Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

by Mary Thomas Draper

Whenever my husband tells me I am crazy, I know I am on to something. One day last November I told him about a family that lived in a cabin in the woods on $500 a year. I imagined their lives to be particularly rich without any of the material trappings. The thought of raising our young son close to nature with the full attention of both of his parents seemed ideal to me. No distractions. The focus could be on what is essential in life.

In reality, I was not ready to pack up and move to a cabin in the woods, and there was no way my techno-urbanite man would change his life so drastically. The holidays were upon us, and the thought of assimilating more stuff into our lives was overwhelming. We live in a society where the line between what we need and what we want is very blurry. If I thumb through the latest catalog or walk by a shop window, I often see things I can use. But, could I get by without more? No doubt. We have all we need. We live in abundance.

Over the next two months, I developed a plan with anticipation, concern, and fear. And, with a little clever convincing, my dear husband, Constantine, was with me. By the first of the year, we had made a commitment to live one year without buying anything, with the exception of food, healthcare, and life maintenance. We did not stop using the telephone or computer e-mail, buying stamps to send letters, or traveling. These things keep us connected to our friends and loved ones. What we did stop spending money on were clothes, books, toys, gifts, and extras. We stopped shopping. Instead, we now choose to find, make, borrow (no, not steal), improvise, pretend, or do without. Even though our bank account is heftier and we believe the earth benefits from our not spending, this practice is not about saving money or anti-consumerism. This is a practice to bring focus to humanity, our creativity, and what is truly important to us. Through this practice, we strive to cultivate an inner awareness of our actions and choices and to make conscious decisions.

What You Need....

When we do need (or want) something, this practice validates my belief that we live in abundance. As Gertrude Stein says, “It is inevitable when one has a great need of something, one finds it. What you need you attract like a lover.” Over the last ten months, many opportunities to experience this wealth have presented themselves. I’ll tell you about a few.

I use my blender almost everyday. I love to cook. My blender purees soups, whips spreads, blends dressings and, in the summertime, is a slave to smoothies. In June, however, my blender broke, and the part needing replacement cost $30! I considered my options. I did make a commitment not to buy, but I do allow myself to continue to make conscious choices. I could buy a new blender, buy the replacement part, do without, or wait to see other options might arise. I wanted to keep to my commitment. Time is a dear friend; I chose to wait. On my birthday in July, my sister gave me her blender she never uses. What a perfect gift for a girl like me! (I imagine at some point, maybe next year, I’ll get that replacement part so I can extend the life of my old blender.)

When Constantine came home telling me of a client manager golf outing he was required to attend in a month, we could only laugh. The only golf he has played was at Park & Putt twenty years ago. When we realized he could not rent clubs and shoes (required on the green at the fancy club) it was time for Plan B. His automatic Plan B was to buy – he “needed this for work.” That did not settle well with me, since every option had not yet been exhausted. This year it has become even more evident to me how crucial it is to ask. My father always said, “It never hurts to ask.” Frankly, it helps! As we are told in Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” After checking with Constantine, I got online and e-mailed eight of my women friends requesting golf clubs (shoes seemed too personal to ask for). Within 24 hours, all but one had replied. We had two sets available to borrow! (Later, I was telling this story to another friend over dinner, and her husband seemed disappointed we already had clubs. He wanted to lend his set!) When we went to pick up the set from our friends, golf shoes in Constantine’s size were waiting beside the bag!

During the “antici-pation time” before our year of not spending began, my three-year-old proclaimed, “I want a tunnel-boring machine!” Now, this little fellow has a passion for construction trucks and has practically every kind (in miniature, of course). I have never seen a toy tunnel-boring machine – and I have become an expert in construction machinery along with my little truckman. I have only seen tunnel-boring machines, also called moles, in books. They cut through rock at a speed of five inches a minute to dig tunnels under seabeds, through mountains, and beneath city streets. The tunnel-boring machines used to dig the Channel Tunnel were 49 feet long and weighted 1,300 tons. But, I digress. The fact that I knew I could not buy one and our year of not spending was quickly approaching gave me an opportunity to learn something. Usually, when my guy asked for a cement truck or loader, I knew they were available and, in time, we acquired them. My typical response to his requests was something like, “Okay, let’s look for one.” Or, “You already have three of them; why would you want another?” This time I knew the chance of finding a tunnel-boring machine was very slim. So, when he stated, “I want a tunnel-boring machine!” I simply bent over, picked up a small toy, and rotated it, making a machine-like roar. He smiled with glee, took the new “tunnel-boring machine” and ran off to play with it. No questions asked.

For heavens sake, that was easy! What was I adding to his simple desires? He never said he wanted to go out and buy one. Perhaps, my expert truck man knew the difficulty in buying a tunnel-boring machine. Maybe this would not work with a different, common truck. Knowing the opportunity would present itself soon, I waited, and within a few days he obliged with a request for a wheel loader with a rake attachment. I was prepared. “Let’s go build one with your blocks!” He came running with excitement. I was on to something.

I did not have to take him in the car in search of a not-too-plastic toy. In less time, I was able to be with my child, simply sit on the floor in his room, and together construct a wheel loader with a rake attachment. No money was spent, no additional consumption made. A child was getting his needs met by being with his mom and having his desire honored. Abundance can come from within.

Consuming is part of our culture. We are programmed to buy. Advertising encourages us. Buying is automatic. It is the thing to do. When we stop consuming, we can let our creativity take over. When running to the store is no longer an option, our mindfulness is awakened. When we are given the opportunity to make conscious choices, rather than to remedy automatically – to respond rather than react – we are respecting ourselves. Examining our true intentions and honoring our ingenuity aligns us with our soul. Stopping anything that we do automatically brings clarity of meaning and purpose to life. Space is created for the abundance to be accepted.

Mary Draper lives in the woods of Redding, Connecticut with her husband, Constantine; son, Jake Henry; cats, Satchmo and Safari; and Beta fish, Junior. Her passion is acting. Most recently she took part in the Washington, D.C. and Hartford, CT productions of the play Birth for the BOLD (Birth on Labor Day) initiative to support mother-friendly birthing. She has been bringing together a community of unschoolers in her area and relishes the support and passion of the group. She can be reached at ruffmo@optonline.net.




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