My Current Dichotomy

Have you ever been split between opposing realities?  A dichotomy so to speak.  A condition perceived as polar extremes or opposites?

Well, my life seems to be a constant tug of war between the two main parts of my day that both demand equal amounts of my attention, yet complete opposites.

Firstly, my job. I work with a multi-national in Information Technology in the central business district of Melbourne, Australia. I need to travel from my semi-rural home to the city each day with a total round trip of 2 and a half hours, door to door which is 50 km one way. I drive my Hybrid car to the train station then catch a country train for 50 minutes, then a tram for 10 minutes,  and then work in a massive building, surrounded by workmates who probably do the same.

Whilst at work, I do the best I can to be sustainable as I possibly can within an office environment. I avoid printing, turn off lights in unused meeting rooms, shutdown my computer and monitor when I leave, and take the stairs when travelling between floors.

I also work very hard and am proud of my accomplishments at the end of the day. It is a complex and stressful part of my day, getting even more complex as time goes on. I often think about the diminishing returns of technology, and that increasing complexity creates larger and larger technology failures. It is this complexity that is one side of my dichotomy.

Alternatively, when I arrive home, my entire day changes. Simple tasks like checking on the chickens, enjoying good food from our garden, savouring time with loved ones, and just enjoying the little things like pottering around the garden at my own pace.

Life just slows right down. I don’t need to think too hard about being green and sustainable at home because that is just the way we have designed everything around us, the way we all behave, and what we like talking about. A very simple lifestyle and we continue to simplify it at every chance we get.

So, as you can see, I have opposing forces at play each Monday to Friday. One of complexity, hustle and bustle of city life during the day, and a slow, simple lifestyle during the non-job times. I often remember back to what my life was like when I only had one reality to deal with. It was unfulfilled, boring, and mind numbing.

Now that I have this yin and yang thing going on, I find that feel kind of in balance and certainly in tune with the things that really matter in my life being, family, the environment and sustainable living.

However, if the balance was tipped the other way towards a completely slow lifestyle, would I still strive so hard in my endeavour.  Would I continue to make my local community a better place to live by promoting and educating other about the joys of a simple and sustainable lifestyle?

I don’t really know the answer to that question because I haven’t reached that part of my journey yet, but I reckon that I would be busier than I am now.

However I can tell you that I know which one I prefer, which is the sustainable lifestyle that our family constantly strives for. I bet by now you are wondering why I don’t throw away the complexity and fully embrace the simple life I so enjoy and desire?

Well, there is this little thing called a mortgage that still needs to be paid off. We have been pulling together all of our resources together to pay it down as quickly as possible, and all being well, I predict that it will be paid off in 3 and a half years, just in time for my 52nd birthday!

When that happens I believe that my dichotomy will vanish, and all I will need is part time work to earn enough for the few simple needs we will have.

Do any of you have the same dilemma? City by day, and country or ‘burbs by night and weekend. What are your experiences and what plans do you have to embrace a simpler lifestyle?

If anyone has already made the switch, I would love to hear about your experience.


  1. Anonymous says

    I also thought on reading this that you’re my virtual twin! Seems there are many of us… Let’s start a support group… Oh yes we have, we all read this blog! I’m in NZ but I see others from other parts of the world, a global support group! Good luck with moving towards change, Gavin. It will take me a lot longer due to a later start in life, but I’ll also be celebrating one day. Jenni K

  2. Michael from Canberra says

    G’day Gavin,
    Our lives are very similar to that which you have described for yourself. I am 29 and my wife 27, striving to live a simple life with a focus on self sufficiency but every morning Monday to Friday I put on my suit and head out the door for my daily “corporate spanking”. Thoughts of leaving it behind are a regular theme but as you said…. There’s this little thing called a mortgage! Fortunately for us, we are good savers and since we took on our monstrous debt of over $404k, as of next month we’ll have paid half of that off, and own two-thirds of our house. We are planning for children some time next year and if this happens I’d like to take my 3 months multi-national employer provided paid paternity leave benefit, coupled with my 2 and a bit months of paid long service leave and hopefully…. never go back. My wife runs a pretty successful home based photography business and we will continue working on that together, while raising our kids ourselves and living out a more fulfilling existence, true to our values. I’m pretty excited about it.

