It is heartbreaking to see men waste their entire lives trying to convince other people that they are someone they are not. This is why men’s soul’s do not grow mighty in spirit and courage. They spend their existence covering up and living in fear they will one day be discovered as a fraud. There is a voice inside them that keeps telling them that in spite of all the ornaments they collect in life, they are still not OK. The results are a lifelong tension with guilt, shame and anxiety. -Jerry Leachman in the foreward of The True Measure of a Man
I read that almost exactly a year ago today, as I was flying home from a trip to North Carolina, in a book that I grabbed from the nightstand at my parent’s house. As I was reading it, I came to a note that my mother had written on one of the pages:
(I’ve written about this book before…)
My dad marked that page on May 15. He died unexpectedly a few days later. Because of that I ended up paying more attention to what I was reading:
“six million American men will be diagnosed with depression this year”
“advertisers do not appeal simply to our practical, common sense but to our fears that we do not measure up”
“we give celebrities and media more and more power over our lives simply because of the images they project rather than the true values they represent”
On the plane ride home from NC, I had an epiphany: We had set ourselves up for frustration, confusion and failure. We had a huge house and an even bigger mortgage. We had 5 flat screen TVs in our house…for 3 people. We lived in an expensive city with expensive taxes. We built a huge pantry so that we could stockpile items from Costco…just because we could. We built a huge kitchen for entertaining because we thought we were supposed to entertain…and neither of us like to cook. We bought or leased a new car every three years. We sent our child to private school and bought her enough clothing that she’d rarely have to repeat an outfit. We ate at expensive restaurants because all of our friends did. We weren’t necessarily living beyond our means….but we were working to support our means. My epiphany was that I wanted to move the means.
Brett: You didn’t want to come back.
Me: I didn’t. This doesn’t feel like living. It’s all so draining. I want less to choose from. I want less to manage. I just want less.
Brett: I don’t know if we can afford to move to such a small town.
Me: We’ll make it work. We’ll sell everything, cut our expenses. We’ll find odd jobs. I would rather live out of our car, and have time for what we enjoy doing, than live like this.
Fast forward to one year later and here we are in the mountains of North Carolina.
It wasn’t easy, but it was freedom. We sold our house which, by the way, we lost money on. We left California with everything we owned in a 16 foot box trailer. On the long, slow drive cross country we never once opened up the trailer….instead we wore the same clothes day after day and did laundry in hotel sinks. (Conclusion: we didn’t even really need what we’d brought in the trailer.) We took as many backroads as we could and we saw the true heart of America. The roads typically less traveled left us in awe.
It wasn’t an instant decision to uproot our lives….I planted the seed and then we talked about it for months. But what really started the whole point of this post (long story long) is that once we started telling people about our big move we were surprised at how many people asked:
But what will Brett do?!
What will he do for work?!
How can he leave a company behind?!
I could feel the expectations radiating from the questions. And sometimes our answers of he isn’t sure yet or he’s going to be a dad and husband and help around the inn brought even more questions and lack of understanding. This reassured us about our reason for doing what we were doing…especially for me. I wanted Brett to know that I just wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to know that I would live within whatever means we ended up with. I’m pretty good at doing laundry in small sinks.
I wanted him to know that he could walk away from his livelihood and I would never once make him regret it.
He was more than his work.
Brett is a pretty simple man but he’s a hard worker. He has been an investment banker and an owner of a construction company…but he also finds the most joy in the simple things. He loves the outdoors, loves exercise and fitness, and loves to build things. He built me a bench the other day….and invited me to come and sit on it. Best gift ever.
I’ve seen a weight slowly lifted off of him the last few months that reassures me that he’s figuring it out. I have to admit I was worried about his feeling of identity if he walked away from what he’d built in the desert. But now I overhear him talking with other men at the inn and they are asking for his advice on how to get out of their own rat race and my heart swells. Men asking how he got the courage to step away from it all. He tells them how he reads with our daughter every night and helps with her homework. He tells them how he’s fallen in love with hobbies that don’t cost a thing. He tells them how spending time with his family gives him more joy than he ever felt in a high powered, high paying job. MY HEART SWELLS. His step-mother Gale and his dad recently visited us at the inn for 3 days. When they left, Gale said she had never in her life seen him more content, more fulfilled.
