Live With Less: How To Love Working To Live Rather Than Living To Work

Posted at 20:55pm on 18th May 2009

I began this article a couple of months ago before Parliamentary Expenses took over as the latest UK soap opera escapism from the real story of boom and bust economics. So I wondered, this morning, whether it would still have any relevance; whether, in fact, it would resonate with you, my readers. But thinking about it, I see now that it is all part and parcel of the same malaise: an obsession with economic prosperity which completely masks the real values in life. Consequently, I hope you will agree with me, as you read on, that for the sake of the next generation we need to redefine the principles of prosperity.


Does it ever occur to you, as it does to me, that often, when times are hard, we look back through rose-coloured spectacles at what we’ve lived through and lost? I’m sure that this is particularly so in these dark days of economic gloom. Now that we’re in the midst of Bust, many are yearning for a return of Boom. Indeed, our politicians have been holding out the promise of a return to precisely the levels of spending that got us into this mess in the first place, just as if that promise were a gift of Eutopia.

It simply doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that it may never return. Nor, that its very existence depended upon Darwin’s theory of evolution: the ruthless struggle for the survival of the fittest at the expense of the weakest.


However, it has been suggested by The Daily Telegraph, reviewing Tom Hodgkinson’s book The Idle Parent, that good may come out of this global recession. Should we, in fact, be looking back still further than the politicians promised land, to an era when we were content to live with less; when people expected to work to live, rather than living to work; and parents had the opportunity for leisure – with or without their children?

Do I hear some of you screaming at me for daring to suggest that the long ago past may have been preferable to the recent past? Is there the distant and disdainful click of mice scurrying to leave this blog in search of better pickings? I do hope not! May I urge you to read on – because you may, against all expectation, learn something to your advantage.


I’ve written, before, about the pleasure and pain of penury which my daughters and I experienced when my divorce from their father brought an end to a previously lavish lifestyle, and ushered in a period of austerity. Innovative ways of stretching a simple meal, as well as my purse strings, turned out to be more satisfying than any of us could have imagined. And Christmas – a riot of homemade gifts – was certainly a time the girls still look upon with fond memories. Entertainment, we discovered, was to be found as often in industry and creativity as ever it was in expensive outings and consumer spending.

Which is what Tom Hodgkinson advocates. “Make washing-up an all-singing, all-dancing part of dinner time, get them cooking, cleaning, gardening, whittling . . .” he writes. And in support of the subtitle of his book: The Idle Parent: Why Less Means More When Raising Kids, he has this to say: “Give up on the ideal home. Redecorate when they and their jammy fingers leave.”

So to return to my theme Live With Less: How To Love Working To Live Rather Than Living To Work I’d say this: It’s all a matter of attitude. In the interest of teaching our children the merits of living with less – and enjoying it - I advocate the following:

  1. Don’t give up on ‘things’ like TV, mobile phones, designer clothes and leave a vacuum in your life.
  2. Do replace ‘things’ with activities: family TV time: playing a game together; writing letters to family members; keeping a journal; going to evening classes; learning sewing skills.
  3. Don’t simply make your teenagers give up on clubbing.
  4. Do let them have a BBQ in the garden for their friends with a sleepover to follow.
  5. Don’t think that your children’s future will be ruined if your financial situation means they have to stop taking music lessons, or ballet, kick-boxing or anything else.
  6. Do instil in them a sense of awe and achievement for growing food in the garden.
  7. Don’t simply give up on expensive restaurant meals out.
  8. Do revive a love of cooking, baking, haut cuisine, friends eating around the kitchen table.
  9. Don’t bemoan your reduced financial circumstances.

10. Teach your children the pleasure to be found in giving rather than receiving; and saving rather than spending.

If we can succeed with even a quarter of the above points, who knows what may be achieved? Between us we might manage to turn the gloom and doom into something positive. And in doing so, we may raise a generation of young people with a better sense of the real pleasures in life.

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