The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Do you think you’re happier now than when you were working? Say, all illness and weariness aside?


Photo: Marsh buttercups

Photo: Marsh buttercups

This is partly a response to a great comment that Paula – who writes an excellent blog – Weeding for Godot– left on yesterday’s post  and I think that answering her questions is worthy of a post of its own.

We are in our early 50s. Faced with the probability of living on a small pension we started preparing for our retirement six years ago. Not by investing in extra pension plans but by looking at ways we could enjoy the good things in life for minimal costs.

That is why we started keeping bees, curing bacon and ham and making our own wine. Discovering ways to eat well – buying less meat but better free range meat and trawling the Condemned Food Counters (our fun term for discount bargains in supermarkets). Cutting our weekly spend by growing our own vegetables, fruit and flowers. Turning off lights, making simple double glazing in the winter and turning down thermostats. Putting rocks in our lavatory cistern and not running water constantly when we cleaned our teeth.

Investing in appliances that didn’t guzzle electricity and could also help us store cheap, seasonal food such as the daemon dehydrator. If you grow stuff or are addicted to buying offer food don’t invest in anything else this year and buy one of these! We have three months supply of veg and fruit in just one small carrier bag. The Icelandic volcanic dust worried people dependant on aeroplanes. We had good wholesome supplies to hand.

The challenge turned out to be fun which was completely unexpected.

We didn’t know about ‘simpler living’ at the time we started experimenting. We were just looking at our life in a new way. Examining it carefully, cutting out waste and practicing for the future.

The decorating job gave me a fly on the wall view of many different lifestyles from a wide range of backgrounds. For the first time in my life I could examine other peoples’ lives in detail – after a few days you just become a shape that needs to be fed tea. The fly on the wall experience was amazing – seeing other peoples’ life in the raw. I learnt so much. But at the time had no idea how much it would pay dividends in the future.

We were lucky that by the time I fell ill we had a lot of the bare bones of a simpler lifestyle set up. So the enforced changes were not so much of a shock as they could have been. And putting the weariness aside, I have been happier and more contented these past ten months than I’ve ever been.

As Paula rightly states in her comment, the Achilles heel is developing a new stream of income. My old income was reasonably good and needs to be replaced. I have high hopes for the gate side stand flowers business but I’m beginning to realise I need to find other outlets for the flowers (we have about 2000 plantlets which will hopefully generate 20,000 blooms) . This morning I made a deal with our village shop, which has good passing trade as it’s also a Post Office. Beyond that there are local florists who might be interested in chemical free, no air miles, English country flowers. I could take a stall at the local farmers market once a month.

We are so very lucky. When we started leading a simpler life most people thought we were mad.
“I just don’t see the point of doing this when you don’t need to,” friends would question.
Now things have swung round and most people want to cut air miles, shop local and be a little more self sufficient. Our flowers and organic vegetables will be much easier to sell than in the past.

We are managing our bees much more tightly with a view to selling the honey on the stand and locally. We are trading our bacon with friends for things that we need. I also barter my computing skills for basics or treats such as wine. The bartering is gradually getting extended as I slowly get better. ATM I’m only up for a few hours a day and, to be quite honest, this is stressfull. So little time and so much to do.
We are sorting out our things and selling stuff that we don’t need to help us over the financial hump until our new streams of income can replace my old income. We are very fortunate that we had things to sell. But there are still nights when I lie awake panicking about the financial future. What if we don’t pull this off? What if we fail and have to sell the cottage? At moments like this I find a dose of  The Secret helps enormously.

I was always proud of the fact that our blog and forum didn’t have advertising. In November we realised that we had to run advertising on the site or sell up and move to a much smaller house or flat and lose our dream.

I’m happier and more content than I have been for years. I am ‘working’ but in an entirely different way. Instead of just having one job and one stream of income I’m trying to build up a portfolio of jobs with many small streams of income. All these jobs are things that I enjoy doing so they don’t seem like jobs at all. Hopefully many of these new streams of income will give us a much better retirement income than we had envisaged all those years ago.

Once the garden is up and running, I plan to publish eBooks of our recipe collections that can be downloaded at a reasonable price. I’m also looking into the possibility of using more of my creative skills.