With almost universal agreement, [cultural analysts] tell us that in the more traditional, family-based societies of the past, men derived their identity and meaning through family relationships. A man’s status came from fulfilling a defined social role (a son, a husband, a father). Work – a discipline that created tremendous value within any social order – was not nearly as important as the fabric of one’s relationships. In the traditional social order, work was seen as merely a functional means of providing for the family and improving the quality of life within the community. Work did not define a man’s life’s worth and value in an absolute sense as it so frequently appears to do in our modern society. – The True Measure of a Man
One of the most freeing quotes I have ever read…and I wrote it in the front of my journal in 2005….is:
…if you’re trying to show off for people at the top, forget it. They will look down on you anyhow. And if you’re trying to show off for people at the bottom, forget it. They will only envy you. Status will get you nowhere.
– Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
I read it over and over again and a few months after reading that I quit my job at the bank. We walked away from a new country club membership we’d paid for. We sold our house to someone that we knew was just going to tear it down and build a house five times its size.
So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.
― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
And now years later I never would have pictured us in this place. We crave the inconvenience of things that really aren’t inconvenient at all if you think about it: running into town for mail, the nearest Starbucks is over an hour away, we have to take the trash to the dump. And there aren’t any shortcuts over the mountains or across the rivers….you have to just enjoy the long curvy drives around them and along them.
And we haven’t completely gone off the grid (yet). We do have a TV….it’s a whopping 22 inch screen. I had to add the closed captioning because I can’t hear it. Actually I eventually just stopped watching because when I take my contacts out I can’t see the screen.
Boo went back to a new school on Monday and she wore an outfit she’s had all summer. We didn’t purchase any new back to school clothes. She took last year’s backpack, one that we bought at a yardsale. She made a friend. Her first day was perfect.
We live in less than 900 sq feet and we make it work. We keep expenses as low as possible and I work from home now. We live in a place that has a very low cost of living. We talk to each other, see each other, and enjoy each other’s company. We are a team.
Our new 10’x 12′ living area (and office). We don’t even own a coffee table.
Brett helps out around the inn sometimes with handy things he enjoys doing. Sometimes he’ll venture into town to hang out at Bryson City Bicycles and watches the owner Andy repair and build bikes to learn a new trade. We spend lots of time getting to know the people that own the local businesses and try to support them as much as we can.
I spend a lot of time getting to know the staff at the inn. Brett drove three hours roundtrip today to pick up a new motor for a kitchen fan because while I sat with the cooks in the kitchen I noticed how overheated they were getting. Yesterday I overheard Donna tell her husband Wally “you over salted that….put a tater in it” and I loved that she said tater, and at the same time taught me how to “un-salt something.” And Wally said there are all sorts of medicinal plants in the woods that he picks and dries…including ginseng. I helped Harper “the intern” and George one of the other cooks load food into the freezer today. I’ve never seen so many eggs up close in my life.
Most importantly: God is the center of our lives. We’ve found a small local church that we all love called The Grove. The church’s tag line is: we are an okay church for people that are not okay. I love that. Because I’ve never met anyone that is truly okay. We all have our issues. We pray about everything, especially the things that are out of our control.
Prayer is not flight, prayer is power. Prayer does not deliver a man from some terrible situation; prayer enables a man to face and to master the situation. –William Barclay
I think there is a reason that God led us to such a vast, beautiful place. There’s something therapeutic about being surrounded by so much beauty.
Many men meet God only through a wilderness experience. We find ourselves in the wilderness and we recognize that we are absolutely alone in a severely harsh environment. It is through this wilderness experience that we finally wake up to the fact that the thing we have always looked to as our ultimate hope, the thing that has driven and motivated us, that one thing that makes us feel like real men, has deserted us. –The True Measure of a Man
Emerson said that in the woods we return to reason and faith. I feel like the more we are in nature, we live very much without a past and without a future. And around here…the nature is free.
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes people to be happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and certainly it always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. -Anne Frank
Six million men diagnosed with depression each year.
Six million men minus one.
P.S. I write a weekly letter to you, friend. A little bit of inspiration mixed with quotes etc:
Sign up here if you like. I never share you info with anyone else.
What is my husband doing now? Read the updates here.
Elizabeth Scalzo says
Love, love, love this post!
I love this post and I love that you downsized and are living a more meaningful life now. My husband and I sold our four bedroom house in 2010 and most of our possessions and have never looked back. We’re now full-time traveling early retired nomads and having a blast living with less! We have a Honda CR-V with four bicycles, our dog, and just enough “stuff” to take from place to place as we explore this beautiful country. Life is about so much more than possessions and status, as you have found. Congratulations on forging a new way for your family.
