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Set your house in order

Providence is good, but we also need to ensure we have time to laugh and enjoy life, says Penelope Wilcock

I come from a cautious and provident family. My great-grandmother and her sisters made their own hats and dresses, pierced their own ears, ran their own shop — investigated by the Inland Revenue not because their personal living expenses were so high but so low.

My grandfather started adult life renting a field where he sowed peas. He waited on cruise ship tables while his father tended the peas. After the first harvest he rented two fields. Eventually he was the richest man in his neighbourhood, and organised his fellow-farmers in draining the swampy fields of their part of the York plain.

My mother kept hens and sheep, grew our fruit and vegetables, sewed and knitted. We had very little money. I have a childhood memory of hiding behind the sofa with my mother and sister because we had nothing to pay the window cleaner. But in her old age, my mother is rich. Thrifty, you see.

I live now in a shared household of six family members — that’s how we keep our costs low and our freedom high. We make our own furniture, baked goods and artefacts, write our own books, fetch our water from the spring, grow our own fruit (because fruit is more expensive than vegetables, and if you grow trees you still have the ground underneath to sit on). We are frugal, and we like to live quietly and go our own way.

I have always insisted on living in dwellings (however tiny) with large windows, at least one open fireplace, and a garden or yard. Because you never know how hard times will be, and I want to be able to grow food, save on lighting, and if necessary heat my room and boil my kettle by burning junk mail and packaging!

But my mother has a saying, “There’s such a thing as now”. Be provident, yes, but don’t forget to enjoy your life. The last thing she said to me the last time I saw her was, “You need to have more fun.”

Good people don’t always make others good, and careful people rarely make others provident; but happy people have the gift of making others happy, and miserable people are a pain. So, as you budget your time and your money, as you order your days, leave breathing room for laughter and do at least some things for the sheer joy they bring.

Thinking it through

A rule to live by

On my wall is a calligraphy painted by my daughter at my request: “Set your house in order”. In your life, what remains to be set in order — in your finances, relationships, habits and living space? What have you been putting off? What should you attend to, to bring you peace?

Balancing resources

Our Auntie Bean had a saying, “Spend half and save half”, for any gifts or earnings she received. How do you balance your resources between having fun and providing for present and future needs? What are your priorities and guiding principles? Is your system working well for you, or is there any area you need to address?

Organising your giving

John Wesley said, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” By ‘save’, he meant not ‘hoard’ but ‘refrain from spending’. What are your thoughts about giving? Do you tithe? If you spend more on fair-traded goods, you alleviate poverty but have less to give: which is better, and why?

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