A few years ago, the two were able to quit their jobs—Yardley was a family mediator and Dwinell was a consultant to small churches. In addition to stacking firewood and tending their garden, they care for Dwinell’s 92-year-old mother, who lives nearby, and volunteer to weatherize houses. That still leaves time to ski midweek, when lift tickets are cheaper.
The family has chosen to go without health insurance, preferring to pay cash for care—as they did when Dana fell off a ladder and needed elbow surgery. “The hospital gave us a 20 percent discount” because they paid in cash, says Dwinell, a former nurse.
They also swap carpentry, knitting and graphic design projects for haircuts, dog-sitting and rides to the airport through a local Time Bank, where they earn credits to redeem services from others. To attend concerts or plays, they sell tickets or sweep the floor.
“Basically, we decide what we want to do, then figure out how to do it for free,” says Dwinell.
Doing well in Denver
There’s more to simple living than just living cheaply, says Travis Thrower, 50, a Denver tax accountant. “Voluntary simplicity means being aware of the world around you and how you want to live your life,” he says.
When he was in his 30s, Thrower became disenchanted with the American dream—the pressure to buy the big house filled with fancy furniture. “I’d see this dead look in people’s eyes from working the 9-to-5 grind,” he says. “Keeping up with the Joneses will only drive you nuts.”
In the mid-1990s, Thrower went into debt trying to start his own business, so he started economizing—working extra jobs, driving a junker and downsizing from a $900-a-month duplex to a $325-a-month apartment. He’s out of debt now, but those thrifty habits continue.
“Apart from my mattress and my futon, all my furniture comes from Goodwill or secondhand stores,” he says. “I own one suit and wear jeans, a sweater and Timberland boots.”
His Blue Cross/Blue Shield health insurance runs about $376 a month. “That’s a lot, but it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around,” he says.
Thrower now works part time for an oil and gas company while building his private practice. “It’s all about freedom for me,” he says. “I want control over my time.”
These days, he rents a small house with a home office for $1,100 in a quiet neighborhood and doesn’t stint on socializing with friends or road trips to San Francisco. “As I get older, there are some things I don’t mind paying a little more for,” he says. “I opt for quality of life.”
Elizabeth Pope writes about work and retirement. She lives in Portland, Maine.