Erica Miller says
I love this post! We are in the middle of downsizing ourselves. Beyond freeing.
Also, Jeff and Jodi Helpman (the Pastors at The Grove) were at in leadership at Southeastern University while my husband and I were there. They are fantastic people!!!
Hi Ashley- I loved that post. Lots of people in Europe and here in Israel have this image of tipical Americans that is very much how you described your life before you moved. It is a bit hard for me to understand since I grew up very differently and I also live differently now (hardly 700 sqft with 3 kids- it is too small…). I admire your courage to sell the house and leave your jobs and start from new. I don’t know if I would have that courage although I sometimes think that I would like some change in my life. Maybe your post will help me one day.
Thank you, Thank you for this beautiful post. I am in tears over here and read it out loud to my brother and husband.
We have been making some BIG changes ourselves, and are working on simplifying our lives. This is something that we want very much.
Your blog has been a great help, your words are most moving and inspiring.
You have a gift.
Hugs to you… 🙂
Lupita Carroll says
I love this post. It is so hard to keep children grounded in such a crazy society. You are doing an awesome job!
My parents came from poverty as immigrants & We try really hard to teach our kids to be grateful & generous.
I saw the school billboard today with Boo & it made me smile thinking of all the fun she’s having!!
Awesome. Im trying to convince my hubby we need to live smaller!
I can’t even tell you how insanely “destined” it is, for me to happen upon this article. I literally JUST wrote this in my journal before turning in for the night: “I have been really longing for the good-old days. Things weren’t so stressful. Seemed…easier. More fun. We have fully succombed to the rat race. Do you ever feel like you’re a hamster in a wheel? Running running, but never really getting anywhere? I have such a strong desire to find a slower pace. To refocus our priorities, our purpose. We are killing ourselves, stressing out over money. Success. Climbing the corporate ladder. For what purpose? We are so conditioned to selfish hoarding, to believe we must keep up with the Joneses…hell, everyone now isn’t just trying to KEEP up, they’re trying to ONE-UP! Simplicity becomes key here. Thoughts on minimizing. Removing the responsibility of maintaining so many THINGS…getting that closeness back. For me, it is time. Please Lord, let me know what you want my next move to be. Point me in the direction of my purpose. I am feeling very lost.”
And then I come across this. Wow. Divine. If that’s not God saying, “Listen to your heart. You need this”, then I don’t know what is!
This brought tears to my eyes. What you and some of your readers have done is something that my husband and I CRAVE. The simplicity of life, getting away from rat race of life and feeling like we have to keep up and have a certain amount in the bank so we can retire the right way. It’s so stressful. My husband is such a hard worker and provides for our family, but he doesn’t LOVE what he does. He does it because it’s what pays the bills. I encourage him to look elsewhere and that I have no problem selling what we have and moving to a tiny home and living on less. If it means that we can have all of him, with less stress, less worry, more family time, more joy… then it’s totally worth it. Thanks for sharing your lives with us!
Long time reader.
When I read the title i freaked out and thought you meant actually walk away as in from you.
So glad it was not the case.
And so glad I read this. I think ill forward it to my husband. He is a minister so we aren’t up and leaving and moving to the woods anytime soon but I still think it will speak volumes to him.
What lies the world tells us.
I’m so glad this adventure is blessing you.
Walking outdoors, not on a treadmill inside a building, breathing in the unair-conditioned air, looking at real greenery, and yes, literally hugging a tree helps me deal with stress and sadness. I love the NC mountains (I used to live in Asheville).
Thank you Ashley – your words are incredibly real and inspirational.
Quite simply, 3 words, “very well said”.
Jen L. says
I love your courage and bravery. I also love that last line of your blog post so much.
Minus one, indeed.
Crystal B. says
Ashley, you are an amazing woman! You are such an inspiration! I love how you really “get life”. You are so real, and when I read your blog, I feel like I am talking to an old friend. I think my husband and I are at this point now. We have so much stuff; we have rooms to put our stuff. It is crazy when you really think about it. We both have stressful jobs, and we just really want to enjoy life. We are looking at making some major changes to make our lives full of JOY!
I really needed to read this and I can relate on so many levels! Happy to hear you three are happier now. Thank you for sharing 🙂
You are an incredibly talented writer!
