Upgrade Your Life and Downshift
by Tracey Smith
Jumping off of the corporate wheel in favour of a self-sufficient lifestyle, is a fantasy shared by many seemingly die-hard businessmen and women.
In countless cities the world over, rhythmic commuter trains deliver another batch of unfulfilled souls to their offices, as they play out their resignation speeches in their heads for the umpteenth time.
Many are realising money is not everything. Some are considering the health and well being of themselves and their families, above fatter pay cheques, as they realise the emotional wedges growing between them and the very people they were trying to provide for.
So where are these revolutionaries heading? To the countryside and in their masses.
The UK alone has reportedly seen some 2 million downshifters in recent years. Many leaving behind the restraints of mortgages and credit cards, by cashing in on the recent property boom.
Downshifting to less expensive areas and in some cases abroad, is giving people financial freedom from the burdens of normal life. With savings behind them, creative enterprises are being born with many exercising talents they had suppressed for years, or never knew they had.
New age fathers are also benefiting from the change. Ray Smith, an ex-communications engineer from London told me "Downshifting has given me the chance to help raise my children, instead of just being a weekend dad."
He moved to rural France in 2002 and comments further "I have never worked so hard in my life, but I go to bed with a different kind of tiredness. I have contended and fulfilled days here. The City was squeezing all the life out of me."
It is a view reflected by many British expatriates who have started a new life in France.
Sarah Turner moved with a young family in 2001 and now runs a successful estate agency. "You need to have 110% commitment to make the project work. Setting up business abroad is no mean feat and I wanted to embrace the language and lifestyle too. As a family we had to work as a team more than ever before, but the benefits are abundant."
Growing your own fruit and vegetables, keeping chickens and other livestock and charity shop bargains are second nature now for a growing nation of downshifters. The pressures of a material culture are distant memories and for the first time in their lives, they are living by the seasons and listening to their body clocks.
"I sleep when I am tired and eat when I am hungry," says Ray. "I have not worn a watch in months, but I could probably tell you the time within about 1/2 hr either way." Clearly the freedom from the old restraints agrees with him, as I watch him don a sunhat to tractor mow his 2 1/2 acre garden. He developed many new skills renovating a 200-yr old farmhouse and barns into a family home and business and comments, "Downshifters have to be jack of all trades and master of many!"
UK television companies are pouncing upon the increasing number of people, for whom the simpler lifestyle has not agreed with.
A TV documentary crew recently filmed the Punter family, as they headed back to the UK to start afresh. Mrs Punter told me "I always felt I had a foot France and England. The familiarity and simplicity of life in the UK eventually pulled me back but I am glad we tried it".
With ever increasing sales of books like "The River Cottage Year" and "Downshifting-The Guide to Happier, Simpler Living", it seems another wave are preparing to leave their nests.
Spurred on by this ever-growing thirst for knowledge on downshifting, Ray Smith now runs courses for ex-executives who want a simpler life. With hands-on experience of everything from frugal food to stone wall pointing, it puts people through their paces, helping them make the big decision, is it really for me?
Could it be the way of the future?
With greater emphasis on working to live, not living to work, we are creating awareness for simpler solutions, a more creative existence with healthier, happier longevity, for those brave enough to accept the challenge.
(c) Tracey Smith 2004
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tracey Smith 'downshifted' with her husband and children from the UK to rural France, in 2002. A full-time writer and columnist on the subject, she is also featured in Granada TV's programme "TheTest!" on downshifting, due to air July 2004. For further details see
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2004 People of Faith