Organise your finances
This is an essential practicality. You need to budget and to ask: ‘How much do I need in order to live my life?’ Work out what you need and how you’ll find it. This needn’t always mean work – for instance, could you rent out a room? Stop spending money that you don’t have – a symbolic and effective gesture is to cut up a credit card. Distinguish between what you need and what you want, then see if you can go without some of the ‘wants’. The money you can save might be a real wake-up call.
You don’t have to relocate
The majority of downshifters stay put and manage to change their lives successfully without moving house. If you live in a friendly neighbourhood then it’s simply a question of having the time and energy to tap into it, providing, of course, there are suitable employment options available to you. If you do want to move to the country, you don’t have to sell up immediately – why not rent out your house or flat for 18 months and test the water? See what life is like in deepest, darkest Scotland in the middle of winter…then decide if it’s for you.
Cut out the commute by working from home if you can. The internet has revolutionised the way we can work, so this has increasingly become an option. Are there other ways you could earn money that could be done from home that could supplement your income? What about selling home-grown produce or hand-made goods, or even selling things on eBay?
Get rid of all the stuff that’s clogging up your cupboards or floor space. The more you have the more there is to clean and keep tidy. If it’s not useful to you, it may be to someone else. Investigate the Freecycle network (www.freecycle.org).
Start growing your own, either in pots or in an allotment or on a smallholding (see www.gardenorganic.org.uk). Buy local and cook simple meals made using fresh, seasonal, preferably organic ingredients (see www.farmersmarkets.net – and search the Organic Directory on www.whyorganic.org). If you have the space, consider keeping chickens for a fresh supply of delicious free-range eggs. If you have – or can start – a compost heap for food waste you’ll find yourself with a pile of ‘black gold’ compost for next year’s planting.
Assess your skills
Do you have skills or services that you could barter, such as massage, gardening, cooking or childcare? LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) is a system of local community-based mutual aid networks that barter goods and services with each other (see www.letslinkuk.net).
A revolution in the head
What goes on in your head when you decide to downshift is important. You’re not only giving up the job, but making a fundamental shift in your worldview. If having a BMW sports car, exotic holidays abroad and an upgrade on your mobile every six months is important to you, you aren’t ready to make the switch.
This article first appeared in the Ecologist November 2007