Simple Living in the Suburbs

My family is pursuing a simple and slow life in the suburbs. This ordinary suburban life doesn’t always match up to the lofty dreams I once had, nevertheless, we’ve found contentment and purpose, and we know this is right where we’re supposed to be.

Sometimes the place you end up is quite mundane compared to the fancy dreams of your youth…but you realise it’s exactly the place you want to be.

Where have I “ended up,” at 31 years old? Living in the suburbs, in a modest-sized home built in the 80s, with a minivan parked in the driveway.

And those fancy dreams I had, when I was little? Well, there was the big house in the country, surrounded by apple orchards and streams where you could spend all day outdoors and complete the evening with a sunset gallop on your favourite horse. There was the little cottage in England nestled among English roses, where you could ramble over the hills when you needed to think romantic thoughts. There was also the beach bungalow, wrapped in salty breezes and the shushing sound of the sea.

These were the futures of my childhood. I planned them out in my head–or more often aloud, to whatever sibling was my walking partner that day. We talked about dream houses while we walked our own suburban neighborhood of ranch-style homes, until flushed with plans we returned home to lick ice cream in the back yard and swing our legs in the pool.

When you’re happy you feel like anything’s possible. And I was happy, living a golden childhood. This isn’t something I’ve come to realise only with the wisdom of adulthood. No, I knew it all along, and relished it. I knew there was something special about our road trips across the prairies, those Sunday afternoons playing dolls, and our silly family nights where we dressed up like aliens or pigs or Egyptian Pharaohs.

But I was certain everything was going to get even better, and all my fondest wishes would come to pass (or some of them–I knew I couldn’t own every dream house my imagination cooked up).

I had good reason to think this, because as I got older many of the things I chose for my life, I got. It all happened the way I wanted it to: my high school job, my senior trip with Mom and Dad, my college, my study abroad semester, my first job after college. In each instance, it’s what I picked and planned.

Quite reasonably, I began to think that the deeper I got into adulthood, the more control I would have over my life’s trajectory.

You would think, right? Can’t grownups do pretty much whatever they want?

So it was odd when I stopped making all the choices and things just happened. Eric and I moved to Michigan, based on where he got grad school funding. Three years later we returned to Alabama, because that’s where the job was. Then we moved into a house we didn’t pick out. We had two children, and of course it was impossible to choose when they were born or what their personalities would be!

It all just happened, and kinda fast, too–in the space of a decade. And even though I didn’t choose it, I saw that it was good. Now when I ask myself the question, “So where do I go from here?” The answer is “Nowhere, I hope!”

Right here, I have all the materials I need to build a beautiful and simple life: A blank-slate house. A blueprint of a happy childhood. A growing family. And my own imagination, that fills a barren yard with roses and boring walls with colour.

We’re putting our roots down in this non-designer life, and it’s not in the country mansion or the English cottage or the beach bungalow. It’s in the same brand of suburban life I grew up in, with simple pleasures and no extraordinary amounts of money.

Minivan in a suburban life

I was living the dream in my golden childhood, and now I know that one of the best possibilities of my future is to have a present like I did back then.

Of course it’s not always golden. This root work is HARD. Sometimes it’s insomniac nights and maniac days. Beautiful children who do ugly things. We’re doing a lot of plowing and planting, and the harvest is not always plentiful.

I neither boast about my life nor bemoan it. After all, there are plenty of other ways things could’ve gone. I hold to one of my favourite quotes as a teenager, these words from Jim Elliot: “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

I’m here, living the same story over again, except me playing a different part–mother this time, instead of child. I plan to give my children ice cream cones in the back yard, have goofy family nights together, and take them on road trips in our van. I’m going to listen to their dreams, and I’ll smile inside because sometimes those dreams end up looking a lot like the place they were born.

I know from experience.

Intentional living quote from Jim Elliot

P.S. Four years ago, I wrote this post on choosing less. Today’s post is a continuation of the truths I realised back then. A few things have changed: we’ve paid off student debt, had more children, and moved into a house. We’ve worked hard, but not at the expense of the values of simple and intentional living that we hold dear. The roots we put down then have only grown deeper.

Along this vein, here are some other posts you might enjoy:

20 Ways to Live Simply in Your 20s

7 Simple Ways to Live More Abundantly, Right Now

Simple Pleasures I Enjoy Every Single Day


  1. Academics is a strange life in many ways. My husband is finishing up his doctorate and has chosen his subject and path of studies, but we feel like we have had very little say in where we have ended up each step along the way or how long we have lived in one place. My plans as a child and even our plans together as we talked about getting married have never ended up quite working out, but what a wonderful time we have had in the places God has lead us. Its true we can find contentment wherever we are as long as we embrace the place we have been planted (however temporary it may be!) Thank you for your words of wisdom, as always.

  2. Hi, Elsie!

    Your post reminded me of a Reader’s Digest article called “The Terribly, Tragically Sad Man,” where the man had all these dreams that never came true like he expected. But God told him, “I wanted you to be happy with what I had given you.” Which is hard, when one has six little boys, and no little girls to wear my pretty dresses or play with my beloved dollhouse! But “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Here’s to living the dreams God picked for us!

  3. Oh, what a beautiful story you have told of the winding path of growing into a family. I wish every young woman could be drawn into your picture of “how things work out” instead of clinging to the dreams others have put into their heads. Thank you for sharing it exactly the way you did.

    1. Thank you so much. I dropped the ball on replying to comments, but it made me so happy at the time to hear your encouraging words…and it does now, too, as I re-read them!

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