Dear T&M: Just Need a Little Push

Posted on November 28th, 2011 by Tonia 8 Comments

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for writing! It’s super exciting to us that you and your husband are pursuing a simpler life. Obviously, we are biased, but we think homesteading is such a rewarding way to live. It’s not only about where you live, though. Homesteading is a philosophy. It can be achieved in any situation, really, whether you live on a farm or in the city. Urban-homesteading is possible and real! There are people doing it.

However, we completely understand the draw of a more rural life. We moved out of the city and into a rural area a little over a year ago, so we fully appreciate and identify with your desire to have your own farm someday. I don’t feel qualified to give advice on how to make it happen, but I can tell you our story. It was kind of the perfect storm of hard work, good timing, and good people. There’s no way to abridge this tale, so here it is in all its long-winded glory:

After graduating college, Mike and I were dating and living together in a house in Duluth, MN. We had several housemates who paid rent, which helped us make ends meet. Mike originally bought the house because it was cute and he thought it would be easy to re-sell when the time came to move. Real-estate is very affordable in Duluth, so it is common for people to opt to own a home rather than rent one, since your mortgage payment is usually about the same as a rent payment would be anyway.

We both had full-time office jobs with salaries and benefits and made enough to stand on, but with very little left over at the end of the month to put into savings. We had big ideas about someday being self-employed, moving to the country, gardening, having farm animals, and having more time for each other. This dream was what motivated us to work hard at our ho-hum jobs for four years while we slowly saved money.

Neither of us are sit-at-a-desk-and-complete-tasks kind of people, so our jobs were hard on us. My boss was an ass and my creative nature was being suffocated to death by The Protocol Monster. I hated having to spend money on “business casual attire” when what I really wanted was to get my pencil-skirted butt out of that stupid ergonomically-correct chair and into a pair of Carharts. At times, I really thought I was losing my mind. Our dream seemed out of reach, but we just kept working away and saving as much as we could. This is the hard work part of the story.

Thankfully, Mike’s job was more tolerable than mine, and he learned a lot of great business skills from it. He had the pleasure of working for a boss who really took care of his employees. However, Mike is an entrepreneur at heart, and he has known his whole life that he could never be happy working for someone else. At night after he got home from the office, Mike would go to work building our own graphic design and photography business. Before too long, we were attracting new clients and making some helpful extra income.

For about a year, we barely saw each other even though we lived in the same house. My job started requiring me to travel a lot, and Mike would work all day at the office and then work all night at home on our own projects and even use all of his vacation time to make some larger projects happen. It was rough. I was scared that everything we had been working so hard for, plus our relationship, was being destroyed by the fact that we were working so hard. But we kept at it.

Mike started to have so much work that he could not afford to be away at his office job all day. It was clear that he needed to switch over to being self-employed. We were so scared but we thought, “What’s the WORST thing that could happen?” Our business could flop and we could lose the house and our credit would be ruined for a while, but we’d still have each other and our dog. We’re both blessed enough to have parents who would let us move back in with them for a little while if we had to. So he quit his job and devoted himself to our work full-time.

The nature of the beast with self-employment is that you don’t receive monthly paychecks. This uncertainty warranted me continuing to work my office job for awhile because we really needed some kind of consistency in our lives. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty brutal to be the only one getting up in the morning and diligently going to a job I hated. Before, there was a sense of “we’re in this together”, but now Mike was home all day, doing interesting, creative projects with wonderful clients who were pleasant to work with. I was so happy for him, but also jealous.

We saved every dime that we could, sold things that we had that we rarely used {everyone has stuff like this} and searched around for where we wanted to live. These weekend get-aways were exactly what I needed to give me the endurance to push through at my job. We visited cute little towns all over the northland, eating at diners, driving back-roads, talking about what we wanted in life, and imagining ourselves out there. We looked at so many properties for sale, debating whether to build from the ground up or to buy land that already had at least a house on it.

One weekend in January, we were driving around on the Bayfield Peninsula, scoping out the area. I had childhood friends who grew up there, so I was familiar with what the peninsula had to offer and had good memories of time spent around there as a kid. Pretty much right away, it just felt like home to us. We loved the people, the towns, the longer growing season, the proximity to the big lake. It was also almost exactly half-way between my parents and Mike’s parents, making visiting easy.

There was plenty of land and houses for sale to choose from on the peninsula, but once we laid eyes on the little farm we now own, we knew it was the place we had been dreaming about for years. And it was for sale! Good timing.

There was a catch, though. The farm was expensive. Now that Mike was self-employed, there wasn’t a bank on this planet that would give us a loan. Not to mention, we still owned our house in Duluth and had no idea how long it would take to sell, so we had to be prepared to handle two mortgages at the same time. Minor road-block.

