Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Country of Excess

We are heading home today.  Many of the children are asking to go home now and I am ready, oh so ready to go home.  I have been observing much of my surroundings and people on this trip and thinking about how our small life back home in northern Vermont is just so different from what I have observed here.

I know there is poverty, I read about the statistics, that nearly 25% of American children live in poverty.  However, as I observe life around me in the more crowded populated area of eastern Massachusetts, I am struck over and over again of those living with excess.  The fancy cars, clothing, hand held devices, jewelry, accessories.... As the cars go zooming past my father's house, I wonder what job they are going to and when they will return home in the evening.

This visit has been a series of affirmations for me, things I have known in my heart, yet had still worried about and questioned.  More than ever I am confident that my children are  not missing out.  That they are not sheltered.  That they don't see this excess on a daily basis can only be a good thing so that they don't take this way of living as the normal state of life.  

No, there is nothing here in eastern Massachusetts that they "need".  Our simple lifestyle back home is giving them what they do need - relationships with family and neighbors and the time to create, learn, and play in a lifestyle less encumbered by the excesses.  


  1. I so agree! My husband and I often discuss this very thing! We feel our children are so much happier and more creative (and healthier!), because they are not handed the latest gadget every time a new one comes out. Our relationships with our family and friends are so much more important than anything money could possibly buy.

  2. Attested to by the fact that they want to go home.

    Yes, keep up the work you are doing with your children. The world will be a better place and maybe they can pass on what they learn when they grow up and start weaving their own tapestries of life.

    Hugs and blessings

  3. So true! That is one thing I told my husband when he went to grad school--I'd rather live in a crappy apartment and have you home at 5pm and not work on the weekends than live in a big house with two cars and never see you. Family is so important and your kids will always know that!

  4. So true Tonya, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts:) Your newsletter arrived today, I cannot wait to read it tonight:)
    xo Linda

  5. Well said. Thank you for sharing! Even in Vermont, I feel that there is a lot of excess that we see on a daily basis. I made the mistake of going to the mall in Burlington on Sunday. I felt like I needed a cleanse afterwards, so I can imagine you're feeling the same way now.

  6. I find this to be a bit overgeneralizing...Yes, you are absolutely doing the correct thing in raising your children, and I applaud your choices. But those of us who live in *affluent* areas are not all gadget-holding, jewelry wearing, fancy car-driving, thoughtless goobers attached only to the material things in life. And guess what - there is poverty here, you just chose not to see it. I can't help but feel a bit put-down by this post.

  7. Kim, I feel strange after I go to the mall too! There really is so much material excess in our current society--of course not everyone seeks after this, but a lot of people do, and it's sad. It's such an empty thing to pursue.

    I'd much, much rather be poor and spend lots of time with my family that work all the time to acquire "stuff." In fact, I can't help but feel blessed right now that my husband is unemployed because we're spending so much time together, working on our craft business. This activity isn't very profitable, but it's real quality time. :)

  8. When you have been given so many choices in life, you tend to become overwhelmed with what is out there.

    I applaud your lifestyle Tonya, it is one that I live here in the mountains. If it is good for your family and you are seeing your family thrive under this wonderful change, then it is grand.

    Every time one steps out of our comfort zone, we become more determined in our choices, because in a way, it affirms our decisions as good ones.

    I am glad that you are returning and that it has been a learning experience for you and your family.


  9. My best friend bought a house on the outskirts of a "bedroom" community; her area was not at all built up. When I returned to visit her after 2 years, I was shocked at what I saw: cookie-cutter houses with postage stamp lawns, "backyards" elbow to elbow with the neighbours' yards, and the CARS! SUVs x 2 or 3 parked in every driveway, where the garages seemed larger than the house. I thought I was going insane. But alas...this seems to be the way of the "future", where only 25% of North America's population lives rurally (50 years ago, it was 75%)...I see us simple-living folk as nouveau pioneers...bringing the old into new perspective, making it make sense in our modern world. Hooray!

  10. How you are living and raising kids is just right. It is a lesson my hubby and I learned a little late. Kids are mostly grown, and needing to wait till housing prices change so we can downsize. But that is not stopping us from living as simple as we can now. Keeping up with the Jones is never a good thing, so be confident in the values you are instilling in your children.