    • says

      Great effort in paying down your debt so quickly. Love the “corporate spanking”! I laughed out loud on the train. People looked at me as if I was a weirdo. I get that a lot! Gav

  3. says

    I don’t think I’ve ever commented before here (just lurked happily enjoying your posts), but this post really hit a nerve for me. A familiar nerve, I mean! This dichotomy is something we face all the time in our family. Having small children (and a mortgage, as you mention), just eking a living out with no health insurance, etc. (we live in the US) is not an option. We have bought 20 acres, and are trying to sell our current house and build something manageable and more sustainable on the property. We will also have space then for a much larger garden, some cattle, etc., etc.

    My husband is a physician and he faces the reality that we cannot afford to do all these things without him working a pretty stiff workweek. Not being children of already established farmers, or people who have a family members who want us to live on their land and farm it, or any of the handy options I’ve read about from others, we are starting from scratch. I’m not sure whether the better option is to work madly in the ‘regular’ world for a bit and get everything paid off ASAP, or to work part-time in that regular world and chip away bit by bit.

    I do, however, appreciate your comments on wondering if one would value the slow life as much if one never had to leave it. Pretty profound question, I’d say.

    So glad you blog; it’s really fun and instructive for me. Carry on, please!

    NE Oregon State

    • says

      Hi Kristin. Thanks so much for commenting for the first time. Liberating isn’t it. Sounds like you have your hands full with that 20 acres and a steep learning curve, but well worth the effort. Well done. x

  4. Paul says

    I too am 48.5, will pay the mortgage off in 3 years, live on the western fringe of Melbourne, have a beard, a 50km commute, am a “professional” working for a multinational, enjoy my family life above all other things, grow loads of veggies, brew beer, am trying to be green and sustainable and am a conflicted wage slave; are you my long lost twin or some kind of parallel being?

  5. says

    I see myself facing the same questions, but I’m not there yet. I also work in the city and live in the western suburbs of Melbourne and spend about an hour and a half travelling to and from work daily. But being in my late 20s I am a loooong way from paying off a mortgage, and can’t see myself not tied to a working life for some time. And to be honest, I don’t want to break away (yet). I really enjoy my work and have worked hard both studying and in previous jobs to get to my current position. It’s rewarding and I wouldn’t want to give that up. So the travelling is not too much of a price to pay, to allow me to have work and the joys of a veggie garden, a relatively simple life and some land to call my own. So for me at the moment, the suburbs is a good compromise. But I wonder if the job is just a job, is it really worth it devote so much time and energy to pay off a mortgage? Only the one working the job can decide that.

  6. says

    We live a similiar life gavin in terms of opposing realities. We live in a coal mining area … the fact is that our income , though not directly is affected by coal mining .The mines give grants to schools to employ teachers, earth moving companies are employed by them etc. We work two jobs at the moment to make the ‘perfect life ‘ happen quicker so we can step back and just feed the chickens.That money plants fruit trees, sets up garden beds and plants native trees along our creek. It helped us build a farm stay that educates other people to live ‘the good life’.It also means our children can go to a good school that supports them .
    It concerns me at time that these two things can go on at the same time , but I was heartened by a speech by Bob Brown where he said if you are earning money through mining….do something good with it.
    There are so many ways and paths to living the good life and I have learnt to accept that this is okay . Your life in technology allows you to educate others and inspire . I think the key is knowing when to ‘stop’because money can be a tempting comododity.

  7. says

    I am living the exact same life.

    Gosh I wish I could find a local job that pays just enough to cover my smallish mortgage so I didnt have to do the commute and could get home to my garden, my dog and my partner quicker!

  8. says

    As a girl growing up on a Bluegrass Farm in Central Kentucky, I could imagine no other life for me. However, my parents could and somehow I ended becoming a sort of IBM-kid and landing in a semi-rural Texas ‘burb. Ugh. With constant visits back to stay with my family, I swore one day, to maybe take over my grandfather’s farm, just one of them. There are twenty-one grandchildren in this family and my uncles decided the smallest farm was “worthless” and sold it before I could even get up there. That started a very long long journey back home.

    As of now, we have just one acre but grow lots of vegetables, herbs and hope to soon purchase a place where we can have hens and an orchard. There are still many family farms here in Northern Kentucky and a thriving local-farm movement. We can now buy local and support small farms (some as small as fourteen acres) and I learn new things everyday. With plans for my husband’s retirement being fifteen years off in the future, we are taking small steps to “get back to where I once belonged. I still hope for a few cows and a horse or too.

