Whole Life Integration: Tips To Simplify Nearly Everything In Your Productive Home

A reader emailed me this past weekend and in a few sentences got right to the heart of why getting started with productive home- and garden-keeping can be so dang challenging.

Hi Erica,

I’ve been working on getting a garden going and redesigning my life, but the current life really gets in the way.  Lots of reading, lots of failed experiments, but working full + time, plus three kids takes up time that might be otherwise spent productively living an urban homestead life.

Do you have suggestions? I’ve tried some container gardens, but have really failed at getting said kids excited about helping. I recently purchased plants and restarted the container garden of herbs.  I feel like I need to quite the job outright, but financially, it isn’t an option unless we are prepared to declare bankruptcy.

It’s not the work.

It’s not the dirt.

It’s not the weeds or the periodic failures or the never-ending clean up.

It’s sure as hell not the delicious, home-grown meals.

It’s the whole life integration. It’s squeezing together the reality of a modern life – high-tech, fast-paced, bill-driven and glorifying of work-a-holic tendencies, with something different, something homemade, something literally more grounded.

Doing either one or the other, and setting up the daily systems to make either work, is challenging enough. But trying to do both simultaneously? It’s not a simple thing to integrate, and unless you are some kind of superhuman, committing to more jobs than there are hours in the day is generally a recipe for burnout and exhaustion. (Go ahead, ask me how I know this.)

So, what’s a productive homemaker with modern day commitments to do?

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Simplify Expectations

I think this urban homesteader life and the people who boost it (::cough:: me ::cough::) can encourage a kind of all-or-nothing mentality, and that worries me. Ultimately, there are seasons in our life, and sometimes we need to grab the low hanging fruit for a while until the time is right to go put in the orchard.

It’s perfectly okay to compromise on your vision of how you think your life should look, and deal with what you actually have in front of you. In fact, it’s the only sane thing to do.

Growing your own food, preserving it, cooking from scratch and using creativity and thrift instead of a credit card to get what you need takes time. Productive solutions usually take longer – sometimes much longer – than ready-made ones, and sometimes it’s worth it to trade money for time and let someone else make your cheese.

I like being kinda-sorta more self-sufficient than the average U.S. 30-something. But frankly, I don’t want to have to milk my own cow and generate my own heat everyday. I’d much rather pay a farmer and the utility company than figure out how to squeeze rotational grazing and a woodlot onto my one-third of an acre.

"What, you don't tap your own sugar maple? Consumerist shill."

“What, you don’t tap your own sugar maple trees? Consumerist shill.”

The whole point of an economy is to allow people to efficiently trade their time and skills for the product of other people’s time and skills. And that’s a good thing. It’s great that we have options. Don’t get caught up in DIY Guilt for taking advantage of those options, but be smart about how and where you spend for convenience.

Go easy on yourself if the pace of transition isn’t going as you’d like it to go. If you have kids, they are the most important thing you will ever raise – far more important than cabbages or plum trees or backyard chickens.

Even with the advantages of not working (much) outside the home and being pretty experienced and dedicated in this craft, I have eased back on what I feel like I “should do” because 2012 was a pretty rough year for me and I’m still kinda recovering from it in some ways. A year ago I would have considered myself a failure if I bought (instead of making) bread, but now I pick up organic sandwich loaves at Costco pretty routinely. And I don’t feel bad about it, either – right now my kids need me to be sane more than they need exclusively homemade bread.

Simplify Food

I think probably 80% of the productive home impact happens in the kitchen. It is entirely possible to be a productive homekeeper without a yard or garden at all, if you are thoughtful with what you do in the kitchen.

I learned a lot about how to effectively cook a weeks worth of meals in a few hours as a Personal Chef. I use those professional techniques to streamline mealtime at my own house. Here are a few favorite ways of mine to simplify food.

