Firstly, distinguish between downshifting and downsizing, Downsizing is what businesses do when they shed staff and premises; downshifting is when you shed the encumbrances of the rat race to seek to live in a more human, more simple way. It consists of shedding excess responsbilities and ambitions, not seeking promotion for its own sake or mega-money and a rich lifestyle. A downsizer is content with simpler pleasures and does not require maximum goods or many luxury items. Yet it is not a rural idyll, as most of us downsize in the cities, though some do not. Nor is it dropping out of work, though the work you do may be more emotionally satisfying than what you left behind.
Downshifting is putting the rat race behind you in favour of a more wholsome, mentally healthy lifestyle.
Leaving the Promotion Race
Several years ago I achieved an ambition, I became a chief examiner, which in the exam world is the equivalent of a head teacher. Okay, it was the smallest exam board [actually not a proper board but a Christian organization that was permitted an exam syllabus], but it was a start. But then the problems began, difficult staff being the main one. Despite this I was successful and led a new examination syllabus through its teething stages, but then success led to a takeover by a university college. I was dismissed, one of their own people put into place, and the organisation was effectively asset stripped. The exam syllabus now does not exist. But on reflection I realized that while I had been proud to be a success, the experience had not added a jot to my happiness. Since then I have had a few interviews for lead marker, but although the board that I now work for keeps on sending me invites to apply for lead marker positions, I no longer am interested in promotion: I prefer writing and gardening, both of which make me happy.
What concerns me is that since the second world war youngsters have been fed a lie, that life is about career enhancement and that as you rise in a hierarchy you become wealthier [true] more popular and more happy [false]. Maybe this is true for some, but for many a career is grinding frustration. Now many people are asking themselves do they want the rat race of career enhancement. They ask themselves what happiness excessive wealth brings. These are the downsizers. Some extreme cases live in huts in the wilderness, but most live ordinary lifestyles in the city, but they have freed themselves from the illusion of career advancement for its own sake.They try to become more self-reliant. Take an example, before starting this article I spent some time cutting and putting apples from my allotment into the dehydrator: self-reliance and writing, two of the most fulfilling aspects of my life, downsizing activities the pair of them, and while I was doing this I was thinking about this article.
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Downsizing is not dropping everything. True, I would like to move to a smallholding [homestead in American terms,] where I could be even more self-reliant, but I am not there yet and I have commitments here in Greater Manchester. My parents are both long dead, but my wife's parents live and the younger is 89, the other 93, so they need help. These are commitments that I would not want to neglect. Two sons still live at home, and their jobs are here. Having it all is not an option for most people, and life is about compromise.
Firstly, though, a downsizer shifts as much clutter as possible. One form of clutter is debt. I am personally debt free, and now have no credit cards. I never use my overdraft facility. Before you can effectively downsize eliminate as much debt as you can and never again get into consumer debt. Always try to have a buffer of savings that prevent falling into debt. I am fortunate to have a teacher's pension, and in eighteen months I get my state pension, so that will help.
We did downsize from a semi-detached house two years ago to a terraced house, whose council tax is in a lower band than the previous house tax was, and which has cheaper water and fuel bills. We have no garden, but I have the allotment, and I find that having a smaller, simpler house makes me more emotionally relaxed. Smaller houses are more energy efficient than larger ones because heat flows round them more easily. At the moment I am heating my living room, where I am writing this article, with the heat coming from the dehydrator in the kitchen through the open kitchen door. Downsizers should utilize all sources of energy available and waste nothing.
While decluttering, downsizers will try to build up community bonds with their neighbours, as community relationships are a precious form of wealth. I had a massive overcrop of apples this year, too many to pulp in the time available,so I have shared them out as gifts to families in the street, as well as my old colleagues at the school where I used to work. Communities are strengthened thus, and neighbours that you have helped may help in return, a form of wealth outside the capitalist exchange system
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Critical to the downsizing lifestyle is earning, either directly or through self-reliance, which is a form of earning in kind. Most people need to keep jobs, but whoever has a job is prone to redundancy or dismissal, fair or unfair. You may have a high position in a company, fair enough, but if not, downsizing is not affected. In fact, senior positions suck up time, as do the professions, so they may be inimical to the downsizing project. Teaching is notoriously time consuming, so I cannot see how a full time teaching job and downsizing can go together. My wife, Maureen, now is retired and teaches part time, but at the moment a significant part of her time is spent on caring for her elderly and sick parents.
Downsizers might think of being portfolio people. These are people who put together a network of occupations, each part time, so if one fails, the others remain and can be grown. A mixture of part time employment and self-employment is sometimes put together by downsizers.
Yet growing and making your own is important. A garden will produce much vegetable material if cultivated rightly. Foraging is sometimes a valuable addition to one's larder, depending where you are. Having the confidence to make and mend is an important skill. None of us can do everything, but having a wide repertoire of skills helps in downsizing, as it enables us to become less reliant on expensive purchases.
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No one gets rich by downsizing, at least not in money, but you can be rich in the things that matter. You should aim to have more time for relationships, which often suffer through the pressures of career. Ideally, as you get out of the rat race you will have more time for your interests, which you might be able to turn into lucrative sidelines.
There is also health. Avoiding the stress mill that is the modern career ladder can be lifesaving. As long as you have enough money and some security, you will be better off without career stress. Downsizing is not always easy, but as long as you are realistic and do not jump too far too fast, it is a fulfilling way to live.