A Simpler Life…Escaping the Rat Race

I have a confession to make, some of you might find this really, really shocking…

I haven’t bought any clothes for myself for a whole year. 365 days, 12 months, a whole year.  There I said it, phew, it’s out there now.  I know you might be concerned for me, worry that something is most definitely wrong and concerned for my mental sanity but it’s OK, really.  I haven’t lost my marbles, or gone fruit loop and all of my faculties are well and truly intact.  Yes there are a few things I have coveted, I would like a cosy jumper, a new scarf, a new dress, a new top, some new jeans…OK I’d like a whole new wardrobe but the point is I haven’t bought any of these things because I do not need them.

Wants and needs are two completely different things but in today’s society lines seem to have become a little blurred.  Chaos, our threenager recently had a tantrum when we were out at the park with a cafe attached…’I want, I want…I NEED a toy from the ma-sheen!’  Actually, No, you really don’t need a toy, you may certainly want one but needing one is altogether a different kettle of fish.  Obviously it is a little difficult to rationalise and explain to an overanxious threenager that  a) the toys in the €1 machine are rubbish, will break and end up in landfill within milliseconds and b) that he already has loads of toys and c) it’s a complete and utter waste of money!

We are living in Spain now, before that we were in housesitting in Portugal and before that we lived in Kent in the UK.  Hubbie and I both had good jobs, (teachers) both worked very hard and had lots of lovely things.  Then everything went Topsy Turvy after our youngest son’s illness and major surgery to remove a tumour.  We decided to put our priorities in order, quit the rat race and left our flat, jobs, friends, family and most of our possessions in storage.  We left our ‘stuff’ and the UK behind us to find a cheaper way of living, spending our savings so that we can spend some quality family time with our boys.

Since we quit the rat race we have never been happier and more content with our lack of stuff!  I sew and upcycle old clothes, use cloth nappies (I even made my own cloth wipes (as a non-sewer I was quite impressed with myself).  We try to be as frugal as we can, especially when it comes to money and travelling with our two toddlers and food and drink.  We cook everything from scratch, forage in the garden and try to do our best to utiltise what nature makes available to our little tribe.

Leaving the UK made me realise what a crazy consumerist society we are engulfed by in the UK.  In the UK you feel the urge to have a full face of make-up on and change out of your lounge wear into some nice clothes just to pop to the shops.  Everything is geared towards convenience and your possessions, or lack of them, reflect your place in society.  It seems like there is so much pressure in todays jam-packed  society to have ‘things’.  A plethora of possessions cluttering up your life, a newly decorated home, a brand new sofa, an extension to house your new things.  Keeping up with the Jones’…a new car, a super large flat screen tv, the latest iPhone and tablet and laptop and of course you definitely need [insert your latest ‘thing’ here].  Is this a modern thing?  I know that people will always covet things they don’t have, but has it gone a little too far?

It would seem though that in Central Portugal things are done rather differently.  Yes there is a big problem with poverty, the average wage in Portugal is a measly €500 a month so the majority simply cannot afford new things.  They make do and mend and spend as little as possible.  Central Portugal also seems to draw a multitude of different nationalities who are looking for a simpler life.  German families who are free to homeschool (homeschooling is illegal in Germany), English, Austrian, Spanish…you  name it.

How much do you spend on your child on their birthday..on their friend’s birthday?  We went to a beautiful birthday party for a 10 year old Austrian boy who had lived for most of his life in central Portugal, what struck me was the gifts people brought him.  Simple, creative gifts that were not all about the monetary value.  His favourite gift was a Venus Fly Trap. A plant!  Can you even imagine the reaction of your child or your child’s friend?  I know that I am generalising terribly here but I do wonder how a 10 year old brought up in the UK would have reacted…

Maybe we should put a large chunk of the blame onto advertising and in particular TV.  You are unable to watch children’s programmes on TV without being bombarded by tantalising trailers for the latest must have toys, gadgets and gizmos.  It’s inevitable that your child wants what they see, after all that’s how children work!  Maybe because ex-pat children living in central Portugal didn’t really watch TV, (don’t worry they weren’t that off-grid and still accessed YouTube or downloaded cartoons and films), they didn’t then covet the latest toys quite as much.  The children also spent so much of their time outside, learning through play and having fun.  It wasn’t just the children either.


The people who lived in our Portuguese village were from lots of different countries but they were without exception the friendliest people we had ever met.  We were invited into everybody’s homes and made incredibly welcome.  Despite being so very different the people there all had something in common, they had all escaped the rat race, many changing their professions, lived off the land and wanted a simpler life.

It was a relief and a weight off our shoulders not to have to be concerned about having the latest clothes, toys, shoes or car.  To let our children walk around barefoot or paddle naked in the stream.  To be able to simply enjoy being together as a family without any critical eyes watching you .  To be frugal, wear our clothes until they have holes in and mend them and to enjoy living in a supportive community.

So back to my point, I guess you don’t need to move or literally escape the rat race to reach out for a simpler life.  A few small changes can help you live with less ‘stuff’, that is, if you want to change!  Make a commitment to try and scale down your shopping, only buy what you need, not want, as you know yourself you don’t need the latest car or mobile to be happy.  Save some of the money you could spend on ‘stuff’ to spend more ‘time’ in the present…enjoy and revel in what you do have, your friends, partners, family and children.  Life really is too short to be governed by our need for possessions, try taking some time out to live the simpler life.

Try making these small changes in your life:



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