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tiny house
Photo:  Lee Kevin's and Donna's "B.E.L.L.", a tiny home precursor described here and here 

Recently rediscovered this article written over a decade ago by fellow homesteader. We offer it now as even more apt, as people contemplate having children in the face of climate catastrophe. - Ed

Simplicity and Kids Sometimes Don’t Mix

Many people ask us about children and living the simple life, especially regarding living in the B.E.L.L. To be perfectly honest, the B.E.L.L. isn’t designed for family living. It is for the single individual or intimate couple devoted to a spiritual life in communion with the natural and spiritual forces. The B.E.L.L. is unique in that it enables one to live close to nature, while providing shelter from the extremes of cold, heat, wind and rain.

It might be feasible to build a B.E.L.L. as a place to retreat from time to time, but living in it full time requires a different approach, a radical change in lifestyle.

Some have written to us saying they want to build 3 or 4 B.E.L.L units together, adding a breezeway, laundry room and adjoining bathroom. They describe having a B.E.L.L. for cooking, one for the kids, one for the parents. But why go to all that trouble - just build a traditional house! A building is just a building. And what’s important is that it serves to assist the lifestyle of the people who live in it. It’s still possible to live a simple life in a traditional house. That can be done anywhere. Like we have said before, “the first step, the secret to living the highest level of simplicity possible is in adopting a simple, natural, raw-food diet”. (See our article, Natural Diet, The Secret Skill) That way you can experience the health and happiness, presence and clarity of mind needed to make some valuable contributions to the world.

In order for a family to begin to move toward a life of simplicity, both parents have to be in agreement. Without this solidarity there will be nothing but trouble. If you want to live more simply and your spouse doesn’t, or feels threatened whenever you mention “downsizing,” stop and take time to read our article entitled, “Simplicity – Walking the Path Alone.”  Do this before you say another word to anyone else. That should give you all the encouragement you need to get started. If however, you and your spouse are both in agreement about making some positive changes, reducing expenses, etc., I think it’s wise to talk to the children first and tell them what you want to do. If the children are under the age of ten it will probably be pretty easy, but once you have teenagers, unless they already possess the necessary preconditions for a life of organic gardening, healthy lifestyle, whole foods, artistic expression, quietness, classic literature, ancient culture and/or spiritual interests - you’ll more than likely be in for a rough ride.

 It might be better to read the article mentioned above, do a few things on your own and wait until they’ve grown old enough to leave the nest. Being a teenager in contemporary America is a hard road to follow. It’s burdened with consumerist materialism, poor nutrition, decadent influence, frustrated peer pressure and a public school system designed to choke the life-force right out of them. Any kind of change, especially things that will make them appear “weirded-out” to their friends will often be met with absolute rebellion. The best approach is for one or both parents to make positive changes in their own lives, live the example of frugality, natural health, artistic expression, practical life-skills, inner strength and spiritual consciousness and let the child watch their transformation.

My three children do not live with Donna and I. It would have been a tremendous and unmerciful hardship for them to live in a B.E.L.L. and they would have eventually resented such drastic change.  Instead, I’ve chosen to be an example and to live an alternative, wholistic lifestyle of voluntary creative simplicity. This has been the only strategy that has proven beneficial for me in relationship to them, especially concerning natural diet. Two have become vegetarians (by their own choice) and the older one, my devout, practicing militant meat-eater, has slowly begun to consider reducing her flesh-consumption substantially. She has noticed that I never get sick and when she suffers from flu or throat infections, she admits, “I could have avoided this.”

The point is, kids are smart. They really do watch what we are doing. They are inspired by example. And when we live the example, when it becomes truly part of who we are, we won’t have to plead, cajole, or beg them to pursue the simple life; they’ll do it because “intellectual fermentation” will have ripened within them and they will be curious. Curious people are full of questions. Examples and models in life teach everything. So always encourage others by your example. Encourage by focusing on the “real” pleasures of life, while at the same time, getting away from the “false” pleasures.

Real Pleasure versus False Pleasure

The real pleasures in life are those things that promote health and peace. These include the beauty of nature, simple-life-generating whole foods, beautiful music, such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and even some of the contemporary music like the Windham Hill artists, (see www.windham.com), committed, loving relationship, sacred sexuality, good books, such as the ancient wisdom of the Greek Philosophers or the Roman historians, the spiritual classics of China, India, Ancient Persia or writers like Emerson, Tolstoy, Goethe, Whitman, Hesse, Kabir, the list goes on and on. Also, spend time studying from the book of nature. Learn to grow things, do creative work, practice yoga, stretching, dancing, Tai Chi, meditate, massage, study natural healing and herbs so you can help people, write poetry, build a sweat lodge, write letters to prisoners, learn to bake bread and share it with your friends, write articles for a website about simplicity and natural diet…

And eliminate the false pleasures, such as smoking, alcohol, excessive meat consumption, recreational or prescription poisons, television, prejudice, complaining, obsession with career and money, the stock market and other forms of gambling, sexual promiscuity and drug-induced hedonistic indulgence. These are the things that erode our body and mind, making us insensitive and ultimately dissatisfied.

In modern society, children who have been brought up with fast food, public school, television and violent, mindless music and video games have not been encouraged to learn from the book of nature. And they will probably have a difficult road ahead of them, a lifetime of discontent and emotional and physical suffering. This is why simplicity and kids often don’t mix well. And yet simplicity and the minimum of needs are the only logical, reasonable solutions that work!

Many of us have been raised and force-fed the insane programming that consumption and materialism are the keys to happiness. But, as you well know it is a lie. And it’s a huge lie at that. Our world is running out of resources. Humans are over-populating at an alarming rate. And the diet gurus who promote meat eating are very short sighted. Our planet cannot sustain meat consumption over the long haul, even for a select few. (See www.earthsave.com)  It is a formula for disaster. And modern methods of agriculture, which rely on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, are creating an ecological nightmare as well as a suicidal, social health crisis.

Unlike any time before in recorded history, we hold the power to either escalate chaos and global disaster or we can leap into a golden age of health and peace. The knowledge and technology to make this happen exists! But a few wealthy families that manipulate the global markets and control the governments and the food supply are suppressing it.

             But there is “Greatness in the Smallness!” The choices you and I make concerning food, resources, lifestyle, standard of living, health and entertainment, all provide the model for the future of our children and this can make all the difference in the world. Be that example! Work out your own unique path by taking responsibility for your own health and peace.

“Work out your salvation with diligence.
A philosophy comprehensive enough
to embrace the whole of knowledge
is indispensable.
A system of meditation
which will produce the power
of concentrating the mind
on anything whatsoever
is indispensable.
An art of living
which will enable us to utilize all our actions
as the best aids on the Path
is indispensable.
Be alert and strive incessantly.

- Buddha



Lee Kevin Johnson, a former industrial draftsman, jettisoned his career within the system in favor of building a simple, Earth-based life with his partner Donna Philippe. The story of how and why they went about this, plus other inspiring essays appear on their archived website. Donna Philippe passed this year. Lee may be reached by contacting this site at info (at) titaniclifeboatacademy (dot) org

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