I admire you for caring so deeply about your husband’s happiness.
The respect you two have for each other is amazing. You wrote that you are
a team, and that is so evident in the way you live your lives. May God continue
to shower your family with serenity.
seriously woman, This is what my hubby and I have been trying to show our kids from the beginning…While all our friends were building mini mansions we live in our 1960s home in a bedroom town 1/2 hour from the lake shore. While I will admit there were times honestly that I do feel ENVY at their THINGS it always passes as the 4 kids and the hubby and I all cram on the couch to watch americas funniest home videos or something. We even accidentally create our own language sometimes from the twists and turns our family conversations take. They become permanent vocabulary and then we forget that OTHERS don’t know what the heck we are talking about. We are in our own world, of laughter and joy. Thank you for reminding me of WHY we do what we do. A beautiful post.
LOVE today’s post Ashley!! So thoughtful and inspiring — and exactly the way I feel lately. I’m downsizing as we speak… cleaning out and selling or donating everything we don’t need… and planning on putting the house up for sale in the Spring! It’s so exciting and liberating! Getting back to the simplicity of things! 🙂 Positive energy! Love to your family!
Love this! I am giving this “gift” to my husband tonight. Do I think he will quit his job and want to move cross country? No. But I hope it gives him the freedom that knowing he is enough can give.
THANK YOU for this. I am crying. This has recently happened to us, and you hit the nail on the head with everything you said.
When Brandon stepped away from ministry, which has been his life for 15 years, to help support me and Evy’s Tree… I was so worried he wouldn’t feel fulfilled. I still feel worried sometimes, but what we’ve done is create such a tight family unit, he coaches soccer, takes the kids to school, goes to school board meetings, calms me down with Evy’s Tree gets too stressful, is daddy day care when I am in meetings, he makes breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. He is the ying to my crazy yang and it’s the only way we would want it because geez louise…could you imagine our life if he had a full time job that took him away from us?
Making life about your family and less about YOU is what it’s really about. thanks my friend. Love you so much xoxo
Thank you! Very inspiring! I am very happy for you and your family at this new, interesting place!
I love this!! It makes me happy just reading it. 🙂
Oh Ashley~~ You never cease to make me want to give you a big ole hug. Love this post and the reality that we CAN do without so much of, well…everything. I’m praying right this moment that this move and these days speak to your heart in such a deep and personal way that leaves you feeling full and alive and ready for every adventure that life has to offer.
Life is simple.
It is us who makes it to challenging at times.
Hard to change.
Afraid to change.
We need to look to life the way it was meant to be.
See to be,
Minimize to make time to,
Play so you can,
Live each day and,
I love this. My husband and I want to move to the Rockies. One of our big holdups is health insurance. How are you managing that? I know it’s rude to ask about other people’s financial situations, but maybe some practical financial advice would be helpful here. Thanks!!
Erica Knudson says
This is one of my favorite posts of yours…ever. I’m so happy for you, your husband and your daughter. Your courage to step outside is so encouraging for changes we are trying to make in our life. Thank you for continuing to share your thoughtfulness.
How do you do this and find a house, new work and money to pay for essentials?
Tausha Leavell says
Ashley, this is simply beautiful!
Christopher Stogdill says
Three and a half years ago I walked away from a job that was making me ill, even though it was good money and not too many responsibilities. The owner of the company was a toxic man who seems to outsiders anything but. I haven’t been able to find good work since, but I’ve been so much happier being able to work on fun projects and generally enjoy myself. I figure everything will work out, just not on my obvious timetable.
Your post was inspirational and I thank you for it.
Kristin S says
Ashley, as I read this post, all I heard over and over was “contentment.” That’s a good thing.
How blessed you have been to have figured out what you needed and were able to do it. Thank you so much for sharing.
I’m always inspired by your posts, especially the ones regarding this new adventure you’re on. Thank you for reminding us that just because everyone else is living their lives a certain way, doesn’t mean we have to. What a wonderful thing to be teaching your daughter (and those you interact with at the inn).
I felt such a connection with you after reading this post 🙂
We did the same sort of thing, after I had fought, and beat, cancer, I realised that life was just too short to live with the stress of watching my hubby work on a dangerous job – one he had learned to hate doing, because of the daily risk of death or injury. So we took the drastic step of him walking away from ‘security’ – and then found there was more security in our relationship with each other, and our daughter, than in being able to buy even more ‘things’ that we didn’t need!
