Settling for Less: Our Story of Abundance

Rachel Dillow


We value being hospitable.  We value community and connection.  We value our faith in Jesus.  We are the Dillows and our simple living lifestyle has been abundant.   

In 2010 Jeff and I were newly married, living in the Midwest, making modest incomes and on the hunt for our first place together.  We looked at new buildings with spacious apartments, one with historic charm and a complex with some resort style amenities.  We weighed the options and laughed as we signed the lease for a one bedroom unit in a nursing home turned apartment building.  Yep, it was dated, it was ordinary, and it still felt like a nursing home but it allowed us a luxury we wanted above everything else we saw – the ability to save for the future even though we had no immediate goals in mind.  We quickly found the real character of the place came from the best friends we made down the hall, an adorable man who hosted movie nights in the old drab theatre and from Franklin, the maintenance man, who we still quote to this day.

We moved in and as life started to settle we began to feel less connected because of our work schedules. Jeff was working nights, I was working days and weekends which left us missing the time together we’d hoped for.   Jeff wanted to leave his career as a news photojournalist to run his own photography business. He put in the time working news while building his photography company and soon the time came where he could pull back and focus solely on his business.  Being the calculated and financially risk adverse gal I am I came up with a “fun” spending challenge to help plump up our savings as we planned for his self-employment.  For the month ahead we would not spend any money above the essentials of groceries, gas, bills and rent.  We called this “no spend” month and we loved it.  

At the end of the 30 days we found joy in becoming more resourceful and intentional in our time together.  We found we enjoyed cooking at home and watching Netflix more than going out to eat.  We loved going for walks and riding our bikes.  After a month of not feeling like we were deprived by the experience we decided to try it again the next month.  After so many months it turned into an ongoing effort.  There were plenty of times we deviated.  We would want to go out to dinner with friends, see a movie, buy a juicer after watching a food documentary, need a new pair of shoes, an irresistible decorative pillow, a clearance shirt at Target that was just too good a deal to pass up and the list went on.  It wasn’t always perfect but since we started sprinkling in “no spend” months we’ve found saving towards a big goal to be more rewarding than little splurges throughout the month, and it helps to keep us focused on what we value most. 

As Jeff’s photography business grew, I began a new job in the travel industry.  Our careers were blending and overlapping with each other.  He would shoot video for the company I worked for and I would assist him on his shoots.  We got to travel and experience the world together but when we were home we didn’t feel like it was where we were meant to be.  We wanted to move to a place that didn’t keep us trapped indoors because of extreme weather.  We prayed for direction on where to go, decided that was San Diego and brought back the “no spend” budget to help make our move happen.  We pared down to save more so we could make the move without depleting our finances knowing we would be starting Jeff’s business from scratch, and I was building up my client base as well.  It’s been 4 years since we headed west and we’ve hustled hard to grow our businesses, pay off bills, spend less, give to causes we support, save and live in a way that reflects our family values.  We’ve embraced simplicity and tried to keep a non-comparison attitude when we looked at what our friends were doing.  We weren’t buying a house, a new car or filling our place with new furniture though at times we wished we were.

Since we started out living in a small space it wasn’t too challenging to maintain a lifestyle of not acquiring a lot of possessions.  We transitioned to being a one car family, which can be limiting at times but moving to a neighborhood where we can walk to grocery stores, coffee shops and parks has been the right place for us to be able to do so.  We adopted a vegetarian diet and cook at home 95% of the time.   Simplicity in our meals and eating fewer ingredients is one of my favorite aspects of a minimalist lifestyle.  I also love being able to tidy up pretty quickly. 

Most of our furniture has been hand me downs or thrift store finds, and we aren’t bothered by it.  We recently bought a few new pieces of furniture since our hand me downs were on their last leg.  When a new need arises we sell or donate items to make space for new ones in an effort to keep our space clutter free.  I don’t feel our home lacks character because of fewer possessions; we find the character comes from who we fill it with.  