We are making tiny steps forward each day and I’m loving it. I just hope that we don’t run out of time before things are up and running. I have to rest and sleep a lot each day and often think of Shakespeare’s words when I wake.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep”
The Tempest

  Leave a reply


  1. CoolC0605

    Hi Fiona,

    Hope you are still on the mend,you certainly are in spirit. I am also in straightened times when I least expected it. My man and I have managed to build a Greenhouse/potting shed recently from old patio doors and discarded wooden pallets. I am now sowing and planting crops that will be good for freezing, dry storing etc. hope to have a bumper crop of all things peas and beans.I am trying to grow soya beans for the first time. I am loving it. After this year we will be making the big leap and bagging ourselves a smaller less complicated way of life.To be able to spend more time doing what we want to do and with each other. I’m sure there will be tough times, but I am also sure they will be far outweighed by the good times. I am smiling as I write this, I often think of you and the first time I came across your site, you have been a ‘favourite’ since day 1 and I dip in and out just to make sure you and Danny and your dream are still going strong. When we ‘leap’ we have faith and love in each other, my man will keep me strong and vice versa, and I’m pretty sure that’s what you and Danny have too.
    I wish you continued strength, love and faith in all you do and in each other.

  2. Kitchen Butterfly

    How inspiring to read of your journey, trials and triumphs. I hope you get better soon. Int he meantime, I am inspired to cut away the superfluous – bit by bit: perhaps not over-shopping is a good place to start. Thank you

  3. alice

    My life is not at all like yours (I live in a big city in the US and am in an academic profession) but I have enjoyed your blog very much since I first stumbled on it. I’m not able to take advantage of your wonderful recipes and gardening/preserving advice but your lovely blog always gives me a little vacation from my daily life (even though I love my job very much). If you ever consider setting up a little donations section, if only to help defray the costs of running your website, I know I would be glad to contribute.

  4. So pleased to hear you are feeling better, and what a wonderfully positive attitude to have.

    Personally, I really look forward to your recipe books – I shall be first in line!

  5. cathy

    It’s inspiring to read this, Fiona. I am going through a similar journey and trying to puzzle through some of the same questions. It affirms me that you feel happier and more content now because I certainly feel that way.

    There are trade-offs and worries, yes.

  6. It’s easy to dichotomise rat race vs the good life in ways that make the rat race out to be hollow and I’ve certainly found myself doing that from time to time. However, for me the meaning and value of life is partly what I have the courage to make of it. If I can strive towards that in ways which are honest and in keeping with my own desires, those of others around me and of my wider environment, then I am in the process of being happy. I have been a happy and rich executive and a happy and poor charity guy.

    But there is also something about pecking order. Human beings do it/have it just as much as chickens and it’s important not only to how we feel but also to how long we live. (If you don’t believe me, check out the work of folks like Michael Marmot.) I can step out of the order of a certain social system for some reason but I will want to find ways to still feel valuable, valued and important. As a poor charity guy I still want to be acknowledged as doing my job well, I still wear my family’s signet ring (which signifies a title and dates back to 1540), and I still want to excel at growing veggies and brewing beer!

    Love the eBooks idea and I’ll be in line to buy. Also I wondered how up you’d be for running small workshops from home or a local venue? Even a half day workshop (or series of half day workshops) on something like curing or wine making would, I’m pretty sure, be quite popular. And you could politely order your acolytes around from the comfort of your chair – “Ok, now Sandra, you pour the mixture…”!

    Best wishes,

  7. 'Cookie Girl'

    You always manage to inspire me and you have done so again. I am fully immersed in the rat race in London, and my how I hate it.. Fortunately I also have a little house in a tiny village in France which me and Biscuit Boy call our ‘Labour of Love’. I bought it just for the views of the countryside alone. I have tried the alternative lifestlye, grow my own fruit and veg, compost, walk and jog, recycle, but unfortunately I also need the income at the moment. So, it’s a balancing act. I tried selling my organic cakes at Green Fairs, but found that I was only able to break-even and it proved to be an expensive and exhausting hobby, so now I bake only for pleasure.. although I was talked into making 6 christmas cakes for work colleagues last year.. it’s a scratch that I have to continue to itch. I hope the Farmer’s Markets go well for you and I look forward to reading all about it ! All the best to you both.

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