To increase the proportion of home-cooked meals, consider bulk cooking on weekends. Make a menu plan that is flexible and adaptable. My meals plans often look something like this:

  • Turkey Feta Spinach Burgers + Garden Veg
  • Grilled Pork Loin+ Garden Veg
  • Chickpea Soup + Garden Salad
  • Pick-and-choose (built in leftover night)
  • Roast chicken + Potatoes + Garden veg

I plan out the protein and allow the garden to dictate the side. I try not to micromanage myself. YMMV. If you don’t garden, you can let the fresh sheet at the grocery store or the offerings at the farmers market decide what’ll go on the plate.

Once you’ve got your plan, cook off any proteins or starches that will keep and can be easily reheated. Grilled chicken breast or thighs are easy to reheat – a whole roast chicken is not, so that’s “weekend fare”. Season and grill those store-bought organic chicken breasts and a few grass-fed burgers if you eat meat. Get your rice cooker and crock-pot going at the same time.

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Frozen, pre-prepped meatballs and garden broccoli combine for a fast, homemade meal.

If you have a garden, harvest vegetables and prep them en masse. If you don’t have a garden, skip the harvest and prep whatever veg you buy.

Blanch green veggies like snap beans. Cut up peppers and carrots so they are easy to snack on or throw in a pan for a saute. Wash, dry and chop kale or other cooking greens. Wash lettuce, spin it very dry and store it wrapped in a clean towel in an airtight container. In short, turn veggies into ready-to-go salad bar fixings right in your own fridge. Doing this is a great way to eat more vegetables.

Crib fancier “salad bar” ideas from the deli counter of your local Yuppie-Hippie market. My local food co-op has an amazing selection of salads in their ready-to-go case. I love finding inspiration there.

On the way home from work one day stop in at Whole Foods or whatever your closest local equivalent is. Jot down or snap photos of deli salads and other prepared foods that look good to you. Most places will provide you with an ingredient list printout for their deli food if you ask and might even give you a sample. That’s often all it takes to “reverse engineer” prepared foods.

If you have the time and inclination, make a batch of yogurt from store bought milk, bake a few loaves of no knead bread, hard cook a dozen eggs, or make granola, muffins or waffles so that even more homemade meals for your family during busy weekdays are simplified.

On the weekdays, keep meal prep super simple by assembling dinner from your pre-prepared ingredients. If the steak is seared, the romaine is washed and cut up, the dressing is made and the cheese is crumbled, how hard is it to make a big steak and blue cheese salad for dinner? It’s a three minute assembly job – way faster that even drive through.

Simplify Gardening

First of all, you don’t have to. I’m the Gardening Freak Girl and I hereby give you permission to just not garden if it doesn’t float your boat or if the time investment or situation in your life as it is now just doesn’t work.

If you do garden, focus on high-yield, easy to harvest, easy-to-eat vegetables. If you are pretty stressed out with this whole life integration thing, really hold yourself to that most excellent rule of vegetable garden planning: grow what you’ll really eat. This is not the time to get starry-eyed about rare heirloom beet varieties if no one in your house – including you – likes beets.

I’m a big fan of lettuce, cooking greens, beans and peas. They are easy to grow, prolific, and easy to work into a meal without a big fuss. I’ll include summer squash in this category too, if you like it. Depending on where you garden, growing tomatoes and peppers and eggplant might be an exercise in frustration or as easy as falling off a log. Avoid anything too fussy or finicky or with too long a turn around for your area (stuff like melons in Seattle, for example).

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Lettuce is easy to grow and easy to eat, especially if you wash and dry it so it’s ready-to-go.

If you are gardening with kids, check out my recommendations for the best veggies to grow with little ones.

If you have the itch to get something in the ground, I recommend herbs and low-maintenance perennials, especially berries. Herbs are expensive in the store, easy to grow and make food taste better.

If they typically do well in your area, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc. are a great choice. These are perennial crops that kids will want to go pick when they are ripe, which can help when you are trying to include your family in your urban homestead.

Putting in the orchard as soon as possible seems like a good idea, but fruit trees need the most attention, pruning and training early on in those establishing years. So if you aren’t sure about taking on fruit tree training, or you aren’t sure about how long you’ll be living in your current home, skip that project until the phase of your life is more conducive.

Simplify Preserving

Just like gardening – you don’t have to if you don’t want to and try to stick with stuff you’ll eat.