    My grandfather’s little wortheless farm? Bought by a developer for many hundreds of thousands of dollars and is now McMansions. It’s painful to drive by there and see this, one road bearing our family name in “tribute.”

    We just keep down-sizing, living more and more as I did as a girl growing up…I soon plan to can all our vegetables and fruits as I did when I helped my grandmother and aunts, and I can now start many vegetables from seed all by myself!

    I only wish we could win the lottery or something so my husband can do this NOW, not so far in the future but hey, at least I’m stuck in the Texas ‘burbs anymore!

    Take care,

  9. says

    This is the lifestyle we are heading into now. I know my husband has this to a degree at the moment. Corporate world and then home to family life including nappies, small children climbing on him, tantrums, teats, food everywhere and all that comes with 3 children under 5. I’ve offered to try and reduce the load (in as much as he takes the load off my shoulders by doing all this) but even when he’s had a stressful day at work, the time with the kids is special. Not sure who loves it more, him or them. lol
    I believe that variety is the spice of life and even if part of that variety is working, it helps make the enjoyable tasks all the more appreciated.

  10. says

    What about chucking it now? Remortgage what is left for a smaller pmt, and just take consulting or part time to pay it? Or working from home? Just a thought.
    We are trying to pay down our mtg right now. My husband stays home and works at our home business (machine quilting) and I walk to work each day. Many times I ponder if it would be better to do the above, but for us it would not make a huge difference. When he broke his neck bicyling 5 yrs ago, we consolidated our bills with the mtg to make ends meet, so it means a fair size mtg for us. I would love to spend more time making a garden and doing more “green” things, but right now we do as much as we can.
    Best of luck

    • says

      Hi Barb. That is a difficult question to answer. Maybe it is the false sense of security that I feel in my current job, or maybe the fear of the coming slow collapse that I see that urges me to pay down debt as quickly as possible. This job is a means to an end.

  11. says

    I have what I would call a trichotomy, a business venture that has sucked us dry with promises of excitment and rewards when it eventually takes off and which I have committed to because of the others involved, and hence a succession of short term work doing a mix of engineering, training and labouring work because I have been unable to commit to anything longer and the stuff I love which is working and teaching sustainable living and pottering about in the garden.

    I’ve made these choices consciously and deliberately and with a (reasonably) realistic idea of the potential consequences but I am now in a position where something has to give. It’s been building up for 2 years and I can feel the decision bursting to the surface. It won’t be long now.

    I felt a similar tension 12 years ago when I left the corporate world for a better life. The relief when the decision was finally made was amazing.

    So, just as important as the quality of life you choose to live is the decision and commitment to pursue it. It sounds like you have made that decision and commitment and you are diligiently working toward it. You’re already miles (kilometres) in front because of that.

    I’d like to be there to share a (homebrew) beer in celebration with you when you step through and close that door behind you.


  12. says

    Has anyone read “Your Money or Your Life”? This book really changed our lives when my husband and I read it. It takes you through a series of steps, one of which is to calculate your real hourly wage, ie the little bit left over when you take out the real costs of working (food, travel, clothes, therapeutic alcohol/chocolate/shopping, etc), and divide your pay packet by the number of hours it takes you to do a days work (travel, grooming, debriefing etc), not just the 8 hours you spend in the office. Its a big eye-opener, especially when you consider that its your life energy you’re trading.

  13. says

    One of my favorite quotes, perfect for you I think:

    “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” – E.F. Schumacher

  14. says

    My situation is a bit different. There isn’t much “space” between work and home. I am self-employed, work from my home office a good deal of the time, and I am in the field–which isn’t very far from home–the rest of the time. The problem with this is that work life and home life tend to be blurred a lot of the time.

    Sometimes I miss the separation–the dichotomy. More often I yearn for slowing down. Adjusting my life in a way that doesn’t require me to earn a certain amount of money to service liabilities. Hence, I am trying to pay down debt quickly; and save save save, in order to buy outright.

  15. says

    We chucked the big life which, for us, was teaching. We now have a small business where we run our own show but it takes two of us to earn one income. But there is no commuting, no trading off philosophies and when we are done we are done.

    We live on a wage that would surprise you, I can’t afford an iPhone5 but I can afford a life.

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