The Simple Life of Aunt Annie

After a wonderful 3-week visit, my Aunt Annie went back to her home in North Carolina on Sunday. We will definitely miss her and I know my mom will too. She was a breathe of fresh air and a good reminder of what a truly simple life really is.

Angie and I like to say that we live very simply, and in most respects, we do. We don’t own a lot of stuff and have chosen not to own a home at this time in our life. We have no consumer debt. We prepare 95% of our own meals, take responsibility for our own health, and try our best to fix most things that get broken. We find enjoyment in nature, in growing things, in spending the day with a good book. And while I do work to pay our modest bills, we’ve always valued our time over money.

For us, these things equate to a simple life. Yet, simplicity is still something we actively strive toward – something that gets buried from time to time in own own busyness and effort. But for my aunt, simplicity is life.

My aunt has never had a driver’s license and never held a public job. She has also never had a house payment or rent. Yet, she has always had a place to live, a way to get where she wanted, and a way to get the things she needed.

When I was younger, I never gave much thought to how Aunt Annie lived. I never considered that she was a single mom raising two kids. It never crossed my mind that she didn’t go to work or drive a car. All I knew was that every single day she helped my grandma in the garden and in the kitchen. She hung clothes on the line in the backyard. She walked to church. She hand-rolled the dough on Sundays for chicken and dumplings. She snapped bushels of peas and canned green beans. And she was always there when anyone needed her.

For most of her life, my aunt lived in a small single-wide trailer on my grandparent’s property. I’m not sure how the trailer got there, who paid for it, or how…I just know that’s where she lived, until a few years ago when it burned down. My aunt raised her two children there, along with about half of her nieces and nephews. You see, my aunt “made her living” doing what other people didn’t have time to do. She was the nanny, the cook, the nursemaid, and the housekeeper for her siblings and later, even their children. For forty years, nearly every day, someone would drop off a child for my aunt to watch. As those children grew up and their parents began to age, my aunt would sit with them too. She even lived with two of her sisters to provide full-time care for them in the months preceding their deaths.

There are a lot of folks who are professional nannies or caregivers and I know there’s money to be made in that line of work but here’s the kicker to this story…my aunt never once asked to be paid. She didn’t have a set rate for her time, a client list, or a calendar or appointments. Whether she made $5 or $50 for the day, she made it work. And with that money, she did two things faithfully – she tithed to the church and paid her taxes. Yes, this resourceful lady had the forethought to have her business-minded brother help her file taxes so she would qualify for social security one day. At 72, she receives a modest amount of social security benefits, which is “more than enough”, according to her.

My aunt has also never had debt. Some folks in our family like to make a big deal out of this, as if debt is a status symbol and not having it means you never grew up. I’ve watched those same folks talk around my aunt as if she was “simple-minded” and incapable of understanding what it’s like to “pay bills”. After spending time with her, I can tell you there’s nothing simple-minded about my aunt. She devours books like some people devour cake. She read 6 books in 3 weeks! She can talk about any topic, though she really lights up in conversations about cooking. (Speaking of which, a few years ago, she spearheaded the creation of a cookbook for her church. The book sold for $15 and with the proceeds, she and several other senior ladies went on a mission trip to rural Appalachia, where they set up a free store.)

My aunt sees money in the way I’ve been striving to see it for many years now – as just another means of trade. The folks at the Dept. of Electricity may prefer to be paid in dollars and cents, but not everyone does, and my aunt has built a life around learning to barter and trade. Last summer, she helped my cousin prep vegetables for the Farmer’s Market and in return, he shared part of the harvest with her, and even part of the pig he butchered. She has also found (like we have) that people throw away good stuff all the time. Though her dumpster diving days are over now, my aunt still benefits from other people’s discards. She said that most of her wardrobe and the books she reads are hand-me-downs from friends and fellow church members. “Why buy something when you don’t have to?” she says.

We had the most fun with my aunt going thrift shopping. None of us spent more than $5 but it was fun to look at stuff with someone who appreciates the “game of thrifting”. It was also nice to be with someone who enjoys the smallest of things – like getting a country ham and biscuit at the church bazaar or getting lost in the boonies following signs for a garage sale. No matter what we did with her, my aunt had a great time. Her enthusiasm and happiness were contagious so we couldn’t help but have a good time too. We even found ourselves enjoying things that we would never have done if Annie wasn’t with us – like eating a fast-food sandwich. Like us, my aunt eats at home all the time, making all of her meals from scratch, so it was a treat for her to have something different. And for a moment, I was transported back to my childhood – back to the days before we worried about non-GMO, organic, pasture-raised purity – back when stopping for a chicken sandwich was the treat at the end of a fun morning of yard sale adventures with my Granny and Grandpa.