What I’ve found most helpful in being content with less has been focusing on the benefits rather than seeing it as a sacrifice.  It also helps that we’ve added a “fun money” line to our budget so we each get to have some money to spend if there is something we want or need. Jeff usually indulges in burritos and falafel.  I usually go for coffee with friends and DIY projects.  

Currently, we’re in the midst of another big transition.  Our family of 2 grew to 3 this summer, and I left my job to be home with our son, Sam.  I never imagined I’d have a baby or step away from work but I’ve loved it and it’s pushed me to face the demons I have with productivity, self worth and my identity.  Now, as I’m home taking care of Sam, Jeff is in a very busy season of starting a new business, and we’re working towards a goal that feels impossible.  

We want to purchase a house with space to plant a community garden, grow our family and deepen our connection with friends and neighbors. It’ll be awhile until we can afford a house in San Diego so we’re embracing our current space (ugly brown carpet and all) and doing our best to live in line with our values.  

A few weeks ago Jeff made the bold decision that our vision doesn’t have to be exclusively tied to home ownership.  He planted squash, tomatoes, herbs and greens in the small patches of dirt around our complex.  I made a sign and hung it on the fence encouraging our neighbors to take what they need.  We’ll ask for forgiveness later. 

We were encouraged when a neighbor one house over asked Jeff to start a garden in her yard too.  It seems a house won’t be in the plan for us for a long while but we want our family values to thrive wherever we dwell.


Rachel Dillow is a workaholic turned stay at home mom delighting in a simple lifestyle with her husband, Jeff and son, Sam in San Diego, California.  Currently she’s learning to sew, surf and let go as God moves her in new directions.

 

IG : @rachel.dillow

 

From Hurried Days to Slow Living Artists: A Young Family's Journey to Living a Simpler Life

Alyssa Delay


From Hurried Days to Slow Living Artists

Our lives have been anything but simple from the beginning. From taking years to confess our love to a quickly culminated storm of pregnancy, engagement, a wedding and a baby all within a year, we are still finding ourselves sorting through the pages of our already heavily chaptered life. 

Sam and I are young but destined parents, so when we found out we were expecting, we wanted to hasten a marriage but jump into the natural flow. In other words, our five-year plan struck us all at once like a lightning bolt, so we were happy with the gift God had given us, instead of treating it like a burden. 

Our first apartment was the renovated attic of a very old house. The wooden floors were charming, the bathroom’s skylight (which came to be the only source of bright natural light) was refreshing, and the brick chimney gave it character. Unfortunately, the space was very small and became too cramped for us to ever want to be home. The amount of stuff we were gifted still haunts me. Bless my sweet and generous family, but even my car became too full of bags and boxes to fit any other passengers, and only got worse when Evelyn was born. I physically could not carry all the things we were given to the third floor while carrying a newborn too, so we had nowhere to escape. We were drowning in stuff and drowning in the cardboard, plastic wrap and trash that it came in from things we didn’t ask for and didn't need. In fact, we asked for people to stop giving us things. We became so torn between appreciation and being overwhelmed, and even feeling disrespected. I wish I could say we made it out of that place alive, but in a way, we didn’t. We moved after our one-year lease and got rid of (most) of the junk, never bothering to fully sweep through it until we were ready to pack up. I had never felt such a lack of control than I did when we lived as prisoners to that stuffy, unkempt nest. 

In October of 2015, Sam, Evelyn and I moved into our current apartment. Even though it has one bedroom, it’s still bigger than our last. The ceilings are nine feet tall and there are long windows in each room that illuminate each corner, no matter the position of the sun. There are four spacious closets (our last had just one) and the kitchen is large and open. Evelyn still shares a bed with us, so there’s no need to take up space with a crib or a cot, though there is plenty of room for one when that time comes. It’s located on the second floor of a very old house in the center of our little town, has a very low rent and it’s all we see ourselves needing until we’re ready to buy our own house. It also happens to be right down the street from the coffee shop that Sam and I both work at and that he now co-owns.

