Monday, June 4, 2012
Garrett and I grew up in a conventional way. By that I mean we attended conventional schools, played sports, ate at McDonald's from time to time, and generally did what kids growing up in the 80's and 90's did. I loved Rainbow Bright, he loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, we listened to The New Kids on the Block, and we wore parachute pants and fluorescent colors. Good times, to be sure.
Although we've known each other all our lives, we only began dating while I was in college, and we married the September after graduation. I worked just long enough in the insurance industry to determine that cubicles are the greatest form of torture known to man, and to vow that I would never sit in one again. I carried out a brief search for meaning in life, decided I was meant to be a humanitarian, and went to graduate school to earn my Master's in Education. I became a high school history teacher. While I was happy in the classroom for a few years, the convergence of becoming a mother who wanted more time with her baby, and the trend in public education toward lessened teacher autonomy and creativity caused me to reconsider our life plan.
Or was there a plan to reconsider?
Garrett had begun to work in sales by this point, logging lots of hours per week. I had begun teaching at an online university in addition to my public school teaching job, and we were suddenly lost in a pattern of earning money and spending it fast. We bought cars, a house, clothes and take out food. We had no time to do anything ourselves, and we began outsourcing even the most basic of tasks. Suddenly, and quite without thought, we became slaves to our paychecks- seeking ways to earn ever more money to maintain our lifestyle.
Worse yet, we were left feeling completely empty. Even when doing things and making new purchases that were supposed to make us feel good, we felt hollow and meaningless. The cycle perpetuated itself- we bought something new, discovered that it didn't make us feel good or peaceful, so we immediately started wanting the next thing. We wanted out. By this time we had two young children, lots of financial responsibility, and were surrounded by people making the same choices. We suspected this couldn't be only way to live life, (how could it be? It felt frenzied!) but we weren't sure what practical steps to take to get off the "treadmill."
It was about this time that Garrett heard of Dave Ramsey on the radio one day at work, and remembered a friend telling him about the program. After a few months of listening to Dave's show, Garrett brought the idea home. We completed Financial Peace University and began the oh-so-slow (and sometimes painful) process of getting ourselves out of the debt that was keeping us tied to our current lifestyle. We sold a car, ate at home, skipped vacations and DIYed our way through life, all the while throwing money at our remaining car loan, student loans, credit cards and mortgage.
As we made some positive headway financially, we began to establish specific priorities about spending time together as a family, being respectful stewards of our planet, and learning to be content with what we had (rather than constantly seeking to attain more). We read voraciously on topics which we'd never before prioritized: spirituality, strong marriage, green living, parenting in a peaceful and purposeful way. Meanwhile, I quit my daytime teaching job and opened a home daycare so that I could earn money while staying home with our children.
As we took each baby step toward a new lifestyle, we began to find peace and to enjoy our lives. Sure, we said "no" to all kinds of things- trips, outings, camps, new clothes, dinner dates with friends, and committee volunteer positions. Though we turned down things we would have loved to do/wear/buy, it was through this process that we balanced our priorities and regained our sense of family.
The transition has become addictive- each new freedom from an outside resource or long-held (but burdensome) personal belief only fueled the fire to grow more apart from the race of a life we'd been living. We successfully started raising chickens, which immediately interested us in keeping bees. Once we tasted our own honey we had to tap our maple trees, grow our own veggies, and try our hand at vermicomposting. We subscribed to Mother Earth News and found ourselves waiting at the end of the driveway for the mail delivery to bring us each new copy. We kept them all and read them often enough to make each and every issue dog-eared.
Our dreams truly began to take shape.
We discovered what we were meant to do with our lives: how we were supposed to live, and what we could do to positively impact the planet and the people living in it. We began to abandon the ways we'd always assumed we'd live in favor of making our own, informed choices about the best way for our family to make our way through life. (As a note, when I say that we were meant to live this way, I mean specifically our family. No judgement of families who choose other paths- we're all unique and must find our own "right" way to live.)
Today, we have three young children whom we homeschool and raise in a peaceful, slow way. ("Peaceful" is of course a relative term, as any parent of three young children will attest!) We still live in suburbia (someday soon we'd like to own a small farm), but we use the land we have to meet many of our own needs. We learn new skills veraciously and are deeply, completely grateful for our new life path.
We aren't experts. We didn't go to school to learn farming, cooking, or sewing. We didn't grow up in families which taught us these skills (or at least weren't open to learning them as youngsters- ahem). We didn't even benefit from job training. We're just two people, now with three kids, a dog, a cat, some bees, worms and chickens, developing our dream as we go. We're learning each day, reevaluating and redoing things as we learn better ways, and sharing our experiences to support and inspire anyone else who might be on a similar journey.