We now live our lives simply, but have the time, and the energy, to enjoy all that God has provided for us in this beautiful part of the world (we live in Wales, in the UK).
I love this whole story. The hardest part about downsizing is taking that first step and feeling as though you are losing something. In truth, you are gaining so much more than you ever thought possible. Great story. Thanks for sharing.
Thank-you for your beautiful messages. I have been trying to listen to God in my life, and I believe His voice to me is coming through your words. I have just taken a one-year leave of absence from my job as a scientist to really try and live the life God intended me too. Scary to think of no paycheque, of no “value” as a professional, but so peaceful to think of my year ahead as a mother, wife, and child of God.
What a beautiful post. I was searching for a little inspiration before beginning work today and decided to see what you were up to. The last time I checked your blog you were designing clothes. What an amazing path you have taken. It sounds perfect. Living the So. Cal life is crazy most of the time. Glad you decided what works for you and congrats for having the gumption to give up the nonsense.
Thank you for this amazing post!
Sharon Collins says
When I learned you were moving I was shocked. When I read why, I was jealous. My husband & I moved back to be closer to my parents. We live in a small town with roads to bigger places to shop. Most about an hour away. The nearest Starbucks is 30 min away. We don’t care because it doesn’t interest us. 10 years ago we shopped for groceries every other week. Lived in a 2 bedroom 1 bath house. Only a shower no tub. One closet. We had a Sonic, a Subway, & a Dairy Queen. We have the same dining availability in our small town now. In the last 10 years we moved from KS to VA (ccourtesy of the Army)
to TX on our own dime. The 100 year old house in KS is paid for. We owe 14 years on the country house although we have legally owned the place since 2007. We got more house for our money but less than KS. We are four hours away from my daughter & her kids. Thirty min from my son. My youngest grandchild attends Day Care in town. Yes there are pulses ti small towns. I prefer an even smaller town but that means a drive of six to eight hours to be with family. In the mean time I will enjoy living in the Bluebird Capitol of Texas. After all the hot temperatures of summer are the same.
I’ve been reading your blog for a bit now. I love reading about your experiences, and even reading through some of the comments. It’s so refreshing to see that there are so many families out there that don’t care about collecting possessions, but rather focus their lives on collecting memories together.
You just spoke the words that I have been trying to speak. This is the longing of my heart. Simple. Beautiful. True.
I was watching a PBS special the other night that was based in Uganda and yet again saw so many of the African people with so little and in fear of their lives. For them the only thing missing out of their lives is safety and freedom. It seems they have everything they need otherwise and so much less than we have. It spoke to something that has started bothering me and that is we have so much stuff and a big house to maintain. I can’t see my husband every wanting to leave, but me I pay the bills and with the heat bill and taxes combined more than our monthly mortgage. I see a future of working and scraping buy and never having enough actual cash to have the basics. I admire what the three of you have done and how it is working out for you.
Wow…I am not a regular blog reader, but you crossed my mind today for some reason and I was wondering how you were doing. My husband and I have had many conversations over the past couple of months about selling our newly built “American dream home” and downsizing our entire lives. This post was a breath of fresh air and a gentle nudging from God that what we are doing what He has been putting into our hearts for years. I am tired…so tired of the rat race that we are all expected to enter into upon adulthood. Thank you for your beautiful words and affirmation that sometimes less truly is more! God bless!
One of the most beautiful pieces I have ever read.
My wife shared your blog post on Facebook the other day and I must say, it really struck a nerve. I remember as a child an uncle of mine lived in a handmade log cabin in the mountains of Oregon. He was completely self sustained, would teach me how to make hunting tools by hand and how to throw a knife correctly and I loved that. He was definitely the exception in my family. To this day he still lives the simple life. As I grew up and built a family of my own, I have been obsessed with success and compared my life to those around me, trying to one-up the Jones’s. I’m always focusing on how I can present a more powerful image, being a successful businessman, to be a leader in my community, and it’s awfully draining. But, that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Anyways, this more simplified life keeps pulling at me and the rat race that I’ve become entangled in is crushing me. I’ve gone from working to create a better lifestyle, to working to have better stuff. There is no more time for family and kids if I want to keep that brand new car or motorcycle in the driveway. I’ve more than once thought about just selling everything and heading for the hills like my uncle had done years ago. Your example is uplifting and I hope that I to may find the courage someday to do the same. Thank again for sharing your story.