Here’s where the good people part comes in. The sellers of this magical little farm are awesome people. We liked them, they liked us. They were excited by our plans to do subsistence gardening, to work on eliminating our household propane use, and to live simply and as low-impact as possible. Our principles and ideas really resonated with them. They agreed to sell the farm on a contract for deed, meaning that they are acting as a bank for us. It’s all very official and legally binding and all that, but it made it so that we didn’t have to ask for a loan from a bank.

We wouldn’t have had a chance if it wasn’t for that down-payment we had worked so hard to save up, so all those long days sitting at the desk definitely paid off. We bought the farm, and every day we’re thankful for the people who made it possible.

We got married, took a honeymoon, and moved into the farm all in the course of about three weeks last fall. For the following nine months, we still owned our Duluth house too. I commuted to Duluth for work for another 4 months after that.

Late that winter, I couldn’t take it anymore. My job was sucking the life out of me. Mike and I decided that I had to quit, even if it meant serious sacrifice. I came home that day, cranked this song as loud as it would go, and had a dance-party by myself in our living room. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier {ok, maybe on our wedding day…} We lived with a very tight belt for four months and made it work.

And then on a sunny day in July, our Duluth house sold!! An enormous weight lifted. Life was awesome. No boss. No protocol. No standard operating procedure. No second house. Just us, our awesome clients, and our dream farm.

This kind of life is not for everyone and it comes with stresses and drawbacks, just like anything else. But it’s our dream, it works for us, and it’s what makes us happy and fulfilled. Whatever your dream is, if it’s worth having, it will not be easy to get there. Don’t be discouraged by road-blocks…They’re important. They prove to us how badly we want something. At this point, I’m even grateful for my awful job and mean boss. They existed in my life to show me what my option was if I didn’t follow my dream.

Some people might see me quitting a perfectly good job as not being grateful for what I had. In this economy, shouldn’t we all be happy to have any job at all? I was grateful for my job, because the money I made helped us realize our dream. But to wake up in my forties and realize I never did any of the things I wanted to do with my life because I was sitting at a desk for most of it……..I’d rather be dirt poor, struggling to get by, but still working towards my dreams than to be wealthy, sitting at a desk, missing out on life.

Don’t settle for a reality that doesn’t fulfill you. We only get one shot at living. Good luck, we’re rooting for you!!


If you would like to air your dirty secret or ask a question, email us with “Dear T&M” in the subject line. Please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous.
toniasimeone {at} gmail {dot} com


  1. Kathi Zurkowski says:

    Great story, Tonia. It often takes a while for us to find meaningful work or a fulfilling life, but it seems worth the struggle.

  2. Christine says:

    Thank you so much for posting this story. It is so inspiring!

  3. Elaine says:

    I’m generally not interested in homesteading, although I do enjoy reading your blog and living a simpler life. However, I wanted to comment on how AMAZING this blog post is for achieving any sort of long-term, difficult goal that is “out of the box” for a typical 9-5’er in modern America. This is one of the best blog posts I have ever read – not just on your blog, but ALL of the blogs I have read. I can feel the pain and struggle of your hard working years and I can feel the joy of your new life. Everyone should read this and realize that they no longer have an excuse to say “Why can’t I do that?” So good, Tonia, so good.

  4. Karen says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! I’m glad someone asked because I’ve been wondering for ages. My husband and I are trying to move from our condo in the Boston suburbs to a homestead up north in the next few years. He’s a brewer and we hope that by then, he’ll be able to turn it into a business. In October, I quit my super stressful job and started a dog walking business. We also have less money while I learn how to make the things we used to buy, but we’re a million times happier. I’m so happy to see that dreams like ours can come true :)

  5. Sarah says:

    Oh, this is so exciting! I hadn’t checked your blog in a few weeks and the very day I did, you answered my e-mail! And you did such a great job! Thank you for taking the time to give us the details, I really enjoyed reading your story and found it quite inspiring. Thanks again!

  6. Carly H. says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing your story. I dream of having a little farm of my own someday and living sustainably. You are such an inspiration for me! Lately, I’ve been frustrated trying to chase my dreams and feel like I’m never going to get there. It’s undeniably hard at times but always worth it if it’s truly what you want. Thanks for reminding me of that :)

  7. Caitlyn says:

    beautiful Tonia, now all you have to do is get that horse…

  8. Dana says:

    Tonia! I haven’t visited your blog for such a long time and I see that you have revamped it. I love this story and am so happy for the both of you. I can’t wait to come and visit your dream home. Love you and miss you guys and hopefully we’ll see guys soon. P.S. You write so beautifully!

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