  11. I love taking a peek at bits of your life through your blog. My children go to a wonderful public school, but you should see how excess is just in the culture. I find myself talking to them frequently about needs, consumerism and materialism (at their level of course). Mostly I include them in trying to lead a creative and simplified life and hope it rubs off. I see signs that it might be!
    Kudos to you for raising a wonderful family and sticking to your beliefs and being mindful. Too much consumption can consume us all. Peace, Angela

  12. The simple life is such a gift.

    Have you stumbled across "Happy Are You Poor" by Fr. Thomas Dubay? It's a wonderful book about poverty and spiritual freedom, and at least for my husband and I, that is what all this frugality boils down to. We can make an idol out of anything, even simple living, so we need to be so careful that it isn't an end in itself, but that it is something that leads us to a more important goal.

    For us it has been all about family togetherness, and finding joy in people and not in things. I agree with my homesteadgirl friend...we are on the cutting edge even in our small towns. Getting back to what life is really about has been such a gift to this former big-city girl!

  13. It is so lovely that you know your heart and your values. And yes, your children will benefit tremendously from that.

    Where i live in this small beachside community (next door to one of the most expensive-excessive zipcodes in the world) there are folks trying to live a lifestyle where Waldorf is taught, and food is bought from CSA's (or grown in small home gardens) creativity blossoms...

    I guess what I'm trying to say, the hope and intention is the same, to live a natural, simple family centered lifestyle, no matter where it is we call home.

    I'm sorry it took me so long to tell you, I LOVE everything i've ordered from your etsy shop. They are all little treasures to me.


  14. I don't feel people are living excessive lives because they *choose* to have large and nice homes, fancy cars , jewelry and gadgets. My sisters live where you just were and I guess by your observations their lives would appear to be excessive, but they are passionate about the work they do and were educated for just like I am passionate about my hobby farm. They drive fancy cars, a fruit of the labor they perform. My car is an 8 year old Suburban not a new Lexus, but if I was one to appreciate a well made car like my husband, I may purchase one if I could afford it. Does that make one excessive? I also like the jewelry I have been gifted and wear it when I can and probably will buy more , if I like it and can afford it. Simplicity and excess is different to everyone. I have family and friends who feel that stopping by the bakery for a fresh loaf of bread or getting a rotissiere chicken at the market is simplifying, who am I to judge that is not simplicity *for their lives*. I find baking bread and cooking therapeutic and it is simpler for me to cook than to run to the market. I have found myself a bit too judgemental on those not embracing greener more sustainable living. I need to stop that and step back and remember that each family is doing the best they feel for their family and circumstances and we are not all going to look alike and think alike. I say this most respectfully Tonya, because your choices and mine are quite similiar, but not everyone feels a passion for the earth and cutting down on consumerism and such, their passions are just elsewhere. And like I said, who am I to judge them?

  15. YES, yes, Tonya!
    It is good to have these affirmations, even when deep in your heart you know what you are doing is right for your children. Sometimes we need a reminder to lift us back up and help us keep going- because this path can feel difficult at times, when the rest of our society is choosing such a different one! And others are watching and placing judgement at times! I sometimes worry my children are doing without- and it is our hope to be giving them so much more, though what they have isn't necessarily as obvious as material things others may have. When I see what you have seen this weekend our choices are also re-affirmed and I am lifted up as you have been.
    <3 hugs

  16. Whenever we head south we always find ourselves sharing this point of view. The tension that builds as a result of the hectic pace of more populated areas is always eased the moment we reach the Maine border.

    I guess I look at this lifestyle as one where many folks do not know that they have a choice beyond getting lost in the consumerism. The drive to always be connected to some device means there is no moment for many folks to find stillness. The consumerism is often purchased on credit which the current economic times can leave a family working on slim margins when a job gets lost. Families don't share dinner. We given up our most precious commodity,time, in exchange for things. I think this a real sickness in our culture.

    Living simply is buying into the idea,;not buying a thing, that you do not need to have a Lexus to have a fulfilling life. Things do not make connections people do.

