February 8, 2013

Throwing The Clock Away

 "The clock talked loud.  I threw it away, it scared me what it talked."  - Tillie Olsen

We are told that "time is money", so we are forced to choose - Time? or Money? Most people choose money. Not us.

After years of full time work we felt the eight hours left to us after the eight hours of work and eight hours of sleep wasn't enough. So many of those hours were either interrupted by more work, or were spent recovering from work, that there was little time left to honour precious personal priorities. We had to make a change.

In 2000 I took a non-paid leave of absence (LOA) from my teaching position. Linda quit her job working for a retail cooperative outdoor store.

While some people choose to wait until they retire to honour their priorities, we felt some urgency due to Linda's MS. We wanted to travel and traverse the globe together while we still could. We slipped on our shoes, and set ourselves adrift in the world for the next 365 days.

After a year on the road from Manitoba to Malaysia to Mysore, the school board sent me an email asking if I wanted to take advantage of an optional second year on my LOA. I received the message while we were in Thailand, which made the thought of going back to work very unattractive.

I wondered, "After two years of this will I be able to go back?" I replied to the email letting them know that I was interested in taking another year LOA.

The second segment of our time transformation was spent exploring new things with the security of knowing that I could return to my teaching position the following year... if I wanted. In the meantime, I was free to do things that I would not have had time for while teaching.

Looking for something completely different, I got a job working as a chauffeur. Yes, it seems strange for a guy destined to write a blog about anti-consumption and simple living, but for a while I was the operator of one of society's most ostentatious symbols of excess, the s t r e t c h limousine. I like to think of it as in-the-field research, and it remains one of my most bizarre and interesting jobs.

After my brush with the dark side, I had to redeem myself. My next job was working as a raft guide on one of Canada's most historic waterways, the North Saskatchewan River. I worked for a non-profit organization teaching grade 7 to 12 students about the importance of our water resources, especially our rivers.

Raft guiding was teaching as I like it - in the great outdoors far, far away from institutional echoing corridors and small windows half blocked off to "enhance student performance". You can't beat teaching an excited group of teens in a rubber classroom floating down a river through sun-shafted morning mist.

During the year Linda worked a variety of jobs supporting housing and retail cooperatives. Besides our part time work, we enjoyed having time to hang out with the coop kids and friends and neighbours in unhurried, casual encounters. Time was unfolding at a healthy pace, and our newly acquired hours were spent in a variety of creative activities, like learning to play guitar, singing, and drawing.

We also camped, hiked, skied, skated and snowshoed. More importantly, at times we did nothing.

Then, quicker than I expected, it was time to tell the school board what I was going to do the following year.

I resigned, and threw the clock away.

Salvador Dali, of melting clock fame, said, "Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision."

Taking a sabbatical was like living in a surrealistic movie. As soon as we stopped working so much, everything was different, and kind of weird. But a good weird. The reprieve gave us the opportunity to allow time to destroy the shackles limiting our vision.

Over the two years everything opened up, including our experience of time. We liked being off the clock, and we liked the spontaneity and joy of living on a more natural, gentle un-schedule.

Time or money? We picked time, the most precious of all commodities. 


  1. Anonymous2/09/2013

    Your story is a great one. Still waiting for universal health coverage down here in the U.S. so that we have a little more wiggle room for lifestyle options!

    1. Anonymous2/09/2013

      Agreed! I know many here in the U.S. who are stuck in jobs and life choices because of the health care situation.

    2. If not for universal health care, it would be difficult to live our current lifestyle. We do still need to pay for dental care, though, and for some health care (such as for medication, and physiotherapy for Linda).

      The dentist is the most expensive, though. I recently needed a root canal that could end up costing over $1000 dollars.

      Having said that, it is hard to imagine health care costs bankrupting us - that is not something that happens here, although it could in unusual circumstances.

      I don't call it "socialism", I call it "taking care of each other".

  2. Great post! The simple life is what we as a family crave. However, because of stupid tax (Dave Ramsey fans know what that is), we are working hard to pay off debt so that soon we will be able to have the freedom to choose a slower paced, simple lifestyle. Thanks for your ongoing inspiration!

    Margaret @ Live Like No One Else

  3. Linda and I have never owned a house, but we have gone into debt for our education and for one car loan. When we were craving more freedom, it was the loans that we targeted as our first priority.

    We eventually paid off our loans (about $65,000 dollars), and have not accumulated any new ones. We have been gloriously debt-free for years now, and it does increase the possibilities in life. At the very least, it is one less thing to think about.

    I just had a quick look, and it seems Dave Ramsey has some good financial advice that could help one save money and get out of debt sooner. I like his list of "stupid tax" situations to avoid.


    Good luck with meeting your goals to be debtless and free! Let us know how it goes.

    1. That's fabulous! We have more than than that to pay off with credit card debt, student loans and a business loan. Stupid tax is basically not being knowledgeable about how money works and making mistakes..paying interest to someone else instead of investment that income into sources that will give you passive income. He teaches people to get rid of credit cards and his company doesn't even accept them...only debit cards.

      Margaret @ Live Like No One Else


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