Friday, November 19, 2010

Simplifying with Children

I received an email a few days ago from a blog reader asking me what our children thought of our lifestyle and how they reacted and continue to react to the choices we make each day to not be caught up in the consumer driven society.  She was particularly concerned about how her teenagers might react.

We moved from Massachusetts to Vermont when our oldest was eleven, almost twelve, 5 years ago.  The two years leading up to the move, I had starting talking a lot with my husband about the possibility for a different kind of life, a more deliberate life where our whole existence didn't depend on a 9 - 5 job.  The possibility of connecting with our food and with nature; of using our bodies to build structures and to harvest wood and to work toward our family's economy based on the fruit's of our labors without the constraints of an employer and with the idea of being home-centered.

The children heard this discussion for two years or more.  They travelled with us as we drove to Maine and Vermont looking at land and possible cabins.  We discussed living in a mobile home on land and living primitively until we built up our own homestead.  And even then, we discussed the possibility outhouses and no electricity.  We were ready to make a change.

At the same time, I started making our food from scratch and gardening in our suburban plot and we also removed the television (no cable at least).  We also talked about how nice it would be for Dad to home with the family more.

In the end, we decided to make a slower transition for our children's sake and we rented a home in Vermont for the first year. 

As we had always stressed the importance of family and never were too caught up in lots of outside activities, I think they always had a sense of our priorities - that family was first.

In addition, I started buying less "stuff" for them and started shopping at thrift stores and yard sales and talking to them about the environment and where their "stuff" comes from.

We also talked to them that we felt led by God to move towards this life and that it was ok to be set apart, to be different than most.

When we moved from the village rental in Vermont to leased land in an old mobile home we purchased where electricity wasn't available unless we spent $2,000 (which we didn't want to do since this still wasn't "our" land), we talked about the differences.  At this point, the oldest boys were 13, 11, and 9.  We downsized dramatically.  The children rarely questioned anything.  I think that because Michael (my husband) and I felt in our hearts that we were working towards what was best for our family, the children sense that.  Even without electricity, I can honestly say that there were very few complaints.  I kept a positive spirit and I truly think that is they key, children sense their parent's feelings.

After being in our rustic cottage (with electricity), the children talk postively about our two years without it and of sitting together by lantern light.  In response, we only have one lamp in each room and we use lantern light on our supper table to keep the evenings more naturally lit without too many artificial lights.

Even now when Thomas (now 16, almost 17) walked past me as I was typing this post, he asked me how the business was going and I shared what I was writing about, his response was, "What do you mean?  We have lots of things."   Then he thought about it a bit, and said, "Well, I guess if you go to some of our friends homes and compare what they have to what we have, but... I still think we have plenty."

So, I think the answer is to talk honestly to your older children.  Set goals.  Make sure you feel clear in your heart.  And, make the changes gently and slowly.  Children, no matter what age, look to their parents for guidance.

Warm wishes,


  1. Great post. I think a lot of it has to do with our attitudes and excitement. More is caught than taught...they say.

  2. This is beautiful Tonya. With Christmas coming up and the kiddos filling their wish lists, I have been having more frequent talks about the meaning of the holiday, and also about consuming less stuff. They are only 6. The oldest doesn't ask for much. He has autism and doesn't have much interest in toys, but he does love certain books. Anyway, there were actual tears when I talked to my daughter about plastic and how we try not to consume too much. She is taken in by the dolls she sees in flyers or the ones her friends talk about. That being said she seems to understand and to be adjusting quite quickly. It's a process. I just want them to have a meaningful life and to decrease the amount they are swayed or guided by consumerism. They don't watch commercial tv as it is and I think it helps immensely. I must say I do feel like I am swimming against a very very strong tide. Thanks for your inspiration and for being such a great role model! xo Angela

  3. Tonya,


    We try to live a very simple life..I wash dishes by hand, we have the cheapest cable tv, no cell phones, we limit our water use.

    I wonder why we feel like we are being "mean" to our children if we don't have cable tv if we can't afford it...why are we hurting ourselves with so much debt just to be like other people.