There is no reason you need to grow all your own food to preserve stuff in season. Even with a large garden, I still buy all my bulk canning tomatoes and most of my pickling cucumbers to put up in late summer.

If you have kids who aren’t on board, rather than making every summer weekend a productive home canning spree, take a trip to a pick-your-own farm once or twice in the summer. Load up on local fruits – in this way “productive home” activities can also be sold to family members as “fun field trips.”

You can preserve by canning and jamming (easy, depending on your comfort with the process), drying (easier) or freezing (easiest).

You can always make jam from frozen fruit, so if you think you might want to make jam but the time gets away from you, just pop your berries or peaches or whatever in the freezer and get to the jam when you get to it. Also try my pectin free jam method, which I find far more fun and languid than skimming scum religiously for exactly two minutes, or whatever the pectin box makes you do.

Simplify Uncertainty

Different things help different people sleep easy at night, but I don’t know anyone who would consciously choose more debt and more stuff and doo-dahs as the path to peace. And yet, with our spending choices, this is often exactly what we do.

In our family, we like to have several months of living expenses saved up (my husband is a contract employee, and we want to be able to “ride through” any down time in his employment) and a pantry well stocked in staple foods. Those two things in combination give us a high degree of confidence in our ability to make it through minor-to-moderate life upheavals.

What Are Your Values? Poster

Spending and saving according to your values helps bring it all together.

For info and inspiration on how to build the savings account, I will refer my readers (once again) to my favorite personal finance and frugality site, Mr. Money Mustache. I also recommend periodic No Spend Month challenges to reboot any creeping consumerist tendencies you might have. We will be doing another No Spend Month challenge pretty soon. My consumerism has definitely been showing these past two months.

I’ve got a whole upcoming post planned showing how I stock my pantry, but the short version is: think about what pantry meals your family eats and keep those ingredients on hand. Pretty simple, really. Focus more on flexible whole food ingredients rather than whatever has a coupon this week. Build up over time, focusing on bulk purchases whenever possible for those ingredients that store well.

How hard is whole life integration to you as a productive homekeeper, and what do you do to bring your worlds together?

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Comments

  1. What a timely and valuable post! I am rethinking everything in my life thanks to some health issues that are affecting my energy level and mobility, and struggling with all the “shoulds” that are echoing in my head. I had an epiphany yesterday as I worked to get caught up in the vegetable garden: do I even like broccoli?! And if not, why I am working so hard to grow it? And if so, would it be so bad if I bought it at the market instead?

    I so value your ability to cut through some of the $#@!! and get at what works, what’s sensible, and what’s most important. Thank you!

  2. Samantha M. says:

    Where did you get those great dry goods storage bins in the first photo? I am so looking for bins like that to store my bulk dry goods.

    Like you I try to shop my values, or as I call it voting with my money, I figure the more I spend on the sorts of goods I want the more likely the producers and retailers are to sell what I want. I don’t let perfect get in the way of good and buy the best choice I can at the time and don’t beat myself up about it. If it’s not perfect one day, if my spinach all bolts, I buy some more, organic if I can, at the farmers market but if it’s questionable stuff from the supermarket because it’s a tight month or I happen to be there then that’s alright too my family is still eating pretty damn well.

    • If you’re in the Seattle area, cash & carry.

    • Those bins are Rubbermaid’s Commercial line storage bins. They are awesome and probably the most space-efficient containers I have save the square commercial Cambro bins (but I prefer the Rubbermaid shown here for several reasons). I’ve had the ones in this picture for over 12 years, back when I started catering, and I’ve never had one crack or break. I’ve even stood on them as a sort of make-shift step stool (not recommended, but both the bin and I are still here to tell the tale). You can get them, generally, at restaurant supply stores, Cash & Carry, or Business Costco, if you have one near you. Amazon also carries them (http://amzn.to/13sc1MK) but be careful because often the lids are sold with seperately.

