Simple Living is Hard Work!

After spending 45 minutes working out a meal plan and grocery list for our recent camping trip, I completely understand why so many folks opt for convenience. Tossing a meal in the microwave (or a hot dog on the grill) is so much easier than trying to figure out three balanced meals a day plus snacks for a week at the beach – in a primitive cabin, with no refrigeration.

You’re probably thinking: Why are you meal planning for your vacation?? Because that’s what we do. We love to go places but with a very limited budget we have to be quite frugal if we want to maximize the experience; so we often opt to camp wherever we go and prepare our own meals. If we’re traveling to an area known for a particular cuisine, we do try to sample it, but if our adventures take us to just another suburban fast-foodscape, dining out rarely makes it onto our list of activities.

Side note: According to ValuePenguin, the average cost of a 4-night vacation in the US is $541 per person (which includes a healthy budget for food and alcohol). We spend about 35-40 nights per year away from home, so at that rate, we really would go broke rather quickly.

With our list complete, we set off for the grocery store on Sunday night to pick up our supplies. As we were walking in to the store, I made the remark to Angie that “simple living is not so easy”. As usual, she came back with one of her short but profound quips, “Yes, but easy isn’t nearly as much fun.” Of course, that set my mind to pondering the many ways each day that we choose simple over easy.

We handwash all our dishes. Our apartment does have a dishwasher. We just don’t use it. When we downsized the number of dishes in our cabinet, I found that using the dishwasher was a pointless endeavor. Everything we wanted to use was always in the dishwasher waiting until we had enough to wash, which was never going to happen, since we only had a few dishes in the first place. See…pointless. Personally, I enjoy the process of washing dishes. Angie washes and I dry, while we talk about whatever crazy thing or idea may have come up that day.

We make our own cleaning supplies. The process of mixing Borax, washing powder, and soap flakes in the blender to get it small enough to dissolve in cold water can be a little time consuming, but well worth it in the end. We can usually make a year’s worth of laundry soap at once. Along with laundry soap, we make all our household cleaning supplies too, using just 4 ingredients.

Angie’s birthday dinner: spinach lasagna and pineapple cake. Better than Olive Garden!

We (usually) prepare 3 meals a day at home. And snacks too! Though we both love to cook, there are times when I just want to grab a bag of tacos and call it good. But we don’t. We’ve learned (through experience) that eating fast food or processed convenience meals all the time can have a very negative effect on your health and your wallet. Cooking at home takes some time and effort but, in the end, I’d rather have one of our meals than one prepared by any of the world’s finest chefs.

We take water and snacks with us every single time we leave the house. To be completely honest, this is Angie’s rule and it drives me crazy sometimes. When I’m ready to walk out the door, she’s filing the water bottles. We don’t even go to my mom’s house (8 miles away) without water. “You never know…,” she says. And usually she’s right. There have been times when we’ve gone for a walk after leaving mom’s house and were glad we had the water. There have also been times when we’ve been out all day and were glad to have granola bars and peanuts in the glovebox for a quick pick-me-up snack.

We do haircuts at home. If you’ve followed us for a while, you know this one by now. We have been cutting our own hair for the past 5 years, playfully calling our makeshift salon, Outdoor Clips. Over time, the process has gotten easier, but it still takes 2-3 times longer to cut hair at home (considering cleanup) than it does to go to a real salon. Is it worth it? Yes! The last time I went to the “real salon”, I ended up wearing a hat until my hair grew back.

We manage our own money. Sometimes I think we watch our money like a new mom watches her first child. Okay, maybe not quite that close, but we do know where our money is invested because we’ve chosen each investment ourselves. From the funds inside our IRAs to our non-retirement investments, we’ve researched and selected each one on our own. No broker to help us choose the “right path to retirement”. No CPA to do our taxes either. It’s not easy but we’ve learned that the only people who are ever really invested in our success is us.

Making oatmeal with the coffee pot.

We try to fix things when they break. Last week, I mended a sock…for the third time. Not because socks aren’t cheap but because it is my favorite and I don’t want a new one. Today, I’ll be working on our camp stove. It stopped working midway through our trip. Yes, that means that all the aforementioned meal planning had to be reconsidered but luckily there are still ways to cook without a stove (like making oatmeal in the campground’s coffee pot). This weekend, I’ll be repairing my kayak. The folding fin fell off when I hit the beach on Sunday. For $50, I could send it back to be repaired or I could take an hour, some hinges, and a little marine glue and try to do it myself. Easy? No, but I know afterwards I will feel like a million bucks for doing it on my own.