  17. This dialogue reminds me of this story:


  18. Hi Tonya,
    This is my first time posting a comment to your blog. I just wanted to add that, like you, my husband and I downsized over 10 years ago for our family's benefit. Although we've had our ups and downs along the way, it's been a wonderful, positive journey. I too, visited an urban area on the east coast last spring, and was quite overwhelmed. I think for me, and my husband and children, it was just a case of living a quiet life for so long. But I do agree with you, there does seem to be a lot of excess today.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and heart.
    Peace and blessings,

  19. I had the pleasure of meeting with Tonya while she was in eastern MA. I live in one of those towns with lots of 3 car garages, large houses that are mostly empty during the working hours, and kids who may live nearby but are not outside enjoying their neighborhood becasue they are enrolled in after school activities or what have you. Her kids and mine got along great as always (they have known each other for years but only see each other sporadically -- they mainly keep in touch by email.) Tonya's family may live simply but they are aware of the real world and I don't think she meant to sound judgmental in any way.

    As Maria said, when you step outside your comfort zone, your choices can be reaffirmed. And this did happen, I think, for Tonya. We talked about how different our lives are yet how similar in so many ways as well. I don't think I would be as happy as Tonya is if I lived in as rural an area she is in, and I don't feel judged by her. I could go on but really, we are lucky that there are choices in this world, or at least for many of us, and the lucky ones find out how to make their lives work for them.


  20. i echo your sentiments. most often, i think, these "things" and the lifestyle to get these "things" are encumbrances (is that how I spell it, gosh, must be my pregnant brain :)... people often, i think, live to work and work to live to achieve a vision set out in their head (much like a modern fairytale wedding, which so often people don't even remember as it was a stressful event). children most often come last. and the simplicity of life - nature, sharing family meals, singing, making music, building towers and making art... there is no time left for these things. the first step for us was not replacing our broken TV, then we had our daughter and everything changed... and now I can't ever imagine not feeling this way.

  21. You are so right! Its ironic, I have been thinking the same thing lately, about how lucky we are to live in a place where we truly do have a lot of freedom and joy. We looked at properties in parts of America just out of curiosity becasue of the drop in the dollar and we couldnt believe how many units, apartments and condos we looked at in areas close to the beach, and how poulated the area was. It made us realise how lucky we are to live in a place where we have so much untouched land and beach around us and how our children get to grow up in such a wonderful environment.

  22. While it's true that we each have a choice, it is also true that God would not want us to sacrifice relationships (as that is the business He is in) for keeping up with the Jone's. I think that is where the consumerism in excess goes haywire. There are those that feel that if they just have the next latest and greatest thing that it will improve their relationships. It just doesn't work that way. That is not what life is about.

    Tonya, love your blog, your lifestyle and ours is very similar, and I pray that you continue to live your convictions and be an inspiration to the rest of us :-)

  23. You said it sister! It all boils down to family and home and we are blessed with both.

    Namaste, Nicole

  24. You know...every time I go to an urban centre, I just SO appreciate it here in the country. I know this life isn't for everyone, but it just reaffirms to me that I'm indeed a country girl at heart. I don't think your post was judgemental at all...city life is a real eye opener to us simple lovin' country folk. I know for me, I hate the city, but when I go I always have a fleeting moment of doubt...there are so many possibilities in urban spaces...you wonder if the kids are missing out by living "in the sticks"!
    However, then the excess can be overwhelming to "simplicity seekers"...the city grows visit by visit...it's just a quick glimpse. We all know amazing things also happen in our urban areas, however, it's often not what you see in a quick visit.
    It's always good to get that glimpse of reaffirmation...knowing that doing what you do is right for you and your family. I admire your lifestyle immensely...it helps to give ME some reaffirmation!

    Loads of love...I'm hearing you breathe that sigh of relief upon your return home!
    xo maureen
    ps...the lovely little gnomes arrived today! I'm putting them away for Christmas...the girls will LOVE them!

  25. Welcome home, Tonya! I feel for you, because my husband and I often feel that way upon returning from a visit to an urban centre. This is a rare event, as we are true homebodies. As soon as we enter the freeway into the city, my breathing becomes shallower and I have a slight tense feel throughout my body. Perhaps it's not the individual excess as much as it is the collective excess, the cultural excess. I, too, want to protect my children from all this, too. I want them to appreciate the simplicity of a handmade gift over an i-phone (have you noticed that a lot of 6 year olds use those things!?!) I want them to continue to watch the wildlife through the window that my son really believes is a tv. I want them to take cookies to Molly across the road because she's 87 years old and still splitting her own wood! (Really!) And while the city can be a diversion, I'll choose this little piece of slow, rural life any old time. It allows me to focus better on the most important things...starting a fire in the early morning so our house can warm up, baking bread to feed my family and without breaking the bank, making simple crafts and clothing from repurposed materials, and especially, focusing on these three precious loves of mine!
    Thank you, Tonya. A post that I understand from the bottom of my heart.
    xo Jules

  26. I live in eastern Massachusetts, living simply on our small farm.

    I know the feeling you feel. And it's the *keep up with the Joneses* and *bigger is better* mentality that has a hold on so much of mainstream society.

