More Is Not Better

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Successfully living a simple life meant recognizing more is not better.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS receives thousands of letters every year, many of which we publish in our designated letters section. The one that follows struck such a sympathetic chord with our editors that we decided to give it a special treatment.

I sit here in front of our fireplace with my kerosene lamp, knowing I need to write to you.

It’s very seldom we ever get to read MOTHER EARTH NEWS anymore, but every once in a while I do get to the library and see the latest copy.

I guess I’m writing because you are the reason — or were, at least, at the beginning — for my journey to this fireplace and lamp. I’m not writing because of any new inventions or any brilliant ideas. I just want all your regular readers to know what we’ve found by going “back to the land.”

Nine years ago, we got a subscription to your magazine as a Christmas gift. Within the following year, we bought our farm, and I jumped into homesteading without being ready. Oh, I was ready enough to work — I built an earth-sheltered greenhouse, a log cabin, and a green-wood home, started a rammed-earth house, pumped water with a bicycle and an old piston pump, learned to recycle almost everything and to barter. But in spite of all that I had the wrong mindset. I didn’t understand that More Is Not Better. Thanks my over-driven ways I also got divorced and almost lost my two children. I did lose my farm, was forced back into the rat race, and was generally miserable. Finally, I made it here to a cabin in Virginia on 128 acres with nine-year-old Jere and six-year-old Sharma, and I’m at long last content — not because of what we have, but because I’m at peace inside.

We don’t own the land yet, but with luck we will. When we came here, I went to work at a one-man sawmill. It’s hard work, and I make very little money (in the winter, none). I could have gone to town and gotten a job, but the main reason we came here was to be a family.

I remember the last time that I went into that workaday world. I toiled and I saved. I saved for the tools that would make my homesteading, back-to-the-land, simple lifestyle possible. And the more I worked and the more I saved, the more things I felt that I needed to make it all possible. Then one day I realized that there was never any end to “more.” And if the day ever came when I had all the “things,” then I would need the money to keep the “things” up. At that point, I walked away with no car, $20 in my pocket, and a big smile on my face and in my heart, because I knew that I had none of those “things” to worry about.

Around Christmas, however, I found myself worrying about making the holiday special for the children, but it’s funny — I finally realized that all children really want is love. So now we’re a family that lives a simple life. I’m here when the children go to school and when they come home. I wash clothes in a washtub, cook and bake on a woodstove, cut firewood with a bow saw, and build furniture out of trees. We don’t waste, and we do together all the things that need to be done. Nothing is really a chore, because there are so many different things to do.

We get firewood every day, but we don’t have to listen to a noisy chain saw. Instead, we listen to the birds and walk through the forest and pick up deadwood and talk and laugh. (And we don’t have to buy gas and oil.)

When we wash clothes, we go to the creek and get water, and Jere and Sharma pick wild onions and watercress and catch crawdads, and I get to sit and think while I scrub clothes.

Jere, though only nine, can cook up chicken and gravy and potatoes, and he loves switching everything around on the woodstove so it’s all ready at the same time. Shanna loves to help bake bread, and we all wait and wonder if it will rise.

We take baths in a big washtub by the fireplace and wrap up in warm towels. We read stories by our lamp and have roasted marshmallows when we can afford them.

Everything is very simple, and whenever we need something, there’s always a way. Maybe most people would see us as poor and disadvantaged, but material things don’t mean very much to us. The really important things are loving, sharing, and knowing there are no good or bad times, because we have each other.

It’s thanks to you, MOTHER EARTH NEWS, that after all the trials, heartaches, and false goals, I (we) have found the back-to-the-land lifestyle. And the funny part is, it wasn’t by finding better ways. It was giving up and accepting the fact that Mother Earth has blessed us with everything we need, and all we have to do is use it, tend it, and be happy.

The best to you all,

Tom, Jeremy, and Shanna Davis