  3. Sarah Z says:

    Great post, thank you! I struggle with this as a stay at home mom with kids 2.5 and 11mo. It feels hard to get anything done these days. I always have big plans for productivity on the weekend when my husband is home to help with the kids, but then the weekends get taken up with projects he has had on hold, or *gasp* recreation! Last weekend I bought a whole mess of strawberries at the farmers market because I just HAD to make jam, oh and homemade strawberry ice cream, too, but the jam turned into just another thing on the to do list that was stressing me out. It is now known as “the damn jam”. The “damn jam” will taste damn good this winter, and the ice cream has been divine in this warm weather, but still, like I need more things to do. I know that as canning season gets into full swing, I will experience feelings of inadequacy since I am just not on top of the whole canning thing, but I need to just let it go. I have an awesome garden that is manageable for me right now, the kids can pick berries in the yard, and that should be good enough.

  4. Shannon says:

    Balance. Such a beautiful, frustrating, wistful word that conjures up the image of a poised woman with a large, earthenware vase atop her head, or another doing intricate yoga poses that defy gravity. While I envy such grace, I know my limits and understand that the vase would crash down upon me within five steps, crushing my foot and rendering me useless. Or that I’d topple over doing yoga, taking out the unfortunate people around me who have somehow perfected their stance only to have me do them in.

    Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing your current capabilities while striving to become more proficient in other areas. We are constantly learning and training, so we continue to evolve. Getting there eventually is great, but the journey itself is an important part of the process.

    In the meantime, finding the balance between where you are and where you want to be is essential or you won’t know the happiness that comes in the one, brief moment where your dreams and your reality both seem within your poised, centered reach.

  5. We are preparing to host a permaculture class at our suburban homestead this weekend. People are always inspired and excited to go home and try this stuff themselves, but then quickly realize that their life isn’t set up for it. It’s a real downer. As a full-time homesteader, I have been trying to come up with concrete ways to be gentle on yourself in this transition process, as examples to share with the class. Thank you, Erica, for your well-thought-out examples!

  6. Awesome post. Thanks for putting it all into perspective. Doing as much as I can, when I can on our under 1/2 acre is working well for me. Our garden is going extremely well and we really don’t buy much produce any more. But as much as I’d like to do more, I’m trying to accept my limitations—I know chickens aren’t going to work out well for us because I travel too much for work. Hopefully a neighbor or friend will get some and I can trade produce for eggs.

  7. Lovely, wise advice.

  8. Here’s an easy way to cook for several meals: first meal, roast a chicken. Eat what you want the first night. Depending on how many people you are feeding, you will have more or less leftover meat. (If you have a crowd, cook two!) Keep the bones and leftovers and pan juices in the pan and refrigerate.

    Next day, use the left over meat – chicken pot pie, chicken salad, anything else you would use already-cooked chicken for. At the same time, throw the bones, pan juices, skin, etc. into a pot with water, carrots, onions, celery and herbs, and let it all cook for a couple hours to make the best stock you’ve ever had. (If you don’t have all those veggies, use what you have. If they are old and wilty, so much the better to use them up.) Put the stock in the fridge or freezer when you’ve decided it’s cooked enough.

    Next day, or whenever you want stock, use the stock. Now you can make a whole other meal – risotto, soup, etc. Viola! Three meals out of one chicken!

    • I love seeing how far I can stretch one chicken out for! Yes, it can be at least three, or sometimes four, meals. To simplify stock making I keep a bag in the top of the freezer that I throw all my suitable veggie scraps into. Tops of celery and leek bunches, onion skins and even carrot tops and peelings. Just no brassicas or potatoes (although I haven’t really experimented with these so may be okay). It is amazing how quickly it adds up and is just delicious in stock. Oh, and any mushroom bits make it sublime. Don’t buy stupid pre-packaged stock packs again.

    • Just saw the stock in Kathy’s post. this year I decided to try making my stock in a crock pot…its awesome…after we finish roasted chicken I chop the bones up a bit…apparently the marrow is good for you. Dump in some veggies and put it on low until the next morning. I son’t know why I never thought of it sooner. I have 5 kids and sometimes my brain just forgets that I have stuff on the stove. I have never caused a kitchen fire yet…but it could have happened. Anyways just a tidbit of help..I get enough to fill 4 mason jars, same as when I do our yogurt.

