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. Hi Fiona,

    Love your eBooks idea, I was thinking a while ago that you might be able to do something like that. I would much appreciate your experience on all things dehydrated in an eBook, I have the same model as you but non of my efforts seem to be anywhere near as successful as yours.

    I’m sure you will keep coming up with new ideas to make a modest income, you seem to just exude resourcefulness.

    Good wishes for your continued recovery.

    Sue (Rickmansworth,Herts)

  2. Emma Anderson

    My very best wishes to you both in evey respect: health, income and peace.

  3. May I ask – how do you find the ground celery as a substitute for salt? I’m thinking of doing this myself and wondered.

    Also, do you grind and mix a variety of dried veg and use as a vegetable stock powder?

    It all sounds so interesting!

    J x

  4. We have ended up with the “portfolio” income streams lifestyle. Partly this is because my husband has Aspergers and holding down a “normal” 9-5 job just doesn’t work for him. Passionate, energetic, self started, self motivated – he’s great in short bursts! We find that focusing on one project works for a short time, then something in one of our other income streams becomes more attractive/relevant, and off we go on that one. Partly we do this because we home educate our four children (which we’ve been doing for 5 years now) so flexible working is essential to allow us all to have a full family life – rather than have one family member missing most of the week because they are out at work. Partly it is because we are just those sort of people – jack-of-all-trades, masters-of-none! Finally, we are really active with our local church that spends most of its time working in the community helping the disadvantaged in our borough – so flexible working means being able to say “yes” when the church office calls to ask if one of us can drive the van, help pack food parcels etc.
    It is a chaotic, ramshackle, sometimes stressful, exhilerating, empowering and exhausting lifestyle! Friends make comments like “I don’t know where you find the time to…” or “I don’t know how you cope with…” but we love it.
    It gives me opportunities to bake, garden, learn and grow that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It definately makes you entreprenurial! “Necessity is the Mother of invention”!

  5. Good for you! I think you have just arrived at a place where an awful lot of people will realise they need to be in the coming few years.

    We quit the rat race maybe 5 years ago, and like you, have redesigned our lifestyle to match our (dramatically smaller) income. It can be done! And like you, we are just soooo much happier!

    Hang in there!

  6. Joanna

    Glad you are feeling happier and more content. We don’t have much of an income stream at the moment either but like you developing options. We can only do that due to a lifetime of living on very little. We have always recycled stuff for multiple uses, we have not gone on expensive holidays or taken out huge loans for cars and that means where people on far larger incomes than ours are restricted from changing their lifestyles we can make the leap. So here’s to you gaining more strength and enjoying the process from sunny Latvia (well it has been glorious the last few days and some glorious thunderstorms to boot)

  7. Paula

    Thanks for the post (and the lovely plug!), because I’d really hoped that the answer would be yes, you’re happier.

    You have a lot of good ideas- I hope you don’t mind if I pinch a few!

  8. casalba

    I take my hat off to you, I really do. Flexible, inventive and positive.

  9. dantom

    Hi Fiona and Danny,
    I am glad that you are on the mend and that all is working out.
    I think that what you have done to help the self sufficiency dream for a lot of us and the work that you put into the site is fantastic, and you are now reaping the rewards for hard graft.
    It is a shame that a lot of other people cannot grasp this (anything that is worthwhile is worth working for) way of life.
    Heres to a good summer and homebrew in the garden

  10. shelley

    Although not not working, but working pt (ish )due to illness and moving to France, I can say that, yes, I ma generally happier than I was when I was working full time. I get a lot of pleasure from my garden and from my home made products. I only make around half what I did before and often seem to spend a lot of time making it, but the work is pleasurable.

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