of the newsletter she wrote of the same name. After a decade of debt in the 80’s, families were looking to get out of debt and leave the lifestyle of spending on things that didn’t matter and investing in the things that do matter. The things that mattered to me was having time to spend with my son, help my Mother, have time to grow spiritually and pursue hobbies and interests for which there was no time. Through strategies I learned to payoff debt and living a frugal lifestyle, I was able to leave that job even though at the time I contributed over half of our family income.
I eventually went back to work a couple of days a week at my old job when my son was getting ready to go to college. I had an opportunity to work from home as a Mortgage Broker. This seemed like a no brainer at the time since I would no longer be commuting. This was a high stress job with little time off over a 11 year period and once again I began dreaming about “the simple life”. Another book that led me to set a goal and accomplish early retirement is Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. This book led me to think out of the box from the standard retirement advice given by financial planners which is usually save at least a million before you can retire and wait until your 67 to collect your Social Security. Even though The Tightwad Gazette and Your Money or Your Life were written in the 90’s and some things are dated, the principles are eternal and still worth reading today.
If it’s not a simple life, then what is it? I say it’s a focused life. To achieve my goals, I had to focus on the goal, read everything I could find and put into practice those daily activities that would help me accomplish the long-term goals.
Last week John and I made a visit to Jamesport, Missouri. Jamesport is the home of a large Amish and old order Mennonite community. I’ve admired the Amish ever since my quest for the simple life began. It was wonderful to hear the clop, clop, clop of the horse and buggys and enjoy the hospitality of our Mennonite host Marie at the Arbor House Inn. It almost sounds like a Beverly Lewis novel. I felt I was in one of her Amish novels. John pointed out to me their beautiful weed-free gardens. I felt a little ashamed about my weedy vegetable garden at home. I decided I needed to devote more time to the garden. While weeding, that’s when it hit me; the Amish do not live a simple lifestyle, it’s a focused life. They focus on what’s important to them and they give it their very best effort. Their devotion to God and family are their top priorities. It’s not simple in the way we might imagine a simple lifestyle. It’s very hard work raising large families, farming, growing gardens and canning for the winter.
The Amish live by the Ordnung (church rules) which keeps them focused on what really counts. In the English world (what the Amish call us) we would not give up our freedom to live this life, but we can decide on what is truly important and make daily decisions that keep us from being distracted from the life we really want to live. Ok, I am talking to myself. I have lots of interests and get easily distracted. But my new goal is living a focused life (and having a weed-free garden).