  9. cptacek says:

    My problem is…I work full time, I have an hour commute each way, and I sit at a computer all day. If I stay in the house when I get home, I’ll probably take a nap. So my two year old and I go outside to take care of the chickens and garden and just hang out outside. My husband is a farmer, so he doesn’t get home till dark:30. Yes, that is really a time. Work until dark, drive home, dark:30. In the summer that is 9:30 or so. We all go inside, then it’s “what’s for supper?” we ask each other. We tend to eat 11:00 p.m. OR LATER. Dishes aren’t done, floor is gross, clutter everywhere. I would rather be outside. (or on the internet. that is another excuse) I get the laundry done because I can hang it outside, and I have started sorting it on the line, taking hangers out there to hang up the clothes, fold the other stuff outside right off the line, then at least when I get in with the basket, I can put it away right away, else it stays right in the basket. Long story short: I’m a terrible housekeeper/cook and would rather garden. Any cure for that?

    • Well… It’s not a cure for being a “terrible housekeeper/cook”, but:

      In summer (or any time when it’s warm enough to be outdoors for a couple of hours) cook everything on the barbicue and/or eat a lot of raw food. (Or maybe set up a couple of hot plates outdoors, if you have an exterior electrical outlet?)

      Use couscous (instead of, like, rice or quinoa or whatever) because it cooks in two minutes, in a bowl with kettle-boiled water poured over it).

      Make a lot of big salads and tagines and similar that involve one big dish (but not necessarily any lettuce) and bean dips (food processor + tin of (drained and rinsed) chickpeas/white kidney beans/whatever + garlic, herbs, and a little olive oil) and other stuff that you can serve in large, communal bowls. Serve with pita/naan and don’t bother with plates.

      Take 20 minutes on a weekend and hard-boil a dozen eggs (or more – depends how much you like them). Keep them in the fridge and use them up over the course of the week. You can peel them outside and dice them into the above-mentioned salads.

      Do like you do with the laundry, and prep “snack veggies” (whatever those are, based on your garden) outdoors – hose off and chop cellery or carrots or radishes or snap beans or baby tomatoes or what-have-you – and then just bring them inside and chuck them in tupperwares of water in the fridge, right away.

      Buy yoghurt and boconccini balls (those little balls of cheese that come in a tupperware in the dairy section?) and tinned tuna/salmon and other protein-a-riffic stuff that basically requires no prep. It’s is fast, cheap (well, maybe not the cheese), and easy to throw into a largely raw outdoor meal, so that you can rely on your garden for the Very Significant veggie portion of the meal.

      Na’an freezes and can be thawed on the patio table for hours while you garden (or toasted-from-frozen on the BBQ, though I’m not sure how well that works). Berries, in particular, are really easy to quick-freeze and can be chucked, still-frozen, into yoghurt or salads or whatever you happen to want. Veggies blanch and freeze easily. Bacon cooks really fast from frozen.

      That’s all I’ve got.
      Meliad.

  10. Man, we could use some simplifying around here right now, but we’ve already committed ourselves to a huge garden and 25 new chicks, plus all of the usual stuff. None of that would be unrealistic, except for the one-year-old who is not as easy to manage as we’d hoped. My advice (which I don’t follow, and don’t really expect anyone else to) is to anticipate major life changes (like a baby) will suck up a lot of your energy, and pare back your other commitments to fit.

  11. I was just thinking about all this and how hard it is to integrate changes into a busy life! Thanks for writing it out so clearly and giving some helpful ideas! It is always comforting to hear that it’s not easy for others as well, though definitely something to strive for.

  12. Thanks for the great suggestions. I always learn a thing or two from your posts. It was gratifying to read your assessment that 80% of productive home impact happens in the kitchen. I agree even though it sometimes seems like I never LEAVE the kitchen.

    Recently I spent a couple of days with a fellow homesteader who also has experience in food preparation. She makes as large a batch of food as her harvest allows (i.e. large potato salad, pickled beets, fermented cabbage) and puts them all out on the table for people to assemble meals. I found this liberating as I always seems to think in terms of traditional meals with a main dish and coordinating sides. In my case, I’m still utilizing the farmer’s market extensively but this same concept could be applied to produce that is most in season/least expensive.