Recently, we’ve been watching Alaskan Bush People. I know, I know…reality shows aren’t all that real…but then again, neither is the news these days and at least this is entertaining. Anyway, as we’ve watched the show, we’ve noticed that these folks work pretty darn hard to stay simple. They build houses out of tires. They hunt and fish and chop their own wood. They make delicious looking cakes without an oven, for goodness sake! And despite the fact that they work sun-up to sundown just to survive, they are all HAPPY! In fact, in the brief times they have had to deal with modern conveniences, their happiness level has plummeted (one so much so that he began drinking to cope).

All of this has made think, once again, that simplicity really is the key to happiness. Yes, it is harder to wash dishes by hand and more time consuming to cut our own hair. Yes, it would be 100 times easier just to grab take-out for dinner or stop at a convenience store for an afternoon snack. And yes, it would have definitely been easier to buy a new computer than to spend 3 days figuring out the problem with mine. BUT…

We wouldn’t have the skills, the increased self-esteem, and the confidence that comes with doing something for ourselves. Or the memories that are made when you tackle a challenge. And as Angie so aptly said, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

Going Camping with my Inner Voice

There are days when I dream of going off-grid in a tiny house with chickens and solar panels and a wall of herbs in the kitchen. And then there are days that I see myself hiking the Appalachian Trail or living out of the back of our tiny car while traversing the countryside or backpacking through remote sections of the world. Oh, the fun adventures I can come up with!

And then there are those times that I find myself on such an adventure, snuggled inside a tent in the woods, listening to the owls, thinking about how I missed the Farmer’s Market that morning and wondering if Mr. Wade had brought any of the good lettuce.

Yeah, that happened. Last week, as a matter of fact.

We were camping in Chattanooga. We were supposed to be camping in St. Louis before heading on to Arkansas, but my mom was not feeling well so we decided to stay closer to home (just in case we needed to come back quickly). At least that’s what I told myself when I changed the plans at the last minute. (And by last minute, I mean I was still trying to decide where to go as we walked out the door.)

Why such a sad face? It was FREEZING outside!!

Perhaps it was just me being worried about my mom, but I really did not have a good time on this trip. Sure, there were fun moments – like going to a baseball game and sitting around the campfire – but the whole time, I kept thinking about being at home and that was a hard pill for me to swallow. Angie and I love to travel. We both have adventurous spirits and we get a natural high out of seeing new places and experiencing new things. To think that I’d rather be home than on a trip…it felt like something was wrong with me.

Listen to the owls, don’t worry about the lettuce. Enjoy the experience. Nothing matters more than this moment…

Believe me, I know all of these things, but this isn’t a post about mindfulness and staying present in the moment because sometimes, it’s your heart that’s in the wrong place, not your mind.

This is a post about listening to your inner voice. Each of us has one yet most of us ignore it. Sometimes we even call it selfish, especially when it seems to be telling us to do something outside of what’s expected from us. And sometimes, we dismiss it simply because we can’t understand what it is saying. I’m guilty of all of these myself. For some time, I knew that I did not want to go to St. Louis. I could feel it inside, yet I couldn’t come up with even one good reason why, so I didn’t say anything.

On the night before our trip, I was so agitated, I couldn’t stand myself. My inner voice was screaming at me and I put in ear plugs so I wouldn’t have to hear it. The result? A lot of tears, one crazy, last minute scramble to come up with somewhere to go that wasn’t St. Louis, and a miserable camping trip that resulted in a fire-sale of equipment when we returned. (Yes, we sold the brand-new tent we just bought in February!)

If I had it to do over, I would be a better listener…to myself.

As it turns out, my heart only wanted to be by the ocean. It wanted to spend the week with friends who share our same crazy passions. It wanted to eat sandwiches in the sand and talk about dumpster diving and the books we were reading. I guess it just wanted to reconnect with our tribe. Even after 3 years of living in Tennessee, being away from our friends is still the hardest challenge we face every day.

So why not just go there instead of Chattanooga, you’re probably wondering. Our original St.Louis to Arkansas route had us returning through Memphis, TN, where I had booked two non-refundable nights at a hotel and baseball tickets. I thought it best to try and salvage that part of the trip – spend a few days in Chattanooga and the rest in Memphis. But even that did not happen. We came home after 4 nights, forfeiting the money we paid toward the Memphis stay. Oye! Yet another reason to listen to oneself!

Our inner voice is there for a reason. It is the way our heart and soul communicate their needs, which sometimes can differ greatly from what our mind convinces us we are supposed to be doing. Ignoring our inner voice can have a serious impact on both our physical and mental health…and on the quality of our life in general. I can’t think of a single of example where someone has ignored their inner voice and had circumstances turn out for the better, can you?

Last week was a bust, that’s now a fact for the record books. I can’t go back and change it. I can only move forward and strive to give greater audience to my inner voice, to learn it’s language, and not be afraid to say, “I changed my mind”.