21: Living the Dream

21: Living the Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Living the Dream

The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.

~Author Unknown

On 9/11/2001, my husband came home early from work to tell me that he had joined the military. He could not stand idly by and not do his part to protect our country. Since we had already been talking about the possibility of moving to a more rural location, he thought that this would be the perfect opportunity, since his new military pay would not be enough to cover our existing home’s mortgage payment.

We sold our house, and my children and I moved to a different state in order to live with my parents while my husband went through his military training. While my husband was away, I searched for our new home. We both wanted something that would be a child’s dream home and property — a rambling house with plenty of places in which to play hide-and-seek, a large yard, plenty of climbing trees, a creek, and woods that could be explored. We had noticed that most of the children in our old neighborhood spent the bulk of their time glued to electronic devices. We wanted our children to instead be able to experience the joy of creative play.

Unfortunately, our budget was extremely small, and any properties that met our criteria were far too expensive. Finally, my real estate agent suggested that I take a look at a property that was possibly going to become available. She warned me that it would need a lot of work, but said that it did meet all our requirements.

So, we drove to the mountains, to a quaint little town so small that its town center, marked by a four-way intersection, only boasted a post office, an inn, and a laundromat. At the edge of town, she pulled over in front of an old, white farmhouse.

For me, it was love at first sight.

Despite the obvious signs of neglect — overgrown grass, broken windows, and peeling paint — the house was charming. It was two stories and had a wrap-around porch, which was edged at the top with gingerbread trim — the exact sort of porch that simply begged for rocking chairs and lemonade.

The inside was a mess — the house had been vacant for three years and had sustained a lot of interior damage from burst pipes — but the structure was sound, and the layout of the home was perfect, with lots of nooks and crannies for children to roam and hide, an enormous farmhouse-style kitchen, and plenty of room for visiting friends and family. The yard was exactly what I had wanted. The house sat on over five acres of apple trees, berry bushes, fields, and woods with plenty of climbing trees, and was bordered on the back by a creek.

I knew this was our new home.

We have lived here now for over thirteen years, and I cannot think of a better place in which we could have raised our children. Throughout their childhood years, my children were constantly exploring the outdoors, splashing in the creek or building forts in the woods. During the winter, they would create extensive snow tunnels and fortresses, and then return indoors in order to thaw out with hot chocolate in the farmhouse kitchen. Their creativity was endless. To this day, despite the fact that my daughter is now grown and my son is a teenager, both of my children would rather engage in a crabapple fight or try to catch crayfish in the creek than be glued to an iPad or iPhone.

My husband and I also have learned a great deal from living here. In light of our deliberate choice of a simple, frugal lifestyle, we learned how to perform home repairs ourselves — fun things like plumbing, electrical work, framing, and flooring. We learned how to build sheds, playhouses, and furniture, and how to make beautiful items out of scrap material. Because of our rural location, we learned how to care for farm animals and how to create and manage a large garden, which provides healthy food for our family. Due to our choice to heat our home with a renewable resource, firewood, we learned how to operate chainsaws and log splitters. In order to make our food budget stretch, I learned how to purchase staples in bulk and then cook as much as possible from scratch, using as much produce from our garden or wild crafted from our fields as possible.

Although I know that our lifestyle choice is not for everyone, I cannot begin to explain the joy that I have felt while watching my children chase each other in the back yard, seeing them playing with the farm animals, or giving each other rides in the wheelbarrow (something which has not stopped, even though my son is now 6’5”). I look at them and see two young adults who have not been caught up in consumerism, but instead are throwbacks to previous generations of people who preferred relationships over material things. That is something that will continue to benefit them — as well as the people around them — for the rest of their lives.

Our move to a rural location in order to simplify our lives has also given me a lot of personal pride for the skills that my husband and I were able to develop — skills that benefited us as well as others. But, more than that, I have a deeper appreciation for my family — our slower pace of living has fostered our sense of belonging as we share life together.

While the events that led to this lifestyle change were tragic, I am grateful that for us some good has come out of that tragedy — the ability to live our dream.

~Marybeth Mitcham


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