    On a separate note, if you have not yet read The Radical Homemaker by Shannon Hayes, I would highly recommend it.

    • Yes! The perpetual picnic is a great way to go! :-D
      I tend to just do one-dish giant salads these days – variations on Salad Nicoise that I can throw together with what’s in the fridge and then mix with a really quick-cooking (and quick-chilling) pasta for, well, carbs/filler. Good for deep summer, and also limits the amount of dishes that get dirtied in the process. :-)

  13. Tom Innes says:

    Yes, its the dilemma of living within a culture or system that works and thinks one way whilst trying to go against it. The truth is it is not easy to live differently. Things are set up to work a certain way. My wife and I talk often about living two parallel lives. That is how it feels. You have to satisfy one before you can do the other. There is no easy answer, but I would say a couple of things. First, if you are a couple you need to be on the same page or it is very stressful. Secondly, small steps, BUT after each step start on the next one. You never actually “arrive”, but each step feels great and helps you take the next. You also get to a point where things start to snowball. That is, the various things you are doing start to feed in to each other and become very effective. (Eg, keeping chickens, gardening, composting, and using a compost toilet). Next, finance. We use a spreadsheet for a running cash flow. Our steps and planning are integrated into the spreadsheet. When things seem slow or like they are not or cannot happen we can look back at what we have done and ahead at what we are planning. That helps. Finally, find some like-minded people. On-line is good. Real neighbours are even better. Even two families is great, and you can specialise a bit. (E.g., we are putting in a large rainwater harvesting system, while our neighbours are doing a glasshouse.)

    So there you are, a few thoughts from the South island of New Zealand.

  14. You have no idea how much I needed this article right now. Thank you! I have a very bad habit of over doing my to do list and projects. I am against GMOs so its very hard for me to find something I feel good about buying from the grocery.

  15. Thanks very much for this. The other thing that helps me, a full-time outside the house working, widowed, mother of a 6yr old, is to remember that I enjoy this stuff. My vegetable garden is not as big and ambitious as it used to be, but it still is, right in the front yard, so I go past it at least four times a day. And it makes me happy. Sitting on the front porch aiming the hose at the peas and broccoli for a few minutes most nights after dinner while my son climbs the front yard tree and drinking a cup of tea or a glass of wine is relaxing. If the neighbors stop by, as they often do, better. And knowing that my child thinks nothing of wondering outside to get blueberries for breakfast or snack on raw broccoli makes me. . .happy. Happier than watching TV or whatever for an hour after dinner.

  16. You said: “I think probably 80% of the productive home impact happens in the kitchen.”

    Absolutely.
    I’m a renter, so I can’t change much in terms of how to keep my costs down on our utilities-included apartment or our pay-per-load in-building washers and dryers. But I can do a *lot* in my (cluttered, messy, inefficiently-designed) kitchen. I do a fair bit of urban foraging (the city’s current favourite tree is Serviceberries, which means I spent the first week or so of July putting up litre after litre of frozen berries, jam, and chutney using free-for-the-picking fruit that I harvested from public street corners, bike-path veges, and city parks), so some of that change happens further out in the neighbourhood. But yeah. Mostly? My oven/stove (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, my fridge/freezer) is where the lion’s share of my at-home productivity/frugality happens.

    Right now, there’s a LOT of compromise in terms of expectations. My expectation/vision/dream/goal is a large (or at least “large enough”) garden with a couple of fruit trees, a well-organized and easily-accessible pantry full of home-preserves (that we actually eat – mostly this is already the case – YAY), a chest-freezer full of half a pig plus a lot of garden-grown frozen berries and veggies, laundry drying on the line, and (hopefully) a dish-washing machine and some really efficient storage in the kitchen. The reality is… not even close. I’ve just about got this “bake all our bread” and “make a lot of meals from scratch, with left-overs for lunches” and “have a good, useful pantry full of stuff we actually eat” down, though. So that’s good, as far as I’m concerned.