This past spring, Sam left a well-paying job for a sabbatical after the daily stresses of work became too big of a burden for us to function. The work day never ended even after he’d come home. He drove a long distance, sometimes facing the temper of New Hampshire’s harsh winter, and would come home exhausted, unable to connect with me or with Evelyn or himself. Our initial thought was “this is just the sacrifice we must make in order to reach our dreams,” thinking that our dream was to live in a beautiful, rustic farmhouse as homesteaders with a handful of children, denying the pressure of today’s modern mantra of “work is life.” We were wrong. Our relationship felt muted, our weekends were for patching up whatever damage the week brought, and the three of us just never seemed to be at each other’s frequency. We were en route to a life of putting money before love. So, without knowing what lay ahead, we agreed it was best for Sam to leave his job and take time to reconnect with himself and God’s intentions for him. That’s when we realized our real dream was to live purposefully, simply, and rich with love.

I understand that with many families, either one or both parents sacrifice so much of their life and their energy into providing so that they can stay living a comfortable life, without the fear of losing their home or necessities. After Sam left his job and started working part-time as a waiter, we just barely made end’s meet. Luckily with our situation, we were not paying off any debt, had low bills and don’t pay for childcare (thank you, family!). Instead of driving an hour or two to get to work, Sam drove a mile down the road to a low-stress job with hours that allowed us to spend almost every single day together. That summer was the closest to our “dream” I think we’ll ever be. We’d wake up all together in a sunny room and hang out in bed until we felt like it. Sam and Ev would be sent to the coffee shop while I made breakfast, then we’d hang out some more until she’d go down for a nap. I’d make lunch, go to the gym or read a book with my beloved free time, and after she woke, we’d collect wild berries from our yard or go to a local farm or pick wildflowers. Sometimes we’d bring a blanket outside and eat our lunch, sometimes we’d sit in the grass eating mango popsicles. We were slow-living-artists in training with the best reward: clarity to go through our junk and to get rid of it. I started consigning our clothes at the local shop or donating the rest; we let go of books we were holding on to, old birthday cards, and baby toys. We rid ourselves of ugly lamps, useless documents and even our TV. To be honest, we’re about halfway done with what we’d like to accomplish, but we’re at the point now where almost all of our belongings that aren’t used daily can be stuffed into our closet and the chaos can be hidden by blank space. It doesn’t sound liberating, but that sort of containment has helped me gain back the control that was lost in our crazy first year of marriage, and with that control came lower anxiety levels, less stress, and even better sleep.

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Before our dreamy summer came to an end, Sam was offered ownership in our friend’s coffee shop along with a new reality: a flexible job that Sam loves that also allows him to pursue his passion for woodworking on the side, and an overall, simple and cohesive life. Without him driving to work each day, we got rid of one car and started walking more. Our cheap rent and one vehicle allows us to save money, afford quality groceries and for me to stay home most days to raise our busy toddler. I work at the shop twice a week, which is a really fun way to get out of the house and to connect with other people and other moms, while also enjoying a hobby. 
We went from doing what we thought we were supposed to do to doing what we thought God wanted us to do. I remind myself of that during times I feel like we aren’t growing at the rate everyone else seems to be, because good things take time. If we’re going to gradually inch our way to that beautiful old farmhouse, I’d rather do it with conviction and intent, never forgetting to mark these days with an unhurried morning kiss.


Alyssa, her husband Sam, and their daughter Evelyn live a relaxed life in their home state of New Hampshire. They are becoming more invested in their community and try to support local businesses and farms when possible. Sam spends his free time crafting beautiful wooden tables and Alyssa is picking up new hobbies each day. They love hanging out at music festivals, coffee shops, or in the comfort of their home.

Follow Alyssa on Instagram @alyssadelay