Reader question… “I’d love your thoughts on ‘staying home.’ Not as a stay at home mom, but just in general. Allow me to expand on this. I am a 72-year old woman, widowed, retired and living alone with 2 cats and a dog in a 120+ year old house on 1/4 acre located at the edge of a medium size NE town. My area consists of older, well kept, residential properties: mix of single-family homes, duplexes, and a small apartment complex. My house is a two-story single family and as I described, rather isolated with a meadow/small wooded areas to my east, behind my back yard, and across the street. I have one neighbor immediately west of me and a few houses on a dead-end street west of my neighbors. In a word, I’m relatively isolated. There is essentially no interaction among people on my street except occasionally with my next door neighbors when they are in the yard. This means I need to get in my car and head out somewhere to find connection and activities, even as these events are very short term and temporary. Finally this brings me to my point. I love my home and mini 1/4 acre homestead. I have created multiple raised bed gardens in the back and side yards and this past summer I completed the framework for a 12′ x 20′ hoop house in the back yard (not yet covered). There is plenty for me to do here and I love working in my gardens and putzing about the house. But there are days that I think I’ll go absolutely crazy if I don’t ‘go somewhere.’ I have places within a 25-mile radius (mostly the Boston south shore area) that we frequented before I was widowed and that I traveled to daily while I was working. But today, there is really nothing that compels me to drive up to the south shore and with gas close to $4.00/gal, there is a cost that is significant for me. But on ‘those’ days that I need to go somewhere… anywhere, I actually suffer when electing to stay home because there’s no real reason to ‘go’. At these times I feel like I’m under house arrest. As the old WW1 song asks, ‘how are you going to keep them down on the farm’…? I know this is an issue of lack of companionship and connection, but I also know that there are people who are very content and at peace with themselves wherever they are. How does one become one of these people? What’s the secret of living simply… and alone? Thank you for your thoughts if you elect to take a crack at this issue. (And I’ll understand if you don’t.) Before closing, let me tell you that I just came across your website this morning and I love it. I’ve been very content roaming through your archives… but I have the darnedest urge to drive up to the south shore, maybe hit a bookstore, get a salad at Milton Market (greatest salad bar I’ve ever seen) and do… something, anything to get away from this house.” –Susan B.


Musk-mallow (Malva moschata)

I’m not sure that I completely agree with the premise of your question… that some people are always content and at peace with themselves wherever they are. I agree that some people will always be happier than other people despite their circumstances or surroundings, but I think circumstances and surroundings (and other people) do play a big part in the level of contentment and happiness someone feels. Even a person with a strong sense of inner peace… someone who knows who they are and what their priorities are… may be relatively content in one situation, but would be much happier in another.

An example… in the early years of our marriage, my husband and I lived in a smallish city. Our apartment was on the fourth floor of a commercial building in an area that was filled with other commercial buildings, businesses, and apartments. We were surrounded by concrete, traffic, and noise. I was happy… our life was good… but I found out during those months just how much I NEEDED everyday quiet contact with nature and things that were green, growing, and ALIVE. I am happier, more contented, more serene, and more at peace with myself and my life NOW because I have been able to match my circumstances and surroundings to who I am as a person.

I can tell that you love your home and the lifestyle you have created, and although your present lack of companionship and contact with other people IS an issue, I think it is an issue that will eventually work itself out. For now I think you should give yourself permission to “get away” if and when you need to. You have experienced a lot of recent upheavals in your life, and I think it would be very unusual if you did not occasionally feel the need to revisit the activities and places that used to be such a big part of your days… your short trips away also give you the companionship and connections you presently don’t have nearer home.

Realistically, life is always a work in progress. The ideal lifestyle, I think, “happens” when someone can live the combination of compromises that is their best fit.