The Simple Life

The Simple Life: Property Caretaking While Raising a Family
By Alethea Schaus
Web Exclusive – November 14, 2008 

happy little boyWe are ecstatic.

All of our belongings fit in a 10 foot by 10 foot storage unit. We are striving for a smaller one.

One year ago, we sold our house. Our daughter was nine-months-old and helped me pack by pulling things out of the boxes as I filled them. Often, it made me realize that I didn’t need that particular item after all, and so I would give it away.

We sold the house, traded our two cars for one and began our new life as property caretakers. It has been, so far, a series of serendipitous opportunities, cozy homes and new relationships that reinforce our belief in the ecology of all things.

Of course it also has been a time of hard work: sorting through belongings, sifting out unnecessary encumbrances, packing and unpacking and adapting to new environments that aren’t really ours.

Yet while the homes aren’t ones we’ve designed or built, or even have our furniture or artwork in them, they are homes we’ve chosen carefully, and the variety and newness of their contents is what makes them beautiful to us. The books on the shelves are not our own and invite a different read. Pans and kitchen appliances offer a new cooking experience. Neighborhoods and neighbors are diverse. The direction from which a storm blows, the time that the morning sun arrives at our doorstep, and the minute changes in our ecosystems maintain our fascination in the natural world around us. We are constant travelers and we have no mortgage payment.

As I heard time and time again before giving birth to our children, being a parent is indeed proving to be the most challenging role I’ve played. I am continually amazed. Sure, I have days when I wish I could waltz out the door and do something just for me. But then I stop, slow down and remember what the word “choice” means and how fulfilled those other periods of my life as a solo person have been. It is time to move, with as much of a sense of humor as possible, into a new way of living.

From the moment we became pregnant with our daughter, I wanted to honor this new role for the gift that it is. For me, that meant shifting my focus from my work to nurturing the family more directly. My mate also wanted to honor the importance of the bond between baby and mother in the early years. He also looked forward to changing his work schedule to be more flexible and to be able to take part in childrearing on a daily basis. We talked about this at length before our daughter was born and agreed that I would leave my full-time job for a while and that we would continually explore how to make that work.

Prior to the birth of our daughter, our combined income totaled around $45,000 per year. We projected that our shift to one income would provide a little more than half of that. Looking at the drop in earnings and considering possible scenarios, our priority was to honor the new direction our lives were going to take and to adapt as gracefully as possible.

After our daughter was born, we began noticing how much time and money projects around the house took away from family adventures and relaxation time. While we both loved working on household projects before our daughter was born, that pleasure suddenly became somewhat of a contentious issue. Our activities and responsibilities suddenly seemed out of balance. We decided that something needed to change.

We both began to notice the prevalence of clutter and self-imposed stress in many peoples’ lives. We shared an intense aversion to that path and chose to create something different for ourselves and our family. The overarching principle of being the proactive artists of our lives governed our every conversation.

All of this added up to taking steps to further simplify our lives. This meant reducing our overhead the largest portion of which was our home mortgage and related expenses. We sold our two older cars that were on the brink of costing us more in maintenance and bought one newer, safer and more efficient car. We ruthlessly sorted through our belongings and gave away and sold things we didn’t need. This is an ongoing process as we attempt to be as streamlined and resourceful as possible and to redirect belongings to others who may need them more. Every week it seems I take another bag or two to the second-hand or consignment shop or pass things on to friends and family.

Lifestyle changes such as these are considerable and can be stressful. We chose to maintain a strong support structure during the shift by remaining in the same geographic region we had been living in. My husband’s work and our network of friends and local family remained the same, and most of the infrastructure that we rely on for supplies and basic living did as well. This balance of familiar and fresh has been essential to a sane transition. I have needed to reach out and meet new moms with young children as we’ve moved 40 miles or so, which has also been good for me.

We find that caretaking satisfies several of our yearnings. We have simplified our daily responsibilities and expenses so that we can focus on raising our children at a slower pace. We are choosing a flexible, dynamic, trusting and nurturing environment for our family. By being exposed to different aesthetics, lifestyles, regions, personalities and life views, we hope to walk our talk regarding connection and interdependence and have some grand adventures along the way. We decided to place simple and sustainable living habits high on our list. We continue to care for our environment, no matter where we are or who owns it, and leave every place a little better than we found it. We are practicing surrendering to a different way of doing things in the midst of a harried culture, and this feels like the most important thing we can do at this moment in time.

We nurture new connections and possible caretaking opportunities via several channels. First and foremost, we try to be as present in our current position as possible. We keep an ear to the ground for similar opportunities through current connections and through new ones. I put together a free website that includes our basic information, intentions and a few photos. We subscribe to a publication aimed at folks who care take properties around the world, and we openly talk about what we’re up to with friends and new families we meet.

We have found that embracing a simple life has allowed us to focus on what really matters: family.

Alethea Schaus is a mother of a two-year-old daughter and brand new baby boy. She works as a freelance writer and lives with her family, for the time-being, in northwest Montana.

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