My aunt also has purity of mind, something so rare, I was in absolute awe of her. She doesn’t gossip. She doesn’t lie. If you tell her something, you don’t even have to say “don’t tell anyone” because you can rest assured that she will never say a word – even when that subject comes up in a conversation later on and you tell on your own self, she will never say that she knew anything about it. She doesn’t watch the news, though she does read the local newspaper when she can. She doesn’t spend hours online, though much to my mom’s dismay, she did tell us many times to take a picture of something and put it on Facebook. She reads histories, biographies, Southern literature, and even Amish romances but never a murder mystery. In fact, when my mom was watching a true-crime show on TV, Annie covered her eyes just before the murder occurred. She doesn’t want those images in her mind, and as someone who still has flashbacks of scenes from Sons of Anarchy, I can completely appreciate that.

I never sat down with my aunt to do a real interview but I didn’t really have to. Her philosophy on life isn’t something she she needed to put into words for me. It was clearly evident in everything that she said or did: Be kind, be grateful, have faith, enjoy each day that you are given, do the best you can with what you have, and don’t sweat the small stuff – or the large stuff either.

If Every Day Were Sunday…

Our little garden is starting to wind down for the season and I’m already starting to miss it. When we were ankle deep in peas and tomatoes, I didn’t think the end would come quick enough but as we canned the last few pints of salsa on Sunday, it started to sink in. Fall is just steps away and winter is right behind it.

Years ago, those transitions meant little more to me than putting up the appropriate seasonal decor on our front door. My life was basically the same every day, only the weather changed. I got up, went to work, came home, ate dinner, watched TV, went to bed, and repeated it all until Friday night, when I’d go out to eat (like everyone else I knew) and head to the grocery store, Walmart, and wherever else I could spend my paycheck. Why? Because I worked hard and the new fall sweaters (or spring t-shirts) were out and well, I deserved one!

I didn’t become a minimalist overnight, though sometimes it feels like it. Like one day I just woke up and decided the repetitive pattern of my life was not working and I wasn’t going to do it anymore. In reality though, it was more of a process than that. I did wake up one day and decide something needed to change and I remember that day as if it were yesterday.

It was just another Sunday in September of 2011. I was beyond tired from a week of running all over Colorado (some poor life choices at the time meant driving into downtown Denver every day for work after driving Angie half way to Black Hawk to catch a bus to the casino where she worked). I had started a decluttering project but failed to finish it and the apartment was covered in stuff – from bicycles to a bubblegum machine. But football was on and I just wanted to curl up on the couch and veg for the day. So I did. At the end of that day, I took out my journal and wrote one single sentence – if every day were Sunday, I’d be free.

The next day, as I sat in traffic on I-25 once again, those words came back to me. Why couldn’t every day be Sunday? Why did I have to be in this car? Why wasn’t I in control of my time? My life? My choices? On that highway, in the early hours of the morning, I made two decisions – every day would be Sunday if I wanted it to be and we were leaving Colorado.

And we did.

Less than a year later, we were in North Port, Florida, a city we had never even heard of before Googling “best places to live on the Gulf Coast”. The three years that we lived there laid the foundation for everything that was to follow. We learned to live on one income. We learned contentment, the kind that comes from just sitting on the porch watching the birds or making a meal from scratch. We learned to be resourceful. And we learned the meaning of true happiness.

Minimalism alone did not make it possible for me to quit my job last week but it sure helped.

When I look around the room right now, I see Angie sitting on the couch, her favorite blanket across her lap, reading a book. Her cup of coffee is tucked into the fold of the blanket, just to her right. Caesar is on her left. The sun is shining in through the open windows, greeting the new herbs we just planted yesterday in the windowsill. A vegetable soup is simmering on the stove for lunch, while mixed beans slow cook in the crock pot for tomorrow night’s dinner. It is Tuesday, yet it feels like a peaceful and relaxing Sunday.

As I raised my own cup of coffee to take a sip, the realization slowly settled upon me. Almost 8 years to the day that I wrote that single sentence in my journal, we have finally achieved the life I so longed for back then.

Every day is Sunday and I am now free.


If you had asked me in 2011, if I thought I’d be here today, I would have said no. The weight of the world sat on my shoulders then. We were knee deep in years of baggage – both physical and mental – and I couldn’t see a way to wade through. Angie worked 12 hour days at a menial job she hated and we spent our time off with people we had nothing in common with – the kind of “friends” that discourage growth and change. Our relationship was still new but it was tenuous at best. When we sat down that day in September to discuss the direction of our life together, we realized the only way out was to turn around. We need a new path, one that we chose together, and one that was free of the clutter of our past lives. Through persistence, lots of trial and error, and good communication (I can’t stress that one enough), we have come to the place we are today – ready to open a new page, in a new journal, and start a brand new adventure. 

If you are contemplating of your own life-changing adventure, our best advice – just do it. It may take a while to get to where you want to be, but you’ll never regret making the leap.