My ideas for a better life

Why did I downshift?
The way I see it is that if you spend less money, there is no need to go out to work and earn lots of it. If you need less stuff to live, you don't have the stresses of doing a job that you don't particularly like doing. Of course if you enjoy your job, and it is more like a hobby, then that's great, you are lucky. But generally high incomes come at a personal cost, they usually require compromises, responsibility, and often long hours. To earn loads of money you are going to have to knuckle down and work hard.

I know people who are working themselves to a frazzle just to keep their heads above water. Their ambitions are fuelled by a need to own more, their plan is to work like crazy to accumulate as much stuff as they can. But they become locked into a lifestyle which they can't find a way out of, so they work harder to earn even more money. The only trouble is that they don't notice the person they have become, and even worse, they don't remember the person they left behind. They are irritable, snappy, grumpy, jumpy, and generally not very nice to be around. Their minds have become as cluttered as their houses. People seem to get into this mindset of earning more, so they can spend more, and the more they buy the more they want, a vicious circle, a roller coaster that they are either reluctant or too scared to get off.

There is an alternative, get out of the job you hate you don't have to do it, and set your sights lower to reflect your shrinking income. You don't have to give up all life's little pleasures, just recognise those that you absolutely must have and ditch the rest. I downshifted ten years ago, my working week was 60+ hours, I used to enjoy it but the work was becoming less appealing, so I went part time. I changed my job to work for an agency, this meant that I could choose who I worked for and when I worked. My time was becoming more precious and it was important to me to fill it in the ways that gave me most enjoyment.

You can do the same, there are a lot of people in my situation who are waking up to the fact that they can have total control over their lives. It's all about recognising what is important to you. I have discovered a whole lot of ways I can make my money go further, how to save money on things I don't need, and how to channel my limited income towards what is important. For instance, I don't think it is important to have central heating in my house. I have it but I hardly ever switch it on. I have reverted back to the way I used to live when I was a child, put more clothes on if I am cold, have a strip wash in the kitchen, stuff a hot water bottle down my trousers, wear gloves and a coat in the house. It is no bother to me, I am used to it. My last gas bill was £15.10 for 3 months, and that was just for using the top rings and the grill of the cooker. I was really pleased with that. My electric bill was double that, but it's still cheap because I switch everything off when I am not using it. I only have one light on at a time and when I move around the house I use a wind up torch.

Spend your money wisely. I am sitting in my living room as I write this, and looking around at my furniture, the only new item I have is a table and four chairs. I bought this when I moved in fourteen years ago, it was not expensive. The sideboard in the corner was my mothers and is about 50 years old, my three piece suite came from my friend who emigrated, it was £50. My writing bureau was given to me by a friend, his mother moved house and didn't have room for it. I have an old fashioned treadle sewing machine that a friend gave me for nothing 25 years ago. The other sideboard and wall unit I bought for £20 from another friend 35 years ago when she was clearing out her grandparents house. The table I am sitting at I retrieved from my next door neighbours, they were throwing it out to make way for a new one. The leg was a bit wonky due to a bracket being bent, but a big hammer and two new screws soon put it right. I reckon I have enough furniture to last me until I die. The point I am trying to make is that a house full of expensive furniture that cost the earth, would do nothing to improve my life, mine may not be glamorous but it is perfectly serviceable.

Look around you, look around the room you are sitting in, what do you see? Clutter, stuff, and collections of stuff. Almost everyone I know has collected something during their life, my collection has been coffee mugs. Every time I went on holiday, or had a day out visiting an interesting place, I would bring back a mug. I have packed them and unpacked them, they have been moved from house to house, sometimes it has taken me a year to unpack them, only for them to gather dust a few months later. I would get fed up of seeing them lying around and back in the box they would go. Now at last I have found a use for them. I run a charity stall 4 or 5 times a year, and my mugs have become items to sell on my stall. So I get the fun of a day out meeting people, and raising money for my favourite animal charities, and at the same time I have de cluttered my house.

Now I don’t feel the need to buy new stuff, because I know it will end up as clutter. I have enough stuff in my house to last me the rest of my life, and I am planning on another 20 years at least. If I need something, first I will see if I can make it, if not then I will see if I can get it free, either by asking people or skip diving, or visit a car boot sale, or trawl the charity shops for it. There is no shame in buying second hand, there is far too much stuff going into landfill, so if a new home can be found for something that someone else no longer wants, I am all for it.

If you are in the unfortunate position of not being able to find a job, or are living under the threat of redundancy, do not despair. All you need to do is to take stock of your finances, money in and money out. You may need to change your mindset as you embark on your new frugal life, it is not as bad as you might think. The first thing you should do is to start recording all your spending in a notebook so you can see at a glance where your money is going. Then go through your list with a fine tooth come and asking yourself did you really need something, or just want it. From now on every purchase should be given carefull consideration, it is the end of impulse shopping.

I invite you to take a look at my blog. It is a diary of my journey from a frazzled workaholic to a relaxed and happy pensioner who is embracing freedom.