After nearly 20 years of building a life together, Carmella Rayone and her husband saw their world turn upside down. Huge real estate losses in 2008–09, coupled with back-to-back job losses, caused them to take stock of what really mattered to them in life. Was it the well-paying job in the city they didn’t love? The large mortgage debt? The stress of trying to make ends meet when the jobs disappeared?
They embarked on what Carmella describes as a “great simplicity shift.” They gave away and sold most of their belongings. They moved to a small town in Wyoming and built a 665-square-foot guest cabin, where they live with their three kids. Life security now means adjusting parameters to ensure more time for passions and less for obligations. As Carmella writes in her beautifully written blog, Assortment, she and her family “traded burdens for breath” and will never go back.
What does “the good life” mean to you? And how did you come to this vision?
The good life means margins of time. It means freedom from debt. It means walking out our door into a national forest. It means eating and drinking wholesome, natural food and engaging in work that brings fulfillment and life. It means connecting with people for real conversation. It means doing things together that matter to us as a family.
For us, a well-placed failure of the "American Dream" brought a different understanding of what was truly most important to us in this life. As a result of back-to-back job losses, and the real estate market crash of 2008, we lost nearly everything. In the middle of the mess of it all, we began to listen to those quiet desires that had been with us all along, but that had been drowned out by the rumble of faster-paced, achievement-based living.
What’s the one thing you enjoy most about your lifestyle?
Since choosing a simpler path, which required a drastic trimming of our possessions down to fit nicely within our 665 sq. ft. house, we now enjoy the fact that maintaining and managing our home and things doesn’t take over our lives. There’s room now in our days for actually living this life and doing those things that matter the most.
Is there anything about your life these days that you really wish you could change or improve?
It’s interesting how, even after having made these drastic life changes, it still requires daily intention to live simply. In the middle of a culture that screams the opposite, we’re learning that it’s necessary to insulate ourselves without isolating ourselves, and to consistently check our heading to ensure that we’re maintaining the course and staying true to our values.
Tell us a little about the work that you do.
Being mama to our three boys has been my full-time occupation for the past 14 years. I’ve also been their home educator for the past nine. In addition to that, I am a writer and a creative, a former interior designer who is drawn to beauty in its many forms, and to the inherent value of skilled craft.
My husband is a commercial smokejumper pilot. He works with highly trained smokejumpers (wildfire fighters who parachute into remote areas), the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management to contain and extinguish wildfires in regions of our country that are inaccessible by road.
Describe some ways that you are involved in your community.
We live in a wonderful, small, close-knit town. It’s more like a village, really—the kind of place where people know each other and deeply regard the overarching sense of care and community that is inherent here. But it’s not a pushy place. There’s opportunity to serve and volunteer in many ways, but these remain an opportunity, not a requirement. This has been very freeing for us as we’ve chosen not to overcommit ourselves in ways that are good and worthy, but are not best for our simple way of life.
As it has become a good fit, we’ve helped with serving and entertaining at Senior Meals, preparing boxes at the annual Holiday Food Drive, and with events held at our thriving community center. Our boys are involved in community center and public school sports, and we’ve taken classes, workshops, and field trips with our fellow community members.
We also attend the small community church where the bell rings in the belfry at nine o’clock on Sunday mornings.
For many, your lifestyle is considered “outside the mainstream.” Does this present any challenges, and if so, how do you deal with them?
When we began to tell friends and family about our plan for our family of five to live in a 665 sq. ft. cabin, the reactions we got were most interesting. Some people thought it was wonderful, others clearly thought that we had lost touch with reality.
We knew, though, that we weren’t doing this for the approval of others. We were doing this for us and our well-being as individuals and as a family. We couldn’t continue going down a path that was accepted by the vast majority. We had to find our own way to peace of mind, and we were willing to be seemingly drastic and cross-grain about it.
What we have found, though, is that continuing on with our dream and our plan, and actually living it, has been an inspiration to so many people. When people can see how it works, and that is does work, it ignites something in them as well. Even people who wouldn’t choose to live this small have been inspired to offload the unnecessary and seek to pursue a simpler life.
Please describe any new skills or hobbies that you’re really excited about or that you would love to learn if you had the time and resources.
We were just talking about how we want to fish more this summer. Some of us are fly fishermen, others of us want to learn. We would also like to keep a small clutch of chickens, and I would like to learn beekeeping.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Do what you love.
New Dream's "Living the Dream" series profiles folks from around the world who are living lives focused on “more of what matters.” If you or someone you know is living the New Dream, please contact us—we're looking for inspiring stories to share!