    My daughters 16 and 13 do not question why we eat certain foods or why they don't have what other teenagers have...they have been taught we only have this amount of money and we don't want to use it all. It should be that simple? Right?


  4. I found your post fascinating. We try to simplify our lives but there are compromises we make. As a teenager I lived overseas and we lived without a TV, dishwasher, computers, etc and, sometimes, electricity. It was simpler and a good time. There is a big part of me that still yearns these times. I'm sure the experience will stay with your children.

    My children accept that I prefer little TV time and no computer games. They know the consequence of plastic toys. I like to cook from scratch and I don't give them fizzy drinks. They are learning to counter their school friends' questions and astonishment. Sometimes this is hard from them, but I try and explain to them why we have made these choices. Who knows, maybe they will convince their friends to live a bit more simply.

  5. Thank you for this uplifting and encouraging post. I am a solo parent of a 3 year old, and I recently made the commitment to stay home with him full time. I am struggling to get enough clients to allow me to maintain my current home; however, the reality is that I will likely lose the home I worked so hard to purchase. This change in economic status is frightening to me as a the only adult in a family of two; however, I know that families last and must come first. I'm working on ways to smooth the transition even while I continue to strive to maintain our current situation.

  6. I really love this post! And your boy already seems wise beyond his years thanks to the careful upbringing of your husband and yourself.

    Thanks for sharing and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


  7. I am really loving reading your blog. We have slowly, over the last few years been moving towards living a simple and more self sufficient life. Our children are only little and I do think it is a gift to be able to let them live a life largely free from consumerism. Your words have inspired me to believe that we are on the right track for their future. Thank you.

  8. Lovely post, Tonya. I always appreciate the way you write about your choices and your experience--simply, openly, and generously. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It's so easy to feel like a crazy when you make different choices from friends, family, and peers. Thanks for the dose of perspective today!


  9. This is beautiful, Tonya- you and your beautiful family are such an inspiration to so many others! Thank you for all that you share!

  10. Your son shows by his reaction here just how much you do give that he really values, and that will surely sustain him for the rest of his life.
    Beautiful post - thank you.

    The Interrupted Gardener

  11. You are so right Tonya, and the guidance you give yours is truly very inspiring and lovely.

  12. What wonderful words those must have been for you to hear as a parent!

    I think one of the things I appreciate most was your desire for your husband to be with the family more. Oh, how we long for that, too. Someday . . .

    I just love this post!

  13. Lovely!

    I find many of our friends are seeking a similarly simplified lifestyle, so we have good company, but there are still those who question what we want for our family. My kids are very comfortable with what we're doing, and the older ones, particularly, are comfortable with the idea that we do make a lot of our own fun.

    Some of the "sacrifices" we've chosen to make seem to increase the amount of consideration we practice as a family... for instance, we have to coordinate activities, and sometimes rearrange things to make it work, but that's teaching the kids that consideration and compromise are *normal*.

    I totally agree it all has to do with parental attitude and preparation. Our kids need to be comfortable in the knowledge that we won't leap before we look, that we'll always keep their needs and desires in mind, even if the family adventure is quite different than a "typical" one.

    (The last few months, my nearly-12 son has been talking about getting "at least 20 acres, so each of us kids can have 5 to settle on, and I'll have plenty of room to raise chickens and cows and make cheese and sell eggs when I'm grown. OH, how I want to make that dream happen for my boy!!)

  14. Very inspiring Tonya. I was very surprised to learn that your life now wasn't always your life - and that is only because you are so genuine.

    Peace and love, Nicole

  15. Tonya, this is what I have loved about living on our farm in DR - there are no stores or supermarkets nearby. My husband has to drive a couple of hours every now and then to buy just a few needed goods. Mostly we get all we need from our farm. We do live simply. My children have only seen two malls in their lives and few supermarkets. They were quite amazed when they saw a little boy playing with a remote control car.. and boy did they want one. I asked them if they prefer me sweeping with a broom a singing or pressing a button to a noisy vacum cleaner.. they got the message even though they did want one for a while until we returned to the farm and they forgot all about life in the US! We do occasionally bring few quality wooden toys from there but they have had these over many years. They get few gifts and they have never seen a television!