DOWN-SIZING AND SIMPLIFYING MY LIFE:
FINDING THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE
At midlife, I had been building and launching both my family and my career for over 20 years. Yet I reached a point where I couldn’t pay my bills or bond with my family. I was stressed out from trying to make ends meet. My business supported ten employees and counselors, but during its last two years, our monthly expenses were 25% more than our income, so we went under. When I had fulfilled all my obligations, I went to solo practice, cut my office rent down 80%, and by letting my website tell people about me, I cut my payroll to zero.
At the same time, our three children were all disengaging from us faster than we were ready to let go. Their mother and I weren’t seeing eye-to-eye about the business, finances, parenting, or the marriage itself. We went to hundreds of hours of counseling to solve these problems, but my wife filed for divorce and found another man. I moved out of our four-bedroom home in town with my office in back, and I moved into my “doghouse,” a three-room cabin in the woods.
I had been exhausting my immune system by beating my head against a wall trying to make my wife give me love I couldn’t give myself. I believe those years of frustration and exhaustion gave me cancer. Before I had it cut out of my prostate (and it’s been all gone for fifteen years, thank God), I let it teach me to live one day at a time. That’s all we’ve got, really. Only in the desert could I learn that until God was all I had, I couldn’t realize God was all I needed. . . .
Healing and Healthiness Now
Meanwhile, a friend of the family in Florida was being forced to simplify too. After raising her children in suburbia, my sister’s school-teacher friend Stephanie realized that the best years of her life had been the ones she had lived in Shelbyville. On a visit back here to my sister, with both of us divorced and not wanting to date, it was great to talk with a woman I assumed was unavailable. But it turned out she loved the doghouse at first sight, and soon grew fond of the dog, so this puppy fell in love.
We took our time getting married, and didn’t move in together beforehand. This allowed our financially weaned children to embrace each other naturally, which they did. A few years after we married, we added a one-room guest cabin for our visiting friends and children to stay in, but we like our three rooms just fine for us, and for our grandchildren when they come. No attic or storage shed in town, so we keep the house picked up.
Now sixteen years later at ages 65 and 72, we love it out here now more than ever. We wouldn’t trade this place for any mansion in any town or city. I just have a 35-minute drive to either my Lexington or my Louisville office, which leaves us with lots of time to enjoy life. We feel we are rich in having everything we want. The key to our newfound wealth has been bringing demand in line with supply, not vice-versa.
To be satisfied with less, we’ve had to realize that less is more. More what? It’s more of the best things in life, which are all free. We don’t very often pay to go watch professionals play ball, dance to music, laugh at themselves, romance each other, or have adventures out in nature. We’re old-fashioned. We’d rather do these things ourselves, and thanks be to God, we are still doing them all well.
We eat outside often to remind us how low stress levels are for God’s creatures who keep it simple and harmonize with natural rhythms. If only for a few moments, being outside at sunrise or sunset inspires and relaxes us every time. Research confirms what we can feel, that quiet, natural sounds and scenes give a tangible boost to our immune systems.
We eat right, exercise, and avoid the stress of taking on problems we can’t solve. That lets us live active lives without taking any medicines, supplements, or even over-the-counter pain relievers. We take care of our wooded wilderness ourselves, because it’s free exercise, and we enjoy the place more that way. Our animals live quietly in the wild outside our doors, so we can treat each other like pets as well as partners.
We keep two or three nights free each week, and save ourselves a sabbath rest most every weekend. That empowers us to both work three or four full days a week, not just to supplement our retirement and social security incomes, but mostly for the joys of learning, making new friends, and for making a difference. We both volunteer in our church and our community. The peace from that privacy gives us the energy to entertain often, and host houseguests in our “baby cabin” , all without hiring any help, .
We have come to know that the more we share, the more we appreciate what we have, especially our friends and relatives. We come into their lives and homes with no distress or demands, no expectations or entitlements. We play yard and table games with each other, and with all our children and grandchildren. We keep actively learning about life, right alongside the young people in our lives. More than giving them stuff from our wallets, we give them ourselves.
To speak the love language of younger generations, we embrace technology. Stephanie keeps up with everybody on three social media platforms, and I keep teaching and learning through managing my website, superblog, and podcast. And of course, technology helps us too, to learn, solve problems, appreciate music, enjoy watching sports and entertainment.
A few years ago, we were visiting the Kentucky History Museum. I was deeply touched by the re-enactment of life in Kentucky during the Great Depression. As she tended her garden, a simply dressed lady repeated a catchy little poem that everybody seemed to live by back in the 30’s:
Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without. Makes you appreciate what you have, she said.
Downsizing is hard for anyone to do. I was lucky enough to be pushed into the simple life by my need to recover from business failure, divorce, cancer, and 35 years ago, from alcoholism. In the second half of my life, my recovering family has enriched my life as much as my church and blood families did in the first half, and still do now. So when you have to suffer losses like I did in life, maybe you’ll be wise and fortunate enough to let them trim the fat in your life, so you will have the heart to recognize the good life when you find it, in quiet simplicity.
Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist with offices in Louisville and Lexington, (502) 633-2860.