    I also think people get caught up in it all...the stuff, the *scheduled to the max* lives, that they honestly don't realize they DO have a choice, that there IS another way to live, and that one doesn't need all that to be truly happy and to be successful.

    Being in tune with nature, tapping into your creativity, getting to know and love yourself, and fostering the best relationships you possibly can with your children and family are
    what really matters.

    And asking yourselves...am I happy...is my child happy? And if not, go about taking small steps to bring more joy and harmony into your lives.

    happy day!

  27. The one thing that all these entries, positive and negative, say to me is that we all determine our level of comfort and "simplicity." It is a complex concept, simplicity, isn't it? Perhaps a more honest term is "authentically." The question is actually are we authentic in our lives? Are we living our lives with the values WE have and not others.

    For me, simplicity is living on my little farm with my goats and fiber, eating what we raise. Yet, for another, simplicity is living in a condo and having the freedom of travel so that they might either give or learn more about other cultures.

    That being said, I feel the same way when I return home from Concord, MA, after three weeks. I love the village and the houses and all. But, I miss my solitude and quiet. I miss my food. I miss my house and stuff that I enjoy. I miss playing in the dirt.

    It is all relative, isn't it?

    Welcome home!



  28. Most of my husband's family and mine, live in the Australian burbs. We've been through the transition period, during our decade of travelling to visit family in the city too. But every year it seemed there was less and less of us attached to the burbs.

    One day we simply realised we hated travelling to those far away places. So we stopped going all together.

    I know what you're talking about however; those niggling feelings. You start to listen to relatives who, meaning well, think you'd be better off returning to what they know as normal. You heed the words of old friends, who thought people locked in their comfort zones were cutting themselves off from reality.

    Niggle-niggle...maybe there is something wrong with me?

    It took us a good decade to ween ourselves off those doubts - those destructive self-doubts. Basically we chose to listen to the opinions of others, over our own life experiences. We did, until we realised what we were doing was real and tangible to us.

    In many ways, each day is still a test to our resolve. Because what we're doing is neither normal or without question. It's very much the pioneering spirit. You've got to accept it for what it is, or you don't get to blaze the trail you really want to go down. :)

  29. It was wonderful to see you and your family last Friday. Everyone was happy, healthy and enthusiatic. I am thankful to witness the growth of your heartfelt endeavor to self sufficency and simplicity during the past few years. I would love to be living in the rural countryside, but God has planted me elsewhere. In contrast to our possessions our moral convictions trusting God and true values that we abide by in our hearts are what stand the test of time. The legacy of our family is our treasure. The many families in need throughout our world, especially the children, are our mission to help and do God's work. I hope to make my way to VT and visit your lovely home. June.

  30. I am thankful for the post AND the comments that followed! I agree that we must live according to our values and priorities and gifts... I feel sure that The Lord led me to this quiet rural lifestyle, so that I might share it with others... My relatives live in the big city and feel called to share their talents and support their communities in different ways. They drive hybrids, I drive a farm use gas guzzler... We all do what we can in our own ways!

  31. How wonderful - it's fantastic to get to the place where you can gratefully walk away from all the excess! Blessings to you and yours.

  32. This is a great post and it is good to see there are many viewpoints on the subject.

    Yesterday, a neighbor and I were talking about Christmas gifts. She told her son to get his list early because what he wants is not cheap. She said gifts for the child run into about $1K, but she tries to keep it less.

    It makes me sad that people can't say a simple 'no' to a child when they expect expensive gifts and watch them throw tantrums to get it. I grew up on 'no' and 'we can't afford it'. I've turned out OK. It's truly what we teach our children that makes them the way they are.

    I'm grateful to my parents for giving me what I had. Looking back...I had too much.

    God and Family are most important.

    Good luck to all.