    TTFN,
    Meliad..

  17. I recently discovered your blog while browsing some subject or other. Love how relevant your posts feel to me, despite what must be at least 30 years’ difference in our ages. I don’t have little kids in my life anymore, but your personal insights on life and laser focus on sustainable and creative gardening, cooking and home keeping are spot on, crisply delivered and have down-to-earth balance. It’s icing on the cake that we are practically neighbors, making your gardening escapades that much more applicable to my own.

    The sensitive reply to a reader’s angst over shaping life and activities to fit her values was dead on, as usual. While each of us has a unique set of circumstances, most of our issues are not, and there are lessons and ideas everywhere to pick and choose from in the lifelong journey to align our lifestyle to fit our own (always shifting) priorities. It’s about getting clear about what you want/need and trying things out to see what works. Give yourself permission to let go of what doesn’t work for you. It’s okay (and normal) to fail, start over, tweak around the edges, fall apart or whatever, until you get the right fit. With age comes the realization that we evolve, things change, and one size doesn’t fit all. If you don’t like your life today, get over it: you’ve got the rest of your life to fix it.

    Happiness comes in many forms. Sometimes we just have to slow down long enough to be in the moment that allows us to relish what’s right in our life instead of beating ourselves up because we’re not more like someone else. One of the many things I admire about your posts is the unabashed acknowledgement of your own imperfections and failures and the optimism that seems to propel you through daily life. Thanks for giving your readers a window into it, with many tidbits to apply and adapt to our own definition of joy.

  18. I’m checking out that Mr. Money Mustache site! As a counselor my slow time is right now through the start of school (vit d = no need for counseling) so I’m always looking for ways to cut back and slim down our spending!

    Great post, lady. I got a lot out of this. Thanks!

  19. Excellent post!
    All too often I get upset with myself because I just can’t get it all done — and then someone will (hopefully) come along and remind me that making my own meals is a pretty radical act itself, let alone all the other bits I do manage to accomplish.
    I love this post because it gives us “permission” (of sorts) to find the grey area that works for now. We’ve just added one thing at a time, slowly over several years, slowly weaning me off of employment. For us, making one change at a time make the “transition” into one-income-gardening-cooking-DIYers manageable and even a little exciting.
    Thanks, again, for your realism and practicality!

  20. 99% of home impact happens in the bedroom.
    Contraception is the best thing you can do for the environment.

  21. Hi Erica,

    This whole post is wonderfully helpful and I thank you for it. I especially want to thank you for introducing me to Mr. Money Mustache. I’ve been reading his site like crazy since clicking on your link. I’m completely inspired and motivated and feel a sense of hope and optimism about finances (but kinda sorta everything?) now. So thank you very much!

  22. Great post. Thanks. I’m a full time grad student, married to a full time soon-to-be graduating student. We have a young son, and I’m a T.A. We take advantage of this wonderful community garden some neighbors set up on their property. This is exciting for us apartment dwellers. But, just before reading this post, we were beating ourselves up because we only watered our plot once this week. The plants look fine, are flowering, and doing their plant thing. But… “we didn’t water! We should just not do the garden next year…right?” Your post helped bring us back to earth. Literally. As long as the plants are thriving, and more importantly as long as our family is thriving, with what we’re doing, then I suppose we’re moving in the right direction. I finally ventured out from jams this year and started canning savory pantry items. My family loves it. It’s hard to fit canning in between writing 30 page papers and grading midterm exams. But watching my wife and son go through a whole batch of dilly beans with smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts is just ….so rewarding. Your readers’ advice is as helpful as your own. Balance is key. Do what you can (pun intended). Keep adding steps as you can. Enjoy life. Not always easy, but pretty straightforward. Thank you all.

  23. Hi Erica. Can it be three weeks since I sent you that email? Thanks for the post. I realize right now that I need to start at getting my family on board in the first place. Or figure out what my own next step is to living my own values.

    I hope you don’t mind if I linked to you? It just makes it easier to find your website…but if you prefer I don’t, I will remove it.

    Thanks, Julia

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